Price, David. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
‘Weaponizing Anthropology’ by David H. Price is an intriguing book. The first impression the title connotes is that an ongoing process of militarizing (weaponizing) the discipline of anthropology is taking place. After a gradual glimpse of familiarity with the content of the book, the ancient story ‘Ajax Dilemma’ came to mind as a reminder that it is difficult to make ethical choices and decisions in life which would be fair to one’s own convictions and to all individuals, all groups of individuals and all nations on earth. One of the complex and troubling issues raised in this book is the quasi-impossibility of joining the ethical to the politically hegemonic in practicing anthropology in particular, and social science in general. Anthropological methods and theories are useful to understand cultures, systems of belief and worldviews for the sake of an independent knowledge. Military agencies are interested in the same kind of knowledge for utilitarian purposes; to divide populations and eventually control them. Moral values sometimes cannot be associated with utilitarian policies and practices?
Accordingly, military access to anthropological research material, so as to consolidate and resume the imperialistic ‘mono culture’ processes, is an indirect form of colonialism. Unfortunately, the aftermath of 9/11 led to the deployment of policies to study and eventually eradicate an imagined enemy (Price, 2011:1). In order to facilitate such a task, anthropological expertise seems the best mediator of a ‘smooth’ encounter. The contemporary academic researcher remains dependent on funding institutions for conducting research. Most of these entities impose their own agendas and guidelines on specific regions and/or topics of research to be funded in comparison with other ones. But the world of academia cannot be orchestrated by the interests of such corporations, especially when it has the potential agency of freeing the minds from useless dogmas and sterotypes. Social scientists, perhaps, already agree that the notion of common good should not be conceived of mainly from the point of view of the dominant institution or culture. I still believe that there are remedies, and why not future solutions, to the temporary condition of militarization. Without a constructed image of an enemy out there, the military institution will have no reason to interfere with academia.
Political strategies manifest themselves in ordinary everyday life. Mere division of labor within the family institution, for example, could be captured as a way of doing politics, such as who is taking the role or obligation to always run a few errands or even being condemned to constantly wake up from deep slumber in the middle of the night to take care of the crying infant baby. On parallel terms, American students in Anthropology as well may face the inevitable dilemma of ‘competing’ for the short road leading to a successful carrier in the name of ‘saving the world’. They can also opt for the other difficult road with no readymade guarantees and perhaps no exit. But anthropologists are aware of the beneficial outcomes of collaboration and collective agency while uniting for the same common cause: freedom of academia from militarization. I am aware of the fact that the last option is ‘The one less travelled by’ to borrow from Robert Frost in his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. It appears to be an irrational choice in these contemporary times. Yet it is hoped that it might contribute to authentic independent knowledge. Open dialogue, introspection and critical thinking are capable of shaping new policies which pave the way towards a peaceful inhabited world. Beyond immediate personal interests, free useful knowledge will benefit all humanity instead of subscribing to utilitarian agendas of military institutions in the academia.
Since one does not live completely detached from the market nexus, necessity to have recourse to funding agencies in academia to do research cannot be denied. This fact is too big to ignore. But instead of adhering to imperialist projects and the propaganda of ‘saving the world’, primary importance should be dedicated to prioritizing acquaintance with neutral funding institutions first. Academic integrity necessitates awareness of the agendas of the funding institutions. Avoidance of programs having direct correlation with counterinsurgency tactics and HTS is a matter of common sense. The Book ‘Weaponizing Anthropology’ by Price is an example of a bank of information on a variety of reports, projects and programs and funding agencies, such as Project Camelot, Minerva, Yale report, PRISP, ICSP, NSEP and HTS, coin and other counterinsurgency programs, which aim at studying social structures and cultures in different regions of the globe for the sake of controlling them (Price, 2011:33). According to Price, some of these funding projects require students to pay back the invested money after graduation or to work for their agenda. Other ones are so desperate to recruit anthropologists, such as the case of John Allison being recruited for training by HTS, and train them in a way that will only fit the purposes of the funding agencies (Price, 2011: 155). As a result, militarized training might lead to altering the foundations of anthropological research methods and ethics since the complexities of culture and group populations are being studied hastily in an oversimplified way (Price, 2011: 144). Secrecy in conducting such trainings and cultural immersion in the field alongside the strategies of provocation and intimidation is prove that such engagements are risky and nuanced by double discourses.
The anthropologist has responsibility to do no harm to the population that he or she studies. During wartime, this responsibility might diminish due to other risk priorities and un-anticipated circumstances. I think it is better to avoid fieldwork in zones of conflict. Local people are the ones who know better their own traditional forms of organization and cultures and the best ways to negotiate and resolve their own conflicts. Military intrusion despite its efficiency may lead to more chaos, suspicion, imposed control and division. The world needs peaceful cohabitation between nations rather than utilitarian militarization. Price draws attention to the necessity of gradually emancipating the intellect from essentialist discourses emanating from military institutions, and other mediated representation. It is completely understandable for students in anthropology to join military programs since they provide financial security and training. Perhaps, the honor of serving one’s nation and ‘giving back’ to one’s country is a good motivation as well. But beyond ethno-pride or sense of duty, beyond status advantages, using anthropological knowledge for the service of imperialism and militarization at the expense of other local peoples for more military expansion, which leads to more conflicts, is not acceptable.
Price, David. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
In Weaponizing Anthropology, David H. Price informed and cautioned his readers against the U.S.A.’s incorporation of anthropology and anthropologists into its military. Through the incorporation of selective, and often misconceived anthropological theories, the military has exposed and utilized the fractures in the discipline’s core. Price suggests that anthropology’s failures to adequately define itself, has left it vulnerable and malleable to whatever a user may choose to use it for.
