[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Why I want to teach anthropology at the Army War
College (Brian McKenna)
jancius at ohio.edu
Fri May 30 10:19:11 EDT 2008
May 28, 2008
Why I Want to Teach Anthropology at the Army War College
What Would Smedley Butler Do?
By BRIAN McKENNA
"To wage war, become an anthropologist." That's the opening line from a 2007
article in the U.S. Army War College journal "Parameters." The feature, by
Oxford educated historian Patrick Porter, says, "from the academy to the
Pentagon, fresh attention is being focused on knowing the enemy."
Today anthropologists are busy at work for the CIA and Pentagon. The CIA
recently funded an effort - the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program -
to train up to 150 analysts in anthropology, each of whom receive a $25,000
a year stipend, tuition support, loan paybacks and other benefits with the
proviso that they work for an intelligence agency for 1 ½ times the period
covered by financial support. These are secret scholar-spies circulating in
our anthropology departments. They cannot reveal their funding source. Then
there are the Cultural Operations Research Human Terrain Teams in which the
military actively recruits anthropologists to provide counterinsurgency data
for its occupying armies. As private contractors anthropologists can make up
to $300,000 a year for their service.
That's not fair! As an anthropologist, I want equal time in the War College.
In the February 2008 edition of the Society for Applied Anthropology
Newsletter, Captain Nathan K. Finney, an anthropologist with the Human
Terrain System, called for informed discussion with his anthropology
critics. "Let us open our minds as our anthropology professors instruct in
Anth 101 and objectively discuss each other's ideas and concerns in order to
find the best way forward together" (Finney: 8).
OK. I'd like to take Finney up on his offer and have access to the military
and its soldiers directly. I have a ten-point curriculum. I'll get to that
in a minute. First, a bit more background context-after all, that's what
About Face, Forward March
I agree with the idea that "to wage war, become an anthropologist." The
trouble is that it turns out that we are on different sides of the war.
"Human Terrain" anthropologists are with imperialism. I'm with Gramsci. You
remember Gramsci, that Italian Communist revolutionary who wrote
spellbinding theories of culture in his "Prison Notebooks," while rotting
away in Mussolini's jail. Importantly Gramsci spoke of two wars. The "war of
position" generally referred to a tactic of informal penetration (a passive
revolution, a war of education) that was necessary when open warfare or a
"war of maneuver" (armies across borders) is not advised or possible.
Gramsci's enemies were capitalists and fascists. Who are the enemies of the
U.S. Army War College? According to Porter it's "Marxist revolutionaries,
Palestinian nationalists, and Hezbollah net-warriors" (Porter: 57). That
wide net would include Gramsci. In short, the CIA/Human Terrain military
anthropologists have aligned themselves with a national security state
apparatus in wars of position and maneuver against critical anthropologists
and indigenous peoples.
Let's be clear about what CIA anthropologists and the Human Terrain
anthropologists are NOT doing: "studying up" at power. This leaves the
troops vulnerable. Enlistees need informed consent before signing on the
dotted line. Soldiers need actionable intelligence so they can decide
whether the cause is right.
Only a fourth of my students, on average, can even identify Iraq on a map.
With such widespread ignorance it is easy to see how Reverend Jeremiah
Wright can be demonized for his claims that 911 represented an occasion when
the chickens came home to roost. The public knows little about the chickens.
The Military anthropology of my youth
When I went to graduate school, in anthropology, in the early 1980s at
Temple University, the emphasis was on Marxist anthropology and social
revolution. My mentor, Peter Rigby, was fond of saying, "Men make
revolutions. Anthropologists are men. Therefore anthropologists make
revolutions." Rigby was a brilliant Cambridge educated Africanist who
studied and advocated for the Maasai. On his curriculum were Antonio
Gramsci, Rosa Luxemburg, Stanley Diamond, Kathleen Gough, Laura Nader,
Bernard Mugabane, Levi Strauss and Samir Amin.
