Anthropologists have traditionally had a pretty wonkish reputation, earnestly taking field notes while interviewing a tribal chief or lecturing in some college classroom about the intricacies of indigenous clan-systems. If the Pentagon has its way, though, more anthropologists will exchange their tweed for military fatigues and leave the halls of academe for the front lines. For the past two years, the U.S. military has embedded anthropologists and other social scientists with American troops in order to improve the Army’s cultural IQ. But last week the American Anthropological Association (AAA) released a report coming out strongly against the program, saying that in both concept and application, it “can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology.”
Since 2007, the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System (HTS) has been placing social scientists in every Army combat brigade, regiment and Marine Corps regimental combat team. There are now more than 500 people employed by HTS, a number that is increasing rapidly. On the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, their job is to gather information and provide commanders with a greater understanding of the local population, reducing the need for lethal force by helping the Army determine the needs of the community, according to Steve Fondacaro, the project manager at HTS. Secretary of State Robert Gates has publicly praised the project, and an Army colonel told Congress that one Human Terrain team reduced violent clashes encountered by his brigade in Afghanistan 60% to 70%. As President Obama revamps his Afghanistan strategy, getting ready to send 30,000 additional soldiers, HTS is poised to become a major part of America’s war, helping troops navigate in a foreign land. “We’re pleased to find ourselves fully aligned with the goals [of the Obama Administration],” says Fondacaro.
[Read more at Time]