Price’s book explored both the U.S.A.’s public explanations of anthropological incorporation, as well as its more latent and sinister reasonings. Publicly, the presence of anthropologists in Human Terrain Systems was said to provide some much needed cultural knowledge. However, Price revealed that in actuality, cultural knowledge gained value because US military’s occupation in the Middle East was becoming more and more hopeless.
During our seminar this hopelessness was elaborated upon. We reasoned that once it became evident that the United States wasn’t going to win the war through technological warfare, rather than build more destructive weapons, the US military turned its attention to its enemy’s bomb-makers. The military began to strategically seek effective ways to turn its enemy against itself. In order to accomplish this goal, extensive knowledge of the inner-workings of the given culture needed to be obtained. Not for the first time, the military pronounced anthropologists as the best suited for the task. Imbedded anthropologists, as well as academics from other disciplines, were to “function as nerves, feeling and reporting the cultural-emotional responses of occupied peoples so that the machines of war [could] more exactly manipulate and dominate them” (2011:198). Through the help of academics, the sharpest minds were employed ensuring this to be a ‘smart war.’
Price dedicated many pages to the discussion of the military’s disregard for anthropological ethics and loyalties owed to studied populations. However, I do not believe examples of what little regard the military holds for occupied peoples to be particularly shocking. What I believe to be far more telling is Price’s unearthing, through the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, of the military’s selective adoption of anthropological theories. Price suggested that the military has treated anthropology as a buffet, from which it has cherry-pick the parts of the discipline agreeable to its palate. The result is a customized version of anthropology, which “offers an engineering-friendly, false promise of “managing” the complexities of culture as if increased sensitivities, greater knowledge, panoptical legibility could be used in a linear fashion to engineer domination” (2011:190). This ‘version of anthropology’ begs the question if in fact it constitutes as anthropology at all. Price admitted his uncertainty whether the body of knowledge emerging through this newly welded mould, will be recognized as anthropology in the future. However, I believe by questioning if something is truly ‘anthropology,’ Price has exposed a pressure point within our discipline, which requires immediate tending.
During a number of our seminars, the majority of our class, if not the entirety, agreed that the military isn’t performing nor producing anthropology. We agreed with Price that the military’s lack of ethical consideration, and a resistance to be criticized by other academics, would continue to produce over-simplified stereotypes, which deceive the true complexities of cultures. However, the military’s applied scholarship wasn’t the only instance in which we debated whether a body of literature was truly anthropological. Price’s book fell under scrutiny during one of our seminars. We asked ourselves if Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology was justifiably anthropology. Price certainly broke tradition through the ease through which one could read his book. This contrasted against the customary scholarly style of convoluted and dense texts. His heavy reliance on data and historic collections also differed from conventional fieldwork. While we struggled to decide if his work merited the stamp of anthropology, many of us agree that this was not an ethnography. The conversation became directed around the limitations of ethnography. It was argued that Price situated himself in the field, rather than passively observing. His unconventionally positioning allowed him to solicit information from powerful secretive elites, which would have otherwise been much more difficult, or even impossible to obtain.
While Price’s and the military’s methods might not ultimately be credited as anthropology, the point worth considering is that neither is automatically accepted nor rejected as anthropology. Arguments can, and were made for both. Admittedly, our class was fairly quick to reject the military’s use of our discipline as true anthropology. An overwhelming majority agreed with Price, or at least admitted to an agreement, in that the military’s pseudo anthropology was credited to their misuse of the discipline. This then begs the question what the correct uses of our discipline are. Price quoted Alexander Leighton, who compared the administrator’s uses of social science during wartime to that of a drunk using a lamppost for support, rather than illumination (2011:130). Due to anthropologists’ failures to unite the discipline in a common working definition, we have failed to instruct ourselves, as well as the public, of what anthropology is and what it should be used for. We shame the military’s misuse of this metaphorical lamppost, and provide no enlightened explanation of what the lamppost is and its acceptable uses. Rather, we observe, debate, and judge the engagements of others with the lamppost we have constructed. Only when these engagements with the anthropology-lamppost raise ethical, moral, and political issues, we are forced to confront ethical questions about what our discipline is. Even when forced, our definitions are often broad and center around what anthropology is not. Anthropologists have nestled themselves in a limiting position where it is easier to provide examples of anthropology gone wrong, or what the discipline will not stand for.
I believe a better defined discipline will not only save many of us from blank stares and archeological assumptions, it will also establish a more effective security system and free us from the policing jobs many have made their responsibilities. A well-known definition of what a lamppost is, and how it should be used, would likely deter many from misusing it. Thus liberating many anthropologists from their constant supervision of the uses of the anthropology-lamppost.
Of course it is very easy to talk about how wonderful it would be for anthropology to be more precisely defined, it is far more daunting to take action. However, we have reached a point in time where the anthropologically-induced harm of the past, often referred to as the discipline’s ‘skeletons,’ threatens to continue into our future. Even if the military’s plans to weaponize anthropology fail, which Price assures us will happen due to their limited understanding of culture, perhaps what is even more potentially damaging is their limited understandings and narrow stereotypings taking root in the American public’s imagination, if it hasn’t already. Through this logic, a militarized anthropology has the strong potential to backfire. I strongly believe a more accessible and well-defined discipline is the most effective defence.
Price, David. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
“Weapon: A thing designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage.”
“Weaponize: Adapt to use as a weapon.”