Following Rigby's precepts, we understood, came with risks. In 1983, my
anthropology student friend Richard Cross, 33, a freelance photojournalist,
was killed on the Honduran border while covering the U.S. supported Contra
War against the Sandinistas (along with Los Angeles Times correspondent Dial
Torgerson). Back then we led or participated in antiwar demonstrations (El
Salvador, Grenada, Panama, first Iraq War etc.) raised money for medical
relief in Nicaragua and wrote for newspapers including the New York
Guardian, the Philadelphia City Paper and the University City Review. We
spent a good deal of time at the House of our Own bookstore on Pine Street
in West Philly, educating ourselves, as Mother Jones said, for the coming
conflicts. During the Central American wars we felt a vital sense of urgency
to "stop the Pentagon, serve the people," as one activist group was named at
the time. This was good applied anthropology.
What Would Smedley Butler Do?
My first days of classes at the US Army War College would be dedicated to
Smedley Butler. He'd no doubt place education - truthful military education
with all its contradictions- at the forefront of social life, most
especially in the military itself! Ultimately the military rests on
well-trained soldiers who have the capacity to make ethical judgments. Here
he is on war:
"War is just a racket. . .It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at
the expense of the masses. . .There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag
that the military gang is blind to. It has its 'finger men' to point out
enemies, its 'muscle men' to destroy enemies, its 'brain men' to plan war
preparations, and a 'Big Boss' Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism." Butler is
one of only two Marines ever to hold double awards of the Navy issue Medal
of Honor. Butler laid his reputation on the line with this searing 1933
speech. "It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison.
Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in
active military service as a member of this country's most agile military
force, the Marine Corps. . . .I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe
for American oil interests in 1914. . .In China I helped to see to it that
Standard Oil went its way unmolested. . . .I suspected I was just part of a
racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military
profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My
mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders
of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service."
My US Army War College Course.
In my anthropology teaching in the university I always encourage U.S. war
veterans to speak before the class whether they were in favor of the given
war (Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq I, Iraq II and so on)
or not. It is compelling, experiential knowledge from engaged participant
observers that rivets the attention of others. It is an excellent corrective
to media representations.
A central purpose of anthropology is to help citizens recognize their
ethnocentrism so that they can think more clearly about the world. So, if I
had a chance to teach "Introduction to Anthropology" at the War College,
here is how I might do it.
Day 1: Orientation: Discussion. Introductions. Overview of Course. Where are
you from? How long have you been here? What's the best thing about the
military? What's something you'd like to see changed? Film screening: In the
Valley of Elah
Day 2: Smedley Butler Day. Review and discussion of War is a Racket Speech;
View and discuss Eisenhower's farewell address. Read Uri Avnery's "The
Military Option" in CounterPunch. Film screening and discussion: Ghosts of
Day 3. NACIREMA: Discussion Where is this? What is capitalism? Discussion of
Marx's labor theory of value. George Carlin on Football & Baseball.
Day 4: Fieldtrip to US Veteran's administration hospital. Tour Guide:
Wheelchair veteran Bobby Muller from Vietnam Veterans against the War
Day 5 Iraq Veterans Against the War Day; How to file CO, information on war
resisting. Film screening and discussion: Hearts and Minds
Day 6. How to keep from Dying: Are you safe? Discussion of April 17, 2008
RAND report which details 101,000 U.S. casualties a year. See "Invisible
Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and
Services to Assist Recovery. Other Readings: Grand Theft Pentagon:
How they made a Killing on the war on Terrorism.
Day 7: Rod Ridenhour and the My Lai Massacre. Discussion of war hero
Ridenhour who was a whistleblower against this war crime. Discussion of
Geneva Convention. Film screening: In the Year of the Pig
Day 8: Hitler and Totalitarianism: Can it happen here? Film screening: Seven
Days in May
Day 9: Debate on Iraq War. Two teams of four students per team will debate
the question "Is the War in Iraq a Just War?" Like college debate, students
will be responsible for arguing both sides of the issue in two debates.
