[URBANTH-L]Army's Take on Anthropology's Involvement in the Military

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Tue May 24 16:13:06 EDT 2005

I'm not sure if the counter insurgency bit [referred to in the Savage Minds
weblog] was in reference to the below article, but this was just printed by
the Military Review, Department of the Army Headquarters Mar/Apr 2005. It is
the Army's take on the last century of US Cultural Anthropology:

Andy Newman
Graduate Student
Department of Anthropology
Graduate Center, CUNY

Full Article:
by  Montgomery McFate, J.D., Ph.D.
Posted on: Wednesday, 18 May 2005, 03:00 CDT

Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of Their Curious

SOMETHING MYSTERIOUS is going on inside the U.S. Department of Defense
(DOD). Over the past 2 years, senior leaders have been calling for something
unusual and unexpected-cultural knowledge of the adversary. In July 2004,
retired Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr., wrote an article for the Naval
War College's Proceedings magazine that opposed the commonly held view
within the U.S. military that success in war is best achieved by
overwhelming technological advantage. Scales argues that the type of
conflict we are now witnessing in Iraq requires "an exceptional ability to
understand people, their culture, and their motivation."1 In October 2004,
Arthur Cebrowski, Director of the Office of Force Transformation, concluded
that "knowledge of one's enemy and his culture and society may be more
important than knowledge of his order of battle." In November 2004, the
Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) sponsored the Adversary Cultural Knowledge and National Security
Conference, the first major DOD conference on the social sciences since

Why has cultural knowledge suddenly become such an imperative? Primarily
because traditional methods of warfighting have proven inadequate in Iraq
and Afghanistan. U.S. technology, training, and doctrine designed to counter
the Soviet threat are not designed for low-intensity counterinsurgency
operations where civilians mingle freely with combatants in complex urban
The major combat operations that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime were
relatively simple because they required the U.S. military to do what it does
best-conduct maneuver warfare in flat terrain using overwhelming firepower
with air support. However, since the end of the "hot" phase of the war,
coalition forces have been fighting a complex war against an enemy they do
not understand. The insurgents' organizational structure is not military,
but tribal. Their tactics are not conventional, but asymmetrical. Their
weapons are not tanks and fighter planes, but improvised explosive devices
(IEDs). They do not abide by the Geneva Conventions, nor do they appear to
have any informal rules of engagement.

Countering the insurgency in Iraq requires cultural and social knowledge of
the adversary. Yet, none of the elements of U.S. national power-diplomatic,
military, intelligence, or economic- explicitly take adversary culture into
account in the formation or execution of policy. This cultural knowledge gap
has a simple cause- the almost total absence of anthropology within the
national- security establishment.
Once called "the handmaiden of colonialism," anthropology has had a long,
fruitful relationship with various elements of national power, which ended
suddenly following the Vietnam War. The strange story of anthropology's
birth as a warfighting discipline, and its sudden plunge into the abyss of
postmodernism, is intertwined with the U.S. failure in Vietnam. The curious
and conspicuous lack of anthropology in the national-security arena since
the Vietnam War has had grave consequences for countering the insurgency in
Iraq, particularly because political policy and military operations based on
partial and incomplete cultural knowledge are often worse than none at all.

A Lack of Cultural Awareness

In a conflict between symmetric adversaries, where both are evenly matched
and using similar technology, understanding the adversary's culture is
largely irrelevant. The Cold War, for all its complexity, pitted two powers
of European heritage against each other. In a counterinsurgency operation
against a non-Western adversary, however, culture matters. U.S. Department
of the Army Field Manual (FM) (interim) 3-07.22, Counterinsurgency
Operations, defines insurgency as an "organized movement aimed at the
overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed
conflict. It is a protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken
government control and legitimacy while increasing insurgent control.
Political power is the central issue in an insurgency [emphasis added]."
Political considerations must therefore circumscribe military action as a
fundamental matter of strategy. As British Field Marshall Gerald Templar
explained in 1953, "The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the
jungle, but rests in the hearts and minds of the . . . people." Winning
hearts and minds requires understanding the local culture.

Aside from Special Forces, most U.S. soldiers are not trained to understand
or operate in foreign cultures and societies. One U.S. Army captain in Iraq
said, "I was never given classes on how to sit down with a sheik. . . . He
is giving me the traditional dishdasha and the entire outfit of a sheik
because he claims that I am a new sheik in town so I must be dressed as one.
I don't know if he is trying to gain favor with me because he wants
something [or if it is] something good or something bad." In fact, as soon
as coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein, they became de facto players in
the Iraqi social system. The young captain had indeed become the new sheik
in town and was being properly honored by his Iraqi host.

As this example indicates, U.S. forces frequently do not know who their
friends are, and just as often they do not know who their enemies are. A
returning commander from the 3d Infantry Division observed: "I had perfect
situational awareness. What I lacked was cultural awareness. I knew where
every enemy tank was dug in on the outskirts of Tallil. Only problem was, my
soldiers had to fight fanatics charging on foot or in pickups and firing
AK-47s and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. Great technical intelligence.
Wrong enemy."

