More on the AAA’s decision to oppose the HTS

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.

4 thoughts on “More on the AAA’s decision to oppose the HTS

  1. Normally I find your posts on this blog extremely well informed and insightful. This is not one of those cases. How you can justify anthropologists collaborating with an illegal and unjustified occupation of a land and its people raises serious doubts in my mind concerning your judgment. A handful of anthropologists embedded in military units could not hope to alter in any substantial way the orders from Washington or from the generals barricaded in the green zone. Any limited good such individuals might achieve would be outweighed by their use as tools of an occupation force that only supports the local population’s interests if it happens to coincide with their own agenda. By attempting to gain the trust of local people anthropologists would be identified as supporting the occupation and would further erode the already fragile barrier that separates anthropologists from agents of the state. I fully support the AAA’s decision and, in light of the Thailand counterinsurgency operations in the 1960s, I am grateful to see the association learning from their past mistakes.

  2. The argument that this is a chance for anthropologists to affect US military policy is not well-considered, and itself indicates a lack of study of the HTS program. The purpose of the HTS program is not to affect military policy, but to IMPLEMENT it, regardless of what the policy is. This program implicitly entails anthropologists surrender the right to critique US policy.

    As a practical point, the HTS teams operate at a very low level in the military hierarchy. It is unlikely they will have any more to offer than a reasonably bright soldier who has been in-country for a while.

    The “more studies are required” argument is pretty cynical. What studies could you possibly conduct, beyond letting the program run its course?! The nature of the program is public, the facts are not complex. But the ethical issues are complex. Further studies are not required. Informed debate is.

  3. How does HTS differ from embedded journalists joyriding through Iraq during the 2003 invasion?

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