Day 10: The Deceptions of Military Recruiters. What did they tell you? Read
"Lies Military Recruiters Tell" by Ron Jacobs.
A "Butler Brigade" of Military Anthropologists
I asked two leading anthropologists and war scholars, Barbara Johnston and
David Price, "If you taught anthropology at the US Army War College (or West
Point), what would you teach?" Johnston is the author of numerous books
including, "Half-Lives & Half-Truths, Confronting the Radioactive Legacy of
the Cold War (2007) and "Consequential damages of nuclear war- the Rongelap
report" with Holly Barker (Left Coast 2008). Price is author of the
groundbreaking, Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's
Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (2004).
"I just gave a lecture at the University of Hawaii in a class of ROTC
students a few weeks ago," said Johnston. "Part of what I taught was the
lingering and intergenerational consequences of nuclear war. Students/future
military officers were less interested in that than in my description of the
complicated and difficult work to build rights-protective space that allow
reparations and the right to remedy to emerge in Guatemala. This got their
attention. So I would teach a course on 'waging war, making peace' that
specifically examines current efforts to remedy the ugly, ulcerating messes
we humans have made in the name of 'security' The anthropology of war - the
study of human histories, motivations, experiences and outcomes - is,
unfortunately, quite an evolved field of study. It is very easy to make war.
It is hugely difficult to bring about a true and lasting peace. Even in
those cases where peace is declared, through political negotiations and
formal legal instruments, the distance between reparation and remedy is
often too vast to achieve a meaningful and lasting peace."
Price would employ classic anthropology in helping students to get around
false patriotism. "I'd do a mix of readings like Levi Strauss on kinship,
Marshall Sahlins on the original affluent society, Harris & Wagley on race,
Geertz on thick descriptions, Nader on studying up. But I would add some
works focusing on power and ideology. I think Cathy Lutz's Homefront or
David Vine's forthcoming book on the military displacement of the peoples of
Diego Garcia would be a nice book to use. One of my favorite essays to use
in intro classes of any sort is Boas' 1917 essay on patriotism: 'I believe
that the purely emotional basis on which, the world over, patriotic feelings
are instilled into the minds of children is one of the most serious faults
in our educational systems, particularly when we compare these methods with
the lukewarm attention that is given to the common interests of humanity'"
(Boas 1917). "Rather than using anthropology to solve problems of occupation
and insurgency," said Price, "we should use anthropology to keep us out of
these situations in the first place. But promises of functional
anthropological counterinsurgency (even false promises) only encourage
civilian and Pentagon planners to envision more of these invasion fiascoes
as problems that anthropologists can solve after the mess has been made."
The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex
In order to answer Price's call, we need to form broader alliances. In his
urgent book, "The University in Chains: Confronting the
Military-Industrial-Academic Complex," (2007) social theorist Henry Giroux
carefully documents how a new form of authoritarianism has swept the
country - largely unnamed and unrecognized - turning the university into a
"hypermodernized militarized knowledge factory." He credits President
Eisenhower for sounding the alarm in his famous 1961 farewell address, in
which the President eloquently made the case against the "misplaced power"
and "unwarranted influence" of the military in civic life. Giroux sums up
Eisenhower's position as a fear that, "by making war the organizing
principle of society [we] had created a set of conditions in which the very
idea of democracy, if not the possibility of politics itself, was at stake"
Giroux reminds us that Eisenhower actually had used the phrase the
"military-industrial-academic-complex," deleting it just before his
television talk. Later Senator Fulbright captured the essence of the fear.