While the consequences of a lack of cultural knowledge might be most
apparent (or perhaps most deadly) in a counterinsurgency, a failure to
understand foreign cultures has been a major contributing factor in multiple
national- security and intelligence failures. In her 1962 study, Pearl
Harbor: Warning and Decision, Roberta Wohlstetter demonstrated that although
the U.S. Government picked up Japanese signals (including conversations,
decoded cables, and ship movements), it failed to distinguish signals from
noise-to understand which signals were meaningful-because it was
unimaginable that the Japanese might do something as "irrational" as
attacking the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific fleet.
A101st Airborne Division trooper examines a captured RPG and makeshift
bamboo launcher, 1969.
Such ethnocentrism (the inability to put aside one's own cultural attitudes
and imagine the world from the perspective of a different group) is
especially dangerous in a national-security context because it can distort
strategic thinking and result in assumptions that the adversary will behave
exactly as one might behave. India's nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998
came as a complete surprise because of this type of "mirror-imaging" among
CIA analysts. According to the internal investigation conducted by former
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff David Jeremiah, the real problem
was an assumption by intelligence analysts and policymakers that the Indians
would not test their nuclear weapons because Americans would not test
nuclear weapons in similar circumstances. According to Jeremiah, "The
intelligence and the policy communities had an underlying mind-set going
into these tests that the B.J.P. [Bharatiya Janata Party] would behave as we
[would] behave."

The United States suffers from a lack of cultural knowledge in its
national-security establishment for two primary, interrelated reasons.
First, anthropology is largely and conspicuously absent as a discipline
within our national-security enterprise, especially within the intelligence
community and DOD. Anthropology is a social science discipline whose primary
object of study has traditionally been nonWestern, tribal societies. The
methodologies of anthropology include participant observation, fieldwork,
and historical research. One of the central epistemological tenets of
anthropology is cultural relativism-understanding other societies from
within their own framework.

The primary task of anthropology has historically been translating knowledge
gained in the "field" back to the West. While it might seem self-evident
that such a perspective would be beneficial to the national security
establishment, only one of the national defense universities (which provide
master's degreelevel education to military personnel) currently has an
anthropologist on its faculty. At West Point, which traditionally places a
heavy emphasis on engineering, anthropology is disparagingly referred to by
cadets as "nuts and huts." And, although political science is well
represented as a discipline in senior policymaking circles, there has never
been an anthropologist on the National security Council.

The second and related reason for the current lack of cultural knowledge is
the failure of the U.S. military to achieve anything resembling victory in
Vietnam. Following the Vietnam War, the Joint Chiefs of Staffcollectively
put their heads in the sand and determined they would never fight an
unconventional war again. From a purely military perspective, it was easier
for them to focus on the threat of Soviet tanks rolling through the Fulda
Gap, prompting a major European land war-a war they could easily fight using
existing doctrine and technology and that would have a clear, unequivocal

The preference for the use of overwhelming force and clear campaign
objectives was formalized in what has become known as the Weinberger
doctrine. In a 1984 speech, secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger
articulated six principles designed to ensure the Nation would never become
involved in another Vietnam. By the mid-1980s, there was cause for concern:
deployment of troops to El Salvador seemed likely and the involvement in
Lebanon had proved disastrous following the bombing of the U.S. Marine
barracks in Beirut. Responding to these events, Weinberger believed troops
should be committed only if U.S. national interests were at stake; only in
support of clearly defined political and military objectives; and only "with
the clear intention of winning."

In 1994, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell (formerly a
military assistant to Weinberger) rearticulated the Weinberger doctrine's
fundamental elements, placing a strong emphasis on the idea that force, when
used, should be overwhelming and disproportionate to the force used by the
enemy. The Powell- Weinberger doctrine institutionalized a preference for
"major combat operations"-big wars-as a matter of national preference.
Although the Powell-Weinberger doctrine was eroded during the Clinton years;
during operations other than war in Haiti, Somali, and Bosnia; and during
the second Bush Administration's pre-emptive strikes in Afghanistan and
Iraq, no alternative doctrine has emerged to take its place.

We have no doctrine for "nationbuilding," which the military eschews as a
responsibility because it is not covered by Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which
outlines the responsibilities of the military as an element of national
power. Field Manual 3-07, Stability Operations and Support Operations, was
not finalized until February 2003, despite the fact the U.S. military was
already deeply engaged in such operations in Iraq. Field Manual
3-07.22-meant to be a temporary document-is still primarily geared toward
fighting an enemy engaged in Maoist revolutionary warfare, a type of
insurgency that has little application to the situation in Iraq where
multiple organizations are competing for multiple, confusing objectives.

Since 1923, the core tenet of U.S. warfighting strategy has been that
overwhelming force deployed against an equally powerful state will result in
military victory. Yet in a counterinsurgency situation such as the one the
United States currently faces in Iraq, "winning" through overwhelming force
is often inapplicable as a concept, if not problematic as a goal. While
negotiating in Hanoi a few days before Saigon fell, U.S. Army Colonel Harry
Summers, Jr., said to a North Vietnamese colonel, "You know, you never
defeated us on the battlefield." The Vietnamese colonel replied, "That may
be so, but it is also irrelevant." The same could be said of the conflict in

Winning on the battlefield is irrelevant against an insurgent adversary
because the struggle for power and legitimacy among competing factions has
no purely military solution. Often, the application of overwhelming force
has the negative, unintended effect of strengthening the insurgency by
creating martyrs, increasing recruitment, and demonstrating the "brutality"
of state forces.
The alternative approach to fighting insurgency, such as the British
eventually adopted through trial and error in Northern Ireland, involves the
following: A comprehensive plan to alleviate the political conditions behind
the insurgency; civil-military cooperation; the application of minimum
force; deep intelligence; and an acceptance of the protracted nature of the
conflict. Deep cultural knowledge of the adversary is inherent to the
British approach.

