13 May 2011

From the AJP Symposium at CASCA 2011: The Anthropology of Militarism/The Militarization of Anthropology

The Anthropology of Militarism/The Militarization of Anthropology
By Maximilian C. Forte
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Concordia University

Paper presented at the symposium by Anthropologists for Justice and Peace, “Paths Out of Empire: Anthropologies of Resistance and Prefiguration,” at the conference of the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA), Fredericton NB, Canada, 11 May 2011.

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Taking up the challenges posed by Hugh Gusterson, for anthropology to become more cognizant of how militarism often shapes research topics and field sites, and to make militarism a subject of theoretical and empirical inquiry as much as colonialism or post-colonialism have been, we examine what an anthropology of militarism would encompass, and what its methods and aims should be. However, we couple this with scrutiny of the militarization of anthropology as one of the current reincarnations of anthropological support for empire, rendering anthropology one of the front-lines in the confrontation with militarism. We examine the import of diffused, outsourced modes of enlisting support and service to empire by contracting service for military goals. If no one in the world is untouched by militarism, we need to understand the nature of that “touching” and its limits, and here anthropologists can speak as insiders.

“When the university turns away from its central purpose and makes itself an appendage to the Government, concerning itself with techniques rather than purposes, with expedients rather than ideas, dispensing conventional orthodoxy rather than new ideas, it is not only failing to meet its responsibilities to students; it is betraying a public trust.”--J. William Fulbright (see also AJP, 2011).

The speaker in that opening quote is not a Maoist, a Leninist anti-imperialist, or an anarchist, but rather U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright. He wrote those words at a time, such as this, of the U.S. transforming itself into a military nation, where war becomes an end in itself, and where the distance between patriotism and militarism has been blurred to the extent that they fuse into one, producing bellicose jingoism.

In a context of increased militarization of relations between nations, with the resort to military intervention having become seemingly both easy and immediate, an option of first resort, where defence contractors consume ever larger portions of national budgets, and where ideologies of intervention, and even old narratives of conquest, have become normalized, it is important that analysts such as Hugh Gusterson (2007) issue a challenge to us in calling for an anthropology that is more cognizant of how militarism often shapes research topics and field sites. He argues that militarism ought to be a subject of theoretical and empirical inquiry as much as colonialism or post-colonialism have been. I want to add a challenge to his, not creating a dual challenge however, rather one that is essentially a unitary effort. This is where we would scrutinize the militarization of anthropology. In confronting militarist ideologies and militarized practice, we can speak as insiders. Therefore an anthropology of militarism can at least begin with an understanding of our own militarization, how we support it, or resist it, or silently abide by the multidimensional impacts of militarism and militarization in conditioning, influencing, and shaping not just our fields of study, but our valuation by the authorities as a useful counterinsurgency discipline. In broader terms, we would be looking at institutional anthropology as a particular mode of knowledge production indicative of a Western way of consuming and controlling non-Western others.

Gusterson holds that “no one in the world today is untouched by militarism” and that “militarism is integral to global society today” (2007, p. 156), and rather than provide a definition, he produces a spectrum of manifestations of militarism that can be taken as the foundation of a working definition. He says that militarism “can be seen around the world in the presence of standing armies, paramilitaries, and military contractors; the stockpiling of weaponry; burgeoning state surveillance programs; the colonization of research by the national security state; the circulation of militarized imagery in popular culture...and [quoting Lutz] 'the shaping of national histories in ways that glorify and legitimate military action'” (2007, p. 156), and we could add here the global proliferation of roughly a thousand U.S. military installations. Note that he also mentions the reshaping of research priorities to suit the national security state.

Opening up to the kind of challenge which I want to add, Gusterson notes that “war and militarism have stood in the same kind of relationship to anthropology as has colonialism” (2007, p. 156). His primary complaint is that anthropologists have not only written little about contemporary wars and international relations, they have written even less about their own relations with the national security state (Gusterson, 2007, p. 156). This is truly remarkable, given the bedrock for anthropology in the Indian Wars in the U.S., how World War I created the conditions for Malinowski's work in the Trobriand Islands, how Ruth Benedict's classic on Japanese character was a perfect example of anthropological work commissioned by the national security state, how other American anthropologists worked as administrators in Japanese internment camps, and how during the early decades of the Cold War most anthropologists learned to either not ask the wrong questions, where the state was concerned, or avoided areas engulfed in war, and yet showed strong interest for research that was oriented toward serving the national security state, such as national character studies and area studies. This was largely the imperial condition of anthropology at least until the 1960s—and while some will point to Franz Boas' certainly courageous effort to denounce anthropologists working as spies during World War I, one wonders if they can recall that this stance also earned him a lifetime censure by the American Anthropological Association, an organization he helped to found, and that the censure was only lifted in 2005, that is, after 86 years (AAA, 2005).

