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Critical Interventions: A Forum for Social Analysis General Editor: Bruce Kapferer Volume 1 THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND GLOBAL CRISIS Critical Perspectives Edited by Bruce Kapferer

Volume 8 NATIONALISM’S BLOODY TERRAIN Racism, Class Inequality, and the Politics of Recognition Edited by George Baca

Volume 2 GLOBALIZATION Critical Issues Edited by Allen Chun

Volume 9 IDENTIFYING WITH FREEDOM Indonesia after Suharto Edited by Tony Day

Volume 3 CORPORATE SCANDAL Global Corporatism against Society Edited by John Gledhill

Volume 10 THE GLOBAL IDEA OF ‘THE COMMONS’ Edited by Donald M. Nonini

Volume 4 EXPERT KNOWLEDGE First World Peoples, Consultancy, and Anthropology Edited by Barry Morris and Rohan Bastin

Volume 11 SECURITY AND DEVELOPMENT Edited by John-Andrew McNeish and Jon Harald Sande Lie

Volume 5 STATE, SOVEREIGNTY, WAR Civil Violence in Emerging Global Realities Edited by Bruce Kapferer Volume 6 THE RETREAT OF THE SOCIAL The Rise and Rise of Reductionism Edited by Bruce Kapferer Volume 7 OLIGARCHS AND OLIGOPOLIES New Formations of Global Power Edited by Bruce Kapferer

Volume 12 MIGRATION, DEVELOPMENT, AND TRANSNATIONALIZATION A Critical Stance Edited by Nina Glick Schiller and Thomas Faist Volume 13 WAR, TECHNOLOGY, ANTHROPOLOGY Edited by Koen Stroeken


% Edited by

Koen Stroeken

Berghahn Books

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Paperback edition published in 2012 by Berghahn Books www.berghahnbooks.com © 2012 Berghahn Books All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without written permission of the publisher. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Printed in the United States on acid-free paper. ISBN 978-0-85745-587-1 (pbk)


% Introduction: War-Technology Anthropology Koen Stroeken 1

Part I: Perpetuating War Drones in the Tribal Zone: Virtual War and Losing Hearts and Minds in the Af-Pak War Jeffrey A. Sluka 21 The Dead of Night: Chaos and Spectacide of Nocturnal Combat in the Iraq War Antonius C. G. M. Robben 34 World in a Bottle: Prognosticating Insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan Roberto J. González 45 Anthropology As We Know It: A Casualty of War? R. Brian Ferguson 62



Part II: Globalizing War Games Without Tears, Wars Without Frontiers Robertson Allen 83 Music, Aesthetics, and the Technologies of Online War Matthew Sumera 94 Humanitarian Death and the Magic of Global War in Uganda Sverker Finnström 106 Resident Violence: Miner Mwanga Magic as a War-Technology Anthropology Koen Stroeken 120 The Magic of Martyrdom in Palestine and Cultural Imaginaries for Killing Neil L. Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha 135 Notes on Contributors 149

INTRODUCTION War-Technology Anthropology

% Koen Stroeken

The title of this volume, War, Technology, Anthropology, not only refers to war technology as an object of anthropological research but also recognizes that anthropology itself can be a technology of war. Of the three forms in which anthropology contributes to warfare, the first and most direct form is collaborating with the army by providing ethnographic data on populations deemed insurgent (NCA 2009). A recent case in point is the militarization of AFRICOM, one of the US’s Unified Combatant Commands, which is present in African countries to pro-actively ‘prevent war’, in part by predicting insurgency through cultural modeling (Albro 2010; Keenan 2008). A second, more insidious form of ‘war-technology anthropology’ is the diffusion of a militarized concept of culture (González 2010) that justifies violent intervention by attributing ‘tribal customs’ and ‘harmful cultural practices’ to certain populations, as opposed to the ‘democratic values’ of the occupying forces. The third and least acknowledged form in which anthropology supports the occupying forces is through silence on the matter of culture. Whether in discourse on human rights or debates on poverty and conflict, we notice a return to universalism. There is a tendency to


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give in to globalist pressures and disregard the concept of radical difference. How can one explain the transition, beginning around 1989, from covert CIA operations during the Cold War (e.g., sponsoring groups to overthrow democratic yet nonallied governments) to the post–Cold War series of ‘just’ wars in Muslim countries that present no direct threat (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya)? Some aspect of present-day society assures the military-industrial complex of public approval. Historically, one could point to the way in which Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics have imposed their antagonistic definition of culture on American foreign policy since the 1980s (Hunter 1992). But the approval has been more widespread. It went hand in hand with Western audiences increasingly identifying themselves with values such as gender equality and democracy, in the name of which war was waged, while anthropology—‘the’ understanding of humanity—increasingly avoided the culture concept. In a media-ruled world of pundits eager to intervene publicly, the anthropologists’ silence condones for the larger public the hierarchy of cultures that is used to justify military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and soon Africa. The condoning effect should not be underestimated when the silence comes from a socio-scientific discipline performing the state-salaried function of dissent in order to reassure the public that the state’s policies are being monitored. The 300,000 soldier reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars published by WikiLeaks (2010a, 2010b) are instructive as to the problematic position of the coalition forces in relation to the local population. The picture emerging is that of an invader, alienated from the population and mystified by foreign ‘human terrain’, that is, an occupier suffering from Western exceptionalism. If we check the WikiLeaks Web site for the 20 incidents rated as

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most significant by visitors (as of 30 January 2011), the geographical locations of critical actions in these wars all appear to be roadsides, which suggests engagements in the least human of terrains from the disengaged position of armored vehicles. Moreover, in response to the growing critique about civilian casualties, the military has more recently undergone something of a cultural turn. In the WikiLeaks war logs, the references to culture dramatically increase in soldier reports after 2007; however, they are invariably of the stereotyping, dehumanizing kind: “It is in their culture to ….” In brief, the politico-economic structure of warfare has a cultural component. This small bundle of pithy essays offers an update on the cultural and structural components of war-technology anthropology.

Anthropology, Culture, and War The fights in Iraq and Afghanistan together add up to over 100,000 civilian casualties (Burnham et al. 2006), a number that continues to grow. The wars are the outcome of a decision-making process undertaken by US and European democracies. Between the decisions and the killings runs a long but unbroken line. This collection of essays retraces that line, which ranges from war technology, including the use of drones, night vision goggles, and war games, to the more oblique levels of warfare, such as hierarchical distinctions used in the media, the sensory language of the entertainment industry, the new magic resorted to by poor African miners, and ethnographies that objectify other cultures rather than having their perspectives rebound on the authors’ own culture. There are indications that recent social theories are no less collusive with imperialism than was functionalism in


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the days of colonialism. For one thing, post-critical theories have emerged that no longer question the logic of the state apparatus. In Latour’s (2005) ‘actor-network-theory’, agency is dispersed in nature-culture hybrids. The maneuvers of the corporate elite are refracted by the network. There is no political structure supporting the chaotic and proliferating interactions of man and machine; the seemingly decentered Internet exemplifies the network (see Joxe 2002). In this view, cultures resemble the US Army’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) Project,1 appearing to be interactive regimes devoid of perspective. Any claim to social critique is hopelessly ‘asymmetrical’. This post-critical position is understandable in terms of the dominant, constructivist approach of science and technology studies, in which networks of users and designers together decide on the norms to be implemented in technology (Feenberg 1999). The constructivist approach prides itself on squarely overcoming the substantivism of twentieth-century dystopias, which warned about technological developments serving the status quo in function of a global political structure. This volume revisits the substantivist hypothesis on what was once called the ‘ghost in the machine’, namely, the tendency of technology to standardize behavior and sideline criticism and hence to sustain those in power. Realizing an era announced since the late nineteenth century by various dystopias, the ‘ghost’ or the ‘magic’ (an invisible influence through this-worldly means) has, rather than replacing it, become an integral part of the machinery called science and technology. The substantivist idea of such a lethal ‘structure’ refers to the current transition of nation-states (non-collaborative empires regulating the lives of their citizens) into oligarchic ‘corporate states’ (versatile networks privatizing the commons), as described by Kapferer (2005: 16). Social negotiation is handed over to technocrats and to autonomous, anonymous apparatuses.

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The drones do the killing for us. We hear ourselves ordering more drones. The dominance of the symmetrical, post-critical position today prevents social scientists from confronting the reasons for current extremisms, starting with why the Taliban ‘hates’ the West. The presumed motives of religious fanaticism are poverty and suffered injustices; however, these do not account for hate. What the insurgents hate is something that they deem too obvious to point out and that Euro-Americans have become blind to: a deeply rooted sense of cultural superiority, the result of a history of colonization, imperialism, and scientific positivism. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were no arbitrary target on 11 September 2001. Skyscrapers in the Middle East and Asia had taken up the gauntlet much earlier, in acknowledgment of the challenge by the West. I here contend that the pinnacle of the latter’s deeply set sense of superiority is present in the social theories dominating anthropology. What are concepts such as ‘global scapes’, ‘plural modernities’, and ‘flat networks’, among others, trying to tell us? They find the sign of their superiority not in empirical data but in their culture, in their approach, which proves to be more open, inclusive, and diverse than the cultures being studied. In these theories, certain matters—for example, whether behavioral regimes in the public sphere affecting Muslim women might be ‘good’, as in protective against jealousy, depression, or divorce—have become irrelevant. The non-Western cultures under study are no longer in the position to determine societal theories; they inspire only moral discourse. Tolerance and an emphasis on diversity characterize the ‘correct’ approach. Acceptance of ‘other’ views confirms the anthropologist’s superiority. This is how anthropology could gradually evolve into a technology of war. The discipline whose task it was to translate other perspectives to


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the point of unsettling its own perspective has settled for tolerance. Thus, it not only condones the dehumanizing of other cultures’ values and practices but also exemplifies the search for a culturally supreme position. Discourse on cultural diversity counters the imperialist enterprise yet seems in line with that search. What happened to cultural difference, which highlighted the blind spot in any culture? Today it has become almost dissident for anthropologists to take small communities seriously enough to treat their cultures as actual ontologies, generating a sense of purpose that academics could not fathom (see Viveiros de Castro 2004; Willerslev 2007). Once schools, universities, and the media stop evoking the post-colonial hypothesis of radical difference, governments have no qualms about the price to pay for ‘rescuing’ other cultures. Moreover, the justification follows a surprisingly magical, actually capitalist rationality—that of profit according to investment. Spending billions of dollars to legitimize the deaths of soldiers and civilians rests on a magical expectation. The ultimate human sacrifice will yield ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’—something Western, at least, that could restore the West’s hurt pride at a time of diminishing oil reserves, rising Asian powers, and eager upcoming populations, Muslims and others. The motive is as rational as it is magical because any sort of help—whether through military engagements or development projects—benefits the alreadyhaves, shifting attention from the negotiable basis of their wealth to other people’s efforts to achieve wealth too.

The Essays in Two Parts The first part of the volume opens with a perplexing observation. Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is often nocturnal, sometimes urban, and mostly erratic in response to

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insurgents’ attacks. However, the latest technologies pertaining to allied warfare, such as remote-controlled drones (Sluka, this volume) and night vision devices (Robben, this volume), serve instead to reinforce the insecurity that they are meant to eradicate. Jeffrey Sluka details the increase in civilian casualties and the role therein of technologies that ‘virtualize’ human targets. The use of drones makes life and death decisions less personal, but 50 civilians are killed per insurgent. If the consequences were not so tragic, one could see the irony of the ‘war on terror’ being designated ‘overseas contingent operations’ by the current US administration. Judging by the rate of human collateral damage, these overseas operations are indeed ‘contingent’, as in ‘subject to chance’. Drawing on Virilio (2002) and Vasquez (2009), among others, Antonius Robben notes in the second essay how warfare in Iraq has come full circle in terms of violence. The face-to-face combat of World War I was succeeded by the empty battlefield due to artillery in World War II. The Gulf War, by introducing stealth planes, continued the evolution toward ‘transhuman’ combat and resulted in very few allied casualties, compared to the opposition. The war in Iraq featured a return to close-proximity killing, but with a twist: the face-to-face combat was mediated, and made possible, by images that dehumanize the victim. Robben (this volume) points to the sensorial, ‘scopic’ context of equipment that affects the soldier’s weighing of life-ordeath decisions: “Nuanced human and social characteristics that are present in real-life holistic vision are deleted, producing a reconstructed human representation.” The third essay by González bridges the apparent gap between war technology in the strict sense of that term and the use of cultural data to identify human targets. The human and social characteristics that Robben refers to are effectively deleted by anthropologists, who strip


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ethnographic data from their broader social meaning and reduce them to behavioral predictors. González analyzes the government-sponsored reductionism of the Pentagon, which has committed $19 million to funding a Human Social Culture Behavior (HSCB) Modeling Program that is geared toward forecasting human behavior by means of computational/analytical anthropological data. He describes how the US Army’s National Training Center has developed software known as Reactive Information Propagation Planning for Lifelike Exercises (RIPPLE). Largely the work of game developers and Hollywood directors, RIPPLE employs ethnographic data to realize the army’s deadly delusions. The participation of anthropologists in the US Army’s HTS research not only raises ethical questions, as suggested earlier. It is indicative that such research, in practice, has little to do with anthropology after its post-colonial turn. Brian Ferguson demonstrates in the fourth essay that in order to have their research fit within the army’s format, the participating anthropologists have deserted the qualitative and interpretive methods developed by the discipline during the last several decades. Tellingly, the only way in which anthropology could be suitable for the military is by returning to legalistic approaches to culture (e.g., lists of customs and beliefs) that date from colonial times. Such a return coincides with the shift to pragmatic consultancy work, which has sidelined anthropology as an intellectual discipline. Ferguson concludes this first part of the volume with a straightforward appeal: the US Department of Defense (DOD) should get out of the social science grant business and stop covertly funding research. In addition, a professional organization, such as the American Anthropological Association, should have a permanent open forum as a means to detect such maneuvers. Passivity—anthropology’s current state of affairs—makes the discipline instrumental in perpetuating war.