Although cultural knowledge of the adversary matters in counterinsurgency,
it has little importance in major combat operations. Because the Powell
Weinberger doctrine meant conventional, large-scale war was the only
acceptable type of conflict, no discernable present or future need existed
to develop doctrine and expertise in unconventional war, including
counterinsurgency. Thus, there was no need to incorporate cultural knowledge
into doctrine, training, or warfighting. Until now, that is.
On 21 October 2003, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing to
examine lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Scales' testimony at
the hearing prompted U.S. Representative "Ike" Skelton to write a letter to
secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in which he said: "In simple terms, if
we had better understood the Iraqi culture and mindset, our war plans would
have been even better than they were, the plan for the postwar period and
all of its challenges would have been far better, and we [would have been]
better prepared for the 'long slog' . . . to win the peace in Iraq."

Even such DOD luminaries as Andrew Marshall, the mysterious director of the
Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, are now calling for "anthropologylevel
knowledge of a wide range of cultures" because such knowledge will prove
essential to conducting future operations. Although senior U.S. Government
officials such as Skelton are calling for "personnel in our civilian ranks
who have cultural knowledge and understanding to inform the policy process,"
there are few anthropologists either available or willing to play in the
same sandbox with the military.

The Current State of the Discipline

Although anthropology is the only academic discipline that explicitly seeks
to understand foreign cultures and societies, it is a marginal contributor
to U.S. national-security policy at best and a punch line at worst. Over the
past 30 years, as a result of anthropologists' individual career choices and
the tendency toward reflexive self-criticism contained within the discipline
itself, the discipline has become hermetically sealed within its Ivory

Unlike political science or economics, anthropology is primarily an academic
discipline. The majority of newly minted anthropologists brutally compete
for a limited number of underpaid university faculty appointments, and
although there is an increasing demand from industry for applied
anthropologists to advise on product design, marketing, and organizational
culture, anthropologists still prefer to study the "exotic and useless," in
the words of A.L. Kroeber.

The retreat to the Ivory Tower is also a product of the deep isolationist
tendencies within the discipline. Following the Vietnam War, it was
fashionable among anthropologists to reject the discipline's historic ties
to colonialism. Anthropologists began to reinvent their discipline, as
demonstrated by Kathleen Cough's 1968 article, Anthropology: Child of
Imperialism, followed by Dell Hymes' 1972 anthology, Reinventing
Anthropology, and culminating in editor Talal Asad's Anthropology and the
Colonial Encounter.

 Rejecting anthropology's status as the handmaiden of colonialism,
anthropologists refused to "collaborate" with the powerful, instead vying to
represent the interests of indigenous peoples engaged in neocolonial
struggles. In the words of Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, anthropologists would
now speak for the "subaltern." Thus began a systematic interrogation of the
contemporary state of the discipline as well as of the colonial
circumstances from which it emerged. Armed with critical hermeneutics,
frequently backed up by self- reflexive neo-Marxism, anthropology began a
brutal process of self- flagellation, to a degree almost unimaginable to
anyone outside the discipline. The turn toward postmodernism within
anthropology exacerbated the tendency toward self-flagellation, with the
central goal being "the deconstraction of the centralized, logocentric
master narratives of European culture." This movement away from descriptive
ethnography has produced some of the worst writing imaginable. For example,
Cultural Anthropology, one of the most respected anthropology journals in
the United States, commonly publishes such incomprehensible articles as
"Recovering True Selves in the Electro- Spiritual Field of Universal Love"
and "Material Consumers, Fabricating Subjects: Perplexity, Global
Connectivity Discourses, and Transnational Feminist Research."

Anthropologist Stephen Tyler recently took fourth place in the Bad Writing
Contest with this selection from Writing Culture, a remarkable passage
describing postmodern ethnography: "It thus relativizes discourse not just
to form-that familiar perversion of the modernist; nor to authorial
intention-that conceit of the romantics; nor to a foundational world beyond
discourse-that desperate grasping for a separate reality of the mystic and
scientist alike; nor even to history and ideology-those refuges of the
hermeneuticist; nor even less to language-that hypostasized abstraction of
the linguist; nor, ultimately, even to discourse- that Nietzschean
playground of world-lost signifiers of the structuralist and grammatologist,
but to all or none of these, for it is anarchic, though not for the sake of
anarchy, but because it refuses to become a fetishized object among
objects-to be dismantled, compared, classified, and neutered in that parody
of scientific scrutiny known as criticism."

The Colonial Era

>From the foregoing discussion, it might be tempting to conclude that
anthropology is absent from the policy arena because it really is "exotic
and useless." However, this was not always the case. Anthropology actually
evolved as an intellectual tool to consolidate imperial power at the margins
of empire.

