Currently, there are 22 comments on the AAA blog in response to their decision on the HTS issue. The majority of people are in favor of the decision. Others are not in favor, like I. Most of us see the decision as incomplete and unsupported.
A commentor, Catherine, makes a very critical observation,
“the statement itself strikes me a knee-jerk reaction to what is admittedly a complex issue and one that deserves to be grounded in a careful and thorough investigation of particulars.”
Catherine has pinpointed the problem. The AAA decision is premature. Even the AAA has outlines in that,
“The Commission’s work did not include systematic study of the HTS project.”
How can a academic organization like the AAA make a statement like this without conducting a systematic study? This is a clear case of the AAA saying, “Hey we don’t give a crap about conducting an thorough analysis of the HTS. We’ll just go with our gut feeling that the HTS anthropology program jeopardizes anthropology.” This is not very academic at all. It documents ignorance and superficiality in completely analyzing the issue.
W Penn Handwerker said,
“I find the AAA Executive Board’s ‘assessment’ of the HTS project embarrassingly uncritical and naive and exceedingly simple minded.”
Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.
Jamie Cleland, a consulting anthropologist with a focus in archaeology, writes,
“…I find the Executive Board’s statement to fall far short of a considered examination of significant issues raised for our profession by the HTS program. The Board wants to affirm in its final paragraph that anthropology is obliged to attempt to improve US government policies, yet through its narrow conceptualization of anthropology as a profession that primarily “studies others,” it totally misses its chance to affect US policies in any meaningful way. It ducks the question, “Under what circumstances can anthropologists work to improve our policies and actions in war zones?” The Executive Board evokes the ethical standard of “doing no harm,” but given a situation where harm is occurring, anthropologists at the front may be in a position to reduce that harm. If we oppose HTS and similar types of programs unconditionally, we will not be doing our best at using the knowledge we have gained through our “studies of others” to improve US policies… Cultural anthropological fieldwork unarguably has in the past damaged the people studied. If through well intentioned application of ethics, we prevent the use of knowledge so gained from practical application in the most horrific of circumstances, we are not living up to the higher ethical standards that should be at the core of our profession. I would like to see the Executive Board take up the issue of how anthropology might actually be useful and ethical in war zones.”
I’m gonna end this post with a modified Marx quote I’ve plucked from Adam of Agraphia,
“[Anthropologists] have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
In my opinion your not going to change military policy and actions by writing in subscription journals and if you truly want to stop the egregious acts and culturally detrimental actions of the military you have to actually get engaged with it, learn the lingo, embed yourself within it, so you can not only understand it, but hopefully teach it the vaulable lessons that anthropology has uncovered over the years.