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The DOD’s involvement reveals how firmly anthropology is implicated in the American imperial venture. Yet there is no reason to assume that the trend is limited to the US, since it is perfectly in line with the global shift toward a pragmatic anthropology that serves development and surveillance purposes. Soon after the social sciences threatened to rise to prominence in the post-colonial era, they turned more positivistic on their own. With the ideology of flat networks and diversity, and with the failure of anthropology to evoke radical difference as a counterweight to positivist pragmatics and capitalist rationality, an important obstacle to imperialist adventures has fallen. The second part of this volume further broadens the scope by discerning the less patent forms of war-technology anthropology, that is, the concepts and interpretations of the human experience that sustain violence and thus not only perpetuate but also spread and globalize war. One factor is corporate states that market security; the war on terror perfectly suits their goals (Kapferer and Bertelsen 2009). Across the world, these states gain significance by virtue of the insecurity they produce. Whitehead (2005: 13) refers to a “cultural loop,” a means whereby violence reinforces violence: “roadblocks, random identity checks, manuals for identifying the ‘enemy’, and other forms of ‘security’ screening actually induce further insecurity and so generalize state violence or the threat of it.” The insecurity generated by state terror in turn calls for violent state response. As Der Derian (2009) argues, the media and the entertainment industry, and hence the wider public, are part of the effort to ‘realize’ violence by ‘virtualizing’ US politics and war. ‘Spectacide’, the killing of an image, occludes the killing. The next essay expands this argument to include the most rapidly growing business worldwide: gaming. Following the assessments in this volume by González, Robben,


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and Sluka on the way that sensorial mediation plays a key role in today’s warfare, extending the battlefield far beyond its geographic contours through drones, radar, satellite images, the Internet, and scientific representations, Robertson Allen (this volume) observes that while the “ritualistic element of gameplay is therapeutic, imparting a sense of agency and control” over an unruly environment, the digital and audio-visual media in games can also resocialize military means of terror. In the following essay, a study of controversial war music videos, which Jean Baudrillard named ‘war porn’, Matthew Sumera (this volume) argues that people’s claims about the truth of video representations of combat can be understood only within the affective frame and impact of the soundtrack. The heavy metal music accompanying footage from the US’s two battlefields soft-pedals the explicit violence. Similar to the foot soldier’s side drum of old, the soundtrack’s drumbeats and guitar salvos are inextricably part of “the aesthetics of contemporary warscapes.” As Sverker Finnström demonstrates in the next essay, the global war’s dichotomy of government versus insurgent has become the prism through which the national and international media report about political violence worldwide, lending dictatorial regimes a veneer of legitimacy in their fight against revolutionary movements. The growing complexity qua local-global entanglements paradoxically gives way to ever simpler representations in the media and politics, keeping the dichotomy firmly in place in Uganda. Just as terror inscribed in the landscape perpetuates insecurity and war (Sanford 2003), a resource for state terror is cultural ‘othering’ (Spivak 1988), which stereotypes the ‘wild’ and the ‘uncivilized’. Finnström (2008) thus recounts the problematic relation between the Ugandan government, internationally acclaimed for its stability and AIDS policy, and its Acholi citizens, nationally reputed

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as war-prone. Through such divisions, the Ugandan state maintains ‘a state of exception’ (Agamben 2005). The concept of ‘terrorist’ similarly serves the new right wing in the US by dehumanizing hostile regimes while continuing to sponsor state terrorism in countries neighboring those regimes (Sluka, Chomsky, and Price 2002: 22). What is the point of supporting peacemaking tools in Africa, such as democracy and schooling, if such peace preserves the democratic deficit at the global level? The essay by Koen Stroeken (this volume) describes the “carrion system” of Tanzanian miners, self-declared ‘vultures’, and their war-technology anthropology—more exactly, how their magic (called mwanga) accords with the global economy. The magic takes the form of an anthropology— a definition of the human—that can be used for warfare because it operates on the economic premise that an extreme investment such as human sacrifice (e.g., children suffering from albinism) will yield an extreme outcome. The wider context of this magic is a perpetual (versus subsiding) state of violence, also called a ‘resident violence’. The global and perpetual war that the sacrificers of humans participate in permeates the concluding piece by Neil Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha. In it, they discuss the cultural dimensions that are crucial for understanding how acts of ‘suicide terrorism’ gain popular support and can potentially motivate individuals. The authors trace the transformation of the figure of the fida’i, the sacrificer (of self), during the PLO resistance in cross-border operations of the 1960s and 1970s. The self-sacrificer has now become an istishhadi (matryrous one), less secular, more Islamic. As Whitehead and Abufarha (this volume) put it: “In the poetics of Palestinian resistance, the sacrificed Palestinian body parts are a mimesis of flowing streams, nurturing fields, and blooming flowers.” The acts of martyrdom “‘penetrate’ the Israeli segregation wall, ‘break’ all


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the barriers, and ‘pass’ all checkpoints” (ibid.). Violence has always been a domain of life, determined both culturally and socio-economically (Ferguson 1995: 278; Robben and Nordstrom 1996). Since 1989, we have witnessed the gradual, barely noticeable transition from regional conflicts to global warfare, structured both economically and politically.

Killing for Magic: The Global Political Economy Whereas some of the underlying causes of global insecurity have decreased over the last couple of centuries, the degree of terror and the rate of civilian deaths have increased dramatically in the most recent phase of warfare. Civilized technologies of combat allow war to persist without appearing to escalate it. Night vision goggles and drones may limit casualties on the side of the allies, but they are not particularly effective in terms of ending global warfare. Previously, by making the most out of every kill, weaponry served to scare the enemy. The blood spilt visibly on the battlefield would push the enemy to surrender. Today, one side’s victory and the other’s capitulation seem secondary. Now, from the start of a war, the emphasis is on stealth, which allows one to kill as many as possible and get away with it. Again we notice the cultural factor. In a militarized concept of culture, it is inconceivable that the Taliban will ever change their minds. Because of their culture, they should all be eliminated, and this requires ‘clean’ kills, the kind featured in video games. The high number of casualties during and after the 2003 Iraq invasion, estimated at a total of over 600,000 (Burnham et al. 2006), is concealed by the absence of blood on television and on satellite images. The main intention, it seems, is to prolong a military presence—that is, to perpetuate war for the sake of war.

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If warfare between nations is a thing of the past and is being replaced today by a global war, as argued by Hardt and Negri (2004), this volume shows that the ‘global’ actually refers to the way that war has become part of our economy, technology, thought, and entertainment. The technologies of precision bombing, satellite images, drones, and applied anthropology dehumanize the victims and, in so doing, guarantee the continuation of war. Nobody believes that the Af-Pak wars were intended as duels with winners and losers. The expected outcome is not surrender by the enemy in a conventional sense. We can imagine the incredulous reaction of a US general if a Taliban warrior were to approach him, brandishing a white flag. It is preposterous to suggest that a sudden show of respect for democracy and women’s rights would make a difference to anyone involved. Nobody counts on surrender. Nobody counts on the war ending. Why is this so? Together with the demise and subsequent militarization of the culture concept, we observe the mainstreaming of war. The military industry, like any other industry, counts on its profits rising annually. War technology no longer stands for an exceptional means purposely developed to assist in a specific war. Finding ongoing markets for warfare is a regular preoccupation of economic elites. A first piece of evidence is that the duel between rival states that are worthy opponents of each other—and would hence result in a potentially cataclysmic clash—is replaced by wars waged on countries that, in principle, stand no chance. Typically, these nations have a large population of poor people, who bear the brunt of the country’s loss of lives, and lack international communication channels that could present their side of the story (recently exemplified by army operations in Libya). An immediate predecessor was the Cold War, during which the two main rivals remained remotely affected while


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the predatory implications of their economies (whether privately owned or state-owned) were exported to ‘civil wars’ in satellite states, mostly to global peripheries such as Korea, Vietnam, Congo, Togo, Angola, and Chile in what was then called the Third World. During the Reagan administration in the 1980s, at a time when no incidents of ‘terrorism’ were recorded and the Cold War appeared to wane, counter-terrorism was a promise made to the industry in the form of a prophecy (Zulaika 2009). A second indicator of the war’s economic impetus is the US military’s change of the designation ‘global war on terror’ to ‘the long war’. As exemplified by the epithet ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, it seems that the only sure feature of the war is its perpetuity (Joxe 2002; Kapferer 2005). David Keen (2007) has listed the advertising tricks— or what he calls ‘magic’—that the US government has been using to keep the war serial and endless. These tactics include scapegoating, wishful thinking, creating a demand for one’s military supply, promising big gains, and lumping conflicts across the world into one enemy. The last tactic to perpetuate war has been alternated with its opposite, an equally effective disaggregation, as illustrated by the Obama administration’s recent preference for the innocuous-sounding phrase ‘overseas contingent operations’. A third indicator of the economic structure of warfare is manifest in the historical evolution since the 1814 Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war between Great Britain and the United States of America, wherein (besides promoting the abolition of slavery) the latter promised to restore to the “Tribes or Nations of Indians … all the possessions, rights, and privileges which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in 1811 previous to such hostilities.”2 The Treaty of Ghent testified to an awareness about the significance of war beyond its geographic confines, such as the injustice befalling satellite groups. Two centuries later,

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poverty, as endured by the Indian Nations or the formerly colonized, has basically become an identity marking the enemy. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the warred-on side is not supposed to stand a chance. No possessions, rights, or privileges that they may have enjoyed or been entitled to previous to such hostilities will be restored. This fixed hegemonic structure within a bustling global network of criss-crossing cultural flows is what Hardt and Negri (2000, 2004) understand by ‘Empire’. Our remarkable disinterest in the casualties is proof of the extent to which Empire means war. Only people fully involved in a war do not care about casualties. A final indicator of the economic impetus of war is that nobody seriously believes that victory by ‘our armies’ will achieve an end to the war, after which an era of peace will commence. There could be no world without one or the other state sooner or later provoking the anger of the (currently) sole superpower, followed by a call for preventive strikes under the banner of security. A common trait of the political regimes targeted by the US since World War II is not dictatorship. Rather, what the USSR, the ayatollahs, and the Taliban have in common is the denial of the standards by which the US triumphs over the rest of the world. Many American citizens, if they were better informed, would probably not sympathize with the corrupt elites put in place by their administration and perhaps could identify better with the rebels, who believe that they are fighting for a righteous cause and against a powerful oppressor. Why do we focus on the bearded ayatollahs, the Taliban, the Maoist Vietcong, and the freedom fighters recruited from villages, rather than targeting the opulent squandering of the shah (Iran), the corruption of bureaucratic elites (South Vietnam), or the dictators (such as Mobutu in the former Zaire) who violate every human right? The evil of


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dictators does not scare us because it keeps the structure of our global political economy in place. What scares us is the alternative. By representing the invasions as independent from the history of ideas that disciplines partake of, anthropologists risk distancing these moments of violence, placing themselves in the position of spectators, and pretending that these are not their battles. The war will last as long as one of the parties denies being involved.

Notes 1. See http://humanterrainsystem.army.mil/. 2. Treaty of Ghent (1814), article 9, Library of Congress, http:// www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Ghent.html.

References Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. State of Exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Albro, Robert. 2010. “Anthropology and the Military: AFRICOM, ‘Culture’ and the Future of Human Terrain Analysis.” Anthropology Today 26, no. 1: 22–24. Burnham, G., R. Lafta, S. Doocy, and L. Roberts. 2006. “Mortality after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-Sectional Cluster Sample Survey.” Lancet 368: 1421–1428. Der Derian, J. 2009. Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-IndustrialMedia-Entertainment Network. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Feenberg, A. 1999. Questioning Technology. New York: Routledge. Ferguson, R. B. 1995. Yanomami Warfare: A Political History. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. Finnström, Sverker. 2008. Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History, and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. González, Roberto J. 2010. Militarizing Culture: Essays on the Warfare State. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

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Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ______. 2004. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin. Hunter, James D. 1992. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books Joxe, A. 2002. The Empire of Disorder. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kapferer, Bruce. 2005. “Introduction: Oligarchic Corporations and New State Formations.” Pp. 1–23 in Oligarchs and Oligopolies: New Formations of Global Power, ed. B. Kapferer. Critical Interventions series, vol. 7. New York: Berghahn Books. Kapferer, Bruce, and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, eds. 2009. Crisis of the State: War and Social Upheaval. New York: Berghahn Books. Keen, David. 2007. “How to Sell an Endless War: Buy Hard.” Counterpunch, 21–22 July. http://www.counterpunch.org/ keen07212007.html (accessed 1 January 2010). Keenan, Jeremy. 2008. “US Militarization in Africa: What Anthropologists Should Know about AFRICOM.” Anthropology Today 24, no. 5: 16–20. Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. NCA (Network of Concerned Anthropologists). 2009. The CounterCounterinsurgency Manual: Or, Notes on Demilitarizing American Society. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm. Robben, Antonius C. G. M., and Carolyn Nordstrom. 1996. “Introduction: The Anthropology and Ethnography of Violence and Sociopolitical Conflict.” Pp. 1–23 in Fieldwork Under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Culture, ed. Carolyn Nordstrom and Antonius C. G. M. Robben. Berkeley: California University Press. Sanford, Victoria. 2003. Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Sluka, J., N. Chomsky, and D. Price. 2002. “What Anthropologists Should Know about the Concept of Terrorism: A Response to David Price.” Anthropology Today 18, no. 2: 22–23. Spivak, G. 1988. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. London: Routledge. Vasquez, Jose N. 2009. “Seeing Green: Visual Technology, Virtual Reality, and the Experience of War.” Pp. 87–105 in An Anthropology of War: Views from the Frontline, ed. Alisse Waterston. New York: Berghahn Books.


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Virilio, Paul. 2002. Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light. Trans. Michael Degener. London: Continuum. Viveiros de Castro, E. 2004. “Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies.” Common Knowledge 10, no. 3: 463–484. Whitehead, Neil L. 2005. “Introduction: Cultures, Conflicts, and the Poetics of Violent Practice.” Pp. 2–23 in Violence, ed. Neil L. Whitehead. Oxford: James Currey. WikiLeaks. 2010a. “War Diary: Afghanistan War Logs, 2010-07-25. http://wikileaks.ch/. ______. 2010b. “War Diary: Iraq War Logs, 2010-10-22. http:// wikileaks.ch/. Willerslev, Rane. 2007. Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism, and Personhood Among the Siberian Yukaghirs. Berkeley: University of California Press. Zulaika, J. 2009. Terrorism: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Chicago: Chicago University Press.


DRONES IN THE TRIBAL ZONE Virtual War and Losing Hearts and Minds in the Af-Pak War

% Jeffrey A. Sluka

You can’t say civilization don’t advance … in every war they kill you in a new way. — Will Rogers

This essay considers the civilian casualties caused by the use of air strikes, particularly remote-controlled drones, in the current wars in the tribal zones of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I argue that these tactics of virtual counterinsurgency, touted as being highly discriminate and effective (literally able to “put warheads on foreheads”) and as representing the technological cutting edge of a revolution in advanced modern warfare capabilities, have in practice resulted in a collateral disaster that has effectively ensured that the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ among these communities—and hence the ‘global war on terrorism’ in the so-called Af-Pak war—has been lost. As the war in Afghanistan has grown and spread to Pakistan, it has increasingly relied on air power, and, consequently, the number of civilian casualties has rapidly risen. In 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that “[c]ivilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes


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nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007” and warned that this was “exacerbating the problem and fuelling a public backlash” (Human Rights Watch 2008). Nonetheless, in response to increasing Taliban attacks, the US-led forces retaliated with massive aerial bombing campaigns and large-scale household raids. The number of insurgent attacks increased, the number of civilian casualties skyrocketed, and in the 15 months of this operation more civilians were killed than in the previous four years combined. While this surge, little noted by the media, failed miserably, the first thing that the newly elected Obama regime did was to launch another one. Today, most Afghans say that they feel occupied by the American and allied foreign troops and threatened by the Taliban. The majority now regard the US and coalition forces as they did the Russians—as foreign, anti-Muslim invaders—and they strongly oppose sending in more troops. There has been a steady decline in support for the US and allied forces: in 2005, 80 percent of Afghans supported the presence of foreign troops, but by February 2009 fewer than half did (The Week, 27 February 2009). In Pakistan, the war escalated in May 2009, when the Pakistan Army, under pressure from the US, launched large-scale counter-insurgency operations in the tribal borderlands in the northwest of the country. This campaign killed and maimed thousands of civilians and created a huge humanitarian catastrophe, including 2 million refugees. At the same time, the CIA stepped up a campaign of airborne attacks by unmanned drones in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, inhabited primarily by Pashtun tribes, which they had begun in January 2006. These attacks have killed hundreds of civilians, uniting the Pashtun against the US and recruiting and increasing popular support for the Taliban. The strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and this tactic is backfiring by sowing public

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anger and fueling anti-Americanism, while failing to defeat the militants. A poll conducted in July and August 2009 showed that Pakistanis are increasingly distrustful and suspicious of America, with 80 percent opposed to cooperating with the US any longer in its ‘war on terrorism’, and 76 percent opposed to the use of the drone strikes. This poll excluded the country’s tribal areas, where the opposition would have been even greater (Hayden 2009: 23).