In Britain the development and growth of anthropology was deeply connected
to colonial administration. As early as 1908, anthropologists began training
administrators of the Sudanese civil service. This relationship was quickly
institutionalized: in 1921, the International Institute of African Languages
and Cultures was established with financing from various colonial
governments, and Lord Lugard, the former governor of Nigeria, became head of
its executive council. The organization's mission was based on Bronislaw
Malinowski's article, "Practical Anthropology," which argued that
anthropological knowledge should be applied to solve the problems faced by
colonial administrators, including those posed by "savage law, economics,
customs, and institutions." Anthropological knowledge was frequently useful,
especially in understanding the power dynamics in traditional societies. In
1937, for example, the Royal Anthropological Institute's Standing Committee
on Applied Anthropology noted that anthropological research would "indicate
the persons who hold key positions in the community and whose influence it
would be important to enlist on the side of projected reforms." In the words
of Lord Hailey, anthropologists were indeed "of great assistance in
providing Government with knowledge which must be the basis of
administrative policy."

A North African soldier serving with Free French and American forces
sharpens his bayonet.
Anthropology as a tool of empire was, however, not without its detractors.
In 1951, Sir Philip E. Mitchell wrote: "Anthropologists busied themselves
[with] all the minutiae of obscure trial and personal practices, especially
if they were agreeably associated with sex or flavoured with obscenity.
There resulted a large number of painstaking and often accurate records of
interesting habits and practices, of such length that no one had time to
read them and [which were] often, in any case, irrelevant. . . ."

The World War I Era

After the classic age of empire came to a close, anthropologists and
archeologists became key players in the new game in town- espionage. Their
habits of wandering in remote areas and skill at observation proved to be
quite useful to the government. Although a number of anthropologists worked
as spies during World War I (including Arthur Carpenter, Thomas Gann, John
Held, Samuel Lothrop, and Herbert Spinden), the most famous was
Harvard-trained archaeologist Sylvanus Morley, who had discovered the
ancient city of Naachtun and had direeled the reconstruction of Chichn Itz
while serving as head of the Carnegie Archaeological Program from 1914 to
1929. Morley, who was one of the most respected archeologists of the early
20th century, was also the "best secret agent the United States produced
during World War I."

In 1916, when German agents were allegedly attempting to establish a Central
American base for submarine warfare, the Office of Naval Intelligence
recruited Morley, who used archeological fieldwork as cover to traverse
2,000 miles of remote Central American coastline, enduring "ticks,
mosquitoes, fleas, sand flies, saddle-sores, seasickness, barrunning,
indifferent grub, and sometimes no grub at all, rock-hard beds, infamous
hostelries, and even earthquakes." While Morley and company found no German
submarine bases, he did produce nearly 10,000 pages of intelligence reports
documenting everything from navigable shoreline features to the economic
impact of sisal production.

Morley's activities were not well regarded by many anthropologists. On 20
December 1919, Franz Boas, the most well- known anthropologist in America,
published a letter in The Nation, to the effect that Morley and others
(although they were not named directly) "have prostituted science by using
it as a cover for their activities as spies. A soldier whose business is
murder as a fine art . . . accept[s] the code of morality to which modern
society still conforms. Not so the scientist. The very essence of his life
is the service of truth."

A German Jew by birth, Boas was an adamant pacifist and an outspoken critic
of the war, writing multiple editorials and newspaper articles expressing
his opinion that World War I was a war of imperialist aggression.
(Ironically, many of Boas' students, including Margaret Mead and Ruth
Benedict went on to work for the military in roles Boas would have, no
doubt, questioned.)
For his public allegations against the unnamed anthropologists, the American
Anthropological Association censured Boas in 1919. The criticism of Morley
by his peers for his espionage activities and the resulting scuffle within
the American Anthropological Association (AAA) foreshadowed the reemergence
of the issue of covert anthropological support to the U.S. Government during
the 1960s.

The World War II Era

During World War II, the role of anthropologists within the
national-security arena was greatly expanded. Many anthropologists served in
the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the institutional predecessor to
both the CIA and Special Forces. Anthropologists served in a research
capacity and as operatives. Carleton Coon, a professor of anthropology at
Harvard, trained Moroccan resistance groups in sabotage, fought in the
battle of Kasserine Pass, and smuggled arms to French resistance groups in
German-occupied Morocco. His book about life in the OSS, A North Africa
Story: The Anthropologist as OSS Agent, contains a highly amusing account of
developing an IED in the shape of a donkey dropping.

Stretcher bearers prepare to evacuate American wounded near Buna, New
Guinea, 1942.
Other anthropologists also saw direct action: British ethnologist Tom
Harrisson parachuted into Borneo to train indigenous guerrillas to fight the
Japanese. Cora Du Bois, who served as Chief of the Indonesia section in the
OSS Research and Analysis Branch, became the head of the Southeast Asia
Command in Ceylon, where she ran resistance movements in Southeast Asian
countries under Japanese occupation. Du Bois received the Exceptional
Civilian Service Award in 1945 for her work with the Free Thai underground

Perhaps the most famous anthropologist who served in the OSS was Gregory
Bateson. Bateson, a British citizen, spent many years conducting
ethnographic research in New Guinea, the results of which were published in
1936 as Naven. At the beginning of World War II, having failed to find a
position with the British War Office, Bateson returned to the United States
and was recruited by the OSS, where he served as a civilian member of a
forward intelligence unit in the Arakan Mountains of Burma.

In addition to intelligence analysis, Bateson designed and produced "black
propaganda" radio broadcasts intended to undermine Japanese propaganda in
the Pacific Theater. He found the work distasteful, however, because he
believed that truth, especially the unpleasant truth, was healthy. Despite
his misgivings about deceitful propaganda, Bateson was a willing and
competent operative. In 1945, he volunteered to penetrate deep into enemy
territory to attempt the rescue of three OSS agents who had escaped from
their Japanese captors. For this service, Bateson was awarded the Pacific
Campaign Service Ribbon.