– Oxford Dictionary (Online)
Anthropology is at war! Price has made that absolutely clear with his little book (or perhaps, as one of my cohort suggested “manual”) Weaponizing Anthropology (2011). This may seem somewhat shocking to many anthropologists and social scientists, because we are not accustomed to war. War is the ideological opposite of our practice. We do not engage in war, we engage most thoroughly critical thinking and knowledge production. Our ethos is of cultural understanding, sensitivity and conflict resolution. Few and far between are those who research socio-cultural phenomenon for the explicit purpose of social engineering, control, surveillance, targeting and “intelligence” within academia. Codes of ethics and protocols have been well established within the social sciences, especially anthropology, for experiments conducted using human subjects, and these stop studies for such nefarious purposes from ever being undertaken (a by-product of war). However, academics are one thing and the military is another. As this essay will show, though there may be moral and ethical codes which are in place to safeguard knowledge from being used to harm individuals/societies within anthropology, the military has no problem using any knowledge or ‘intelligence’ as such. Therefore, as those who both research and document culture, it is our job as anthropologists to protect the people(s) we work with and also the knowledge we ‘produce’ of the culture(s). This all translates to confronting a military academic complex. Anthropology is at war with the military, over the use of our knowledge and the real people that knowledge is based on.
The United States Military believes that anthropological knowledge is of some intrinsic value to them, which is a very impressive compliment, but one which we should rather not accept. The utilitarian ends to which the military would distort anthropological methodology and culture theory are a reflection of the differences between the two. For anthropology and the military are not that dissimilar. Both, wish to achieve conflict resolution, both want to protect (security and safety) people and both (at least ideally) want a similar outcome: peace. The major difference, however, is how these things are achieved and for who. The military holds a singular view of what culture and people should have peace and protection, while anthropology believes that these rights should exist for everyone (in many culturally relative ways). Knowledge for both is used as a transformative tool. The military is a discipline of guns and war. Anthropology is one of cultural knowledge, understanding and sensitivity (relativity). So here we are presented with a quandary. We can either accept the military’s role and its limitless reach by way of our government, either by diligently aiding in any form required of us, or we can continue to remain blissfully unaware that the military is using our knowledge for killing people and social engineering. Of course, there remains a third option, which may have existed outside of the scope of the answers of our discussion, namely, anthropology going to war with the military.
It is impossible for a discipline such as anthropology to go to war in any real sense of the meaning described in the definitions provided above, ethically we cannot engage in actions which will harm or potentially harm people(s) (I would include: especially their bodies). However, there are actions for recourse, though we need to be creative and resourceful in this the time of our attack. I believe what Price has offered in Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) can be seen as a very intuitive response, and I shall discuss some of his stronger points below, while overlooking some of his more fantastical allegories. (Though I strongly recommend it as essential reading for any student of anthropology or politics.) In doing so, I will highlight some of the areas in which anthropology has been attacked by the military, namely; infiltration of the university; commandeering of academic knowledge; and scholar recruitment.
The US military has made its way back unto the university campus (if it had ever left). Where once anthropologists may have been their own benefactors, studying who and what they choose to by their own predilection, now they are very much tied to the university system and are reliant on funding to continue their research. This has put them at the mercy of funding institutions and in an uncomfortable situation in which they must balance their endeavors with opportunities for making a livelihood. As one discussant in our seminars pointed out, how are we to remain ethical towards our subjects if we rely on money from others to study them? Does this not put us in a situation of exploitation? As much as I would like to believe the conjecture that anthropology at one moment in their history broke from Colonialism, I just do not see it. Was it between the moment we worked for the British Empire and WWII or later, before we helped develop counterinsurgency methods to be used in Vietnam? Following that, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the CIA and other intelligence agencies (Homeland Security, FBI, NSA) are funding anthropologists on an undisclosed number of campuses around the United States. These manifest through the National Security Education Program (NSEP) and funding opportunities such as PRISP and ICSP. The goal of these funding opportunities is to recruit future intelligence operatives and HTT members. Of course, the recruits for such funding serve a dual purpose of keeping an eye on dissident/unpatriotic scholars. The effect that such funding, plus “summer camps” has on students may be forceful enough to overpower any sentiments of cultural history and relativity which may have been possible to achieve. Just as worrisome is the fact that NSEP scholarships come with mandatory work within a national security institution attached to it. Price’s illustration of Flattes’ situation is representative of how anthropologists can get roped into such predicaments and left with few (if no) options to choose from. There is some sympathy voiced by Price for accepting such funding, especially in an atmosphere of educational funding cutbacks. However, “through such financial academics are increasingly becoming if not comfortable, then compliant appendages of the state” (Price 2011, 53). This speaks directly to our discipline’s amnesia concerning our involvement in the continued history of colonialism.
“Social scientists cannot ignore the political context in which their knowledge will be used in limited ways by those who fund it” (Price 2011, 64). This was a point that seemed to be a recurring theme throughout most of this book’s discussion and within our seminar. How is the knowledge we are producing being used for unintended purposes which go directly against an anthropological code of ethics (be it personal and/or institutional)? The production of knowledge in the university has been altered by the intrusion of the military in such processes and is becoming normalized (if not outright accepted). It has been argued by Giroux (2007), that this directive is another sign of the military’s appropriation of all facets of US culture for its own ends. Price explores this situation through the example of ICCAE and the University of Washington, in which the media overlooked the military’s “intrusion” on campus, concerned faculty members were pushed aside and administration gladly accepted the increased funds provided by the military arm of the government under secretive auspices. And, this situation is unfortunately not unique to the University of Washington. This is a threat to academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge everywhere. It also funnels knowledge production in a manner which leads to a very specific sort of knowledge being constructed, which is very damaging to the institution of knowledge itself (perhaps best described in a word: university) and interestingly enough the military as well. Price attributes these changes to a culture of silence, which may be unfair considering the lack of attention garnered by academics from politicians, the media and the general public. Yet, being more public may be just the solution we are looking for, regardless of how the shortcomings of those before us may paint a different picture.