The Af-Pak War Body Count We have no idea exactly how many civilians have been killed or wounded by the US and its allies in the Af-Pak war, but there is no doubt that the ‘collateral damage’ has been widespread. The ‘fog of war’ makes counting the dead difficult, and ethnographic experience in war zones suggests that all official figures on civilian casualties are likely to be undercounts. In Afghanistan, there have been approximately 21,250 total civilian casualties, with 7,589 killed and 13,660 seriously wounded.1 In Pakistan, between 2003 and 2011, the war on terrorism probably killed about 9,000 civilians.2 In 2008, according to Afghanistan Rights Monitor, a Kabul-based watchdog organization, 3,917 civilians were killed—more than two-thirds in rebel attacks, 1,100 by Afghan and foreign forces, and about 680 in air strikes. In 2009, a UN report in July said that in the first half of the year about 1,800 civilians were killed: the Taliban and tribal warlords were responsible for about 1,000 deaths, and 700 civilians were killed by international and Afghan forces, including 455 who died in air strikes. It also reported that the war is spreading and that the number of civilians being killed is currently doubling at the rate of every two years (Sunday Star-Times, 19 July 2009).


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Death from Above The US Air Force (USAF) has been increasingly relying on ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs) or drones, primarily the Predator and the Reaper. Launched from Afghanistan, these ‘ghost planes’ are flown by ‘joystick pilots’ located halfway around the world in the continental US. As Washington and the military see it, the ideal use of this system is to ‘pick off’ terrorist leaders. The pilots pinpoint their targets by watching streams of real-time video, taken by advanced surveillance systems on the drones. Most of the drones are also armed with Hellfire missiles or ‘smart bombs’, which the pilots can fire with the push of a button, once they have spotted the targets on their video screens. Although it takes up to 17 steps to fire a missile and incinerate those below, killing is just a matter of entering a computer command: it is like pushing ‘control-altdelete’, and the target dies.3 By 2011, these hunter-killer drones were performing 50 combat air patrols at any one time, a number that is expected to increase to 65 by 2013. In 2009, the USAF trained more joystick pilots than new fighter and bomber pilots, creating a “sustainable career path” for USAF officers (Kaplan 2009). One Predator ‘pilot-from-afar’ has commented that “It’s not as potent an emotion as being on the battlefield,” but “[i]t’s like a video game. It can get a little bloodthirsty. But it’s fucking cool.” While the pilots are no longer at risk, the experience of fighting from home bases has brought new psychological twists to war: “You see Americans [or civilians?—J.S.] killed in front of your eyes and then have to go to a PTA [Parent Teacher Association] meeting,” said another pilot (quoted in Singer 2009: 347). Engelhardt (2009b) observes that the drones are the “wonder weapon of the moment,” and “you can already

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see the military-industrial-robotics complex in formation.” In fact, as Der Derian (2009: xxxvi) describes, they are already part of a massive and expanding “military-industrial-media-entertainment network.” The hype and hubris surrounding this technology is huge, and the mainstream media is full of glowing reports on the drones, some of which imply that their use could win the war on terrorism by themselves. For example, an April 2009 report stated that the drones were killing Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders and that “the rest have begun fighting among themselves out of panic and suspicion. ‘If you were to continue on this pace … Al-Qaeda is dead’” (The Week, 3 April 2009). in May 2009, in an uncritical 60 Minutes report, an officer in charge of USAF drone operations was asked if there were ever mistakes in the drone attacks: “What if you get it wrong?” “We don’t” was his response. The USAF claims that its priority is to target insurgents with precision while avoiding civilian casualties. It strongly asserts that it is very concerned about civilian casualties and takes extreme measures to avoid them. It says that there is always a military lawyer on duty, whose job is to provide advice regarding the Law of Armed Conflict, which prohibits the intentional targeting of civilians and requires militaries to minimize risks to them. Supposedly, a strict NATO protocol requires high-level approval for air strikes when civilians are known to be in or near Taliban targets. When civilians are detected, strikes are to be called off. The USAF contends that it is extremely precise and that it has terminated many operations when it appeared that civilian casualties might result. The drones are promoted as the ‘future of war’, the ‘only good thing’ to come out of the war on terrorism, and an effective and highly discriminate counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency weapon. Virtually no one doubts that robots will eventually occupy a central role in the US


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military. As Singer (2009) has shown, it is an unprecedented revolution in military affairs. That there is virtually no limit to the extraordinary hype about these weapons as the “greatest, weirdest, coolest hardware in the American arsenal” was recognized in an article in Newsweek in September 2009, which categorized the publicity about drones as representing “weapons porn” (Graham 2009; see also Satia 2009).

Critique of the Drone War This hype cannot be believed: the evidence shows that it deals in sheer fantasy, if not literally science fiction, and that there have been many mistakes. In particular, the drone attacks in Pakistan, which have been touted as the most successful, have in fact been responsible for the most civilian casualties. Of the 60 Predator strikes in Pakistan between January 2006 and April 2009, only 10 hit their actual targets and 687 civilians were killed.4 Pakistan Body Count, which tracks drone casualties, says that by the end of March 2011, 2,205 civilians had been killed and 909 seriously injured,5 but conservative Western sources claim that the figure killed is from 290 to 461.6 In April 2009, David Kilcullen, the anthropologist dubbed by the media as a ‘counter-insurgency guru’, advised the US Congress that the drone attacks in Pakistan are backfiring and should be stopped. He said: “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al-Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists” (Naiman 2009). Kilcullen even characterized the drone attacks as “immoral,” because the ‘kill ratio’ has

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been 50 civilians for every militant killed—a ‘hit rate’ of 2 percent, or 98 percent civilian casualties—which is hardly precision killing. The drone strikes have caused thousands of civilian casualties, have had a particular affinity for hitting weddings and funerals, and are seriously fueling the insurgency. A 2007 UN report concluded that US air strikes were among the principal motivations for suicide attackers in Afghanistan (Bergen and Tiedemann 2007). At the end of 2008, a survey of 42 Taliban fighters revealed that 12 had seen family members killed in air strikes and 6 had joined the insurgency after such attacks (Gopal 2009). Far more who have not joined have offered their support. It has also been reported that the drone strikes in Pakistan “are creating turmoil in the tribal areas. A witch-hunt against suspected spies has resulted in the deaths of at least a dozen people in North Waziristan, many of them by beheading” (Yousafzai and Hosenball 2009: 35). Even when the air strikes have succeeded in killing militant leaders, in many cases this has simply turned them into martyrs (MacKenzie and Saber 2009). To President Obama and most Americans, the drones are seen as terrorist-killers, while in Afghanistan and Pakistan they are viewed as fearsome indiscriminate killers of civilians. From the imperial, ‘top-down’ perspective, remote-controlled assassination drones are perceived as a fantastically successful new weapon, right out of science fiction. But from the ‘bottom-up’ perspective of the targeted population in the tribal zones, it has been experienced as a deeply flawed weapon that they have come to fear and resent. Furthermore, the psychology of aerial attack—of death from above—is a psychology of state terror. Many Afghans now say that they would rather have the Taliban back in power than nervously eye the skies every day (Gopal 2009). A villager who survived a drone


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attack in North Waziristan explained that even children at play are acutely conscious of drones flying overhead (Kelly 2009). For many, the much-touted sophistication of this ‘high technology’ only makes the civilian deaths more galling (Baker 2009). Psychologically, Afghans and Pakistanis in the tribal zone view the drones only as predators; they will never see these weapons as their ‘protectors’. Virtual war dehumanizes the victims and desensitizes the perpetrators of violence, lowering the moral and psychological barriers to killing. In the US today, young people play video games developed by the military—such as America’s Army and Close Combat: First to Fight—that enable them to kill casually the simulated human beings whose world they control. In this way, the militarization and ‘weaponization’ of culture is directly reflected in the conjunction of entertainment and military media (see also Allen, this volume). This socialization of virtual war means that the next step to killing real human beings is very small, because the change is only psychological and moral; the physical process of remote-controlled violence is exactly the same, regardless of whether the victims are real or simulated. As Ignatieff (2000: 4) has warned: “If war becomes unreal to the citizens of modern democracies, will they care enough to restrain and control the violence exercised in their name? Will they do so, if they and their sons and daughters are spared the hazards of combat?”

Conclusion Civilian casualties are the single biggest issue in Afghanistan and Pakistan because, as everyone agrees, including the generals running the Af-Pak war, military success is impossible without wining the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people (Sluka 2009). In July 2009, in response to the rising

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number of civilian casualties, General Stanley McChrystal sought to change the emphasis from killing insurgents to protecting civilians. He ordered his troops to avoid calling in air strikes if civilian lives were at risk, to show the local people that the US forces are there to protect them. However, at the time of this writing, the US is scrambling for another ‘surge’ solution based on an escalation of the conflict, one that relies on sending in more troops and using more drone and other airborne attacks. This tactic is bound to fail, since it is just what got us to where we are now. The use of air power has already undermined public support for the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and continued aerial bombing will result in more civilian casualties, leading to more anger. The consequence will be more support and recruits for the insurgents and the extension of a long, losing war. Dropping bombs that kill civilians angers whole populations and creates ill will, and, as international mediator John Paul Lederach has asserted, bombing Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets “is like hitting a mature dandelion with a golf club. It just ensures another generation of Al-Qaeda” (cited in Dodge 2009). The fact that the war effort itself now fuels the insurgency and continues the cycle of violence proves that there is no military solution in Afghanistan or Pakistan. At this point, Afghanistan is certainly a failed state, and nucleararmed Pakistan has become dangerously destabilized as well. Thus, the crucial factors that the US government and military identify for a successful counter-insurgency campaign—a stable local government that has popular support and the ability to win the hearts and minds of the people—are never likely to be achieved. President Obama has taken ownership of the Afghanistan war, calling it “a war of necessity” that is fundamental to the “defense of our people” (Leon 2009). He has ‘rebranded’ George W. Bush’s ‘global war on terrorism’ as


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‘overseas contingent operations’—a ‘virtual’ expression for ‘wars’ because it sounds innocuous and does not even mention the military or violence. On the other hand, the US military now refers to it as the ‘long war’. This exhibits a good dose of realism, given that the war in Afghanistan is now the second longest war in US history, after only the war in Vietnam. Obama has also chosen to follow the example of the previous administration by introducing another surge solution based on an escalation of the war. As Engelhardt (2009a) has concluded, our leaders are addicted to war: “As things go from bad to worse and the odds grow grimmer, our leaders, like the worst of gamblers, wager ever more … In the Vietnam era, there was a shorthand word for this: ‘quagmire’.” The Obama administration has chosen to up the ante on troop numbers and drone use in Pakistan and Afghanistan, “ensuring not the end of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but the long life of robot war within our ever more militarized society” (Engelhardt 2009b). The tragic but inescapable reality is that so long as this ‘long war’ goes on, Afghan and Pakistani civilians will be the ones paying the heaviest price. Already, a new, ubiquitous form of state terror has emerged in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, where constant fear is generated by dozens of unpredictable hunterkiller assassination drones flying overhead, tirelessly and relentlessly searching for potential targets to kill. Anthropologists have observed that the virtual space of killing and war is akin to the ‘magical’, because sorcery or magic and cyberspace are both ‘virtual realities’. As Neil Whitehead (2002) has shown in his volume Dark Shamans, in tribal societies war shamans were believed to be capable of physical assassination by remote means—killing their enemies at a distance by occult methods. Whitehead describes how, in the native context, there is “a shadow war in which enemy shamans contend with each other through

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the use of spirit proxies. Each shaman has a number of such familiars disguised as predators and raptors who will seek out a foe” (ibid.: 131; emphasis added). In shamanic warfare, conflicts are “enacted in the spirit domain, for the night sky is replete with the souls of contending shamans” (ibid.: 128). In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the sky is now replete with the virtual ‘presence’ of joystick pilots of remote-controlled predator drones, searching for victims to kill. The culture of the USAF is changing, the definition of the ‘warrior-airman’ is expanding, and drone pilots are emerging as the ‘dark shamans’ of the military.

Notes 1. http://www.unknownnews.net/casualties.html (accessed 30 November 2009). 2. Significantly, there are no official figures on total civilian casualties in the war in Pakistan. The issue is surrounded by great secrecy and controversy, particularly with regard to deaths from drone strikes. However, Zaidi (2009) has calculated 7,000 casualties by the end of 2009, and scattered reports suggest over 2,000 additional casualties in 2010. 3. The keyboard command ‘control-alt-delete’, also known as the ‘three-finger salute’, is computer jargon for ‘dump’ or ‘do away with’, as in the Al Yankovic song “It’s All About the Pentiums,” which includes the lyrics “Play me online?/Well you know that I’ll beat you/If I ever meet you/I’ll Control-Alt-Delete you.” 4. “687 Civilians Killed in U.S. Drone Attacks on Pakistan Since 2006,” Mediamouse.org, 13 April 2009, http://www.mediamouse. org/news/2009/04/us-drones-kill-687-pakistan-civilians.php. 5. http://www.pakistanbodycount.org (accessed 21 March 2011). 6. New America Foundation, Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative, “The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004–2011,” http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/ drones (accessed 21 March 2011).


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References Baker, Aryn. 2009. “Backlash from Afghan Civilian Deaths.”Time, 23 June. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599, 1636551,00.html. Bergen, Peter, and Katherine Tiedemann. 2007 “Losing Afghanistan, One Civilian at a Time.” Washington Post, 18 November. http:// www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/16/ AR2007111601203.html. Der Derian, James. 2009. Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network. New York: Routledge. Dodge, Robert. 2009. “Rethinking Afghanistan: Alternatives to War.” Truthout, 8 November. http://www.truthout.org/110809C. Engelhardt, Tom. 2009a. “Too Big to Fail? Why All the President’s Afghan Options Are Bad Ones.” Truthout, 1 November. http:// www.truthout.org/1102092. ______. 2009b. “Drone Race to a Known Future: Why Military Dreams Fail—and Why It Doesn’t Matter.” Truthout, 10 November. http://www.truthout.org/1111095. Gopal, Anand. 2009. “The Surge That Failed: Afghanistan under the Bombs.” Truthout, 10 October. http://www.truthout.org/ 100908U?. Graham, David. 2009. “Weapons Porn: The Weirdest, Coolest Hardware in the American Arsenal.” Newsweek, 23 September. http://www.newsweek.com/id/215823. Hayden, Tom. 2009. “Kilcullen’s Long War.” Nation, 2 November, 22–24. Human Rights Watch. 2008. “Afghanistan: Civilian Deaths from Airstrikes.” 8 September. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/09/ 07/afghanistan-civilian-deaths-airstrikes. Ignatieff, Michael. 2000. Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond. London: Chatto & Windus. Kaplan, Fred. 2009. “Attack of the Drones.” Newsweek, 28 September. Kelly, Kathy. 2009. “Now We See You, Now We Don’t.” Truthout, 26 June. http://truthout.org/062609R?. Leon, Wilmer, III. 2009. “Afghanistan/Pakistan a New Vietnam?” Truthout, 10 September. http://www.truthout.org/091009D?. MacKenzie, Jean, and Mustafa Saber. 2009 “Did a US ‘Hit’ Create an Afghan Hero?” Truthout, 15 October. http://www.truthout. org/1015093?.

