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Historians, with their methodological emphasis on documentary evidence tend to look somewhat askance at the other social sciences, excepting economics and political science ( in that order). Back in my graduate student days I recall my professors treating economic studies with seriousness, poli sci articles with some respect and cracking jokes at the expense of sociology.

Anthropology, on the other hand, was summarily ignored. Unfortunate for me, as the discipline has as much practical application on matters of societal analysis as does history, economics or psychology. Studying WWII is enhanced by reading OSS psychological profiles of top Nazi leaders or Ruth Benedict’s classic -and aptly named –The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

One of the more interesting characters on The Small Wars Council is Dr. Marc Tyrrell, a professional anthropologist, whose insights I have found well worth reading on many a thread (like this one on “Military Totemism” – how’s that for an esoteric topic?). Well, The Small Wars Journal has an article by Dr. Tyrrell this quarter entitled “Why Dr. Johnny Won’t Go To War: Anthropology and The Global War on Terror“(PDF). Tyrrell puts the field of anthropology and the influence of Franz Boas ( Benedict’s mentor, also Margaret Meade’s and the father of the standard social science model and cultural relativism) into the context of the war on terrorism. An interesting piece from which learned a few things, an excerpt:

“Boas combined very strong methodologies and a sound theoretical basis with a ruthless political outlook in his drive to professionalize North American Anthropology – a discipline that he and his students ended up controlling….by the end of WWI. This institutional control….decreased importance of Anthropology as an intelligence source, led to a total reformatting of the ethics of research.”

Read the rest here.

9 Responses to “”

  1. Eddie Says:

    I really, really wish the Navy internet did not block SWJC. I miss the insights of Dr. Tyrell, Tom Odom yourself, and others. (I have highly limited time online at home so no real chance to view it there)
    That said, utterly fascinating piece by him in Vol. 7 and makes one wonder how much the military is missing out on because of the irrational condemnation of it by vocal elements within the anthropology community.

    Is this a key reason why we so badly understand Somali clan warfare and Colombian low-scale warfare amongst ethnic minorities, etc, etc.?

  2. Dan tdaxp Says:

    “That said, utterly fascinating piece by him in Vol. 7 and makes one wonder how much the military is missing out on because of the irrational condemnation of it by vocal elements within the anthropology community.”

    If that is the cause-and-effect, the anthro community’s tactics are rational, if not wise.

  3. Eddie Says:

    Guesstimating the kind of money and influence the military throws around in these situations, it would seem even more wise. Nevertheless, this is how it plays out for now I suppose.

  4. mark Says:

    “I really, really wish the Navy internet did not block SWJC”

    Why the hell is the Navy doing that ? Does the Army block Proceedings ?? WTF?

  5. Eddie Says:

    All “blogs, message boards & networking sites (i.e. Shelfari) are off-limits” on the Abraham Lincoln and apparently other stateside rust buckets. Next on the hit list is PDF files outside Navy approved sites (i.e. no more downloading RAND PDFS) and by the summer they want to ban foreign domains (i.e. Daily Telegraph, etc.). Now they’re on a jihad about Amazon.com & other shopping sites (how dare sailors be buying stuff on a military computer!). Separating in December never looked so good after hearing that.
    Obviously when we get underway, there won’t be any blogging, so I probably won’t be able to blog for a lot of the year.

  6. mark Says:

    I had no idea. That is completely absurd – this is a Navy-wide policy then, not just the decision of a particular ship captain or a theater command ?

    It is bizarre – if that is right then ourour US Navy personnel have more restricted internet access that somebody living in Communist China.

  7. Eddie Says:

    The biggest thing is their jihad on “frivolous” network usage. (this campaign being fleet-wide)
    Especially underway they want all the bandwidth for the khakis (E-7 & above, officers), the operational needs of the ship and an overriding need to control and view what sailors are doing and when they’re doing it.

    I tried to get this blog along with a bunch of others taken off the “Surf Control” list 11 weeks ago (even backed them up with good bios/descriptions like your expertise, John Robb’s, Barnett’s, etc.) but was told these are not sites that I “need” to view hence no dice. My favorite was when I got smart about stuff about 4GW, Gap/Core theory, etc. with the IT guys and they looked at me like “ugh, this is the Navy, we don’t have anything to do with that”.

    But hey, I can lurk on ESPN.com & “Together We Served.com” (my space for Navy jag-offs) all day, no problem.

  8. Marc Says:

    Thanks for the comments on the article, Mark.

    Eddie, to answer your question – “Yes” (that’s the short answer), at least for the Somali clans. One of the things that really bothers me about the highly vocal, anti-military stance of some of my colleagues is that there are some very good books that deal with issues that can help everyone involved in these conflicts without breaching academic ethics.

    There are also some really good people in the field who are working for and/or with the military.

  9. mark Says:

    You are welcome Marc! Thanks for the insightful article!

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