A couple of weeks ago, Louis Proyect posted a press release from Wikileaks which in turn linked to the just released
It is doubtless pure coincidence that for our bosses, we humans are no more than ‘human resources’ to exploit, and for the forces of repression, we are ‘human terrain’, to stomp all over. Anyway, Human terrain teams, apparently the brainchild, so to speak, of one Montgomery McFate, are groups of embedded social scientists tasked with conducting anthropological research on occupied populations and feeding military commanders with relevant predigested ‘expert human terrain & social science advice based on a constantly updated, user-friendly ethnographic and socio-cultural database of the area of operations’, which they will of course never allow to influence their ‘Lethal Effects Targeting’.
Describing the Nature editorial as ‘fierce’, quoting its subtitle, ‘the US military's human-terrain programme needs to be brought to a swift close’, Price writes, ‘This position is all the more devastating when contrasted with an editorial supporting the principles of Human Terrain and other forms of military-funded anthropological work published by Nature just five months ago.’
In reality, Nature’s editors have not retreated from their basic position. In July, they entertained hopes that Human terrain systems, ‘…have potential to be a win–win for all concerned — including, most especially, the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and regions of future conflict’. It reads as if they regard
Nature, you will recall, is the estimable scholarly journal that published the groundbreaking research by epidemiologists associated with
This month, they have concluded that the scheme ‘…is failing on every level’.
In theory, it is a good idea. The Human Terrain System aims to embed anthropologists and other social scientists in military units in
…The immediate problems with the Human Terrain System can be traced to BAE Systems, the military contractor based in
So for them, it’s just a matter of human resources management issues, and professionalism, of course. After all, if human terrain research is carried out unprofessionally, it can hardly be expected to ‘relieve tensions between civilians and soldiers’. Realistically, though, considering that ‘the American Anthropological Association (AAA) has formally condemned it, saying that participants would find it difficult or impossible to follow the association's ethical guidelines in a combat zone…’, the program could only ever have hoped to atttract renegade anthropologists who reject their colleagues’ ethical principles. Furthermore, I think it is inevitable that the military itself would want to have a say, if not an outright veto, in the vetting process. They would want to feel that they can rely on Human terrain teams not to betray military movements, not to run to the media every time they observe perpetration of an atrocity, and so forth. Hardly propitious conditions to recruit the most competent anthropologists.
In July, Nature hoped the Human terrain project would address ‘the hard lessons of
In case there was any lingering doubt,
Nature is not opposed in principle to academics working with the military; we have said before that social science can and should inform military policy. We continue to believe that the insights of science have much to offer strategies in a war zone — not least through training combat troops to understand the local cultures within which they operate.
The only problem is that, ‘…as currently constituted, the Human Terrain System is not the way to do this. Unless the programme can be reborn in a format less plagued by deadly mistakes, it needs to be closed down’.
While I agree with Price that Nature’s call is welcome, they have not enunciated a principled objection on scientific, political, legal or moral grounds. Far from it. Their problem, it seems, is with BAE Systems.
Less still have they opposed the occupation of
To deal with it better, in October, Philip Dorling reported in the
Soldiers with no previous Pashto language training will undertake an anticipated 42-week course to successfully perform as ''military linguists using the ... language in a wide range of social situations, and specialised military subjects''
As the article’s headline cannily predicts, ‘Afghan language training hints at long haul’. As if to confirm this, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on his return from a brief junket to
Dorling further reported that ‘Defence sources said Pashto was in demand for