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Naiman, Robert. 2009. “Stopping Pakistan Drone Strikes Suddenly Plausible.” Truthout, 7 May. http://www.truthout.org/050709A. Satia, Priya. 2009. “Attack of the Drones.” Nation, 9 November, 14–16. Singer, P. W. 2009. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. New York: Penguin. Sluka, Jeffrey. 2009. “Losing Hearts and Minds in the War Against Terrorism.” Pp. 106–132 in Iraq at a Distance: What Anthropologists Can Teach Us About the War, ed. Antonius C. G. M. Robben. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Whitehead, Neil L. 2002. Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Yousafzai, Sami, and Mark Hosenball. 2009. “Predators on the Hunt in Pakistan.” Newsweek, 9 February, 35. Zaidi, Mosharraf. 2009. “The Best Wall of Defense.” Nation, 9 November, 18–19.

THE DEAD OF NIGHT Chaos and Spectacide of Nocturnal Combat in the Iraq War

% Antonius C. G. M. Robben

“In ’Nam it seemed like we were always in the brush. Once in a while we would have some clearings. It was real difficult to see very far ahead. You had to keep your eyes moving to see what was in front, to the side, and most of all where you were walking.” So wrote Vietnam veteran Ed Smith in April 2006 to his son Captain Will Smith, stationed in Tikrit, Iraq. Captain Smith commented on his father’s combat experience of four decades earlier: “Before night vision was a common soldier-issued item, the V.C. owned the night. We learned from that; now the U.S. military is the most lethal force on the earth in hours of darkness. When the lights go out in Iraq, I feel safer than I do during the day.”1 New technologies, such as night vision, thermal imaging, image intensifiers, robots, drones, and satellites, have expanded the situational overview of today’s soldiers and have been hailed for enabling surgical strikes on military targets. In this essay, I will demonstrate that, instead, night vision devices and novel counter-insurgency tactics in the Iraq War reinforced one another in a lethal union that enhanced the chaos of battle space and inflicted many civilian deaths as a result of dehumanization through mediated image-realities.

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In 2003 and 2004, US commanders were at a loss as to how to combat the Iraqi insurgents and foreign mujahideen with their networked organizations and deadly surprise attacks. These irregular combatants merged with the social environment by dressing as civilians, placed roadside bombs, and launched suicide attacks without extensive battle plans because they were not trying to assume political power in Iraq. Their principal strategic objective was to create chaos and general insecurity in order to undermine the authority of the foreign occupying force and increase its death toll to an intolerable level. What made it particularly difficult to fight the insurgents was that they lacked the unity of command that a classical guerrilla organization would have. Instead, they were composed of a network of loosely allied groups (Hashim 2006; Metz 2007: 23–31; Robben 2010). American military researchers examining future warfare had already anticipated this development and had also formulated a response: “It takes networks to fight networks. Governments that want to defend against netwar may have to adopt organizational designs and strategies like those of their adversaries” (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 2001: 15; see also Arquilla 2010). The US military abandoned the unsuccessful massive sweeps with tanks, artillery, helicopter gun ships, and thousands of troops in 2005 and switched to small-scale operations, such as random cordon and search operations in neighborhoods, surprise raids on houses, and dismounted combat patrols that roamed city streets at will. The new strategy drew on the counter-insurgency thinking developed by the US Marines during the Vietnam War that insurgencies were best fought by imitating insurgents rather than carpet bombing them. US troops in Iraq increased their mobility and surprise by deploying small infantry units and allowing them to swarm through battle space


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in the hope of catching the elusive insurgents unawares. Lieutenant Van Engelen explained this swarming tactic as follows: “I just picked a spot on a map that I thought was a high-volume area that might catch some people. We just set something up for half an hour to an hour and then we’d move on” (Hedges and Al-Arian 2007: 27). The deliberate randomness of the swarming operations imitated the erratic movements of the insurgents, and US combat units outtrumped them as a chaos-producing force through a superior situational overview made possible by the latest technology. Equipped with advanced night vision devices and communication equipment, US combat units were backed by formidable rear and air support that allowed them to move separately and freely in a chaotic battle space, while staying interconnected electronically through interfaced communication systems. The military were trained to exploit this self-induced chaos, as one US Marine manual indicated: “Small unit leaders will be more comfortable working in and through chaos, to the point they can capitalize on the chaos of the operational environment—to the adversary’s detriment” (MCCDC 2006: 24). It can therefore hardly be a coincidence that US General James Mattis chose ‘Chaos’ as his radio call sign when commanding his Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan (Ricks 2007: 314). Swarming seemed an ideal answer in Iraq’s unpredictable battle space because “swarms operate best in chaos” (Honan 2003). Thus, US counterinsurgency units further enhanced the general disorder created by the insurgency through their own unpredictable swarming operations. The upshot of the urban swarming operations was that public space became highly insecure for Iraqi civilians. This was especially the case when US troops became so accustomed to seeing in the dark with their high-tech devices that they forgot that the night remained pitch black for the

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unsuspecting civilians. Iraqis did not recognize the poorly marked flash checkpoints erected in towns and cities to capture insurgents and weapons smugglers. US commanders have blamed civilian fatalities on indiscriminate attacks that are carried out by enemy combatants with improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades, obliging troops to make split-second decisions about whether a suicide bomber or a drunken driver is crossing the trigger line. This is certainly true, but the tactics of impromptu checkpoints carry equal blame. Soldiers manning checkpoints want to be in control and therefore change rules and regulations to induce a “calibrated chaos” that disorients civilians, as Peteet (2010: 92) has argued. People’s first worry in Iraq was to recognize a checkpoint at all. For example, on the evening of 7 August 2003 at around 9:00 PM, US soldiers of the 1st Armored Division set up two flying checkpoints with unlit armored vehicles in Bilal Habashi Street in Baghdad for a random weapons search in homes and shops. At around 9:20 PM, Saif al-Azawi and two friends were driving through their neighborhood, with loud music blaring from their car, to pick up a third friend to celebrate Saif’s excellent exam grades. “At that time,” according to one eyewitness, “the electricity in the district was cut off and the interior light of Saif’s car was turned on, which prevented him from seeing outside clearly” (Human Rights Watch 2003: 19). A US soldier shouted for them to stop, but the car sped on. Another soldier fired warning shots first, and then shot at the car when it entered the checkpoint. Saif was killed and his two friends injured. The next car was not given any stop signals but immediately fired upon, killing the driver, Adil al-Kawwaz, and three of his children, while injuring his pregnant wife and his fourth child. The superior officer acknowledged his men’s mistake in firing at the second car but insisted that the first car was “loaded with


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insurgents firing weapons out the windows” (Mansoor 2008: 76). A US military investigation concluded that the killings had been a regrettable incident but that the correct engagement procedures had been followed (Human Rights Watch 2003: 18–23). This tragedy may have been the result of unfortunate circumstances and panic, but such checkpoint killings hint at more structural problems caused by self-produced contact situations. Public space in Baghdad had become a chaotic environment that bewildered the monitored civilians in this multimedia panopticon of battle space with its unpredictable tactical practices under the cover of darkness. Night vision equipment allowed US soldiers to see order in the nocturnal chaos. Reconciling the Greek meaning of ‘chaos’ as ‘infinite darkness’ (OED) with the uncertainties of von Clausewitz’s ‘fog of war’, nighttime combat had always been one of the greatest challenges soldiers faced in war. Tim O’Brien (1991: 248) described this darkness in Vietnam as “the kind of clock-stopping black that God must’ve had in mind when he sat down to invent blackness. It made your eyeballs ache. You’d shake your head and blink, except you couldn’t even tell you were blinking, the blackness didn’t change.” The uncertainty and danger of night patrols in Vietnam affected the US soldiers emotionally. “The long night marches turned their minds upside down; all the rhythms were wrong. Always a lost sensation. They’d blunder along through the dark, willy-nilly, no sense of place or direction, probing for an enemy that nobody could see” (ibid.: 249). Night vision goggles (NVGs) lifted the darkness during the Iraq War and enhanced surprise, mobility, and situational overview, as Captain Danjel Bout of the 3rd Infantry Division wrote in 2005 from Baghdad. “These cyclopean sights incessantly tug at your trapezius muscles, but in exchange for their nagging weight they peel away the cloak of night, and

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reveal the darkness in her naked splendor. The emerald images the NVGs splash across our retinas allow us to move like wraiths across the silent moonscape, dodging and weaving through the murk.”2 The high-tech capabilities of the twenty-first century have transformed the battlefield into a “multimedia field of vision,” according to Paul Virilio (2002: 136; italics in original). Battle space changed during World War I from a battlefield of face-to-face combat informed by sensory sight and sound to the so-called empty battlefield with longrange machine guns and artillery shelling. World War II increased the physical and emotional distance between enemies even further through radar and aerial bombing. The 1991 Gulf War marked another revolution in warfare by being the first war in which stealth aircraft and cruise missiles defied detection—a war that, according to Virilio (ibid.: 112), saw “arms of communication prevail for the first time in the history of combat over the traditional supremacy of arms of destruction.” Virilio even speaks of the First Gulf War, with its very low allied casualties, as a “transhuman war” (ibid.: 137). The 2003 invasion of Iraq and the ‘shock and awe’ bombing of Baghdad seemed to perfect this high-tech warfare. Yet the low-tech resistance of Iraqi insurgents, with their homemade explosive devices using simple electrical switches and artificial fertilizer, crippled the superior technology and entangled the US Armed Forces in an irregular and deadly war. Precision bombing gave way to proximity killing, as in nineteenth-century conventional wars, but with a psychological twist. Soldiers now observed their targets up close in a multimedia battle space, as if in face-to-face combat, but the sight of the enemy was dehumanized through the mediated images (Vasquez 2009: 91). Battle space became a sensorium of generative mediation—a composite of mediated combat realities that transformed human targets into


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virtual targets and soldiers, literally, into killing machines that were able to suspend natural darkness and fade out moving images with lethal force. The ambivalence of enemies as both human and virtual arises from the mimetic process underlying technical mediation. “Realities are not becoming images here, but images are becoming realities; a plurality of image-realities come into being. Distinctions between realities, images, and fictions break down. The world appears subject to a making in images. Images come into mimetic relation with other images” (Gebauer and Wulf 1995: 2). The trouble with mimetic mediation is that the medium itself disappears from consciousness in the absorbing immediacy of combat. Soldiers become so engrossed in the life-threatening environment that they may no longer be aware that the reality they perceive is mediated and that the detection devices suffuse their actions and decisions. The desire of immediacy to respond as quickly as possible to danger magnifies the spectrum of the evanescent media. On the one hand, this contradictory quality of night vision devices makes combat “seem increasingly immediate and realistic so that the act of mediation and the technology enabling it almost appear to vanish” (Eisenlohr 2009: 275). On the other hand, it “leads to their greater visibility as complex objects and apparatuses that seem increasingly and problematically decoupled from human agency” (ibid.). Spectral filters become invisible, images are conflated with reality, and killing becomes ‘spectacide’.3 Night vision devices produce an immediation of combat that mistakes night for day and human representations for the people themselves. The ensuing dehumanization turns the shooting of human targets into spectacide that contains an emotional and visual contradiction between the virtual reality of eliminating mediated images and the violent death of actual human beings.

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The image-realities produced by the sophisticated equipment contain the prejudice of mediation. They preselect targets, narrowing people down to key indicators of enmity in a scopic context that reduces the soldier’s options for weighing life-or-death decisions. Nuanced human and social characteristics that are present in reallife holistic vision are deleted, producing a reconstructed human representation. One of numerous examples from the Iraq War is how a Marine platoon reconnoitered an inoperative airfield in the dim morning light near Qalat Sukkar. The area had been declared hostile, the equivalent of Vietnam’s free-fire zone, allowing the troops to shoot without observing the rules of engagement. When muzzle flashes were seen in the distance, the Marines responded in kind. Several hours later, Lieutenant Nathaniel Fick (2006: 239) saw the consequences when two wounded boys were brought to his men for help. “The pieces fell into place. Those weren’t rifles we had seen but shepherds’ canes, not muzzle flashes but the sun reflecting on a windshield. The running camels belonged to these boys. We’d shot two children.” It took him considerable effort to obtain life-saving medical care for the boys because his commanding officers did not want to take responsibility for civilians injured in a free-fire zone. Technical improvements may reduce these mistakes but will cause others as the distance between reality and image increases even further. Night vision devices are still uncomfortable to wear, as Captain Bout explained above, but improved equipment will increasingly push the awareness of mediation to the back of consciousness and will position the soldier in the interface of multiple media vectors that absorb his or her attention during combat when immediacy becomes a matter of life and death. As Bolter and Grusin (2000: 6) have succinctly stated: “Immediacy depends on hypermediacy.” The multiple mediated


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parameters of enmity dictating tomorrow’s soldiers will create an overloaded and overdetermined enclosed experience as they become outfitted with opaque helmets with internal screens beaming filtered image-realities on their retinas (Vazquez 2009: 90). As Bolter and Grusin (2000: 53–54) see it: “The excess of media becomes an authentic experience, not in the sense that it corresponds to an external reality, but rather precisely because it … does not feel compelled to refer to anything beyond itself.” The danger of this process of hypermediation was tragically shown in July 1988 when a missile launched from the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing the crew and 290 passengers. “The Vincennes catastrophe occurred because the US navy implicitly trusted the digitally produced visual representations and simulated scenarios, codes and models of its Aegis system during a hazardous foray into the territorial waters of Iran” (Armitage 2003: 3). Captain Smith’s uncritical praise for the greater situational overview of the Iraq War compared to the Vietnam War reveals the questionable reliance on mediated enemy identification: “We have high-tech drones, satellites, planes, thermal imaging devices, and other technology to help us keep an eye on a trouble spot from a safe and unobtrusive distance. We have a much better idea of who the bad guy is in Iraq, when compared to the fields and jungles of Vietnam.”4 Yet this confidence is deceptive. Not only have there been numerous instances of friendly fire and civilian casualties, as can happen in any war, but the chaos-producing tactics and night-piercing equipment make civilians even less able to read their familiar environment for potential threats and may make their behavior vulnerable to misinterpretation by invisible soldiers. In conclusion, both a heightened battle-space confusion, with swarming counter-insurgency units, and the reduced ability to make accurate judgments, brought about by

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night vision goggles, have enhanced the risks to civilians and turned the killing of targets, real or mistaken, into a spectacide executed through mediated combat. Advanced spectral devices have redefined front-line combat into image-realities occupied by dehumanized targets. The Iraq War has shown how mediated counter-insurgency tactics sowed a battle-space chaos that spun out of control at the cost of many civilian lives.

Notes 1. Both quotes from http://frontlines.blogs.nytimes.com/ (posted 11 April 2006, accessed 12 November 2009). 2. http://thunder6.typepad.com/365_arabian_nights/page/3/ (posted 24 October 2005, accessed 12 November 2009). 3. I owe the term ‘spectacide’ to Neil Whitehead. 4. http://frontlines.blogs.nytimes.com/ (posted 11 April 2006, accessed 12 November 2009).

References Armitage, John. 2003. “Militarized Bodies: An Introduction.” Body & Society 9, no. 4: 1–12. Arquilla, John. 2010. “The New Rules of War.” Foreign Policy (March–April). http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/ 02/22/the_new_rules_of_war (accessed 6 April 2010). Arquilla, John, and David Ronfeldt. 2001. “The Advent of Netwar (Revisited).” Pp. 1–25 in Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, ed. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 2000. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Eisenlohr, Patrick. 2009. “Technologies of the Spirit: Devotional Islam, Sound Reproduction and the Dialectics of Mediation and Immediacy in Mauritius.” Anthropological Theory 9, no. 3: 273–296.