"In lending itself too much to the purposes of government, a university
fails its higher purpose" (Giroux: 15). Giroux charts layer upon layer of
sophisticated methods which the National Security State brings to bear upon
a university system that presently looks like a deer caught in the
headlights. He is blunt, "Given the seriousness of the current attack on
higher education by an alliance of diverse right-wing forces it is difficult
to understand why liberals, progressives and left-oriented educators have
been relatively silent in the face of the assault (Giroux: 185)."
The future of the university as a democratic public sphere is at stake. It
is one of the last places where citizens can feel free to question authority
and utter dangerous thoughts, he argues. Giroux asks universities to
consider severing all relationships between the university and intelligence
agencies and war industries. This includes military recruiters.
Porter spends a great deal of time discussing the military's "cultural
turn," and their "cultural counter-revolution" currently in place after "the
revolution in military technology" left occupying armies flat footed in
Iraq. "A return to an anthropological approach to war it is hoped, 'will
shed light on the grammar and logic of tribal warfare,' and create the
'conceptual weapons necessary to return fire'" (Porter: 48).
It's significant that the army is now appropriating theories from a Marxist
revolutionary who died in prison. These days it sometimes feels to me that
U.S. military is establishing beachheads into the universities, while we
retreat to the prisons. This past year (August to May) I taught
"Introduction to Anthropology" to 37 women in a maximum-security prison in
Michigan. I did it for free since the state does not pay for university
education there. My work is part of the Gramscian "cultural turn" against
domination. Some women were military veterans. When asked about her military
experiences one said, "It was lie upon lie upon lie. I was promised I'd have
a safe job but the next thing you know I was ordered into a combat zone."
She feared for her life. And yet, as of a few weeks ago, felons, like these
women, are eligible to enlist to go to Iraq. Even though she is against the
war, one inmate is thinking about it, since it's so hard for a convicted
felon to get a decent job.
In my experience, military recruits, soldiers and college students are
overly blind to "actionable intelligence" like history and anthropology.
This ignorance makes them easier prey for U.S. imperial engagements. A young
man or woman thinking about military enlistment needs to deeply reflect on
Butler's idea of "Big Boss Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism" before they sign
on the dotted line. At boot camp, soldiers need a proper military education
so they can actively know how to resist immoral orders, report abuse and
leave the military as a C.O., and university students require critical
military education it in order to help lead civic engagements against the
national security state.
That's why I and many of my fellow anthropologists want access to the US
Army War College.
Richard Cross, as a journalist, was a public anthropologist serving the
people. He diagnosed the "culture, resources and power" dynamics in an
imperialist war to generate knowledge to further democracy. Free speech
trumped imperial speech. The only way I can see anthropologists having
anything to do with the US military, is to do the same. Butler apparently
felt that way too. "I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect
some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should
fight for. One is defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.
War for any other reason is simply a racket."
Brian McKenna can be reached at mckenna193 at aol.com
Blum, William. A Brief History of U.S. interventions 1945- Present, Z
Boas, Franz. "Patriotism." Originally read at Columbia University, March 7,
1917. Published in, Race and Democratic Society, by Franz Boas, p 156-159,
New York: J.J. Augustin Publisher, [1917. orig.] 1945.
Butler, Smedley. War Is a Racket. Los Angeles: Feral House, (1935; reprint,
Finney, Nathan K. The Military and Anthropology, SfAA Newsletter 19:1, pp.
Giroux, Henry. The University in Chains, Confronting the
Military-Industrial-Academic Complex. Boulder: Paradigm, 2007.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: Intl.
Johnston, Barbara Rose, ed. Half-Lives & Half-Truths: Confronting the
Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School for
Advanced Research, 2007.
Miner, Horace. Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58:3,
Porter, Patrick. Good Anthropology, Bad History: The Cultural Turn in
Studying War. Parameters, Summer 2007, pp. 45-58, 2007.
Price, David. Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's
Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists. Durham, N.C.: Duke University
Rigby, Peter. Persistent Pastoralists. London: Zed, 1985.
A version of this article appeared in the Newsletter of the Society for
Applied Anthropology, May 2008.
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