Bateson had remarkable strategic foresight concerning the effect of new
technology on warfare. While in the Pacific Theater, he wrote to the
legendary director of the OSS, "Wild Bill" Donovan, that the existence of
the nuclear bomb would change the nature of conflict, forcing nations to
engage in indirect methods of warfare. Bateson recommended to Donovan that
the United States not rely on conventional forces for defense but to
establish a third agency to employ clandestine operations, economic
controls, and psychological pressures in the new warfare.31 This
organization is, of course, now known as the Central Intelligence Agency.

Later in his career, Bateson was allegedly involved with a number of
experimental psychological warfare initiatives, including the CIA's
Operation MK-Ultra, which conducted mind-control research. It is generally
accepted that Bateson "turned on" the Beat poet Alien Ginsberg to LSD at the
Mental Research Institute, where Bateson was working on the causes of

Among anthropologists, Bateson is generally remembered not for his
activities in the OSS, but as Mead's husband. In 1932, he met Mead in the
remote Sepik River area of New Guinea. After conducting fieldwork together
in New Guinea, Bateson and Mead coproduced ethnographic films and
photodocumentation of Balinese kinesics.

Like her husband, Mead was also involved in the war effort. In addition to
producing pamphlets for the Office of War Information, she produced a study
for the National Research Council on the cultural food habits of people from
different national backgrounds in the United States. She also investigated
food distribution as a method of maintaining morale during wartime in the
United States. Along with Bateson and Geoffrey Gorer, Mead helped the OSS
establish a psychological warfare training unit for the Far East.

Like Bateson, Mead had reservations about the use of deceitful propaganda,
believing that such methods have "terrible possibilities of backfiring."
Mead's larger concern, however, was the "tremendous amount of resentment"
against using anthropological insights during the war. In particular, she
noted that using anthropologists to advise advisers is ineffective; to be
useful, anthropologists must work directly with policymakers.

In 1942, Mead published And Keep Your Powder Dry, a book on U.S. military
culture. According to Mead, Americans see aggression as a response rather
than a primary behavior; believe in the use of violence for altruistic,
never for selfish purposes; and view organized conflict as a finite task to
be completed. Once finished, Americans wal\k away and move on to the next
task. William O. Beeman points out that Mead's observations of U.S. national
strategic character seem to be borne out by the current administration's
characterization of the conflict in Iraq as a defensive war, prompted by the
imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction ready for imminent use and
undertaken for altruistic reasons, such as "bringing Democracy to Iraq,"
that would be short and limited in scope.36
In 1943, Benedict, Mead's long-time friend and collaborator, became the head
(and initially the sole member) of the Basic Analysis Section of the Bureau
of Overseas Intelligence of the Office of War Information (OWI), a position
Benedict sought to use "to get policy makers to take into account different
habits and customs of other parts of the world." While at OWI, Benedict
coauthored The Races of Mankind, a government pamphlet which refuted the
Nazi pseudo-theories of Aryan racial superiority. Conservative congressmen
attacked the pamphlet as communist propaganda, and the publicity surrounding
it led to the sale of 750,000 copies, its translation into seven languages,
and the production of a musical version in New York City.

Benedict also undertook research on Japanese personality and culture, the
effect of which cannot be overstated. Near the end of the war, senior
military leaders and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were convinced
the Japanese were "culturally incapable of surrender" and would fight to the
last man. Benedict and other OWI anthropologists were asked to study the
view of the emperor in Japanese society. The ensuing OWI position papers
convinced Roosevelt to leave the emperor out of the conditions of surrender
(rather than demanding unconditional surrender as he did of dictators Adolph
Hitler and Benito Mussolini). Much of Benedict's research for OWI was
published in 1946 as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, considered by many as
a classic ethnography of Japanese military culture, despite Benedict never
having visited the country.

Since fieldwork in the traditional sense was impossible during wartime,
culture had to be studied remotely. The theoretical contribution of World
War II anthropologists to the discipline is commonly known as "culture at a
distance." Following the war, from 1947 to 1952, Mead, Benedict, and others
established a research program at Columbia University. Working under
contract to the U.S. Office of Naval Research, anthropologists developed
techniques for evaluating cultural artifacts, such as immigrant and refugee
testimonies, art, and travelers' accounts, to build up a picture of a
particular culture.

Most of the culture-at-a-distance studies were rooted in the premises of
developmental psychology, such as that the so-called national character of
any group of people could be traced to commonalities in
psychological-development processes. While some of their conclusions now
seem ridiculous (for example, Gorer's "swaddling hypothesis" to explain the
bipolar swings in Russian culture from emotional repression to aggressive
drinking), other research results were not only accurate but useful in a
military context.

Small Wars

In January 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy met with national security
adviser Walt Whitman Rostow to discuss various national- security threats.
Kennedy and Rostow turned their attention to the subject of Vietnam, and
Kennedy said: "This is the worst one we've got. You know, Eisenhower never
mentioned it. He talked at length about Laos, but never uttered the word

Kennedy and Rostow's discussion (and Kennedy's approval of the
"Counterinsurgency Plan" for Vietnam 10 days after taking office) was
inspired by Major General Edward G. Lansdale's report on the situation in
Vietnam. Lansdale, who was widely believed to have been the model for Alden
Pyle in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, was a former advertising
executive who almost single-handedly prevented a communist takeover of the
Philippines. Lansdale helped install Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the
American-backed government of South Vietnam and, later, ran Operation
Mongoose, the covert plot to overthrow by any means necessary Fidel Castro's
government in Cuba.