The last and most scary development for the future is the US military’s use of anthropologists and other social scientists for implementing HTS in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has been both as team members on the ground trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the people(s) the US is trying to bring “democracy” and “peace”, and the incorporation of anthropological works into a Counterinsurgency Manual. Anthropologists are recruited into HTT for targeting and intelligence gathering. Something our methods and skill-set are particularly suited for according to the military. Which sounds reasonable and convincing, except that all anthropological methods employed by the military are skewed and distorted for alternate means. Our abilities are reduced to a number of result garnering functions, which seek to identity “goodies” from “baddies”. However a manual was produced from anthropology to make such judgment-laden appraisals is beyond me. But Price sheds light on the misuse of years of anthropological research and theorization in his presentation and assessment of the COIN Manual. Theories, concepts and definitions from a variety of anthropological sources are haphazardly pasted together in a way which is hardly reflective of their original context and/or intent. Price shows how the manual is geared towards social engineering, stereotyping and population control rather than anthropological understanding. As well, those anthropologists who are employed on HTT are usually of the less qualified variety. While those who do question the party line and demand answers for unethical methods, are summarily silenced or expulsed. In the wake of some form of backlash from academics the military has even divined to establish their own education centers to produce their own social engineers of future wars, effectively bypassing any academic roadblock which may have prevented their hegemonic efficacy. As such, anthropological infiltration and attempts for reform are strongly curtailed by denying entrance and stymied by the military’s unflinching bureaucratic desire for the application of anthropology in war. Can the military be infiltrated and affected from within? Both John Allison and Price would have us believe not.
In our class discussions, we could not come to any practical, functional or pragmatic suggestions as how to overcome the military’s use of anthropology for ends/means for which it was not intended. The conversation turned quite heated and many were frustrated by what seemed like running against a brick wall. The conversation also turned militant, leading to calls for “absolute revolutionary action” and a “need to put our lives on the line in that sense… we need to be courageous.” It has to be acknowledged that the military is taking a “hands on approach” to curing the ills of the world, which could be argued that anthropology is not. If the definition of ‘good’ is how well something accomplishes the task it was designed for, the military is far better than anthropology. We are not activist and many an anthropologist bemoans the fact that we are very ineffectual in government policy-making and other social-institutions (how much this is true I have yet to see, but arguments lie on either side of the equation). Is this anthropologists’ fault, or the system we live in? Consistently in graduate studies we are told of the great honor and sheer chance it is to actually ever become an academic (read: full tenured professor). And, the idea of achieving less than such a status is a failure and representative of a waste of time, money, and resources necessary to complete a graduate degree is consistently reinforced. In such a clime, how are we to educate the political and cultural leaders of tomorrow? How are we enacting social change?
If we “don’t see the point in studying war”, how will we ever defeat it and its propagators, the war mongers? Maybe we should take a cue from our newest and brightest foe (and an old friend) the military and “know our enemy”. If we have no knowledge of the military, on what will our revolution be based our? If dialectic exists between war and peace (which I would argue it does), should we not question war to see what it can reveal of peace? Anthropology is poorer than the military in every material sense of the word; the army has the budget and funding of many small countries. The only thing we have is our knowledge, which is gradually being (mis)appropriated. The military knows the value of our knowledge, they pay top-dollar for it, because “you have the pentagon saying, ‘it’s junk’” about its technological advancements, which are not going to win wars without the intelligence and targeting. Something anthropology can do very well, according to some accounts.
If everything I have mentioned above is true and the questions I raise are valid, is it not time for some action? As anthropologists in the field, is it not our duty to protect those people(s) who we work with? What do we do when the US Military rolls into the places where we are researching? What then? Is it okay to combat violence with violence? I think not, violence begets violence. For “weaponizing anthropology is distorting anthropology.” Should we not be educating our people? Educating all people? “Shouldn’t we focus more on public anthropology?” It is not time to stop playing Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, because “anthropology needs you”?
“Who controls the past,” ran the party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.
— George Orwell, 1984
In the introduction of Weaponizing Anthropology, Price (2011) reminds us that WWI was the Chemist’s war, WWII was the Physicist’s war and the current era of war is “envisioned by many Pentagon strategists” (p. 2) as the Anthropologist’s war. Anthropologists and social scientists have increasingly been courted, both on and off of the academic campus, by the military and intelligence organizations. In particular, anthropological knowledge and expertise is desired to fix structural holes and assist in counterinsurgency operations with Human Terrain Teams (p. 2). Cultural expertise is highly regarded as a new form of weaponry in modern warfare; it will help to define who the enemy is and refine knowledge of how best to kill the enemy (p. 195). Many provocative questions arise from reading Price’s work. The questions which resonated most deeply with me regarding our anthropological responsibilities are: who is our research for? And how will it be used?
One need not look too far to see the potential ramifications of our research. If we were to go back to WWII, the Manhattan Project provides us with a perfect case study of the quandaries and dilemmas that face researchers in times of war. Nearing the end of the war many had feared that Germany would develop a bomb and that is, in large part, what drove scientists in the United States to feverishly pursue the prospect of the atomic bomb. Indeed, Einstein had even written to President Roosevelt warning of the possibility that Germany could develop the bomb (Rosen, 2011). However, Germany surrendered before the bomb was complete and, as we all know, the bomb was then used as the decisive factor in ending the war in the pacific theatre and forcing the unconditional surrender of Japan.
Oppenheimer, the former head of the Manhattan Project, firmly stood behind his research, at least initially (Cotkin, 2011). He later lamented, however, “[p]erhaps I was a fool, but I had thought that this ultimate violence would discourage the use of any more violence” (Beach, 1946). Of course, it is extremely unlikely that anthropologists would create a weapon equivalently capable of the devastation of the bomb. Nevertheless, it does not mean that weapons cannot be created, and that these weapons cannot be damaging. This is something Price is provoking us to contemplate when we consider who our research is for and how it will be used. Further, his work encourages us to evaluate the motivations which drive our research.
