Monday, January 26, 2009

"Anthropology in an Era of Permanent War" with Catherine Lutz

Catherine Lutz, an anthropology professor, gave a talk with tons of relevant information and raised some issues of interest to anti-war activists and scholars. I thought I'd share some of my notes:

After 9/11, the U.S military has increasingly brought anthropologists, and their cultural expertise, onto the pay role. Anthropologists are being employed in weapons labs, the CIA, the pentagon, and in the Department of Defense. One high profile project is the Human Terrain System, which is supposed to help the military understand better the culture of its enemies and the populations of countries it invades and occupies.

Lutz was highly critical of anthropologists being funded by, and working for military institutions. First, she made clear that the cultural knowledge anthropologists bring to the military is not being used to eliminate racism or promote respect for cultural difference. Instead, it is incorporated into the military to more effectively do its job and hit its targets. An example she used was training soldiers to understand Iraqi hand signals or signs of disrespect, so that they can effectively enter homes and make arrests. Cultural knowledge is understood and valued as a weapon. Soldiers are taught that "cultural awareness" as a "combat multiplier makes you more lethal on the front lines" (quote is from a training manual Lutz shared).

She laid out how employing anthropologists is performing a crucial public relations function for the military. The Human Terrain System employs a full time PR campaign to present its work as creating a "smarter war," a "PhD level of warfare," and to assure the public that professionals are waging a quick, effective, and humane war.

Lutz was openly critical of scholars working for the military, and cited earlier examples of disciplines led astray by dubious interests: physics as a discipline fundamentally shaped by the military, and biology as one increasingly beholden to pharmaceutical companies. She felt it was an ethical imperative to chose to write anthropology of the military rather than anthropology for the military. While some scholars claim that their aim is to change the institution of the military from the inside out, Lutz has no interest in reforming the military. She takes an ethical stance that war is not a functional human institution, rather it is fundamentally destructive of human life.

Catherine Lutz is the author of Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century, which profiles Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the giant army post Fort Bragg, to gain insights into the impact of militarization on American society.

She a co-author of Local Democracy Under Siege.
What is the state of democracy at the turn of the twenty-first century? To answer this question, seven scholars lived for a year in five North Carolina communities. They observed public meetings of all sorts, had informal and formal interviews with people, and listened as people conversed with each other at bus stops and barbershops, soccer games and workplaces. Their collaborative ethnography allows us to understand how diverse members of a community not just the elite think about and experience "politics" in ways that include much more than merely voting.

No comments:

Post a Comment