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Fick, Nathaniel. 2006. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Gebauer, Gunter, and Christoph Wulf. 1995. Mimesis: Culture-ArtSociety. Trans. Don Reneau. Berkeley: University of California Press. Hashim, Ahmed S. 2006. Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Hedges, Chris, and Laila Al-Arian. 2007. “The Other War.” Nation, 30 July, 11–31. Honan, Joseph. 2003. “Riding the Whirlwind: Command and Control of Swarms Using the Public Safety Model.” http://www.comdig. de/Conf/C4ISR/Honan.ppt (accessed 12 November 2009). Human Rights Watch. 2003. Hearts and Minds: Post-war Civilian Deaths in Baghdad Caused by U.S. Forces. http://www.hrw.org/ en/reports/2003/10/20/hearts-and-minds. Mansoor, Peter R. 2008. Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. MCCDC (Marine Corps Combat Development Command). 2006. Tentative Manual for Countering Irregular Threats: An Updated Approach to Counterinsurgency Operations. Quantico: United States Marine Corps, Headquarters. http://www.fas.org/irp/ doddir/usmc/manual.pdf. Metz, Steven. 2007. Learning from Iraq: Counterinsurgency in American Strategy. Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute. O’Brien, Tim. 1991. The Things They Carried. New York: Penguin Books. Peteet, Julie. 2010. “The War on Terror, Dismantling, and the Construction of Place: An Ethnographic Perspective from Palestine.” Pp. 80–105 in Iraq at a Distance: What Anthropologists Can Teach Us About the War, ed. Antonius C. G. M. Robben. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Ricks, Thomas E. 2007. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York: Penguin Books. Robben, Antonius C. G. M. 2010. “Chaos, Mimesis and Dehumanisation in Iraq: American Counterinsurgency in the Global War on Terror.” Social Anthropology 18, no. 2: 138–154. Vasquez, Jose N. 2009. “Seeing Green: Visual Technology, Virtual Reality, and the Experience of War.” Pp. 87–105 in An Anthropology of War: Views from the Frontline, ed. Alisse Waterston. New York: Berghahn Books. Virilio, Paul. 2002. Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light. Trans. Michael Degener. London: Continuum.

WORLD IN A BOTTLE Prognosticating Insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan

% Roberto J. González

Imagine a computer program that tells its users which neighborhoods in a distant city—Baghdad, Kabul, or Islamabad—are dangerous. The program predicts whether these neighborhoods are prone to riots, gun violence, sniper attacks, or bombings, and it even forecasts when such events are likely to occur. With all the speed and imagery of a video game, the program also identifies the names of the probably participants in the violence, as well as their addresses, fingerprints, and photo IDs, along with the names of their relatives, friends, and associates. Such a program might appear to be beyond the realm of possibility, but the US Department of Defense (DOD) is spending millions of dollars in a quest to find a technological holy grail that predicts ‘hot spots’, ranging from organized protest marches to full-blown insurgent attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan (NRC 1997: 16–19; OSD 2010; Shachtman 2009). Pentagon planners hope that raw data for these programs will come from teams collecting demographic and ethnographic information—what military personnel refer to as ‘human terrain’. I inadvertently stumbled upon this technological fantasy world while researching the origins of the human terrain


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concept, a notion that is rooted in domestic counterinsurgency efforts in the late 1960s, when US spy agencies hoped to neutralize the Black Panthers and other militant groups. After a long hiatus, the human terrain (HT) concept resurfaced as the Human Terrain System (HTS) and expanded quickly across many spheres—including techno-scientific domains.

Modeling and Simulating Human Behavior Recent Pentagon budget documents reveal a clear commitment to the acquisition of ‘cultural knowledge’, and today a small but growing group of engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists are seeking DOD funding and access to ethnographic data for modeling, simulation, and ‘forecasting’ programs. Among them is a University of Pennsylvania engineering professor, Barry Silverman (2007), whose recent research report posed a blunt question: “Human Terrain Data: What Should We Do with It?” Silverman and his team of graduate students have developed computerized behavior modeling programs that are designed to uncover the hidden motivations of terrorists and their networks, and they hope to integrate information collected by Human Terrain Teams into these programs. Their simulations, funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, integrate “more than 100 models and theories from anthropology, psychology, and political science, combined with empirical data taken from medical and social science field research, surveys, and experiments” (Goldstein 2006: 30). The goal is to predict how terrorists, soldiers, or ordinary citizens might react to “a gun pointed in the face, a piece of chocolate offered by a soldier … [Silverman’s group] is now simulating a small society of about 15,000 leader

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and follower agents organized into tribes, which squabble over resources” (ibid.). Silverman’s simulations represent “physical stressors such as ambient temperature, hunger, and drug use; resources such as time, money, and skills; attitudes such as moral outlook, religious feelings, and political affiliations; and personality dispositions such as response to time pressure, workload, and anxiety” (Goldstein 2006: 28). Silverman (2007) notes that “the HT datasets are an invaluable resource that will permit us in the human behavior M&S [modeling and simulation] field to more realistically profile factions, and their leaders and followers.” Gary Ackerman, director of the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (an independent division of Akribis Group, a security company based in San Jose, California), provides a vivid description of the way that modeling and simulation programs work: “There are tools where they build a world in a bottle. They put down every single mosque, river, camel, and school in, say, Saudi Arabia. Then they have millions of software agents who each have desires, grievances, all these different variables. They go about their little lives and then you ask a question: What if we build a McDonald’s in Mecca? Does this lead to more people joining terrorist groups or not?” (quoted in Goldstein 2006). Similarly, researchers at Dartmouth College have created the Laboratory for Human Terrain (LHT), which is “focused on the foundational science and technology for modeling, representing, inferring and analyzing individual and organizational behaviors.”1 It includes an engineer, a mathematician, and a computer scientist who specialize in “Adversarial intent modeling, simulation and prediction … Dynamic social network analysis” and “Discovery of hidden relationships and organizations.” The Pentagon awarded a $250,000 grant to Eugene Santos of the LHT to


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develop an algorithm for “predicting how individuals or groups … react to social, cultural, political, and economic interactions … [it] can evaluate how rhetoric from religious leaders combined with recent allied killing of radical military leaders, and perceptions of potential economic growth can cause shifts in support from moderate or radical leadership.”2 According to the journal National Defense, another wartime simulation project includes Purdue University’s Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation (SEAS), which “gobble[s] up breaking news, census data, economic indicators, and climactic events in the real world, along with proprietary information such as military intelligence” (Erwin 2007). Each of Purdue’s Iraq and Afghanistan computer models has “about five million individual nodes that represent entities such as hospitals, mosques, pipelines and people” (ibid.). Other researchers are orienting their studies toward the creation of three-dimensional computerized avatars (i.e., graphical representations) designed to improve the cultural competency of US soldiers. Glenn Taylor and Ed Sims (2009) have worked to create believable interactive characters that model the physical and cognitive behaviors of people from different societies. The researchers’ efforts focus on modeling the behavior of Arabs, and to this end they have identified more than 200 physical gestures from interviews with Baghdad residents. Their goal is the creation of a training tool that relies on humanoid 3D avatars that can be displayed on computer screens. Taylor and Sims (ibid.: 4) note: [T]here are many subtleties of communication that are not immediately apparent to someone unfamiliar with that culture: gestures, eye contact behaviors, and the like. The focus of our physical 3D models is in the generation of

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these subtleties … [Our software system] has developed a library of culture-specific avatars, gestures and expressions that can be invoked on demand. These libraries consist of over 60 culturally diverse virtual human models as well as 40 facial expressions and 500 gestures, and can automatically lip-sync to over 22 mouth shapes that map to over 100 speech sounds of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

This research, funded by the DOD, also attempts to integrate “cultural cognitive architecture” that uses “knowledge learned by living in that culture: knowledge about the correct ways to interact (e.g., norms), about what is important in the culture (e.g., values), etc.” (ibid.). By creating virtual Iraqis, the researchers hope to provide a low-cost alternative to “immersion in a target culture” (ibid.: 1). Another research group from the Art and Technology Program of the University of Texas at Dallas has designed the First Person Cultural Trainer, a 3D interactive computer game designed to teach military personnel about Iraqi and Afghan ideas and values. According to the lead investigator, Marjorie Zielke, “Much of the cultural data is being developed in real time by the military… we can generate culture in certain aspects of the game on the fly… We could change it overnight if we needed to.” In this game, the player “enters” an Iraqi or Afghan village or neighborhood from a “first-person” point of view; the goal is “to understand the social structures and issues, then address those issues and work with the community to affect [military] missions.” Virtual villagers form opinions based upon the way that the player interacts with them, while the player gathers data about characters from his or her observation of “verbal and non-verbal cues.”3 This 3D video game, sponsored by the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and G-2 Intelligence Support Activity, reveals several remarkable things. The


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notion that culture can be generated “on the fly”—or even “overnight”—implies that programmers have the ability to shape and reshape human values, norms, thoughts, and behaviors at will. Furthermore, the creators of the game appear to believe that “cultural data” collected by US soldiers on the battlefield can be used to generate an increasingly accurate model of Iraqi or Afghan culture, as if there existed a simple, predictable means of accomplishing this aim. The problem is that such efforts pursue an outdated model of a reified, neatly bounded, homogeneous culture that does not really exist. Finally, throughout this process it appears that the programmers (and those playing the game) are viewing Iraqis and Afghans not as people but as non-persons—as dehumanized entities.

Model Terrorists and Virtual ‘Tribes’ The research under way at the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Purdue are only three examples in a growing field in which ‘culture’, ‘tribes’, ‘moral outlook’, and other constructs appear as independent variables in equations that do not recognize the ambiguity, creativity, or chronic unpredictability of the species Homo sapiens (Price 2009). The Pentagon has already committed $19 million to funding similar research—called the Human Social and Cultural Behavior (HSCB) Modeling Program—through fiscal year 2013. Since “[c]urrent military operations need and future operations will demand the capability to understand the social and cultural terrain and the various dimensions of human behavior within those terrains,” the research program “will develop technologies for human terrain understanding and forecasting” for “intelligence analysis.” This includes work in the following key areas: “Database Infrastructure/Framework;

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Human behavior based theory for DoD Models; Visualization Infrastructure; and Situationally-relevant education and training tools” (OSD 2007). The program is further geared toward “[d]evelopment of the methods and tools to allow remote and ‘boots on the ground’ collection of pedigreed social and cultural information relating to a population (local, regional, global), including the print, voice, and video media, social networks, and cultural, religious and tribal alliances” (ibid.). A prime goal of HSCB is forecasting human behavior. According to the program description, “work will focus on computational/analytical anthropological data collection, theory development, and application methodologies and tools” for creating “software tools to allow decision makers (Intelligence analysts, operations analysts, operations planners, wargamers) to have available forecasting tools for socio-cultural (human terrain) responses at the strategic, operational and tactical levels” (OSD 2007). Another crucial goal of HSCB is predicting the effects of US military actions on people living under occupation. Or in other words, the “[c]reation of validated, human terrain forecasting models that enable examination of 2nd, 3rd, and higher order effects of kinetic and non-kinetic actions within a theater in support of Effects Based Operations … [Such] work will provide DoD capability to model intended or unintended Political, Military, Economic, Societal, Infrastructure and Information (PMESII) effects of military actions” (ibid.).

Visualizing the Future Apart from HSCB, another project designed to help predict human behavior is being developed. Mapping the Human Terrain (MAP-HT) was initially conceived in 2006


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as an integral part of the HTS (González 2009; Kipp et al. 2006). According to early documents describing HTS, Human Terrain Teams (HTT) would record ethnographic data on computers equipped with MAP-HT, which would in turn transmit the data to a centralized database accessible by other US government agencies—and eventually by the Iraqi and Afghan governments. In an unclassified document dated August 2006, Pentagon staff (DOD 2006) reported that operations depend on the military’s ability to operate effectively in a foreign society … one of the most important intelligence objectives is to ensure that operators in the field have knowledge of host populations: social structure (ethnic groups, tribes, elite networks, institutions, organizations and the relationships between them), culture (roles/statuses, social norms and sanctions, beliefs, values, and belief systems), cultural forms (myths, narratives, rituals, symbols), and power and authority relationships. This information must be appropriately linked to geospatial coordinates and provide a basic map of the human terrain that will improve the operational effectiveness of US forces.

Less than a year later, the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s budget draft provided a more explicit description (OSD 2007): The outcome of MAP-HT is to develop an integrated, open source, spatially/relationally/temporally referenced human terrain data collection and visualization toolkit to support BCT/RCTs [brigade combat teams/regimental combat teams] in understanding human terrain. The objective is to deploy MAP-HT toolkit to Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIMM) elements (e.g. USAID, DEA, Coalition Partners). MAPHT will provide a joint common relevant picture of the

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human terrain for use by tactical elements, operational commanders, theater planners, interagency organizations, and coalition partners … [A] capability (people, process, and tools) must be further developed to provide a means for commanders and their supporting operations sections to collect data on human terrain, create, store, and disseminate information from this data, and use the resulting understanding as an element of combat power.

Ultimately, following several failed attempts to implement the program, the Pentagon chose Overwatch Textron Systems—a subsidiary of weapons giant Textron—to develop MAP-HT. According to one former HTT member whom I interviewed, early versions of MAP-HT were useless, while another told me that the program was so poorly designed that it was “sitting on a shelf” (pers. comms.). The Web site of Overwatch Textron Systems currently states that MAP-HT was originally developed “in conjunction with the Army’s Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) Program” and will move “beyond the JCTD to fielding and deployment in multiple Areas of Operation.”4 However, MAP-HT has reportedly “failed to materialize in any useful form,” according to investigative journalist John Stanton (2010).

Role Playing and Video Gaming The possibility of forecasting insurgent attacks has led Pentagon officials to prepare and plan for countermeasures. Computerized role playing exercises and video games are already used for this purpose. For example, the US Army’s National Training Center (NTC) at the Fort Irwin Military Reservation in California has developed software titled Reactive Information Propagation Planning for Lifelike Exercises (or RIPPLE) to improve battlefield intelligence. In


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the Military Review, Brigadier General Robert Cone (2006) describes the software as follows: “RIPPLE is network-modeling and artificial-intelligence software that tracks all role players, roles, and relationships among the 1,600 Iraqi role players. It maps all social, familial, and business relationships in the scenario as well as each role player’s personal history and motivation. Based on this mapping, the NTC can dynamically assess and model the effects of [US] unit interaction with Iraqi role players.” The NTC has employed Hollywood producers, directors, actors, and special-effects technicians who have helped develop scripts and scenarios, train role players, build realistic towns and villages, and create explosive special effects. The Air Force Research Laboratory has requested new proposals for modeling programs and suggests that “researchers should investigate cultural, motivational, historical, political and economic data to determine if there are mathematical and statistical models that can be used to predict the formation of terrorist activities.” According to the proposal, the “end goal is to determine sets of actions that can influence the root cause behaviors and cultivate a culture that does not support the development of criminal activity” (quoted in Shachtman 2007a)—an objective that effectively puts the Air Force in the business of social engineering. The Office of Naval Research has requested proposals for a simulation tool resembling a video game: “We are looking for innovative ideas that explore and harness the power of ‘advanced’ interactive multimedia computer games (e.g. ‘sim games’) … [incorporating] the best-practices of the videogame industry, including intuitive controls, storytelling, user-feedback … scenario editing, and high-quality graphics & sound” (quoted in Shachtman 2007b). The Navy issued a request for another set of programs, described as Rapid Ethnographic Assessment, “to help commanders get a feel for the local culture in a hurry” (ibid.):

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The aim is to better understand the socio-cultural context in which these military missions operate … [Rapid Ethnographic Assessment] will ensure that military analysts will not just collect data, but also be able to know what data matters, in order to make sense of tribal, ethnic and social class relationships, understand environmental factors (for example, the control of water in arid climates), land rights, disputes, the role of religion in everyday life, and the structure of the elites … Candidate methodologies include: cognitive anthropology, social network analysis, other methodologies with a structuralist focus, linguistics, applied anthropology, development anthropology, and computational approaches. (quoted in ibid.)