Feynman, another physicist who worked on the Manhattan project, was more ambivalent, or detached, about the dilemma which scientists face. Although he too struggled in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he ultimately concluded that our research “enabl[es] power to do either good or bad – but it does not carry instructions on how to use it” (Feynman, 1988). There is great truth to this comment, as no one is omnipotent. We cannot possibly conceive of all of the ways in which our research may be utilized, for good or bad. However, Feynman’s words also carry a disavowal of responsibility. When we say that we create tools but are not ultimately responsible for how the tools are used it raises the question of who is? Someone is responsible. Price admonishes us to accept responsibility, as researchers, for the work we produce.
In the latter part of the book, Price provides us with a detailed account of what is currently occurring with Human Terrain Systems (HTS) which, in effect, allows us to consider what will happen as well. He is, in a sense, warning us of the potential for things to come and encouraging us to consider how our work will be used. Even in 1945 the implications and applications of the bomb were not unforeseen. A petition signed by almost 70 physicists working on the Manhattan Project (Dannen, 1945) as well as the Franck Report (Federation of American Scientists, 1945) both discouraged the use of the bomb and encouraged President Truman to consider the moral implications of its use against civilian populations in Japan. The scientists came to realize that they had weaponized physics in an intractable way. Once the bomb was completed it was out there for all to use, and it could not be taken back.
As HTS utilize anthropologists for their counterinsurgencies they are weaponizing anthropology. In spite of the fact that the ethical codes which guide our discipline seem irreconcilable with participating in these operations social scientists continue to enlist. Our class discussions revolving around this issue brought up a variety of opinions about the legitimacy and ethics of anthropologists participating in HTS. While the overwhelming majority of us would agree that, as anthropologists, we should not participate in this form of ‘research’ there was also acknowledgement of the realities and complexities of our daily lives. In Chapter 9 Price presents us with the case of John Allison who wound up working for HTS after losing his job. While there, he seemed to espouse a true belief that he could change the culture from the inside, but resigned from his position a year later after realizing military culture is not easily, or ready to be, changed. Allison represents an idealistic archetype, one who believes that they can change the system from within. However, he would later discover that this change does not come easily, if at all. The question was posed in our discussions as to whether change from the inside out is the only way, or even the best way, to effect change. Like many of the questions arising from this book, there are no easy answers.
On the other side of the coin, however, even if we choose not to participate in HTS or produce secret military/government reports it does not prevent our work from being utilized. Our research is freely available for all to access. We cannot stop our work from being used, from being misconstrued or simply taken for malevolent purposes. As was the case, as Price points out, for Georges Condominas whose work had been used by the military for quite some time without his knowledge or consent (p. 129). Additionally, even if we attempted to contemplate all of the ways that our work might be construed we could likely never conceive of every one of them. It does not mean that we should not try, just as the physicists tried to forewarn of the dangerous implications of the bomb in 1945. However, this reality leaves anthropologists in an ethical quandary. How can we protect our work, and our participants, from being misused? This was another question which evoked a great deal of debate within our class discussions, but here we found again that there are no easy answers.
Price’s work gives us the opportunity to examine our own past, present and future as anthropologists. The stakes are often raised in times of war, and the lines of morality become blurred. However, the Manhattan project should remind us that the past and the future are intrinsically linked and ‘everlasting,’ as Orwell had cautioned. Perhaps it should ultimately lead us to reflect upon who controls the present and what that means for our future?
Beach, Clark. (1946, October 20). A-Bomb Jarred ‘Oppy’ Out of Pleasant Ways, and He Can’t Get Back. Washington Post, Pg. B3
Cotkin, George. (2011). Morality’s Muddy Waters: Ethical Quandaries in Modern America. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Dannen, Gene. (1945, July 17). A Petition to the President of the United States. Retrieved from http://www.dannen.com/decision/45-07-17.html
Federation of American Scientists. (1945, June). The “Frank Report”: A Report to the Secretary of War, June 1945. Retrieved from http://www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/franck.html
Feynman, Richard P. (1988). The Value of Science. Retrieved from http://www.phys.washington.edu/users/vladi/phys216/Feynman.html
Orwell, George. (1977). 1984. New York, NY: Signet Classic.
Rosen, Rebecca J. (2011, November 23). ‘I’ve Created a Monster!’ On the Regrets of Inventors. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/11/ive-created-a-monster-on-the-regrets-of-inventors/249044/
In Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price first explains how the CIA is silently taking over American academic institutions and how it, like the military, recruits on campus or afterwards those who have studied social sciences. Price lists and describes government funded programs and scholarships such as PRISP, ICSP and NSEP (p.33). Such programs engage the beneficiary upon graduation to work for a certain number of years for the government or choose a lifelong bankruptcy.
The second and third parts are concerned with Human Terrain program, “a new form of anthropologically informed counterinsurgency” (p.95). Using specific citations from The New Counterinsurgency Manual, Price shows how cheap and quickly put together the Human Terrain program is. Price clearly demonstrates how the author of the Manual, who had only basic training in anthropology, did not hesitate to plagiarize and mix different theories and theorists so that it would succeed to convey the message intended by the military and/or the government administration. Who would seriously think that the military could change its structure and become “anthropological”? Price raises the issues of the influence of the militarization of anthropology on theory, and this in turn raises the issue of the porous divide between academia and the military.
I am thankful to Price for the hours he spent filling access to information claims and demystifying those documents for his readers, but I was surprised to see Julian Assange’s name come up as a source without any questioning, even more so as Assange explicitly asked Price to write something about the documents he was sending him (p.100). I think some reserve is appropriate when it comes to international public figures like Assange, Snowden and the likes. In a hypothetical COIN operation against the ever renewing groups of conspiracy theorists, what better way to control and assert authority over domestic insurgents than the friendship and apparent genuine honesty of such male characters? Leaked information exists, but it is rarely clear where it leaked from.