Much of Lansdale's counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines can best
be described as applied military anthropology. For example, in the 1950s, as
part of his counterinsurgency campaign against the Huk rebels of the
Philippines, he conducted research into local superstitions, which he
exploited in "psywar": "One psywar operation played upon the popular dread
of an asuang, or vampire. . . . When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the
ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol.. . . They punctured
his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels,
drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks
returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade,
every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one
of them would be next. . . ." Lansdale noted that such tactics were
remarkably effective.

During the Huk Rebellion, the real guerrilla-warfare expert was Captain
Charles Bohannan, who later coauthored one of the best studies of practical
counterinsurgency, Counter-Guerrilla Operations: The Philippine Experience.
Bohannan, who fought as an anti-Japanese guerrilla in New Guinea and the
Philippines during World War II, remained in the Philippines as an Army
counterintelligence officer. He was a natural pick for the team when
Lansdale returned to the Philippines in 1950. Bohannan continued to work
with Lansdale in Vietnam (and apparently Laos) throughout the 1950s and
1960s, serving as deputy commander of the covert "Saigon Military Mission"
that Lansdale headed. Quite likely, Bohannan was also the military planner
for the Bay of Pigs.

Latin American soldiers receiving heliborne training from U.S. Special
Forces, 1969.
Bohannan had completed advanced graduate work in anthropology and was a
strong advocate of local cultural knowledge and "total immersion" during
training and operations.45 He was particularly interested in "operations
intended to influence the thinking of people." In 1959, for example, he was
a member of the secret U.S. "survey team" sent to Colombia to evaluate the
insurgency and provide a plan for U.S.-Colombian action. Much like
anthropologists conducting fieldwork, the team traveled more than 23,000
kilometers and interviewed more than 2,000 officials, civilians, and
guerrilla leaders. Their three-volume report reviewed the history of the
violence, the underlying socioeconomic conditions, and issued
recommendations for social, civil, and military reform to the Colombian and
U.S. governments.

Bohannan was a believer in the use of minimum force in counterinsurgency. In
an unpublished 1964 paper from a Vietnam posting, he objects to totalitarian
methods of counterinsurgency as being potentially counterproductive: "Mass
arrests, wholesale searches, and other seemingly easy methods of "population
control" can only strengthen opposition to the government." And, according
to Lansdale, overwhelming force was simply not effective for fighting an
insurgency: "Only unabashedly totalitarian governments, Communist or
colonialist, with relatively unlimited resources, can seriously think of, or
attempt, killing or capturing most of the insurgents and their supports."

Bohannan's mentor, Rufus Phillips (a former CIA operative who later headed
the Rural Affairs Section of the U.S Agency for the International
Development Mission in Vietnam) observed in a 1964 memorandum that the U.S.
military was bound by "conventional military thinking." The American command
was guided by neither a British-style dedication to a political
objective-however abusive the measures used to achieve it-nor any particular
interest in the nonmilitary side of U.S. counterinsurgency: "Everybody talks
about civic action and psychological warfare, but little command emphasis is
placed on it and it is not understood. The major emphasis remains on
'killing Viet Cong'."

The Vietnam War

Despite the authority of men like Lansdale and Bohannan within high-level
military and policy circles during the Vietnam War, the military preference
for overwhelming force frequently trumped the hearts and minds aspect of
counterinsurgency. Anthropologists such as Gerald Hickey, who went to
Vietnam as a University of Chicago graduate student and remained throughout
the war as a researcher for the RAND Corporation, found that their deep
knowledge of Vietnam (valuable for counterinsurgency) was frequently ignored
by U.S. military leaders who increasingly adopted a conventional-war
approach as the conflict progressed. Mickey's career raises a number of
issues that even now plague anthropological research in a military context,
such as the politics of research inside the beltway, the inability to change
counterproductive policies, and backbiting by other anthropologists hostile
to the military enterprise.

Hickey, who wrote Village in Vietnam, a classic ethnography of a southern
Vietnamese lowland village, was recruited by RAND in 1961 to produce a study
funded by DARPA. The study followed the newly established Strategic Hamlet
Program that sought to consolidate governmental authority in pacified areas
through a defense system and administrative reorganization at the village
level. Central to the study was the question of how highland tribes could be
encouraged to support the South Vietnamese Government.

Hickey's research indicated that the strategic hamlets might be successful
if farmers saw evidence their communal labor and contribution of time, land,
and building materials actually resulted in physical and economic security.
Although Hickey's observations were probably correct, his views were often
dismissed as too pacifistic. When Hickey debriefed Marine General Victor
Krul\ak, the general pounded his fist on his desk and said, "We are going to
make the peasants do what's necessary for strategic hamlets to succeed!" As
Hickey noted, peasants have many methods of passive and active resistance,
and force is often counterproductive as a motivator. Disliking the results
of the study, the Pentagon pressured RAND to change the findings and, in the
interest of impartial research, RAND refused. In the end, none of Hickey's
findings were implemented, and the Strategic Hamlet Program was a failure.

