Friday, October 05, 2007

Weaponized Anthropology

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.
Not all are pleased.
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.”

Overheard in the far-flung reaches of Waziristan:

Dammit Jim! where's our anthropologist? We're sitting ducks out here without social science! Get her over here now!

Oh shit! In coming!!!