Price did a good job in shedding light on the contemporary version of the shady, tortuous relationship between academia, in this case specifically anthropology, and the military. Indeed, as Price demonstrates, the COIN operations in which the HTT personnel is involved could only function if the personnel was always in place that is, occupying permanently. History has shown what the results of such occupation were.
The relationship between anthropology and imperialist expansion is the most well-known thing about anthropology. The discipline itself has tried to move on (the Reflexive Turn, that advent), but some scholars still find glimpse of romantic hope in thinking they can make war less violent by domesticating the savage through culture engineering. Price thoroughly exposes the craftiness of academic collaborators to the military. Yet, one Amazon reviewer describes Price’s book as “Truly a brutal book which at once has nothing to do with Anthropology and at the same time has everything to do with it.” This is a comment that was phrased differently many times in class and I agree too.
Weaponizing Anthropology is a daring book with its bright red cover crossed by the black silhouette of a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This image on the cover made me think of one quote by Price in response to his informant John Allison. Allison suggested that the Human Terrain Team social scientists should be put as residents with the local people instead of being “embedded in the military and ‘inside the wire’” (p.163). The Human Terrain System program would engage with the population without force. Price replied that this proposal sounded “like the dream of panoptical control of the enemy: becoming the all seeing eye; surveillance ethnography brought to a new level” (p.163). Indeed, in Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price demonstrates to the readers the dangerous potential of HTS. If the project worked as it is intended to, social scientists participating in it would become somewhat like drones, sent out to remote locations with the function of mapping the human terrain. They become the moving eyes of the panopticon. Perhaps that is only until the singularity happens, then the military won’t need anthropologists to play drones.
We students are told every semester that a life of stress, poverty and shattered hopes is most likely what awaits us if we choose to pursue higher studies in anthropology. Yet, the military seems keen on welcoming us and at fantastic wages. It does not mean we should join the military but that the skills we acquire must indeed be truly worth something, enough so that the CIA and the army actively seek them. Price makes clear throughout his book that who we should serve should not even be a question since by choosing to label yourself as an anthropologist, you accept to serve the people you are working with; your informants, the inhabitants of the places that welcome you. Who would betray the trust of his or her hosts? The theme of ethics is present throughout the book, and I believe that it is its strongest point. The future of anthropology is intrinsically linked to ethics, and to reinforce this aspect of the discipline is the only way to set the standards of what can be labeled anthropology and what cannot.
Price, D. H. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology. CounterPunch and AK Press.
Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don’t you wish you could have something named after you? – Kurt Vonnegut, Man Without a Country, 2005
In reading any piece of activist literature, it is wise to determine the intentions laden in its words and to critically reflect on what kind of action should be taken. Given activism’s penchant for being on the periphery of controversy and mobilizing against dominant forces, newcomers to the field may find themselves swept up in the fervor of injustice with the urge to enact immediate social change. Alternatively, newcomers may also find themselves deflated by the helplessness of the situation presented, thus quelling their desire to become involved in some way, however ‘small’ that might be. David H. Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) is a call to social scientists, namely anthropologists, as well as wider audiences with an interest in the activities of imperialistic institutions. He is concerned about anthropological knowledge and anthropologists involved in military-state activity, primarily focusing on Human Terrain Systems (HTS). Thus, his topics do not veer far from two main themes: (i) anthropology’s ethical positions and responsibilities, and (ii) the imperialistic actions of the U.S. military-state to both the field of anthropology and foreign cultural milieu.
Price’s book is also, in part, a counter-attack against manuscripts such as the Human Terrain Systems Handbook and the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Price tells us the Handbook aims to “[engineer] the ‘trust of the indigenous population’” (p. 103) but instead “compartmentalizes the project as something separate from larger neo-imperial missions of invasion and occupation” (p. 103). Price describes the Manual as essentializing the concept of ‘culture’ in the form of a short manuscript aimed at training soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics (p. 185-186). Thus, Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology is a pocket-sized book, comprised of short chapters, sports an attractive black silhouette of a military drone on a red background with stark white letters. It is accessible reading, tailored for both anthropologists and the layperson. He speaks plainly and openly about his lack of trust in the military-state, its administrative roster, and their earnest claim that they are acting in order to save lives. Throughout the book, he gives us various accounts of different investigative routes that all point to the same thing: the rampant abuse of anthropological knowledge by the U.S. military-state produces a perverted rendition of contemporary anthropological stances and positions on social, political, and cultural conflicts.
From a methodological point of view, studying ‘up’ or the study of elites presents some dynamic practices of anthropological data collection. Price’s book is not an ethnography, at least not in the conventional sense. He does not employ participant observation, but relies on a number of other methods, including: analysis of both public and leaked documents, interviews, questioning government funding of select university programs, and provoking responses from elites and their institutions in order to create an opportunity for response and critique.
This list of alternate methodological approaches is less a criticism on the lack of traditional participant observation and more of an observation of how the study of elites must be conducted in the face of authority and structures of power. For example, he tells us the training grounds for educating CIA agents takes place at select universities, under various program titles (i.e. PRISP, ICSP, NSEP). These programs are designed for the development of specific skill sets in order to produce a “thorough understanding and deep knowledge of particular areas of the world” (Simons, 2003 in Price, 2011, p. 35). While it may be common knowledge that this kind of training takes place, Price notes that there has been next to no public reaction at the increase of government funding to these programs, post-9/11. One could argue that this might be a necessary step in the face of national security, and yet, as Price notes, the continuing expansion of these programs shows no signs of stopping (p. 34). What is worrisome is the public’s complacency as unchallenged social and cultural change is organized, mobilized, and put into action by the military-state.