One side of this new challenge calls for anthropological work on militarism that at least equals what we have for capitalism, colonialism, and globalization (Gusterson, 2007, p. 165). The cynic in me says that should not be too hard, since we do not have that much in socio-cultural anthropology, at least when it comes to colonialism and capitalism—indeed, there are very few courses taught in either of these areas in North American anthropology, and the first time an article about colonialism appeared in an anthropology journal, it was already 1972, well after a wave of formal decolonization had begun, and it was not authored by an anthropologist (Horvath, 1972). Gusterson says that what we need is “a set of texts that analyze militarism in relation to nationalism, late modern capitalism, media cultures, and the state while mapping the ways in which militarism remakes communities, public cultures, and the consciousness of individual subjects in multiple geographic and social locations” (2007, p. 165), a program with which I fully agree, even if I think that such a challenge transcends disciplinary boundaries, just as it has with how anthropologists have studied capitalism, nationalism, and so forth.

The other side of the joint endeavor that I mentioned, is aimed at better understanding the instrument which is seeking to produce this knowledge about militarism, that is, a project that also focuses on how institutionalized and professionalized anthropology is itself one of those entities that fits in with capitalism, the state, and the national security establishment, either very directly at first, or in reaction against it (at least by some, from the late 1960s onwards), and how new compromises and new silences are being made in the present that accommodate the domestic penetration of the national security state and the constant warfare abroad along with calls that amount to a humanitarian imperialist mission for countries such as Canada. In this regard it's important to remember what David Price, another prominent researcher and critic of anthropology's ties to the national security state, has to say about anthropology, that, “while many anthropologists express concerns about disciplinary ties to military and intelligence organizations, contemporary anthropology has no core with which to either sync or collide and there are others in the field who openly (and quietly) support such developments” (Price, 2005, ¶ 10). To put it simply, rather than constantly externalizing, and pleading innocent, an anthropology of militarism ought to start at home first, the location we are most familiar with, serving as the institutional and intellectual context of our research efforts, and that we should first begin by understanding the militarization of anthropology since it offers us an intimate angle on the pervasive spread of militarism, and of the ethos of counterinsurgency and pacification.

The idea here is that anthropology is itself one of the actors in the setting which it aims to understand. Inspired by John Murra, Frank Salomon argues that “Instead of claiming innocence by virtue of Third World solidarity, or of objectivity, or of theoretical transcendence, anthropologists should recognize themselves as players put haphazardly into a world of dangerous power and do something good with that situation” (2007, p. 794). One would therefore think that it would be a valuable option to have anthropology translate its state of being for a wider audience, for those whom it has previously used for research, to explain how we have been, and still can be, used as the eyes, ears, advisers, and policy planners of the imperial state. Doing something good with our situation, as Salomon puts it, might mean better equipping marginalized and subordinated communities and persons to understand the operations of the state and the knowledge-production industries in seeking to keep them under surveillance and to control their lives. One would think this would be the maximum ethical position to take, and not one where ethics are minimally constrained to mere operations, such as informed consent for interviews.

In the U.S. the major recent effort to militarize anthropology, one that is ongoing, and that reportedly may be replicated by the Canadian Defence Forces (AJP, 2010a; Bertuca, 2010, ¶ 6-7), is the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System (see Forte, 2011a), which embeds academics in counterinsurgency units, to gather cultural intelligence, map social networks, assist in psychological operations, and try to “win hearts and minds.” Should plans to reproduce this in Canada go ahead in the near future, just imagine the possibilities, with over 400 PhD students currently in anthropology (Forte, 2010a, ¶ 1), and an academic job market that might absorb the tiniest fraction of them, and even then mostly as part-time instructors. In the U.S., the salary for a HTS employee exceeds $200,000 per year when deployed (Forte, 2011a, p. 150). This is just one example, but there is also the Minerva Research Initiative, where the Pentagon funds research projects of direct relevance and applicability to U.S. national security, especially where identifying undefined “terrorist” networks, ideologies, and communities amenable to hosting terrorists are concerned, and how to counter them (DoD, 2008, p. 20). Minerva is also open to funding Canadian researchers (DoD, 2008, p. 4), and is now funding Patrick Barclay at the University of Guelph, for a project on the manipulation of group threats (see IU, 2009), and funds the work of at least one anthropologist as well. Compared to SSHRC's Standard Research Grants of $250,000 maximum to cover a three-year period, or a Canada Research Chair, which is a little over $1 million for five years, Minerva can pay up to $3 million for one year (DoD, 2008, p. 4), and one recipient has won a $10 million grant (Forte, 2009asee also Forte, 2009b) to cover three years. In terms of a broader picture, we have to keep in mind that the Pentagon may be the single largest employer of anthropologists anywhere, employing 532 persons with anthropology degrees, including 58 with a PhD (Forte, 2011b). In addition, programs such as HTS have identified universities as the best training grounds for their candidates (Forte, 2011b), rather than the military's own in-house training, and this is just one program. David Price and others have identified several intelligence programs that fund the university education of young students, with the contractual obligation that they serve the CIA, or other intelligence units (there are in excess of 1,000 of them—see Priest & Arkin, 2010), without disclosing their intelligence ties to either other students or professors. And beyond formal programs, General David Petraeus encourages all academics to act as the eyes and ears of the Pentagon when traveling abroad (Mazzetti, 2010). Even those who do not serve in HTS itself, such as the Bowman Expeditions of the American Geographic Society, financed by the Pentagon, we saw the uploading of GIS and other sensitive personal data from southern Mexico into shared military intelligence databases (Forte, 2010b).

