11 December 2008

Anthropologists at War (Link of the Day)

Over 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote "Know your enemy, Know yourself, and in a thousand battles, you will have a thousand victories".  Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese Samurai who wrote "A Book of Five Rings", said that "warriors should be trained in all arts, not just the killing arts".  In our recent memory, President John F. Kennedy wrote about the pressing need for military leaders to not only master arts of war, but also the arts of politics, economics and sociology in order to be effective wartime leaders.

Where am I going with this?  The more one understands the basics of anthropology and evolutionary psychology, the more one understands people, and ultimately war itself.  It's small wonder that the greatest military strategist of our time, Colonel John Boyd, was an avid reader of biologist Richard Dawkins, particularly "The Selfish Gene".

Nowhere is the need to understand human behavior more important than in counterinsurgency, where, as experience has shown, the simple application of more money and firepower often doesn't work, and in many cases, actually makes matters worse.  Certainly, antropolgists are invaluable resource in areas like Afghanistan--a region with over 400 different tribes and ethnic groups, each with their own motivations.

Today's news story comes from USA Today and discusses the role that cultural anthropologists have in 4th Generation Warfare and the ethics of using scientists in a role that potentially subjects tribes to military action.  

It also speaks about Robert Gates trying to mend the notoriously strained relationship that the military and academia (particularly in the liberal arts) have with one another, which is an exciting new development in the outlook of the military's organizational culture.  After all, as Thucydides said, "Those that draw a distinction between warriors and scholars would have thinking done by cowards and fighting done by fools".

Focus:  Discuss the article--how does the input from anthropoligists change the outlook one might have on war?  What ethical implications might you see?  

1 comment:

Murphy's Mom said...

Great topic and analysis - I took an anthropological route in my education and love learning about people and their ways of living. Looking at them without judging eyes, without the filter of "other" requires constant vigilance...and may be impossible. Good practice though.
When I lived in THE big city, it was a way of life so alien to my own...I studied it and overcame alot of fear. Eventually I decided, "everyone just wants to get home like me"