It is not difficult to imagine scenarios in the near future in which agents use cultural profiles, social network analyses, and ‘visualization of the human terrain’ for pre-emptive targeting of statistically probable (rather than actual) insurgents or extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or other countries deemed to be terrorist havens. Perhaps we are not so far away from the dystopian visions of science fiction writer Philip Dick. In his short story “The Minority Report,” Philip K. Dick ([1956] 2002) describes a society in which three babbling mutants are supposedly able to foresee crimes days before they occur. The data they produce are channeled into powerful computers designed to help police prevent crimes, but the protagonist of the story learns that mutants and computers are all too capable of misjudging future events.

Social Engineering and the Social Sciences DOD forecasting raises at least two sets of questions. First, there are basic questions of utility. Does the Pentagon really need to model the political, economic, and societal


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effects of US actions such as aerial assaults (e.g., the destructive attack upon the village of Granai in Afghanistan on 4 May 2009 that killed 143 civilians) (Boone, MacAskill, and Tran 2009)? Will HSCB, SEAS, MAP-HT, or other programs lead to startling new insights regarding what Iraqis or Afghans think about living under military occupation or about government corruption or about neo-liberal shock therapy? While the answers would be relatively straightforward for many anthropologists (and indeed for many ordinary citizens), it appears that there are some within the military and intelligence establishments who are unable to comprehend why others would be angry or resentful about military occupation. As David Price (2009) has noted, counter-insurgency advocates apparently think that “they can leverage social structure and hegemonic narratives so that the occupied will internalize their own captivity as freedom.” The second set of questions has to do with what Hugh Gusterson (2009) calls the “epistemology of confidence” that underlies the efforts of counter-insurgency’s proponents, a confidence that treats societies “like machines whose behavior can be diagrammed and predicted.” What are we to make of hyper-positivist statements like those of Steve Fondacaro (director of the HTS), who argues: “When you have a fundamental knowledge of how tribes work, you can non-kinetically neutralize enemies using those relationships” (quoted in Beyerstein 2007)? At the height of the Cold War, C. Wright Mills (1959) cautioned social scientists about the “bureaucratic ethos.” He was concerned about the rapid transformation of scientists into mere technicians of power who lacked any sense of social responsibility. Mills’s criticism of social engineers advocating “prediction and control” was devastating: To talk so glibly as many do about prediction and control is to assume the perspective of the bureaucrat to

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whom, as Marx once remarked, the world is an object to be manipulated … But we, as social scientists, may not assume that we are dealing with objects that are so highly manipulable, and we may not assume that among men we are enlightened despots … No historical society is constructed within a frame as rigid as that enclosing my hypothetical army division. Nor are social scientists—let us be grateful—generals of history” (ibid.: 114).5 Perhaps there are more valuable contributions for critically minded social scientists to make, for instance, a more detailed exposition of twenty-first-century positivism—a modern-day Machiavellian mentality that encompasses (1) technical engineering approaches (unmanned drones, simulation programs, MAP-HT, ‘precision’-guided munitions, etc.) and (2) socio-cultural engineering approaches (behavior modification through advertising and other forms of propaganda, development projects, bribes and other forms of monetary and material ‘incentives’, and balkanization via ethnic cleansing and separation barriers, curfews, checkpoints, etc.) in territories under military occupation. These technical and socio-cultural engineering approaches—what might be called the Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates ends of an American counter-insurgency continuum—effectively reflect today’s conservative and liberal approaches to empire. Under such circumstances, anthropologists clearly have an opportunity to support the new Machiavellians as they pursue their technological fantasies. The human sciences might be used in this way as a means of prolonging the deadly self-delusions of social engineers. But social scientists have another option: to hold up a mirror for critical self-reflection. Stepping back for a moment from the utilitarian, uncritically ‘applied’ uses of our discipline, it is worth considering how anthropological insights might lead to a deeper understanding of what is occurring. In


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his trenchant analysis of magic, science, and religion, the British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1948) suggested that all societies make use of these three forms of knowledge. Malinowski’s own research in the Trobriand Islands revealed that the Trobrianders employed science— knowledge about the predictable, mundane world (tidal and lunar patterns, seasonal changes, boat construction, gardening, and the like)—but that they also employed magic when undertaking relatively dangerous fishing trips on the open ocean. Magic, from Malinowski’s perspective, thrives in any society whose members are faced with unpredictable, hazardous situations. Given such insights, a more critical and relevant social science might help us to understand better why HSCB modeling and simulation and other ‘forecasting’ programs are unfolding so rapidly. Seen through an anthropological lens, these twenty-first-century technologies appear not so much as scientifically based tools for confronting knowable, predictable phenomena, but rather as amulets or talismans for dealing with dangerous, unknowable events by means of sacred formulas (algorithms). At the very least, our discipline might suggest that computer programs, modeling and simulation software, and other cybernetic counter-insurgency tools are forms of magic (in the Malinowskian sense) that Pentagon planners and their corporate contractors employ in unpredictable, dangerous situations—popular uprisings, armed rebellions, peaceful revolutions, and demands for radical democratic change— over which they actually have very little control.

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Notes 1. See http://www.dartmouth.edu/~humanterrain/ (accessed on 2 March 2010). 2. “Dynamic Adversarial Gaming Algorithm,” Laboratory for Human Terrain, Dartmouth College, http://www.dartmouth. edu/~humanterrain/DAGA.ppt (accessed on 2 March 2010). 3. “Game Trains Soldiers in a Virtual Iraq or Afghanistan,” University of Texas at Dallas, 23 February 2010, http://www.utdallas. edu/news/2010/2/23-1251_Game-Trains-Soldiers-in-a-VirtualIraq-or-Afghanis_article.html. 4. “MAP-HT: Mapping Human Terrain,” Overwatch Textron Systems, http://www.overwatch.com/products/mapht.php. 5. It might be argued that some social scientists, both during and as a result of the Petraeus era, have indeed become “generals of history.”

References Beyerstein, Lindsay. 2007. “Anthropologists on the Front Lines.” In These Times, 30 November. Boone, Jon, Ewen MacAskill, and Mark Tran. 2009. “US Air Strikes Kill Dozens of Afghan Civilians.” Guardian, 6 May. Cone, Robert W. 2006. “NTC: The Changing National Training Center.” Military Review, May–June. http://www.army.mil/professionalWriting/volumes/volume4/august_2006/8_06_3.html. Dick, Philip K. [1956] 2002. The Minority Report. New York: Pantheon. DOD (Department of Defense). 2006. Interim Progress Report on DoD Directive 3000.05 Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations, August. http://www.defenselink.mil/policy/sections/policy_offices/ solic/stabilityOps/assets/refdocs/DODD%203000%2005%20 REPORT%20TO%20SECDEF%202006%20(unclass).pdf (accessed on 3 December 2009). Erwin, Sandra I. 2007. “Mathematical Models: The Latest Weapons Against Urban Insurgencies.” National Defense Magazine, December. http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/ archive/2007/December/Pages/Mathematical2412.aspx.


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Goldstein, Harry. 2006. “Modeling Terrorists: New Simulators Could Help Intelligence Analysts Think Like the Enemy.” IEEE Spectrum 43, no. 9: 26–34. http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/ software/modeling-terrorists. González, Roberto J. 2009. American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. Gusterson, Hugh. 2009. “The Uses and Abuses of Anthropology.” Paper presented at the conference “Reconsidering American Power,” University of Chicago, 24 April. Kipp, Jacob, Lester Grau, Karl Prinslow, and Don Smith. 2006. “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century.” Military Review (September–October). http://www.army.mil/professionalWriting/volumes/volume4/december_2006/12_06_2.html. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1948. Magic, Science, and Religion. New York: Free Press. Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press. NRC (National Research Council). 1997. Modeling and Simulation: Linking Entertainment and Defense. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense). 2007. “RDT&E Budget Item Justification (R2 Exhibit), PE Number 0602670D8Z, ‘Human, Social and Culture Behaviour Modeling (HSCB) Applied Research.’” http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/ fy2008/budget_justification/pdfs/rdtande/Vol_3_OSD/BA-3.pdf. ______. 2010. “RDT&E Budget Item Justification (R2 Exhibit), PE Number 0603832D8Z, ‘DoD Modeling and Simulation Management Office.’” http://www.dtic.mil/descriptivesum/Y2011/ OSD/0603832D8Z_PB_2011.pdf. Overwatch Textron Systems. 2011. “MAP-HT: Mapping Human Terrain.” http://www.overwatch.com/products/mapht.php. Price, David. 2009. “Problems with Counterinsurgent Anthropological Theory; or, By the Time a Military Relies on Counterinsurgency for Foreign Victories It Has Already Lost.” Paper presented at the conference “Reconsidering American Power,” University of Chicago, 24 April. Shachtman, Noah. 2007a. “‘Sim Iraq’ Sent to Battle Zone.” Danger Room (Wired Blog), 19 November. http://blog.wired.com/ defense/2007/11/mathematical-mo.html.

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______. 2007b. “Navy: Let’s Play ‘Sim Iraq.’” Danger Room (Wired Blog), 20 November. http://blog.wired.com/defense/2007/11/ culture-modelli.html. ______. 2009. “Darpa Wants a Lab for Sim Afghanistans.” Danger Room (Wired Blog), 5 March. http://www.wired.com/ dangerroom/2009/03/darpas-social-s/. Silverman, Barry. 2007. “Human Terrain Data: What Should We Do with It?” Proceedings of 2007 Winter Simulation Conference. http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article =1330&context=ese_papers. Stanton, John. 2010. “HTS’ MAP HT Failure: People Not Being Paid, MAP HT Cost Overruns.” Zero Anthropology, 2 June. http:// zeroanthropology.net/2010/06/02/hts-map-ht-failure-people-notbeing-paid-map-ht-cost-overrruns/. Taylor, Glenn, and Ed Sims. 2009. “Developing Believable Interactive Cultural Characters for Cross-Cultural Training.” Presented at HCI International 2009, July. http://www.soartech.com/ images/uploads/file/taylor-HCI2009-paper-FINAL-marked.pdf.


% R. Brian Ferguson

One of the more pernicious myths in our culture is that generals are technocrats, objectively seeking the best way to get the job done. Of course, the question, what job? comes to mind. As the saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It is now thoroughly understood that the prior generation of military brass was using the wrong tools, fighting the wrong kind of war in Iraq (Mellowly 2006; West 2009). Faced with an impending cataclysm, the later Bush administration underwent a paradigm shift in the upper policy echelons, turning to its prophet, General David Petraeus. In his vision, the military had to retool for a newly imagined future of ‘long wars’ against irregular forces that are mixed in with the population we need to win over to our side. The new doctrine was the US Army’s (2006) FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency (González 2009: 8–12; Nagl 2007). There was and is much opposition to this shift, both in and around the services (Bacevich 2008; Corn 2009; Dunlap 2008; Gentile 2008; Katel 2008). Traditional branches such as artillery have been hung out to dry, and much of

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Navy and Air Force operations seem less important than they used to. Fighters such as the F-22 are designed to combat other advanced fighters, not to fight long wars, so procurement has been cut back. On the other hand, critics ask, what happens if North Korea invades South Korea? Turf and funding fights within the Department of Defense (DOD) are legion and legendary. They remain intense (Gates 2009), and no doubt many would be glad to see Petraeus fall. But he is ascendant now—as demonstrated by his recent promotion to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (Bumiller and Landler 2011)—and looks to be the dominating strategist for the foreseeable future. Petraeus and those around him have rediscovered the basics of counter-insurgency warfare, directed at winning ‘the hearts and minds’ of the population in the area of operations (Kilcullen 2006). This means gaining the people’s trust and cooperation, getting them on the side of ‘us good guys’ and against ‘them bad guys’. But the new vision is far more ambitious than old campaigns. It aims to go to the roots of the problem, to eliminate those discontents that fuel insurgencies. The avowed goal is to find out what the local population wants and needs and then to make it happen. This is clear in the report of then-Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal (2009: 2-12–18). The new orientation involves basics, such as providing clean water or electricity, collecting garbage, and building roads, but it goes much further. New businesses are to be conceived and started up, jobs created, schools built, and crop substitutions guided. Local and transparent systems of civil administration, finance, and justice are to be developed in place and purged of corruption. Local communities will be empowered. All of this is to be done in the face of a government that, where it exists, is seen as incompetent and thoroughly venal.


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In this vision, US boots on the ground would help build new societies from the ground up. Co-visionary John Nagl sees the US military as tasked “not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies” (quoted in Bacevich 2008: 2). There are many positions swirling around this vision. One friendly critic applauds McChrystal, but believes that the close circle around him has turned this doctrine into a “theology” for “armed social engineering” (Corn 2009: 11–12). An even harsher assessment comes from DOD analyst Kalev Sepp (2007: 222): Call it militant Wilsonianism, call it expeditionary democracy, call it counterinsurgency, but this is … decidedly not stabilizing. It is an overturning of nations. It is, at its core, a revolution. American soldiers are the instruments of this revolution … The army would have to lead revolutions on a scale so vast as to completely eclipse what the USA experienced in breaking from Great Britain’s imperial rule, or in reconstructing the defeated slave states of the South following the American Civil War.

