Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anti-Militarism in the Academy?

Hugh Gusterson, at Foreign Policy, offers an interesting example of the anti-military ideology of the university professoriate.

As indicated at the essay, the United States is facing an exciting period in the history of the Middle East in which the Pentagon hopes to drawn on the wide-range of scholarly expertise found across the academy to inform foreign policy planning for a new era.

To meet the challenge, in April the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the establishment of
Project Minerva, a new public/private partnership to support basic research vital to the future security and well-being of the nation:

Throughout the Cold War, universities were vital centers of new research – often funded by the government – and also new ideas and even new fields of study such as game theory and Kremlinology. Federally funded low-cost loans and fellowships made graduate school broadly available for students like me.

As was the case at that time, the country is again trying to come to terms with new threats to national security. Rather than one, single entity – the Soviet Union – and one, single animating ideology – communism – we are instead facing challenges from multiple sources: a new, more malignant form of terrorism inspired by jihadist extremism, ethnic strife, disease, poverty, climate change, failed and failing states, resurgent powers, and so on. The contours of the international arena are much more complex than at any time during the Cold War. This stark reality – driven home in the years since September 11th – has led to a renewed focus on the overall structure and readiness of our government to deal with the threats of the 21st century.
Gusterson suggests that members of the academy, in earlier decades, became alienated from supporting Cold War research, particulary after the war and defeat in Vietnam:

At first glance, Minerva is a welcome breath of fresh air. Remember Donald Rumsfeld? The former defense secretary believed that technological dominance, not cultural understanding, was the key to victory in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But had Pentagon officials consulted anthropological experts on the Middle East before invading Iraq, they would have been warned that U.S. troops were unlikely to be greeted the way they were in France in 1945, and that, in the absence of Saddam Hussein, Sunnis and Shiites might well turn on one another.

Gates, to his credit, is much more interested than Rumsfeld was in mobilizing the human sciences in the “war on terror.” But the tragedy of his initiative is that the very thing that makes it so appealing—at last, the Pentagon is seeking expert input from the academy—could also doom it to failure.

Take anthropology, a field that holds important insights about religious extremism and terrorism. Many anthropologists simply will not apply for funding if it comes from the Pentagon. Their reasons will vary. Anthropologists already report being suspected of working for U.S. intelligence agencies when they do field research abroad, and they will be concerned that research subjects will refuse to talk to them if they have been openly funded by the U.S. military. Some will be concerned that the Pentagon will seek to bend their research agenda to its own needs, interfering with their academic freedom. Still others will be nervous that colleagues will shun them. But many will refuse simply on principle: Anthropology is, by many measures, the academy’s most left-leaning discipline, and many people become anthropologists out of a visceral sympathy for the kinds of people who all too often show up as war’s collateral damage. Applying for Pentagon funding is as unthinkable for such people as applying for a Planned Parenthood grant would be for someone at Bob Jones University. One thousand anthropologists have already signed a
pledge not to accept Pentagon funding for counterinsurgency work in the Middle East.
Hmm, the "most left-leaning" discipline, eh? That explains a lot.

And I'm sure a quite few of these folks got some of those federally-funnded grants and loans as well...

Read the rest of
Gusterson's piece. He notes that the Pentagon's loss of potential knowledge is a loss for the country as well.