In response to a question from the professor about the Battle of Mogadishu, this young LTC said, regretfully, "we didn't know what made the Somalis tick. We didn't know their culture."
What he was referring to was his unit's lack of "cultural intelligence" of Somalis. Had he understood their culture maybe he could have figured out ways to achieve his military objective without further deteriorating an already unstable situation. But because he lacked that cultural intelligence, the Rangers' mission in Somalia floundered for several months and reached its nadir in an 18 hour firefight that left thousands dead and many more wounded.
The role of "cultural intelligence" in warfighting has been on my mind ever since the defunct Arms Control Otaku pointed me to this blog by an anthropologist working with Army forces in Iraq. When I was an undergraduate I was keenly interested in anthropology and was, briefly, an anthropology major. Over the years I retained my interest in the field and was delighted to learn that the US military was going to incorporate anthropology in its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in a program called the Human Terrain System.
This is indeed great news because the skills and knowledge that anthropology will bring to the counterinsurgency table is expected to result in more intelligent application of military force and this will translate into less violence and a smarter approach to winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis and Afghans. In the end it will save lives, both American and Iraqi/Afghan, because it will embed "cultural intelligence" into the operations of military units. My old classmate's lament of not knowing "what made them tick" will hopefully now be a thing of the past.
Only an asshole would oppose this, no? I mean, who would want to deny the military this important tool that could lessen deaths and violence in war zones? Who would want to perpetuate the misery that Iraqis and Afghans are living in? Who wants to see more displaced Iraqis? More families shattered by the deaths of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives? Well, it turns out anthropology is full of selfish assholes. Here's a quote from one of them, in a comment to a post in the Savage Minds blog:
One shouldn’t be discussing how to interrogate detainees; one should be discussing how to help detainees get free of detention. Likewise, anthropologists shouldn’t be working with the military; they should be working with Iraqis, Afghanis, and especially insurgents, to inform them ‘of’ the military. Isn’t this the obvious corollary to the pledge against assisting the counter-insurgency – namely, to support the insurgency itself? (And what prevents the public articulation of this support? A secret fear of detention, perhaps?) And this, in my opinion, is where the discussion should turn: how can anthropologists, or anyone for that matter, help the insurgents?As far as I can tell there are three reasons why anthropologists turned out to be such assholes. First, they have a Code of Ethics that forbids them from harming the populations they study. Second, the field is dominated by Lefties of the highest order, those with a rigid intellect that equate working with the American military with supporting an "illegal war" and American "imperialism." (disclaimer: I really don't know the percentage of "lefties" working in the anthropology field, but I suspect there's a lot of them because of the preponderance of lefty comments I read from anthropologists and because they are mostly all academics).
These two reasons--the Code of Ethics and the Lefties--are intertwined. Their rigid intellect does not allow them to differentiate between doing good and doing bad in a combat operations. Their default assumption is that if you work with the military you are basically drafting hit lists and assassination orders and, thus, violating a professional Code of Ethics. In fact, anthropologists participating in the Human Terrain System are doing no such thing. Here's what anthropologist Marcus Griffin is doing in Iraq:
Read this NYT article for an example of what another anthropologist is doing in Afghanistan.
One example is assessing the impact of poor essential services such as sewage, water, electricity, and trash on the population’s willingness to provide aid and comfort to insurgents. Improve the quality of life of local residents by building their satisfaction with the Iraqi Government and they will likely be less willing to harbor insurgents. If they are denied comfort, they have less ability to fight. Less ability to fight means fewer bullets get shot and fewer bombs get dropped.
The third reason some anthropologists are pissed is concern that an association with the military will make their work more difficult. There may be some validity to this, but really, screw them. So, their work might become more difficult? Boo-hoo. Cry me a river. We are talking about saving lives and easing violence in war-torn countries for God's sake! Assholes.
Oh, and God forbid they provide a service to their country. A nation that has provided them the opportunity to get their Ph.D.s and sit in their precious Ivory Towers looking down their noses at all other Americans concerned with making things better in Iraq. Let them not get their prissy hands dirty trying to help their country solve a difficult problem that is killing thousands of American and Iraqi youths. Fucking Assholes.