Another example of challenging the state’s actions is the prolific amount of academic material that the state plagiarized in the production of their Counterinsurgency Field Manual (p.118-124). It is not only a violation of copyright laws, but also a blatant mismanagement of scholarly work and interpretation. Furthermore, the role that the University of Chicago Press played in making the Manual a piece of “domestic propaganda” (p. 127) cannot go unchecked for its potential danger in rekindling public support for imperialistic efforts disguised as defending notions of freedom and democracy. Price reports how criticisms from various public magazines and blogs, such as CounterPunch and Small Wars gathered enough attention to draw out military officials’ responses. Despite the military’s unsatisfactory responses, Price makes it evident how academic and military goals regarding interpretations of passages are at polar ends, and that the military is more than comfortable in violating copyright laws and misrepresenting academic positions without having to adequately attend to academic scrutiny and critique (p. 122-123).
From an insider’s perspective, Price gives us John Allison’s account of his experience as an anthropologist working for HTS. Price says, “the significance of John Allison’s insider account of HTS training is found in the details he provides about the program’s inability to address basic ethical or functional issues” (p. 171). Allison was open to HTS reform, but Price says he is not convinced that HTS, a fundamentally unethical program, can be fixed such that it could employ competent anthropologists — and rightly so: anthropologists are not ‘social doctors’ remedying the ails of human conflict, nor are they ‘journalists’, simply reporting on events. Rather, in my view, social and cultural anthropologists are akin to detectives, piecing together complex puzzle pieces. As far as the ‘science’ in ‘social scientist’ goes, they are balanced and pragmatic about the knowledge they manage to piece together. In this way, the role of the anthropologist in the context of human conflict is to be a stoic figure that should be employed as a force to help level the field where power imbalances are clear and unjust. As a human being, in the sense of possessing a moral code, practicing anthropology becomes a personal ‘sense’ of what is right and wrong. Much of our class debate took place around the idea of being able to endure being involved in direct work with the HTS program. What was particularly telling about my classmates’ positions is that while everyone seemed to agree that participating in HTS would not be for them, there are different degrees to which we each understood the necessity of such programs in the face of political and cultural conflict.
Another question that was raised about Price’s book was: “why do we think there is a heavy focus on this book in intelligence gathering and targeting?” In my view, it shows one of the ways that anthropological knowledge can be used globally by non-anthropological agencies. This proves anthropology’s methods of data collection as an invaluable resource, but it also demonstrates its potential for cultural genocide and imperialism. Price tells us that anthropology’s involvement in counterinsurgency efforts exacerbates issues and tensions between military forces and local residents/cultures. Price makes it evident through his account of John Allison that regardless of an anthropologist getting involved, the military’s agenda will continue to create problems for foreign territories. Thus he presents us with the moral dilemma of letting the military-state go unchecked versus dirtying one’s hands in the name of protecting both anthropology’s name as well as minimizing damage in foreign territories.
The issue that Price does not attend to in this book, however, is anthropology’s value to the public. Or in another way, to what end can anthropologists serve as a tool for mounting their own ‘weapon’ against imperialistic forces while maintaining their dignity, endurance, and values? When we consider the media’s sensationalism, western lifestyle (purchased through ‘oil money’ and consumerism), and lack of interest in a deep understanding of foreign cultures, a different kind of challenge presents itself to anthropology. That is, anthropology must bring its concerns to the public, and to a much wider realm than activist domains. In order to do this, perhaps a first step should be that instead of fighting the military-state at its own game, of which they are the experts, anthropologists should re-focus on its own expertise. In an address to anthropology’s involvement with HTS, the American Anthropological Association (2007) has positioned itself and its knowledge as a distinct and separate entity, despite the state’s pillaging – but to what end? (http://www.aaanet.org/issues/policy-advocacy/statement-on-HTS.cfm).
Anthropology’s weapon is knowledge. The elite institution of anthropology is not without its own set of fundamental flaws, given its colonial history as well as its catering to hegemonic and hierarchal practices of ‘academic stardom’. Rather than attending to other institutions’ shortcomings, and in the face of global crises such as HTS programs, anthropologists must first come to terms with its own discipline. This is not to say that those who are well invested in their respective fields should halt all action. I am saying that in order to gather and mobilize anthropology as a movement, there must be some agreement that a consensus must be reached. Simply disassociating and doing separate research cannot and will not garner public support. If military movements have taught us anything, it is that they possess the ability to unite people under a common belief in order to achieve a goal. Even when there is a lack of agreement, the notion of uniting and achieving a goal is a difficult thing to resist. There are other valuable and admirable traits to the military, such as its ability to discipline troops and produce and mobilize a sense of goal-oriented ‘order’ to its actions. Some may write this off as brainwashing, and I would not be the first to object. Still, the prospect of militaries disbanding and disarming themselves is a pipe dream left to fiction and sci-fi, and as such, we must consider the potential of what it means to agree to collectively rally against authoritative and imperialistic forces. As far as the discipline of anthropology operates, it plays out something like this: in order to understand anthropological theory and practice and become anthropologists, students undergo their own rite of passage, and yet the outcome is often riddled with a hazy set of indeterminable ‘cultural values’, without a clear sense of a goal in mind. My questions then are: what is the point of discipline without a goal? Upon acquiring competence in their theoretical area of study, where are anthropologists going with their disciplined knowledge? Do they intend to act in solidarity? Without a clear sense of purpose, I find it difficult to see how anthropologists can mobilize its ‘forces’ (students, scholars, and those in public fields). As individualistic as they may be, and in order to produce knowledge that the lay public can find accommodating and useful, it is in contemporary anthropology’s interest to publicly reevaluate how they promote the benefits of understanding and to find common ground between different people, not simply assert it.
