The Culture Wars continue

John Nagl responds to anthropologist Dr. David Price’s "assault on social scientists assisting national efforts to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This time he impugns the work of anthropologists who helped write Field Manual 3-24, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was published by the Army and Marine Corps in December 2006 and republished by the University of Chicago Press in July 2007. Price’s essay is extensive, but the argument and the tone of the whole can be extrapolated from this paragraph on the first page:

Most academics know that bad things can happen when marginally skilled writers must produce ambitious amounts of writing in short time periods; sometimes the only resulting calamities are grammatical abominations, but in other instances the pressures to perform lead to shoddy academic practices. Neither of these outcomes is especially surprising among desperate people with limited skills– but Petraeus and others leading the charge apparently did not worry about such trivialities: they had to crank out a new strategy to calm growing domestic anger at military failures in Iraq.

…Price also decries the incomplete bibliography of the manual; again, he neglects consideration of the cultural practices of the society which he is examining. Bibliographies are not a common feature of Field Manuals; indeed, the Counterinsurgency Manual is the first of which I am aware that includes recommendations of civilian texts for further reading. The works cited in the bibliography are not all or even most of those consulted during the writing of the text, but those that soldiers are encouraged to read to further their understanding of counterinsurgency. This is a book for practitioners.

I’m still short on time so my only comment is this: get a grip. Price’s attack is ironic considering his authorship on the Federal government’s attack on anthropologists in the 1950’s. The view from the Ivory Tower must be nice.

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