The militarization of academia in Canada is not at all far behind the U.S., even if we do not yet see the same degree of incorporation of anthropology into the national security establishment. Most large Canadian universities receive research funding from the Department of National Defence, and in particular the Security Defence Forum (see Beach, 2011) channels military funding to 14 universities and their centers of expertise in the social sciences. Funding also comes in the form of “corporate research partnerships and donation agreements which are not held to the same requirements of transparency as federal funds” with corporations sometimes sub-contracting universities to complete work commissioned by them from the federal government (Beach, 2011). At my own university, Concordia, five of the CEOs who lead the Board of Governors have direct links to the military-industrial complex, and the university is a participant in Project Hero (see Beach, 2011). The university has also marked as one of its “signature areas,” the “Will to Intervene” project that advocates direct and immediate military intervention in cases such as Libya, for example. In parts of the campus, the university showcases its aerial drones. At least one of our American-trained professors in political science conducts research related to counterinsurgency, with funding from the DND for work on Afghanistan and Pakistan. AJP (2010b) has also documented a case of militarized anthropology at the University of Calgary, with a formal position in military anthropology sponsored by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, with the Department of Anthropology openly refusing to answer any of the basic questions asked by colleagues, seeking information that any applicant and referee would need to know. At the very least, the infrastructure, and some of the early experiments, are already in place for militarizing Canadian anthropology, and with more interventionist governments sending Canadian forces into conflicts around the world, and with heightened military spending, we should be very alert as to what may be coming.

If the infrastructure, financing, and the rationale are all in place, we need to also consider how the very structure and mode of doing anthropology are themselves amenable to militarization. Our obsessive focus on ethnography, as if anthropology were locating in a method its much sought after influence and recognition of its contribution, opens up a major vulnerability. By insisting on a mode of knowledge production that has us probing and inserting ourselves among those without the same institutional firewalls and prohibited access we find among states and corporate elites, the kinds of institutional blocks that impede conventional ethnographic fieldwork, we ensure that we continue to mine the lives and minds of the ruled, the oppressed, and the subordinated. In particular, we often run the risk of making marginalized groups legible to the authorities, under the guise of speaking truth to power (see Forte, 2010c20072008). What about translating power for the powerless? Telling the truth about the powerful, as we ourselves are members of institutions that are assemblages of political and economic power, that serve power, logically presents itself as one of our special areas of knowledge, one so routine and everyday that it seems many of us take it for granted, and turn our heads to look elsewhere, often very far away, for the supposed truths of power. Our own colonial instincts need to be unveiled, starting from relatively small matters of enduring terminology where we refer to societies and peoples as “the field,” and the so-called problem of “going native,” using a phrase that is to be found among intelligence agencies and diplomatic missions, to the impulse among some students to get professional certification in anthropology so that they can get jobs in NGOs and “help people”--often far away people conveniently imagined as desperate, with gaunt faces and outstretched hands, begging for us to solve their problems, without pausing to think how work at home might help to stop our society and its leadership from creating their problems. Instead, anthropology, interventionist and humanitarian, becomes part of a global SPCA, part of the zoology of imperialism, as we market our special insights on animal management. A discipline that often seems bent on arbitrating, regulating, and monitoring indigenous identities and practices, may be called anthropology, or it may be called by its more obvious name: counterinsurgency. Our job is to build on and advance that part of anthropology that is not aligned to power, and that takes domination as its central concern.

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