Culture and the U.S. Military
Another article on the relationship between anthropology and the military in the US. This article is quite sanguine, putting a positive spin on the instrumentalisation of culture for military purposes. It makes clear that it is the concept of ‘culture’, not merely ethnographic data, which is gaining value in military circles.
Anthropology covers a number of subjects, but the study of culture — including language, religion and ethnicity and the social mores that surround them — are the areas of most interest to organizations like the U.S. military that seek to operate successfully in different societies. “Actually, the anthropological community has a history of working with the U.S. military,” said Robert Albro, visiting assistant professor of anthropology and international affairs at GWU.
Whether it was profiling World War II and Cold War-era leaders for the military or studying Vietnamese villagers during the Vietnam War as targets of the Viet Cong insurgency, “the need for cultural awareness — or soft knowledge — by the military existed and is now increasingly sought after,” he explained.
Some academics fear the military’s search for such expertise is a “weaponizing of culture” that could lead to their co-option and ethical missteps, Albro said. But a wider consensus finds collaboration is appropriate, and “anthropologists and the military are increasingly working together” on important issues like the factors that underlie and motivate sectarian violence and religious extremism.
I’m not sure of the accuracy of the statement that “a wider consensus finds [this sort of] collaboration appropriate”. In my experience the notion that anthropologists should use their data and connections, often obtained under circumstances of confidentiality, to aid military objectives is highly contested within the discipline. I think the article also neglects the extent to which previous collaborations between anthropologists and the military have been criticised within the discipline.