Today the talk is mostly about our current wars. But planners are always looking ahead, anticipating wherever a potential threat to US security and interests may be discerned on the horizon. Today Afghanistan, tomorrow the world. At the center of this thinking is the strategic deployment of culture (Brown 2008; Strader 2006). Let us consider the demand side, as it applies to our profession. What does the military want? First on the list is the cultural preparation of forces—from elementary diversity training to sophisticated cultural competencies—which will enable productive interaction with ‘the locals’ (McFate and Jackson 2005). Second is tactical involvement, including various sorts of expertise applied to hot situations. Detailed understanding of local societies is recognized as

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an essential component in the full spectrum of military operations. Human Terrain Teams (HTT) are the obvious example, but ‘reach back’ specialists who can analyze local situations are part of the picture (Kipp et al. 2006). Third on the list is contingency preparation, using HTT or other ethnographic intelligence agents to begin mapping local societies and identifying key networks and individuals in areas that may pose a threat to US interests in the future (Featherstone 2008: 68; Renzi 2006). If push came to shove, our troops would have the information that they emphatically did not have when they went into Iraq. Lastly, the military wants predictive tools that would enable DOD planners to foresee issues and respond pro-actively, or to calculate better the leverage of different means of action in a conflict zone. This involves encouraging social science research on topics of security relevance, as in the Minerva Initiative,1 and elaborate fantasies of computer modeling that utilizes Human Terrain System (HTS) data in order to predict human behavior, among other things (see González, this volume). We should understand that the DOD is not seeking an ‘anthropological perspective’. It wants ethnography, as the terms ‘cultural knowledge’ and ‘ethnographic intelligence’ imply. Those at the DOD are perfectly happy to work with non-anthropological social scientists, such as religion specialists, political scientists, psychologists, and geographers, to get the information they need—and these fields do not experience the ethical angst that troubles anthropology. This is one of the key unrecognized points in the current debate: much ‘anthropological input’ will be coming from non-anthropologists who have read some anthropology. As an example, the DOD is not interested in the issues that animate anthropological discussions of postcolonial situations. As McFate (2007: 21) puts it: “While long-winded discussions on ‘capitalism’ and ‘colonialism’


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may hold great interest for scholars, military personnel have other more pressing tasks to attend to.” The DOD’s main theoretical range seems to run from Tylor’s ‘culture’ to Radcliffe-Brown’s ‘social structure’. Another important point is that the DOD operates with a ‘micro’ view of anthropology: anthropologists are good for helping to understand what is happening at the village level. Once the military has decided on a course of action for a particular area, then it brings in local knowledge experts to figure how to implement its plan of action more efficiently. Our discipline’s focus on large-scale societal and global structures and processes, always in interaction with local dynamics, is not what military personnel are looking for. What the DOD does want is spelled out clearly in its recent Army Field Manuals, Operations, Tactics in Counterinsurgency, and Security Force Assistance (US Army 2008, 2009a, 2009b), and in a commissioned study for revamping military intelligence (Flynn, Pottinger, and Batchelor 2010). Woven throughout DOD plans—what its doctrine absolutely requires—is thoroughly processed, detailed, operational, and cultural information for areas of operations in order to improve inter-cultural interaction abilities. This cultural input would contribute to a full spectrum of battlefield operations, from civil development to quick surprise assaults with overwhelming force (Ferguson, forthcoming). When the DOD views something as necessary, it spends the money to get it—even if it does not work (e.g., antimissile lasers). Figures for past and projected social science spending is peanuts for the Pentagon, however astronomical the figures seem to us. Requests for fiscal year 2009 totaled $127.4 million for HTS-related projects alone, not including other social science research, education, and so forth (Forte 2009). Leaving aside the much-discussed

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HTS field (see Ferguson 2011), how will this well-funded demand be manifested within anthropology over the next decade or so? In several ways. First, the Pentagon’s priorities will have an impact on teaching (McFarland 2005). This comes in different forms and levels (Alrich 2008). There are oneoff lectures (with PowerPoint presentations, of course) for pre-deployment forces. At a somewhat higher level, there are regular short courses given at military installations— on basic topics such as “Intro to Anthropology” or “Intro to Islam” (Capuzzo 2007)—as well as proliferating online cultural instruction programs and modules (Masellis 2009). Outside of military contexts, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a detailed call for greatly increased cooperation between the DOD and research universities (Jaschik 2008a), calling for military personnel courses that are “immediately relevant—the history of the Middle East, anthropology classes on tribal culture, and so on” (Gates 2008: 3). We may see a surge of enrollments in MA programs in anthropology. For someone charting a military career today or a political scientist wanting to retool in an ethnographic direction, an MA would be a solid investment, especially if subsidized by the DOD.2 We all know how much university administrations love MA programs. Then there are the PhDs—military persons who obtain the highest degree from research universities (JFC 2008: 49). These ‘military anthropologists’ can provide a basis for a ‘grow our own’ option, in which higher-level anthropology training can be expanded within military postgraduate institutes, thus bypassing the concerns of our profession (Connable 2009: 64). Second, the manifestation of the Pentagon’s demands will increasingly militarize ‘normal research’, that is, past or future work that is done without any connection to military


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goals or funding. Our scholarly literature will be scanned and processed for military relevance, in what the DOD calls “open-source research.” The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has commissioned work on a “Machine Reading Program” that will read everything of any relevance, categorize information, process it through analytic programs, and pass it along to whichever security agency needs it.3 Every anthropologist should understand that what they publish today may be assimilated into ever-expanding databases. As one authority on military intelligence puts it, open-source information of all sorts is 90 percent of the future intelligence challenge, with the “other 10 percent, the clandestine work, [being] just the more dramatic” (Lieutenant Samuel Wilson, cited in Flynn, Pottinger, and Batchelor 2010: 23). A third Pentagon demand is DOD-supported research. In April 2008, Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University, announced the Minerva Initiative (Asher 2008; Gates 2008; Jaschik 2008a, 2008b). After a series of private meetings with leaders of the Association of American Universities (AAU), in which the Bush-Obama secretary of defense addressed presidents of leading research universities, Robert Berdahl, the president of the AAU, described his excitement about the project and “the spirit of collaboration between the Pentagon and the university leaders” (Jaschik 2008a). The goal of the Minerva Initiative was to engage disciplines (history, anthropology, sociology, evolutionary psychology) considered to be of strategic importance to US national policy. Details followed—and changed. For five years, $10 million per year was made available in a Pentagon-administered program with five topic areas: (1) Chinese military and technology research, (2) the strategic impact of religious and cultural changes in the Islamic world, (3) analysis of appropriated (some say looted) Iraqi archives, (4) terrorist

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organizations and ideologies, and (5) new approaches to understanding dimensions of national security, conflict, and cooperation (Asher 2008). After criticism and discussion of the Pentagon’s direct administrative control, another $8 million (or more) for three years was allocated for administration by the National Science Foundation (NSF), but with DOD input on reviewers. Combined, that comes to a minimum of $74 million over the first five years. The NSF’s broader topics are (1) terrorist organizations and ideologies, (2) the strategic impact of religious and cultural changes, and (3) political, cultural, and social dynamics under authoritarian regimes. Both programs are explicitly intended to cross disciplines, to build a new “community of security science researchers” (Asher 2008). If anthropologists do not step in, the funding space will be occupied by scholars from political science, sociology, comparative religion, economics, and psychology.4 No doubt, other sources of funding will also become available. A fourth Pentagon demand is for analysts. People with social science training will find work at various levels, starting with low-level data entry and open-source research, on immediate tactical concerns. This will come in many forms. For example, BAE Systems Information Technology, the former HTS contractor, advertised for a “Senior Human Terrain Analyst” to use new toolkits to “address specific, often time sensitive topics that normally include the fusion of SIGINT data, tribal/cultural patterns, message traffic, imagery, open source and advanced geospatial technologies.”5 At the other end, anthropologists may act as counselors for high-level policy decisions, as David Kilcullen did when he was chief counterterrorism strategist at the Department of State (Packer 2006: 62). How this would work in any given case, what information the analysts on the payroll would


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be expected to provide, and how independent they would be are very open questions. A fifth Pentagon priority concerns outside experts. Discussion of ethnographic intelligence often includes the goal of establishing a network of area specialists to call on whenever needed (Kipp et al. 2006: 14). This is not confined to or even mainly about anthropologists. The vision is trans-disciplinary, knitting researchers and findings into a loose community of security social scientists. In a recent report, Understanding Human Dynamics, the Defense Science Board (2009: xiv) puts this in an odd and interesting way: [B]oth the Army and the Air Force reported that each maintained an extensive network of expert cultural consultants. The combatant commands also have their own “rolodex files” … [but the DOD as a whole lacks] procedures, funding lines, and automated expert finder/ locator for effectively engaging and leveraging expertise in industry and academia. Academia, NGOs and commercial operations have considerable expertise in human dynamics and are strongly motivated to continuously improve their expertise, as they seek to help and/or sell to all, friend and foe alike. The Department does not currently optimize use of these capabilities, which could augment military capabilities during operations and offer greater depth of human dynamics understanding. Recognizing the importance of such crossdisciplinary interactions, Secretary Gates is actively working to reassure those who may be reluctant to collaborate with the Department of Defense and to build partnerships between DoD and other U.S. government departments and agencies in order to build a “whole-of-governmentsolution” to challenging multi-disciplinary issues.

These are five major ways that Pentagon demand will impact anthropology. A further complication is that the

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DOD is only the biggest dog in the room. Many other institutions are or will be looking for some form of cultural/ ethnographic input. A major one to watch is the Civilian Response Corps under the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. This interagency program aims to develop the capacity of civilian experts in all forms of civil development for both rapid and long-term deployment to any crisis area around the world.6 Civilian technicians, too, will need cultural knowledge and ethnographic intelligence. Social scientists would not be working for the military but, in many cases, would be working alongside and with the military, posing a new layer of situational complexity. How will anthropologists respond to these demands of the military? Professional discussions over the past few years have stigmatized engagement, so it even taints those with long-term projects of critically evaluating military institutions from the inside. But will that be a deterrent in the future? The job situation for anthropologists is worse than miserable. Universities are desperate for new sources of funding. The lure is strong. As possibilities of engagement expand in many different ways, individual anthropologists will see them from many different angles. At one end of the spectrum, those motivated by a sense of patriotism may say “Get on board!” At the other, those who believe that any sort of engagement further enables the empire and thus should be shunned may respond “No way, no how!” Most anthropologists will be in between, trying to figure it out (see González 2009; Gusterson and Besteman 2009; Kelly et al. 2010; Lucas 2009).7 As anthropologists navigate this ethical and political terrain (to borrow a word), they will invoke major positives and major negatives. Positives would include reducing overt military violence and all the suffering it causes;


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avoiding easily foreseeable disasters, such as the invasion of Iraq; speaking truth to power from within; and giving voice to subaltern people in policy forums where they are currently non-existent. Negatives would include being coopted into security groupthink; being used to provide support but not light, like a lamp post for a drunk; destroying the reputation of anthropology and undermining the trust of local peoples around the world; and improving the neo-liberal empire’s ability to achieve more efficient penetration and control. There will not be any unified ‘anthropological position’ on engagement. And it is also important to bear in mind that if anthropologists do not step up to fill the demand, other academics will assume their voice, as they do now with regard to HTS. What will this pull to engage do to the discipline as a whole? One likely result is an accentuation of the existing divide between academic and applied anthropology. The two already have very different orientations, with the former being much more hostile and the latter much more open to engagement (see Omidian 2009). We could see a swelling of a new applied security anthropology, itself integrated into the envisioned multi-disciplinary field of security social science. There will be, as there already is, a range of people—those who are more from security and those who are more from social science. For this reason, and as a result of all the other trends discussed, we may expect a real blurring of the disciplinary identity. As I heard it asked from the audience at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (whose theme included ‘ethical engagement’), “What is an anthropologist?” We will be asking that question a lot. The fault line between academic and applied anthropology may see greater polarization among anthropologists, but other trends will also blur that divide. With multiple situations of engagement and multiple lenses for evaluating

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them, I expect that more and more of our colleagues will become involved, in one way or another. This will be nothing sudden, but rather a gradual drift. A decade from now, we may all know many anthropologists who have some direct connection to the DOD or other security institutions. Working with the military will become ‘normal’, as it was in the past—say, in the 1950s. As David Price (2004, 2008) continues to reveal, that kind of connection can have a major impact on our discipline, as it has on others from physics to political science to psychology. It will be like a gravitational force, pulling anthropology into a new trajectory. When security engagement becomes normal, that is when it becomes the most dangerous. Saying yes to a new proposition will be easy—just another opportunity. Everyone will be doing it. The anxieties resonating across our field today will be old hat, and our long effort to emancipate ourselves from our colonial heritage will be undone. Critical views, as in this volume, will of course continue. But the discipline, as the sum of its members, will gradually become more dependent on DOD and other agency support, in the process becoming shaped by their priorities. As a young slave named Jerry once mock-preached to a young Mark Twain, “You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ’pinions is” (Twain n.d.) To keep an independent and critical attitude in anthropology, I would suggest two steps to be undertaken now. First, we should push for independent, scholarly supervision of all security-related funding initiatives. If the DOD wants work done, let it set its priorities, even channel its money to properly independent funding agencies, such as the NSF, but get out of the social science grant business itself. Plus, there should be no covert funding or research. Second, we can advocate that the American Anthropological Association (AAA), following up on the work of its


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Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities,8 and working with the Society for Applied Anthropology, should establish a permanent forum for discussing aspects of the opportunities and dangers of different forms of engagement. I would not expect any consensus to emerge. More likely, I would expect a constant storm. But continuing open discussion and argument would highlight what individuals need to look out for. It could keep anthropologists from comfortable complacency—once we all have gotten thoroughly tired of talking about HTT.

Postscript The appointment of Petraeus to head the CIA has importance for anthropology. While the CIA and other intelligence agencies have already carved out a significant position on US campuses via the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP) (Price 2005) and the Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) Program (Price 2010), from my own limited reading, the US Intelligence Community (IC)—a coalition of agencies and organizations within the executive branch—seems to lag behind the DOD in emphasizing culture and ethnography. In the IC’s “Strategic Human Capital Plan” (DNI 2006), there is minimal mention of culture and no mention at all of ethnography. Both PRISP and CAE seem to have an oldfashioned ‘foreign language and areas’ orientation. With Petraeus in charge at Langley, we may soon see the CIA playing cultural catch-up.

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Notes 1. As explained on its Web site, the Minerva Initiative is a DODsponsored social science research initiative whose goal is to improve the DOD’s “understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance.” See http://minerva.dtic.mil/overview.html. 2. I met one active duty soldier who identified himself as an anthropologist on the basis of an MA. He told me about “putting on his anthropological hat” in field situations. 3. Details about this program are given in DARPA’s 2008 announcement at http://www.fbo.gov/download/edb/edbaaf9dad2cb7d11d47ee265a71f94b/Machine-Reading-BA-16Nov08_final-.pdf (accessed 20 April 2010). 4. For concerns about these initiatives, see Gusterson (2008), Lutz (2008), and other postings at the Web site of the Social Science Research Council, an independent, non-profit organization (http://www.ssrc.org/). 5. “Senior Human Terrain Analyst,” BAE Systems Information Technology job posting, http://www.applyhr.com/12560533 (accessed 10 February 2009). 6. For more information about this program, see Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, US Department of State, http://www.state.gov/s/crs. See also Binnendijk and Cronin (2008). 7. See also “The Minerva Controversy” Web page, Social Science Research Council, http://essays.ssrc.org/minerva/category/ all-essays/. 8. See more information on this commission, see the AAA’s Web site, http://www.aaanet.org/cmtes/commissions/CEAUSSIC/ index.cfm.

References Alrich, Amy. 2008. Framing the Cultural Training Landscape: Phase 1 Findings.” Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analysis. Asher, Thomas. 2008. “Making Sense of Minerva Controversy and the NSCC.” http://essays.ssrc.org/minerva/2008/10/09/asher/ (accessed 19 February 2009).


