S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Power Sources and the Military

Information is power when it comes to warfare. Warfare takes a lot of energy. Today's post is about how the U.S. military is working to increase its power in the Middle East. The power is coming from two unexpected sources, the field of Anthropology and -- in the future -- perhaps from outer space.
Anthropology gains power in the military -- At Grant McCracken's (one of my Favorites) website, This Blog Sits at Intersection of Anthropology and Economics, anthropologist Montgomery McFate is his subject. To quote from his recent post:
I read last week about anthropologists engaged in the war effort in Afghanistan. There is a "Human Terrain Team" working there, as the Pentagon searches for new ways to understand the field of battle.

Apparently, the terms of engagement there have been changing over the last 18 months. Whereas Rumsfeld optimized the fighting force, General David Petraeus puts an emphasis on the social and cultural contexts in place.

. . . The Times articles notes the participation of Montgomery McFate (pictured). McFate may be considered an architect of the Human Terrain approach in Afghanistan. In 2005 she co-wrote as essay that served as the basis of a Department of Defense program called the Cultural Operational Research Human Terrain System. This program has been called "an anthropological brain transplant" for the military.
Mixed feelings -- Well, I was hooked, of course, and had very ambivalent feelings about the blogger's rather supportive stance of the military-anthropology link. This was my comment towards the end of a very interesting thread that emerged:
Grant this was a wonderful post, and, as you can imagine, right up my alley. Some quick thoughts:
First, if McFate can maintain her objectivity as she studies the culture of the U.S. military, which she NEEDS to do, it might be OK. But remember how hard embedded journalists have to work for a modicum of objectivity in a combat zone, where their lives depend on military protection. Even with objectivity there are still deep ethical considerations in all of the "people" professions.
Second, the growing belief that "the military is THE answer" is deeply dangerous to the U.S. and to its neighbors. I have great respect for the military, but they are not the only game in town -- or are they? For example, my gratitude was great when the Coast Guard officer came in on his white horse in New Orleans during Katrina. I was so very disappointing that the military seemed to be the only capable institution during a natural disaster. Just look how hard Pakistan is having to work to disengage itself from having the military be in charge.
Thanks again for a very special piece of thoughtful and courageous writing. Your arguments were very well drawn. And your cause is just.
Anthropology plus the military could make a powerful but strange partnership to many of us in the "helping professions." Thus, I have been doing research on this story looking for information that would further clarify my thoughts about the issues raised. Evidently it is of interest to others because McFate was a guest on CNN's " This Week at War" yesterday. It will be broadcast again today at 1:00 PM (ET). I discovered that Montgomery McFate was formerly a specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace. But I learned the most from two sources. The first was a lengthy but fascinating article, "Anthropology's flower child Montgomery McFate" in the SF Chronicle. The second was from her own published article, "The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture," by Montgomery McFate, published in the FORUM section of The Joint Force Quarterly (dtic/mil/doctrine). The website FindArticles provides a list of four articles by McFate.
McFate has come a long way from her hippie/goth sources. A powerful PhD working for the Pentagon, she obviously no longer lives on a houseboat. A conversation about Fate took place in May on a San Francisco website called Tribe, regarding "Montgomery McFate article in SF Chronicle." In a comment June said:
Thank you PGW, whoever you are. What a crazy coincidence. I recently got in touch with an old friend from the scene & it got me thinking about other scholars who come from the old scene. That led me to ask another tribe member about Montgomery, who, shall we say, I knew & went to school with under another name. Well, he & another friend couldn't remember her last name. But here she is. And what's even wierder is that she teaches at the same university that my other friend is a Ph.D. student at. 6 degrees of separation. A very small world indeed. So thanks for making the post.
During her younger years very traditional types would have considered McFate "spacey," possessing very little power in her humble and unusual beginnings. But I speculate that she always possessed a certain capacity for internal grounding, and a strong sense of self with the demands of maturing early that were put upon her. In the therapy business we would call call her a kid with "Resilience." And guts. In taking on this cause, this challenge she says she wants to help the cause of peace, not be a collaborator to violence. Many question whether that is possible; many hope that it is possible. Time and events will tell the tale.
The concept of "power" is the only connection between the two subjects of today's post. The above issue concerns the exercise of power over others. The following story is about the potential of getting electrical power/energy from outer space. I was fascinated to come across this story from Alan Boyle, the Science editor at MSNBC. Dated Oct 11, 2007, the headline read, "Power from space? Pentagon likes the idea." To quote:

Frontline soldiers could use energy beamed from orbit, study says A new Pentagon study lays out the roadmap for a multibillion-dollar push to the final frontier of energy: a satellite system that collects gigawatts’ worth of solar power and beams it down to Earth.

