Anthropology and the United States Military: Coming of Age in the Twenty-First Century

By Moos, Felix | Anthropological Quarterly, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Anthropology and the United States Military: Coming of Age in the Twenty-First Century


Moos, Felix, Anthropological Quarterly


Pamela R. Frese & Margaret C. Harrell, editors. Preface by John P. Hawkins. Anthropology and the United States Military: Coming of Age in the Twenty-first Century. Palgrave-McMillan, 2003. 192 pp.

All of us, in this first decade of the 21st century, live in an ever more crowded, complex, and definitely more violent world. Global wars between nation states have been replaced by asymmetric conflict of which anthropologists appear to know so little. At this very moment a new kind of American warrior, fighting a new kind of war, soldiers in far flung corners of the earth; and thus, we might well ask if it isn't somewhat premature to declare that: "with this volume we celebrate a kind of coming of age, that of the anthropology of the U.S. military". We learn in Jeanne Guillemin's contribution about: "Medical Risks and the Volunteer Army"; Pamela Frese explores: "How anthropological concepts including residence patterns, descent systems, and fictive kin intersect with social class, race, and gender in American military culture"; and she provides the conclusion to: this particular, mostly post-modern consideration of: "Anthropology and the U.S. Military." Margaret Harrell introduces the various featured topics in her: "Subject, Audience and Voice" and focuses more specifically on: "Gender- and Class-Based Role Expectations for Army Spouses". Joshua Linford-Steinfeld analyzes: "Weight Control and Physical Readiness Among Navy Personnel"; whereas Clementine Fujimura introduces us to: "Integrating Diversity and Understanding the Other at the U.S. Naval Academy". Only Robert Rubenstein and Anna Simmons focus on topics that more directly approach the complexities of relevant current military structures and operations. In their analyses of: "Peace keepers and Politics", and "The Military Advisor as Warrior-King and Other Going Native Temptations", respectively, Rubenstein correctly recognizes, and notes quite perceptively that: "Often the people we (the anthropologists) most need to affect with our work are members of communities that we (most often) stigmatize and avoid. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military..." Anna Simmons reminds us (of what we only too frequently overlook and/or ignore completely) that: "Although anthropologists and military advisors may seem to make strange bedfellows, they actually have more in common than meets the eye". She recalls for us of just why E. T. Lawrence and Edward Landsdale ucceeded as advisors while at the same time operating effectively as consummate strategists in London and Washington, and why the flawed and yet so gifted John Paul Vann tragically failed in the end to make a difference either in Vietnam or Washington.

Traditional forms of deterrence and traditionally structured armed forces are no longer viable, they are no longer effective with foes, and in circumstances, that no longer represent nation states. Now the preferred targets are civilians, attacked not by soldiers but by suicide-seeking martyrs. These individuals seek death while their most potent weapon becomes their own bodies. The former global symmetry of inter-nation state conflict has become the asymmetry of terrorism. This is no longer the Cold War where much about the capabilities and military structures of our opponents were known. In these asymmetric conflicts the usual balance of power, whereby peace results in an equalibrium between rival entities, no longer applies. MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) has been rendered obsolete. Yet, as in the Cold War there is no foreseeable timetable, and Americans, including anthropologists have to accept the unpleasant reality of a conflict that will last for decades. War has transfigured into unconventional contest with a soft humanitarian component. Furthermore, but certainly no less importantly, the gulf between the anthropologist's two traditional roles-that of field researcher and that of analyst has become ever more intricate and challenging. …

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