Review: Anthropological Intelligence–The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution

anthrointelIntersection of Humanity, Intelligence (Spy Type), and Ethics, June 4, 2009

David H.Price (ed)

I stumbled across this at a time when I was trying to understand the problems associated with the Human Terrain Teams (HTT) that according to their sponsor (a training and doctrine command without real-world ties),

[Human Terrain System] HTS is a new proof-of-concept program, run by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and serving the joint community. The near-term focus of the HTS program is to improve the military’s ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed; however, in the long-term, HTS hopes to assist the US government in understanding foreign countries and regions prior to an engagement within that region.

There are many flaws in the above official statement, not least of which that there is nothing new in this idea, and–as the book I am reviewing puts forward so well–the ethics of the method merits–demands–thoughtful discussion.

This book–and the modern anthropologists who are acutely–and righteously–aggrieved by the mis-direction of their craft–are a blessing. The USA in particular is so far removed from ground truth realities that as one World Bank executive put it to me (describing CIA analysts seeking explanations of an African failed state) as to be “breathtaking in their ignorance.” We *need* deep and broad anthropological understanding, but we must not pervert that craft in the process of engaging it.

I appreciated this book very much. We need more like it, addressing each of the social and scientific disciplines and the manner in which they might serve (or mis-serve) the public interest.

Here are some of my notes from this excellent work:

1. Professionally developed, a useful glossary.

2. Seeks to reconcile humanism with patriotism, the latter to be subordinated (in blunt terms, this means that rendition and torture are never okay, even when Presidents and General lie to you and say it is necessary).

3. The book provides an excellent tour of the past in which anthropologists and their craft have been used not to understand, but to manipulate and deceive.

4. I acquired an insight: we have failed to lead the social sciences toward educating our publics and our leaders so as to adapt to the globalized world. We persist in treating academia as a means to get what we want, regardless of whether or not it is righteous.

5. One learns in this book that the Japanese in the 1930’s and the 1940’s fully explored Islamic alliances against the West.

6. On multiple fronts across varied contributors the book suggests that we have made a mistake in subordinating education to nationalistic versions of history and nationalistic version of rights, and we have failed to raise generations of *humans* [and I can more or less self-certify we have also failed to raise generations of educated engaged citizens].

7. I come away from the book with a very strong feeling of respect for anthropologists–properly led and listened to–as the first line of expertise on all foreign affairs. [I wonder in passing how many anthropologists are serving in the Department of State today, or if the Secretary of State has ever asked for an anthropological study–and I do not mean the simple guides to local customs.]

8. As the Department of Defense declares that “stabilization & reconstruction” are co-equal to waging war (my own General Al Gray, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, called in 1988 for open source intelligence to justify peaceful preventive measures) it is not only clear that the social sciences must be applied to assure the development of healthy human relationships at all levels, but that anthropologists must be marshaled in the most constructive way possible–as many of them as possible, as soon as possible, and NOT wearing uniforms, body armor, and sunglasses.

9. I am persuaded by the book that British anthropologists are more nuanced and sophisticated than Americans (and probably spend more time in their countries of study, are more fluent in the language, and more patient in the observation).

10. As I seek to summarize what anthropology does I come up with two phrases: a) at its best, and b) the theory and practice of intra-cultural and inter-cultural exchanges, both positive and negative.

11. I put the book down realizing that there are millions and millions of displaced peoples that we have failed to study, assist, and resettle, and that in the end, this is anthropologies greatest failure.

Other notes from the margins:

a. “Justifiably disgruntled” domestic minorities are not being heard

b. Cultural cohesion is an antidote to propaganda

c. Rockefeller pioneered the use of anthropology to catalog Latin American resources, including cheap foreign labor, and then started foundations to carry on the work in the guise of charitable efforts.

d. Quotes to ponder: “our memory gaps have political consequences” and “socially-disengaged science is blind science”

e. Social formations are as important as scientific formations.

f. Anthropology will love have to live down its service to colonialism, militarism, and predatory immoral capitalism (as opposed to moral capitalism that does well by doing good)

g. Eugenics is anthropology in the devil’s hands.

Sensational quote on the effects of secrecy on academic study:

“One of the side effects of secret programs like the M Project was that, as secrecy disengaged the normative, potentially self-correcting features of the open academic scientific process, members of research groups who became mired in fallacious thinking labored unchecked under increasingly questionable assumptions and flawed logic.” Page 141

We come full circle to the Army’s Human Terrain Teams of today.

Other books I recommend:
Anthropologists in the Public Sphere: Speaking Out on War, Peace, and American Power
Strategic Intelligence & Statecraft: Selected Essays (Brassey’s Intelligence and National Security Library)
The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
Statecraft as Soulcraft
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
The Rise of Global Civil Society: Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them