The military itself could become the “anchor tenant” for such a power source, due to the current high cost of fueling combat operations abroad, the study says.
Power Sources and the Military - This is how I began my Sunday post. It has explored my personal dilemma of ambivalence about the idea of joining anthropology with our military efforts in the Middle East. It is a deeply spiritual and ethical question for me. That is the psychologically trained part. There is another part that agrees with my roommate, "Seven of Eight," that it is a great idea to use everything possible to win the war with less violence, to possibly save lives through better understanding our adversaries.
The other question is about the wisdom and practicality of using energy from outer space to provide for the electrical needs of war fighting. These are both interesting questions with no easy answers.
What do you think?
My links:
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)
My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Making Good Mondays is about the day Friday.
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The Future Was Yesterday said...

"Anthropology gains power in the military"
Bush obviously hasn't been told about it yet, because anything remotely resembling science is immediately chased away with his religious voodoo dolls, as soon as he hears about it.

Carol Gee said...

Let's keep it a secret, huh? If there are ways to diminish loss of life in this misbegotten war, it is a good thing, I am convinced.
Though as a social worker, this incursion by anthropology into war is somewhat unsettling, just on its face. Now you understand why I took the direct practice track instead of becoming a community organizer.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

I too am a social worker (Psychologist), and frankly, I think somebody sold their academic soul.

Anonymous said...

The Charlie Rose Show featuring Sarah Sewall and Montgomery McFate talked about many things that are similar to what Metro Police did in Baltimore to lower crime in the 90's by changing to a Community Policing Model. Counter Insurgency, in some ways is a spin on a Community Policing Model used by US Police for over 2 decades. The Brits used this model, but with more of a Martial Law style of policing in Ireland to defeat the IRA.

By placing Iraqi and US Military Police, Military Intel and Contractors in an area where they can study, learn, conduct surveillance and communicate with the locals of a specific area in Iraq, they can slowly counter an insurgency and change people's mindsets. The basics are that, this would help us in finding the bad people...the "hard-liners" and who can then be arrested, removed or eliminated. Finding the straw the breaks the camel’s back is what they are ultimately trying to do.

Much of this is a joint effort that would include distribution of reading materials, controlling news and other biometric / psych-ops programs. By having small community meetings with local politicians, business owners, and people of that community that are looking for a “positive change” is what makes the wheels spin on this style of operation. This "change" that would be the topic and discussion of meetings, would be for violence to end and for people to not live in fear. They have to re-educate and slowly change the Iraqi’s and also empower them to defeat their insurgency. Working with the local population and gaining their trust is what primarily needs to take place.

Sure there are going to be numerous ways of learning more about these people by tapping into local phone lines, seeing what they are doing on their computers, find out who they are communicating with and by putting troop / contractors out there who are going to learn their education levels / finding out what their beliefs and systems are in their native tongue. Are they friend or foe? How can we gain their trust? This is very much a surgical style of operation, compared to what has been used in the past during a War. Will it take time? Yes. Can we do this with a reduced presence of military forces on the ground in Iraq? Yes, but it will increase the amount of analysts and linguists in the rear who are going to crunch information. SPSS and Research Methods will definitely have to be used and key foreign national figures will have to be found or invented, in each region, to help guide the rest of those individuals in the local community to a positive change and outcome.

It was interesting that Montgomery McFate discussed her dissertation about Counter Insurgency Operations in Northern Ireland by the British. She said that this was where she learned most of her knowledge and information on COIN. The thing I don’t get is, Montgomery said her idea of Counter Insurgency was more hands off, when the facts are that the Brits treated Ireland very much like a Police State and Martial Law was imposed on Ireland by the UK. If one has read up on the Special Branch’s informers and their handlers, particularly since security sources have, in recent years, played up the role of a "double agent" within the IRA known as "steaknife" (or stakeknife - spellings vary), he was the key individual who was responsible for finding and eliminating three of the top leaders in the IRA. Raids on houses in Ireland occurred on a regular basis, for those who were suspected of being involved with the IRA or even being a sympathizer to the IRA. Raids purposes included the planting or removing of listening devices. A Sunday Times article (14 April, 2002) claimed the removal of covert bugs was the motive behind the raids.

So can we expect that a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus will likely occur in Iraq for the next decade or more? Who knows, but I think Montgomery McFate needs to stop jerking me off from behind and not try so hard to paint a pretty picture of how COIN Operations work. It is War, isn’t it? Hopefully things will get better in Iraq and we‘ve learned from the mistakes that have been made in the past.

Carol Gee said...

Anonymous, this is a very interesting comment, full of information that is new to me. It sounds very much as if you "know of what you speak."
I continue to be troubled by this program for several reasons: It is not transparent to its subjects. For some reason it seems incredibly manipulative. It does not feel as if it gives everyone on scene a chance to act "in good faith" in the best sense of that phrase. It seems disrespectful in many ways. Etc., etc.