Additional Works Cited:
American Anthropological Association. (2007). Statement on HTS: American Anthropological Association Executive Board Statement on the Human Terrain Systems Project. Retrieved from http://www.aaanet.org/issues/policy-advocacy/statement-on-HTS.cfm, accessed April 13, 2014.
Price, David H. Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) CounterPunch and AK Press.
Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) by David Price is a highly informative and deeply provocative text that argues against the (mis)use of social sciences –particularly anthropology –by intelligence and military agencies in the theatre of war and counter insurgency operations. Drawing on documentary and historical research, Price raises serious moral and ethical concerns regarding the role of anthropology in the development and implementation of counter insurgency programs such as Human Terrain Systems (HTS) and how funding agencies (corporate and state) have infiltrated onto university campuses across North America. Importantly, Price’s work is a sobering reminder of the importance of upholding the discipline’s duty to ‘do no harm’ and acquire informed consent from those we collaborate with and share research experiences with in the field.
Price argues that the present danger facing the discipline is that anthropologists have been aware of anthropology’s involvement in these affairs since WWII and Vietnam (the AAA’s code of ethics was made as a result of Vietnam) yet seemingly have not learned from past experiences as evidenced by their continued involvement in war time operations. Anthropology cannot and will not be the hand maidens AGAIN to this infernal machine, regardless of propaganda or media spun and twisted to garner affectual sensibilities. Importantly, anthropologists need to be diligent in their work to expose these imperialist operations at home and abroad, and, above all, they need to support each other in this critical project. This text provokes the reader to think about the changing context of war and how cultural data and ethnographic work is increasing being used by intelligence and military agencies to better understand and control occupied populations, even target and kill those considered to be a threat to these operations. Price’s text is also a reminder that as much as anthropology does not belong in war, it cannot ignore it or those who find themselves caught in the line of fire. Although anthropology has an ethical duty to ‘do no harm’ it also has the moral duty to ensure that no harm comes to innocent lives as a result of state sponsored violence through war or occupation.
If we did take Price’s suggestions or criticisms to heart what would it change? Bombs are still going to be dropped on houses, drones are still going to electronically identify, engage, and remove enemy assets and targets (home or abroad), and soldiers are still going to kill. Civilians will still die. That is war. Big corporations will continue to make weapons (BAE, Northrop Grumman, etc) and they will continue to profit from war –as we all do even if indirectly. How then how are we to remedy this paradox? Is this an irreconcilable truth of our being citizens of the North American superpower (or its neighbor)? If not from within anthropology or the social sciences or outside of them, then from where do we make a stand? I’m not one to subscribe to impoverished cynicism or abject nihilism –I believe that we can make a difference in the world and that the opinions and criticisms of anthropology and social sciences (even from the classroom) can be that voice of challenge and change. But when corporate, military, and intelligence agencies are funding programs in Montreal and across Canada, what are we to do? What can we do? Are you ready to lead the revolution?
Ultimately, I think that we need to take the title of this book seriously –we need to weaponize anthropology. We cannot let state agencies, the military, or corporations weaponize our bodies or knowledge. We need to do it ourselves. I was reminded in class by a colleague that knowledge and reflexivity are the weapons of anthropology and that this kind of radical position is easy to take when one is not invested in life, with a career and a family to think of first. And she was right. However, radical politics demands action as much as it demands sacrifice. Radical politics and action must be transformative if they are to be successful and meaningful. Anthropologists need to see themselves as the instruments of change and not be instrumental to projects or campaigns that seek to further state imperialism, but rather to effect positive change in the world. We are the instruments –we are the weapons –knowledge and reflexivity is our ammunition. ‘Anthropology needs you’ –not Uncle Sam or the Great Canadian North –to fight the good fight, to lay down your life for the greater good. People die every day –civilians and soldiers –fighting for what they believe to be honorable causes for justice, and to preserve a way of life. Is this what anthropologists need to do? Is this going too far? Are we too far removed and insulated in our ivory towers that this sort of commitment is behind us? Maybe we are. I am not advocating that anthropologists need to go to war; indeed Price is arguing that anthropologists do not belong in the theatre of war at all, certainly not in the context of helping to identify the enemy or produce cultural data frameworks to assist military occupations. We do, however need to give this line of inquiry some serious thought and ask ourselves whether we as anthropologists are willing to put our lives –that is, our careers and livelihoods at the very least –on the line to critique, protest, and expose these imperialistic designs. I think that these are the kinds of questions that need to be asked and debated if we are to approach a philosophy –and anthropology –capable of dealing with these issues. Price’s text is certainly a good point of departure for anyone –anthropologist or not –to begin to do just that.
Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State
David H. Price
AK Press, 2011
The fourth and final book in our series for 2014 is described by the publisher as follows:
The ongoing battle for hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan is a military strategy inspired originally by efforts at domestic social control and counterinsurgency in the United States. Weaponizing Anthropology documents how anthropological knowledge and ethnographic methods are harnessed by military and intelligence agencies in post-9/11 America to placate hostile foreign populations. David H. Price outlines the ethical implications of appropriating this traditional academic discourse for use by embedded, militarized research teams.
Price’s inquiry into past relationships between anthropologists and the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon provides the historical base for this expose of the current abuses of anthropology by military and intelligence agencies. Weaponizing Anthropology explores the ways that recent shifts in funding sources for university students threaten academic freedom, as new secretive CIA-linked fellowship programs rapidly infiltrate American university campuses. Price examines the specific uses of anthropological knowledge in military doctrine that have appeared in a new generation of counterinsurgency manuals and paramilitary social science units like the Human Terrain Teams.