In this time of war, you would think that anthropologists would be on the front lines of conflict … in one way or another.
Throughout high school and my early days of college I lived in an area of the country where many military personnel lived. As a result, I had several friends who were in the service, and had also many friends who were deeply involved in such matters even as civilians. I was also a peacenik, so I sort of saw both sides of the spectrum, which in itself was an interesting experience. I remember doing a speech at a peace rally about what it was like for U.S. troops and some of the issues they faced — low pay, rigorous training, lack of post-military career development, personal and psychological trauma … and even interesting types of discrimination, most of them having come from uneducated lower to middle class families with a history of patriotism and service. Needless to say, the reality of the lives of servicepeople and the lives of most peaceniks were disparate, and I found a mixed reception to my views in both arenas. Indeed, there was very little conversation going on between pro-war and anti-war folks, and arguments tended to be so volatile as to result in categorizing the other as the bad guy. Some peaceniks would blame military personnel for the war, while many people in the military felt discriminated against by the “left”.
Since then, I’ve thought about how meaningful and insightful it would be to conduct an ethnography of the military, to document the kinds of hazards they experience in a controversial war, to learn how their risks and sacrifices are determined by higher-ups who will never appear on the front lines themselves, and why they continue to serve as a member of the military institution.
I’m not sure if anything like this has been done in anthropology, but I’m curious what people think about this issue. After all, Michael Moore in the making of Fahrenheit 911 added new dimensions to the scope of the media by addressing how the war affects families and communities of military servicepeople.