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It has taken the American Anthropological Association (AAA) over a month to respond to the issue of the US Military embedding anthropologists to aide in the war effort. I’ve commented on this in early October. I support the idea of embedding anthropologists, even though I do not support the wars. I see it as progress and a potentially effective application of anthropology.

The AAA has finally convened and decided to disapprove of the program, which goes by Human Terrain System or HTS. They say that the HTS program,

“creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study.”

I’ve read a lot of debate on this site and all over the anthropology blogosphere on this matter. I respect the amount of thought and concern the community has put into this issue. I really respect this piece of first hand anthropology in the military that was shared on our site. But the AAA has taken a really pitiful stance. I’ll do my best to explain why but I apologize if the following doesn’t come out very articulate because I’m writing this in haste.

First of all, the decision not to support the HTS is based upon a unacademic and uneducated possibility that future anthropologists may face conducting research. Does the AAA have any empirical evidence that future anthropologists will face hardships because of the HTS? No, they don’t. They are running on the notion that because people will not easily differentiate HTS anthropologists from the military, that they’ll forever have a irreversible impression on anthropology.

How do we know that HTS anthropologists will be so horrible that no other anthropologist can follow suite and reverse the damages? We don’t. Just as likely as it is that HTS anthropologists will completely botch up anthropology is the notion that HTS anthropologists may be evangelical figures for anthropology and make it easier to conduct anthropological research in the areas HTS anthropologists work at. What I’m getting at is that at this point we do not have any idea to see how HTS anthropologists impact anthropology as a whole. I really think the HTS anthropology programs should move forward, be supported with constructive criticism… not outright opposition!

Also, I was really disappointed to read in the conclusion of the AAA statement on how they affirm,

“that anthropology can and in fact is obliged to help improve… through the widest possible circulation of anthropological understanding in the public sphere…”

…When they were the very group that ignorantly opposed open access last year. Judging by their actions, the widest possible circulation of anthropological understanding is through closed access publications and through opposing real life applications of anthropology. Give me a break.

I’m really considering posting to their newly created blog on this issue. They basically have opened the flood gates to

“facilitate discussion on this subject, [to use the blog] to post comments regarding the Executive Board Statement and related issues.”

What do you think? How do you feel about the AAA’s stance? Please share your thoughts and comments!