Posted by lex, on October 5, 2007
The US Army has introduced an innovative way to reduce the violence and bring the fruits of good governance to rural Afghanistan – tactical anthropology:
HABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan — In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.
Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.
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.
Who could find fault with a program that brings an academic approach to understanding cultural sensitivities? Who would oppose the efforts of volunteer scientists whose knowledge reduces the violence afflicting a wretchedly poor populace that has been brutalized by theocratic thugs? That not only saves their lives but enhances their quality of life?
Why, other academics of course:
Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason University, and 10 other anthropologists are circulating an online pledge calling for anthropologists to boycott the teams, particularly in Iraq.
“While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world,” the pledge says, “at base, it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties.”
The stark intellectual vapidity and perverse moral bankruptcy of that statement is breathtaking, even in the hyper-competitive context of a humanities professor at a publicly funded university. It is apparently far better in Professor Gusterson’s view to strike a pose over war’s brutality and its attendant “massive casualties” than endangering oneself morally – I will not say physically – to help ameliorate them. Leave the candles unlit, the 21st Century professoriate cries: We are content to curse the darkness.
Such a shining personal example is not sufficient, however: Not only must the politically correct academic do everything within his power to prevent the reduction of the bloodshed and the extension to Others of those same benefits of peaceful society that he takes for granted, he must actively seek to prevent his peers from doing so as well.
To admit that such smugly pretentious posturing has lost its capacity to shock says something about the fact that important elements of the academy have drifted so far from their rational moorings that we no longer notice their absence.
It was not always thus.
You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor. — Aristotle