In 1964, a major uprising of Montagnard highland tribal groups occurred
under the banner of FULRO (The United Front for the Straggle of Oppressed
Races). Although the Montagnards sided with the United States against the
communist north and were supplied by (and fought alongside) U.S. troops,
they violently opposed the South Vietnamese Government's efforts to control
their region and assimilate the population.

Dealing with the revolt was a major imperative for the military and the
South Vietnamese Government because the central highlands were of strategic
importance and included the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was the main North
Vietnamese infiltration and supply route. Hickey, who had worked closely
with the Montagnards for years, advised the senior commander of U.S. forces
in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, on the reasons for the rise of
ethno- nationalism among the tribes and how to cope with the revolt. Hickey
also successfully acted as an intermediary between highland leaders and the
U.S. and South Vietnamese governments.

As the war dragged on, Hickey became increasingly frustrated with the
military-strategy viewpoint held by officers such as U.S. Army General
William E. Depuy, who believed a war of attrition would defeat the
communists. Hickey's view was that the war in Vietnam was a political
struggle that could only be resolved in political terms, not through pure
military force. As an anthropologist, he recognized that elements of
Vietnam's own culture could be used to promote peace between the existing
nationalist political parties, religious groups, and minorities-none of whom
welcomed communist rule.
In a remarkable paper titled "Accommodation in South Vietnam: the Key to
Sociopolitical Solidarity," Hickey explored the indigenous Vietnamese
cultural concept of accommodation. While Taoist roots of the Vietnamese
value system stressed individualism, in the Vietnamese worldview,
accommodation was also necessary to restore harmony with the universe. In
Washington, D.C., Hickey's views on accommodation were treated as heresy. In
1967, at the conclusion of Hickey's brief to a Pentagon audience, Richard
Holbrooke said, "What you're saying, Gerry, is that we're not going to win a
military victory in Vietnam." Because it did not conform to the prevailing
view of the conflict, Hickey's message was promptly dismissed. Regardless of
the improbability of a military victory, to U.S. leaders, "accommodation"
meant "giving in," and that was not an acceptable alternative. In the end,
the American solution to the conflict was the use of overwhelming force in
the form of strategic bombing and the Accelerated Pacification Campaign,
neither of which resulted in victory.

Vietcong guerrillas in a hidden tunnel, circa 1966.

For his "ethnographic studies,""contributions to the enhancement of U.S.
Advisor/Vietnamese Counterpart relationship," and "presence and counsel
during periods of attack by Viet Cong Forces and Montagnard uprisings,"
Hickey was awarded the medal for Distinguished Public Service by Secretary
of Defense Robert McNamara. Despite his medal (or perhaps because of it),
Hickey was not able to get an academic job when he returned to the United
States. He was refused a position at the University of Chicago by fellow
anthropologists who objected to his association with RAND. Ironically,
Hickey was also forced out of RAND because it was no longer interested in
counterinsurgency. Following the lead of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, RAND was
no longer going to undertake research on unconventional warfare, but turn
its attention to "longer-range problems of tactical, limited war and
deterrence under the Nixon Doctrine."

Project Camelot

Testifying before the U.S. Congress in 1965, R.L. Sproul, director of DARPA
said: "It is [our] primary thesis that remote area warfare is controlled in
a major way by the environment in which the warfare occurs, by the
sociological and anthropological characteristics of the people involved in
the war, and by the nature of the conflict itself."

The recognition within DOD that research and development efforts to support
counterinsurgency operations must be oriented toward the local human terrain
led to the establishment of the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at
the American University in Washington, D.C. With anthropologists and other
social scientists on staff, SORO functioned as a research center into the
human dimension of counterinsurgency. Many SORO reports took a unique
approach. In 1964, the Army commissioned an unusual paper titled
"Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Other Psychological Phenomena, and Their
Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo." Authored
by James R. Price and Paul Jureidini, the report is a treatise on paranormal
combat, discussing "counter-magic" tactics to suppress rebels who are backed
by witch doctors, charms, and magic potions.

In 1964, SORO also designed the infamous Project Camelot. According to a
letter from the Office of the Director of the Special Operations Research
Office, Project Camelot was "a study whose objective [was] to determine the
feasibility of developing a general social systems model which would make it
possible to predict and influence politically significant aspects of social
change in the developing nations of the world." The project's objectives
were "to devise procedures for assessing the potential for internal war
within national societies; to identify with increased degrees of confidence
those actions which a government might take to relieve conditions which are
assessed as giving rise to a potential for internal war; [and] to assess the
feasibility of prescribing the characteristics of a system for obtaining and
using the essential information needed for doing the above two things."

An American Huey pilot talks with Thai villagers, 1962.

Project Camelot, which was initiated during a time when the military took
counterinsurgency seriously as an area of competency, recognized the need
for social science insights. According to the director's letter: "Within the
Army there is especially ready acceptance of the need to improve the general
understanding of the processes of social change if the Army is to discharge
its responsibilities in the overall counterinsurgency program of the U.S.

