US Army is Embedding Anthropologists

I try to keep politics from interfering with this site, but David Rohde’s excellent coverage in the New York Times on the Pentagon’s new experimental program, the Human Terrain Team, which enlists the help of cultural anthropologists to help tackle the tricky cultural nuances the military is confronting in Iraq and Afghanistan, is something I can’t not post about.

The article, “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones,” is excellently written, it not only covers the good things that have come about from recruiting anthropology into the fold, such as reducing armed conflicts by 60%, but also the critiques from the anthropological community. There’s also a informative video, which if I could, I’d embed here for you to see.

There’s so much to comment on the piece that I could honestly quote the whole article. Rather than do that, I recommend you jump on over and read the piece. Having academics, like anthropologists consult and assist in the war effort, is something I advocated many years ago, as it seemed like the military had no cultural sensitivity when the wars were starting. I remember I got chastised by Lorenz of but I still stand by my opinion that anthropology can help the war effort. I’m glad the head honchos have considered experimenting with social science to deal with problems that would never be solved by gunfights and military might.

9 thoughts on “US Army is Embedding Anthropologists

  1. I’m really confused as to why the Army took so long to enlist social scientists to ease the war effort. It doesn’t really take a PhD to know that force alone isn’t gonna help you win the love of the people.

  2. This has been coming for a while, ever since the new counterinsurgency field manual came out. Here is another job opening.
    You’d been a “Human Terrain Analyst” (HTA) working in the “Cultural Operations ResearchHuman Terrain System (COR-HTS)” Program and working for a military contractor.

    There are certainly moral and ethical issues, and the practical issue of the impact of militarizing US anthropology, especially on anthropologists who wish to do research overseas. But setting those aside I am concerned that the potential for anthropology has been way overhyped by people like McFate and Kilcullen. For one thing, the overall program implemented at too low a level. Basically anthropology is being used to implement plans developed by people whose worldview is predicated on the inferiority of foreigners. If anthropology were also coming at the level of policy and planning, then it might be a different story.

  3. There is a lot of concern about this among anthropologists in light of previous “embeds” with the military (particularly in Laos and Thailand during the 60s). Currently there is a campaign by the Concerned Network of Anthropologists to oppose participation in counter-insurgency operations. You can view and sign their petition here.

    I will be posting a series of historical accounts of anthropologists involved with military operations at The Primate Diaries in the coming days.

  4. I think it is also essential to look at these military anthropologists as a collective just as most of us would agree that we should not generalize a society. I believe that some of these military anthropologists are intelligent individuals that will not ‘unwittingly harm the Afgans and Iraqis with whom they are speaking by sharing their intelligence information with combat commander’ (Dina Rabie, Islamonline). I am not saying that military anthropology is good or bad (which i think is a superficial level). I think that we should not treat all military anthropologists like some dumb robots used just for the US military gains. I am sure that are some that are benefiting the community and it is them that we should encourage and promote so that the ‘honor’ of anthropology will not be brought down.

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