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The Pentagon's Embedded Scholars in Afghanistan and Iraq

The army enlists anthropologists and other social scientists in war zones, writes David Rohde in the NY Times: 
In September, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates authorized a $40 million expansion of the program, which will assign teams of anthropologists and social scientists to each of the 26 American combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. (...)
Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with the anthropologists here, said that the unit's combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the scientists arrived in February, and that the soldiers were now able to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population.
Some academics criticize it as "mercenary anthropology," but I think this is great applied social sciences. Research should make the world a better place rather than fill libraries.

UPDATE:  Erkan's field diary has news round-ups on this topic, including this quote from the Tabsir blog:
In a video on the [NYT Times] website, an American officer explains that his soldiers no longer routinely break down doors of houses and violate the cultural space of Afghan homes, but let their Afghan counterparts knock first while they wait respectfully outside. While I am not sure it takes an anthropologist to point out what should be obvious through simple experimentation, the basic argument of the article is that the military is being coached to listen and work with the local population rather than play knee-jerk mercenary search and destroy games.
Tabsir also links to Chronicle of Higher Education article from September about a petition urging anthropologists to stop working with the Pentagon in Iraq War.


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Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

This video shows the sort of useless research that I mean. At least it is funny in this case: [url][/url]

Sue on :

American social scientists worried about their disciplines being used for political gain? Only if it might help the government or military, rather than advance the professors' own theories of how the world should be remade according to their particular political prejudices. People in the hard sciences have no problem with government using (and paying for) their research; why should social science be any different?

Martin on :

Clearly the US military is lost and incompetent and is learning very slowly. Obvious example: If combat operations were by 60 percent because of some anthropologists, then the US military must have been very gung-ho before the geeks arrived. Shoot first and ask questions later. Now the anthropops told them to ask questions first and shoot later.

John in Michigan, USA on :

@Martin: Clearly you will criticize the military no matter what they do. Your bias is so strong, you couldn't even read the quote properly. It doesn't say that combat operations were reduced [i]because[/i] the scientists were there, it simply says that the reduction coincided with their arrival. If we accept the quote at face value, it means that prior to February, the military was already planning for the possibility that combat operations would decrease, and wanted to have the scientists in country and up to speed when that happened. And I say, well done!

David on :

Here is letter from a Fulbright anthropologist, which appears in today's NYTimes: "As an American on a Fulbright fellowship, I spent the last year conducting anthropological research in Mexico. Invariably, one of the first questions I was asked when I tried to begin an interview was, “Are you here to spy on us?” Even after full disclosure of my university employment, publications and current research design, I found myself blocked out of some potentially useful interviews. Headlines like “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones” (front page, Oct. 5) will make future research all the more difficult. The identification of anthropology with military operations, intelligence gathering and “armed social work” augurs ill for the future of a discipline that studies populations distrustful of power — many of which have had unhappy past experiences with American invasion, occupation or support for corrupt dictatorships. Anthropologists thus need not be antiwar or skeptical of the Bush administration to oppose the enlistment of anthropologists in counterinsurgency operations. All one needs is a clear view of the discipline’s bottom line." Roger N. Lancaster Fairfax, Va., Oct. 5, 2007 The writer is director of the cultural studies doctoral program at George Mason University.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Thank you, David. David posted the full Letter-to-the-Editor. So there is no need to post the link as well, but if anybody wants the link, here it is: [url][/url]

Eva on :

I can fully agree with the letter of the Fulbright fellow anthropologist. At least for anthropologists it is important to be able to conduct their research in different countries without being perceived as a spy (for any country by the way). Anthropologists need the trust of the people to be able to work at all - and also to get permission to work. If the residents of the area are thinking you´re a spy for a government they propably won´t share their stories, beliefs and knowledge with you and they will definitely not agree that you dig out the remains of their ancestors to research their forefathers burial rites and ancient life. Sue, I definitely disagree with your statement "People in the hard sciences have no problem with government using (and paying for) their research". Even though we in the hard sciences (I am pursuing a PhD in Molecular- and Neuroscience and work at a university) often get money from the government we are still independent! There is no government agency telling me what to research or what the outcome should be and how to use it. Scientists have often disagreed with the way governments were (mis)using their research - so please don´t generalize too much. I can´t say much about social scientists, as I am quite biased in this sector. Shouldn´t the military anyway have special officiers that mediate between residents and army (in any conflict)? Even if those are (by degree) social scientists or antropologists, they should have military instruction and would then, as a real part of the army, be perceived as military by the residents. Thus they would not do harm to the big group of scientists around the world and could still help.

Pat Patterson on :

That funding would not even occur if someone hadn't convinced someone at either the NHS or the DOD that there was some future applicability of the research. The government doesn't need to tell scientists what to research because that pact has already been formed. And when the research leads to a dead end the funding will simply stop and that scientific independence ends. I had the misfortune to be in Jordan near Petra during the Yom Kippur War and recall being told by the Jordanian Legion soldiers, while being escorted under armed guards to Amman, that we historians, graduate students, linguists and archaeologists were obviously Jewish spies or even worse CIA agents. My Jewish spy outfit at that time were Sperry Topsiders, khaki shorts and a t-shirt from a Huntington Beach surf shop. What a great disguise as I obviously didn't fool anyone. I'm not to sure a lot has changed in 35 years in regards to the locals attitudes toward tourists, even the ones with degrees.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

@ Everyone, Thanks for the comments so far. I have written an UPDATE with more food for thought -- and comments ;-)

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