Institutional Culture Clash preventing culture understanding

This isn’t what you think it is. It’s about institutional culture clashes manifested as conflicts between anthropologists and a “scholarly” rejection of “military dominance in the field”. In April 2005, Montgomery McFate wrote an article for Military Review titled Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: the Strange Story of their Curious Relationship in which she wrote about past use of anthropologists in COIN. Some selected excerpts from this article:

  • Ruth Benedict and other Office of War Information (OWI) anthropologists were asked to study the view of the emperor in Japanese society. The ensuing OWI position papers convinced Roosevelt to leave the emperor out of the conditions of surrender (rather than demanding unconditional surrender as he did of dictators Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini).
  • From 1947 to 1952, Margaret Mead, Benedict, and others established a research program at Columbia University. Working under contract to the U.S. Office of Naval Research, anthropologists developed techniques for evaluating cultural artifacts, such as immigrant and refugee testimonies, art, and travelers’ accounts, to build up a picture of a particular culture… [some] research results were not only accurate but useful in a military context.
  • Anthropologist Gerald Hickey explored the indigenous Vietnamese cultural concept of accommodation. While Taoist roots of the Vietnamese value system stressed individualism, in the Vietnamese worldview, accommodation was also necessary to restore harmony with the universe. In Washington, D.C., Hickey’s views on accommodation were treated as heresy. In 1967, at the conclusion of Hickey’s brief to a Pentagon audience, Richard Holbrooke said, “What you’re saying, Gerry, is that we’re not going to win a military victory in Vietnam.” Because it did not conform to the prevailing view of the conflict, Hickey’s message was promptly dismissed…Hickey was awarded the medal for Distinguished Public Service by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Despite his medal (or perhaps because of it), Hickey was not able to get an academic job when he returned to the United States. He was refused a position at the University of Chicago by fellow anthropologists who objected to his association with RAND. Ironically, Hickey was also forced out of RAND because it was no longer interested in counterinsurgency.

Interesting stories and McFate highlights the value of anthropology to preventing and shortening conflict. Interesting is how the profession rejects a military partnership and ostracizes those who “cross the line.” In a post and article titled “Fighting militarization of anthropology“, a blogger backs an associate professor at San Jose State University (California) to reject other anthropologists like Gerald Hickey’s, such as David Kilcullen:

Last December even more news appeared regarding the use of social-science expertise by military and intelligence agencies when George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, reported the emergence of anthropological counterinsurgency experts. His article profiles the Australian anthropologist David Kilcullen, who is under contract at the State Department’s counterterrorism office. Among other things, Kilcullen is in charge of writing a new counterinsurgency manual. In his work, Kilcullen refers to counterinsurgency as “armed social work” and maps out a range of extremists, providing a guide for military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. At times it reads like an anthropology fieldwork guide: “Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion, and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.” At other times, Kilcullen’s tone is brazenly militaristic: “Counterinsurgency is a squad and platoon leader’s war, and often a private soldier’s war. Battles are won or lost in moments: Whoever can bring combat power to bear in seconds, on a street corner, will win.”

Meanwhile at the Defense Department, a new office, the Cultural Operations Research Human Terrain, has been created to tap into social-science knowledge. Its director, Steve Fondacaro, is recruiting social scientists to join five-person teams in Iraq and Afghanistan as cultural advisers; pilot teams are scheduled to begin work in the spring. Fondacaro has at least one anthropologist on his staff.

The fact that Kilcullen and others are eager to commit social-science knowledge to goals established by the Defense Department and the CIA is indicative of a new anthropology of insurgency. Anthropology under these circumstances appears as just another weapon to be used on the battlefield — not as a tool for building bridges between peoples, much less as a mirror that we might use to reflect upon the nature of our own society.

Besides being intrigued by the suggestion we should look at other cultures to better understand our own (is that a form of attempted mirror imaging? finding similarities?), this associate professor completely misses the point and perhaps should read McFate. The end result, however, is a culture clash that prevents the Clash of Cultures. I doubt the associate professor gets that.

On a side note, McFate included this interesting bit on the value of knowing culture that would really piss of the associate professor:

  • Much of Lansdale’s counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines can best be described as applied military anthropology. For example, in the 1950s, as
    part of his counterinsurgency campaign against the Huk rebels of the Philippines, he conducted research into local superstitions, which he exploited in “psywar”: “One psywar operation played upon the popular dread of an asuang, or vampire. . . . When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol. . . . They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next. . . .” Lansdale noted that such tactics were remarkably effective.

3 thoughts on “Institutional Culture Clash preventing culture understanding

  1. COR-HTS is a complete farce. The concept is great at winning the hearts and minds of the top military who want a solution. Unfortunately, HTS is not the answer. Anyone thinking of joining the HTS….DON’T. It is a complete waste of taxpayers money. The commanders don’t want HTS, the teams are dysfunctional, there have been 3 HTS members killed due to Fondacaro/McFate and BAE greed and not properly hiring qualified people and no training. These people should be arrested for fraud and made to serve time at Bagram. They are disgusting. BTW, you can find them getting drunk at the High Noon Saloon….nice gig for Fondacaro/McFate at $400,000 annually. HEY PRESIDENT OBAMA, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. PLEASE STOP FUNDING THIS FARCE OF A PROGRAM.

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