Chile was to be the first case study for Project Camelot. Norwegian
sociologist Johan Galtung was invited to design a seminar for Project
Camelot. Although he refused, he shared information about the project with
colleagues. Meanwhile, Hugo Nuttini, who taught anthropology at the
University of Pittsburgh, accepted an assignment for Project Camelot in
Chile. While there, he concealed Camelot's military origin, but word leaked
out. Protests arose from Chile's newspapers and legislature and the Chilean
Government lodged a diplomatie protest with the U.S. Ambassador. In
Washington, D.C., following congressional hearings on the subject, McNamara
canceled Project Camelot in 1965.

The Thai Scandal

Shortly after the Project Camelot scandal, the issue of clandestine research
surfaced again in Thailand. In March 1970, documents that appeared to
implicate social scientists in U.S. counterinsurgency programs in Thailand
were stolen from a university professor's file cabinet. The documents were
given to the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and
were subsequently published in The Student Mobilizer. A number of
anthropologists and other social scientists were allegedly gathering data
for DOD and the Royal Thai Government to support a counterinsurgency program
that would use development aid to encourage tribal villages to remain loyal
to the Thai Government rather than joining the insurgents. Although
anthropologists claimed to have been using their expertise to prevent Thai
villages from being harmed, heated debates took place within the AAA's
Committee on Ethics.

As a result of Project Camelot and the Thai scandal, government funding and
use of social science research became suspect. Anthropologists feared that,
were such research to continue, the indigenous people they studied would
assume they were all spies, closing off future field opportunities abroad.
Many anthropologists also believed the information would be used to control,
enslave, and even annihilate many of the communities studied. The result of
these debates is the determination that for anthropologists to give secret
briefings is ethically unacceptable. The AAA's current "Statement of
Professional Responsibility" says: "Anthropologists should undertake no
secret research or any research whose results cannot be freely derived and
publicly reported. . . . No secret research, no secret reports or
debriefings of any kind should be agreed to or given." These guidelines
reflect a widespread view among anthropologists that any research undertaken
for the military is de facto evil and ethically unacceptable.

The Perils of Incomplete Knowledge

DOD yearns for cultural knowledge, but anthropologists en masse, bound by
their own ethical code and sunk in a mire of postmodernism, are unlikely to
contribute much of value to reshaping nationalsecurity policy or practice.
Yet, if anthropologists remain disengaged, who will provide the relevant
subject matter expertise? As Anna Simons, an anthropologist who teaches at
the Naval Postgraduate School, points out: "If anthropologi\sts want to put
their heads in the sand and not assist, then who will the military, the CIA,
and other agencies turn to for information? They'll turn to people who will
give them the kind of information that should make anthropologists want to
rip their hair out because the information won't be nearly as directly
connected to what's going on on the local landscape."

Regardless of whether anthropologists decide to enter the national-security
arena, cultural information will inevitably be used as the basis of military
operations and public policy. And, if anthropologists refuse to contribute,
how reliable will that information be? The result of using incomplete "bad"
anthropology is, invariably, tailed operations and failed policy. In a May
2004 New Yorker article, "The Gray Zone: How a Secret Pentagon Program Came
to Abu Ghraib," Seymour Hersh notes that Raphael Patai's 1973 study of Arab
culture and psychology, The Arab Mind, was the basis of the military's
understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities of Arabs, particularly to
sexual shame and humiliation.

Patai says: "The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . ,
and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men
and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the
Arab world." Apparently, the goal of photographing the sexual humiliation
was to blackmail Iraqi victims into becoming informants against the
insurgency. To prevent the dissemination of photos to family and friends, it
was believed Iraqi men would do almost anything.62
As Bernard Brodie said of the French Army in 1914, "This was neither the
first nor the last time that bad anthropology contributed to bad strategy."
Using sexual humiliation to blackmail Iraqi men into becoming informants
could never have worked as a strategy since it only destroys honor, and for
Iraqis, lost honor requires its restoration through the appeasement of
blood. This concept is well developed in Iraqi culture, and there is even a
specific Arabic word for it: al-sharaf, upholding one's manly honor. The
alleged use of Patai's book as the basis of the psychological torment at Abu
Ghraib, devoid of any understanding of the broader context of Iraqi culture,
demonstrates the folly of using decontextualized culture as the basis of

Successful counterinsurgency depends on attaining a holistic, total
understanding of local culture. This cultural understanding must be thorough
and deep if it is to have any practical benefit at all. This fact is not
lost on the Army. In the language of interim FM 3-07.22: "The center of
gravity in counterinsurgency operations is the population. Therefore,
understanding the local society and gaining its support is critical to
success. For U.S. forces to operate effectively among a local population and
gain and maintain their support, it is important to develop a thorough
understanding of the society and its culture, including its history, tribal/
family/social structure, values, religions, customs, and needs."64
To defeat the insurgency in Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces must recognize
and exploit the underlying tribal structure of the country; the power
wielded by traditional authority figures; the use of Islam as a political
ideology; the competing interests of the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds; the
psychological effects of totalitarianism; and the divide between urban and
rural, among other things.

Interim FM 3-07.22 continues: "Understanding and working within the social
fabric of a local area is initially the most influential factor in the
conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Unfortunately, this is often the
factor most neglected by U.S. forces."

And, unfortunately, anthropologists, whose assistance is urgently needed in
time of war, entirely neglect U.S. forces. Despite the fact that military
applications of cultural knowledge might be distasteful to ethically
inclined anthropologists, their assistance is necessary.

Montgomery McFate, J.D., Ph.D.
Copyright Department of the Army Headquarters Mar/Apr 2005

Source: Military Review

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