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Bacevich, Andrew. 2008. “The Petraeus Doctrine.” Atlantic Online, October. http://www.radio-utopie.de/wp-content/ uploads/2010/08/20081001_Atlantic_ThePetraeusDoctrine.pdf. Binnendijk, Hans, and Patrick Cronin, eds. 2008. Civilian Surge: Key to Complex Operations: A Preliminary Report. National Defense University, Center for Strategic and International Studies. http:// csis.org/blog/civilian-surge-key-complex-operations-preliminaryreport-ndu. Brown, Keith. 2008. “‘All They Understand Is Force’: Debating Culture in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” American Anthropologist 110, no. 4: 443–453. Bumiller, Elisabeth, and Mark Landler. 2011. “Panetta and Petraeus in Line for Top Security Posts.” New York Times, 27 April, A1. Capuzzo, Jill. 2007. “When Troops Need More Than Knowledge of War.” New York Times, 17 October, B4. Connable, Ben. 2009. “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System Is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence.” Military Review (March–April): 57–64. Corn, Tony. 2009. “Toward a Kilcullen-Biden Plan? Bounding Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.” Small Wars Journal. http:// smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/312-corn.pdf (accessed 13 October 2009). Defense Science Board. 2009. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Understanding Human Dynamics. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Washington. http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ ADA495025.pdf. DNI (Director of National Intelligence). 2006. “The US Intelligence Community’s Five Year Strategic Human Capital Plan,” Officer of the Director of National Intelligence, http://www.fas.org/irp/ dni/humancapital.pdf (accessed 15 March 2010). Dunlap, Charles. 2008. “We Still Need the Big Guns.” New York Times, 9 January. Featherstone, Steve. 2008. “Human Quicksand: For the US Army, A Crash Course in Cultural Studies.” Harper’s Magazine, September, 60–68. Ferguson, R. Brian. 2011. “Plowing the Human Terrain: Toward Global Ethnographic Surveillance.” Pp. 101–126 in Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State, ed. Laura McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein. Santa Fe, NM: School of Advanced Research Press.

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______. Forthcoming. “Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology.” In Virtual War and Magical Death, ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Flynn, Michael T., Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor. 2010. Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant for Afghanistan. Center for a New American Security. http://www.cnas. org/files/documents/publications/AfghanIntel_Flynn_Jan2010_ code507_voices.pdf. Forte, Maximilian. 2009. “U.S. Congress and the Human Terrain System.” http://zeroanthropology.net/2009/10/04/u-s-congressand-the-human-terrain-system/ (accessed 22 October 2009). Gates, Robert. 2008. “Speech Delivered at a Meeting of the Association of American Universities.” Washington, DC, 14 April. http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech. aspx?speechid=1228 (accessed 4 March 2009). ______. 2009. “Speech Delivered at a Meeting of the Economic Club of Chicago,” Chicago, IL, 16 July. http://www.defense.gov/ speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1369 (accessed 6 January 2010). Gentile, Gian. 2008. “A (Slightly) Better War: A Narrative and Its Defects.” World Affairs. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/ article/slightly-better-war-narrative-and-its-defects. González, Roberto. 2009. American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. Gusterson, Hugh. 2008. “Unveiling Minerva.” Social Science Research Council. http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/10/09/gusterson/ (accessed 19 February 2009). Gusterson, Hugh, and Catherine L. Besteman, eds. 2009. The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What Should We Do about It. Berkeley: University of California Press. Jaschik, Scott. 2008a. “A Pentagon Olive Branch to Academe.” Inside Higher Ed, 16 April. http://www.insidehighered.com/ news/2008/04/16/minerva (accessed 12 May 2008). ______. 2008b. “Pentagon Provides Details on ‘Minerva.’” Inside Higher Ed, 12 May. http://www.insidehighered.com/ news/2008/05/12/minerva (accessed 12 May 2008). JFC (Joint Forces Command). 2008. The JOE 2008: Joint Operating Environment. United States Joint Forces Command. https:us. jfcom.mil/sites/J5/j59/default.aspx (accessed 29 June 2009). Katel, Peter. 2008. “Rise in Counterinsurgency: Will New Tactics Weaken the Military?” CQ Researcher 18, no. 5: 697–720.


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Kelly, John, Beatrice Jauregui, Sean Mitchell, and Jeremy Walton, eds. 2010. Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kilcullen, David. 2006. “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency.” Small Wars Journal, 1 March, 1–11. Kipp, Jacob, Lester Grau, Karl Prinslow, and Don Smith. 2006. “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century.” Military Review (September–October): 8–15. Lucas, George R. 2009. Anthropologists in Arms: The Ethics of Military Anthropology. Lanham, MD: AltaMira. Lutz, Catherine. 2008. “The Perils of Pentagon Funding for Anthropology and the Other Social Sciences.” http://essays.ssrc.org. minerva/2008/11/08’/lutz/ (accessed 19 February 2009). Masellis, Nick. 2009. “Human Terrain: A Strategic Imperative on the 21st Century Battlefield.” Small Wars Journal. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/250-marsellis.pdf (accessed 12 October 2009). McChrystal, Stanley. 2009. “Commander’s Initial Assessment.” Headquarters, International Security Assistance Force, Kabul, Afghanistan, 30 August. http://media.washingtonpost.com/ wp-srv/politics/documents/Assessment_Redacted_092109. pdf?hpid=topnews (accessed 11 May 2011). McFarland, Maxie. 2005. “Military Cultural Education.” Military Review (March–April 2005): 62–69. ______. 2007. “Building Bridges or Burning Heretics.” Anthropology Today 23, no. 3: 21. McFate, Montgomery, and Andrea Jackson. 2005. “An Organizational Solution for DOD’s Cultural Knowledge Needs.” Military Review (July–August): 18–21. Mellowly, Michael. 2006. “Outfitting a Big-War Military with SmallWar Capabilities.” Parameters (Autumn): 22–35. Nagl, John. 2007. “The Evolution and Importance of Army/Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency.” Small Wars Journal, 27 June. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/the-evolution-and-importance-ofarmymarine-corps-field-manual-3-24-counterinsurgency. Omidian, Patricia. 2009. “Living and Working in a War Zone: An Applied Anthropologist in Afghanistan.” Practicing Anthropology 31, no. 2: 4–11. Packer, George. 2006. “Knowing the Enemy.” New Yorker, 18 December, 60–69.

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Price, David. 2004. Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ______. 2005. “The CIA’s Campus Spies: Exposing the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program.” CounterPunch, 12–14 March. http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/03/12/the-cia-s-campusspies/ (accessed 20 April 2010). ______. 2008. Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ______. 2010. “Silent Coup: How the CIA Is Welcoming Itself Back onto American University Campuses.” CounterPunch, 16–17 January. http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/04/09/silent-coup/ (accessed 11 May 2011). Renzi, Fred. 2006. “Networks: Terra Incognita and the Case for Ethnographic Intelligence.” Military Review (September–October): 16–23. Sepp, Kalev. 2007. “From ‘Shock and Awe’ to ‘Hearts and Minds:’ The Fall and Rise of US Counterinsurgency Capability in Iraq.” Third World Quarterly 28, no. 2: 217–230. Strader, O. Kent. 2006. “Culture: The New Key Terrain. Integrating Cultural Competence into JIPB.” School of Advanced Military Studies, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cdm4/item_ viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p4013coll3&CISOPTR=770&REC=57 (accessed 11May 2011). Twain, Mark. n.d. “Corn-Pone Opinions.” http://www.paulgraham. com/cornpone.html (accessed 8 January 2011). US Army. 2006. Counterinsurgency. FM 3-24. Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC. http://www.fas.org/irp/ doddir/army/fm3-24.pdf. ______. 2008. Operations. FM 3-0. Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC. ______. 2009a. Tactics in Counterinsurgency. FM 3-24.2. Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC. ______. 2009b. Security Force Assistance. FM 3-07.1. Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC. West, Bing. 2009. “Counterinsurgency Lessons from Iraq.” Military Review (March–April): 2–12.



% Robertson Allen

If looks could kill, they probably will/In games without frontiers—war without tears — Peter Gabriel, “Games Without Frontiers”

In 2009, with the release of the latest version of the US Army’s official video game, America’s Army 3, a new enemy of the US Army emerged. Players who downloaded the free, online military tactical shooting game, which is not shy about its dual role as both a propaganda tool for recruitment and a platform for teaching doctrine, tactics, and combat skills to enlisted soldiers, were brought into a scenario in which a fictional but vaguely Eastern European island resort nation, the Democratic Republic of the Ostregals, was invaded without provocation by its northern nationalist neighbor, Czervenia (see fig. 1). In the scenario, the US Army deployed troops to resolve the situation at the request of both the Ostregal government and the United Nations.1 The details of this backstory for the new America’s Army, which had been freely available to the public in earlier formats since its initial release in 2002, were collaboratively imagined and crafted by a variety of people, including


Robertson Allen

FIGURE 1 A Political Map of Czervenia and the Odporzhia Region

Source: http://www.americasarmy.com/intel/recon.php.

game developers and writers, Army officers, and government software engineers. The civilian game developers of America’s Army with whom I did fieldwork were required to consider the points of view of Czervenian soldiers and civilians: landscapes, architecture, languages, and even Czervenian weapons were all carefully invented to coincide with Czervenian customs and norms. Artists started talking about a ‘cultural palette’ of colors common in Czervenia and the Ostregals. Using Google image searches, they found structures and cities in Spain, the Czech Republic,

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Slovenia, and other countries that fit their image of Czervenian geography. Eastern European vocabularies and Spanish grammar were combined to create a Czervenian language, and war-torn settings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere became references for battlefield environments in the game.2 Game developers explained to me that these kinds of extrapolations from the actual world were deliberately appropriated in ways that reflect their referent only obliquely. Direct references to Iraq and Afghanistan were to be avoided, and in order to create a political situation that could never exist, a new and vaguely Eastern European theater of conflict was created. Although the Czervenian scenario is fictional in one sense, it is very real in another. As a result of the ongoing counter-insurgency conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has become apparent to many that “how we prepare for future enemies might just help to invent them” (Der Derian 2001: 108), especially since counter-insurgency operations conducted for seemingly imperialistic ends typically lead to an increase in the number of insurgents over time (Network of Concerned Anthropologists 2009). As government adaptations of America’s Army software are being used to train soldiers for specific job-related combat skills, the public video game’s goal is, in the words of one Army officer, to “fill seats for basic training” by tapping into an already militarized gaming population (see also Allen 2009). Regardless of whether the game is effective at achieving this recruitment goal, America’s Army, as a device of biopower that aims to distribute and normalize the institutional logic of the military among civil society (Allen 2011; Hardt and Negri 2000: 22–24), is influencing how non-enlisted individuals think about the Army. In other words, the game’s civilian designers, its players, the friends and family members of these individuals, and even (dare I say?) anthropologists who study


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the game—all have an greater potential to be persuaded through the game to accept the prioritization of military needs and militarized narratives in the United States as a commonsensical, unquestioned fact (Lutz 2009). For these reasons, the game presents a window into how the Army views itself and how it is working to spread its cultural imaginary outward through public relations campaigns, technological spectacle, appeals to masculinity and patriotism, and many other rhetorical deployments. In this essay, I describe how two such deployments, the thoroughly entrenched narratives of the ‘just war’ and the ‘mythic enemy’, work together to enable both video gamers and soldiers to participate in a kind of ritualized virtual subjugation of the constantly morphing and elusive enemies of the US Army. The Czervenian enemy of America’s Army presents a specific example of a military tendency to imagine what Catherine Lutz (2001: 87) describes as an enemy that is “mythic.” Lutz refers to this kind of enemy as one that “peer[s] into the void of the future and the blurry shapes of the present … to draw on culturally tutored imagination, fears, and wishes. To look at … war games, then, is to see certain American anxieties played out as if to tame them” (ibid.). Of course, the use of abstract enemies for combat training and tactics has a long tradition in military simulation practices (Der Derian 2001; Lenoir and Lowood 2005; Lutz 2001: 87–130; Simons 1997), allowing training to take place against a generic enemy for the purposes of teaching military tactics and doctrine. Simulations also typically attempt to avoid the general stereotyping of a particular American enemy. The previous version of America’s Army, for example, contained anonymous enemies, commonly veiled in ski masks, who had no obvious political agenda, were from no specific location in the world, and were of no apparent religion (Allen 2011). Although the Czervenian

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enemy was more specific in its regional and political allusions, with much borrowing from Nazi Germany, one developer explained to me that, for public relations purposes, “the Czervenians couldn’t be racial supremacists because we’re using the same [variety of character] heads on US soldiers. We couldn’t mention religious conflict either. That was a very specific thing [that the Army told us not to do]” (personal interview, 10 October 2008). The Czervenian enemy seems to point toward a desire to idealize former conflicts at the expense of acknowledging the grim realities of American counter-insurgency campaigns in the early twenty-first century. The Army required that the Czervenian conflict, unlike actual counter-insurgency conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have as an enemy a conventional, hierarchically organized, and uniformed modern military that was fully capable of combating US forces, toe to toe. In other words, the Czervenian enemy bears little resemblance to his real-life insurgent cousins. Instead, like other romanticizations of past conflicts between the US Army and conventional militaries (e.g., World War II documentaries on the History Channel, the HBO’s Band of Brothers, and Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan), the Czervenian conflict plays into a well-established media genre that represents a heroic conflict against a definable enemy with a set ideology, location, and political agenda. It represents the Army fighting a just and virtuous war. “I wanted the scenario to be that the Army was going to war,” a game developer told me, “and, for once, they were going to war for the right reasons: to protect people and do justice and stop slaughter … It’s an idealized version of what the Army wants itself to be and what politicians want the Army to be used for” (personal interview, 10 October 2008). Although the current US military counter-insurgency strategy is not focused on conflicts between nation-states


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and standing armies (US Army 2007), an American romantic desire for a just war against a definable enemy that is being fought for the ‘right’ reasons is arguably strong (Der Derian 2001). As a powerful and clearly aggressive enemy, Czervenia draws upon this nostalgic tendency to look backward for a just war that never existed, but it also evokes the potentialities of future conflicts by playing into American anxieties over the rising international economic, diplomatic, and military power of long-standing rivals and former enemy nations, namely, China and Russia. This is perhaps the reason that, despite careful efforts to distance Czervenia from any real-world nation, Czervenia appeared to materialize when Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008. Many of the game’s developers and its Army administrators were on edge since it was, in their eyes, uncanny how much Czervenia resembled Russia and how the Democratic Republic of the Ostregals resembled Georgia. “It’s almost the exact same scenario,” one person told me. There was genuine concern that the abstraction of Czervenia could morph into something tangible with real international political implications, once the game was released. When I started full-time fieldwork in 2008 with America’s Army game developers, during the same month as the invasion, the Czervenian enemy had become almost completely articulated in both the game and the America’s Army Graphic Novel,3 although both were months away from being released. A developer reassured some Army visitors to the studio that “the Ostregals are not Georgia, although we are probably going to get folks who say things like ‘Those mountains look like the Caucasus!’” In an effort to further distance the game from the Georgian conflict and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, specific imagery that could be interpreted as pointing toward these real-world scenarios—such as missiles that were “too Soviet-looking”—were removed or altered.

Games without Tears, Wars without Frontiers


Curiously, ARMA 2, a commercially produced and military-themed competitor game to America’s Army 3, presents a different type of mythic enemy that embraces these very same real-world events. Marketing itself as containing a storyline that “blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction,” ARMA 2 immerses the player in a scenario in which a breakaway communist faction seizes control of a region within the fictional Caucasus ‘post-Soviet’ nation of Chenarus (literally, ‘Black Russia’). Without hiding any allusions to South Ossetia, much of the conflict in the game world of ARMA 2 takes place in a region dubbed South Zagoria. Predictably, the ‘pro-Western’ government of Chenarus calls upon NATO for aid, and the US military comes to fight the commies. But ARMA 2’s connection to the US military and NATO lies in more than merely the plot of the game. ARMA 2’s software sibling is VBS 2 (Virtual Battlespace 2), a program that presents tailored versions of the game for contract to worldwide armed forces and paramilitary organizations to use in large-scale training simulation exercises. Considering that their developer, Bohemia Interactive (based in the Czech Republic), has held contracts for VBS 2 with NATO and branches of the armed forces in several Western nations (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the UK), as well as with the US Army and Marine Corps, the Russian enemy of the US Army is uncannily close in ARMA 2. By the time that both games were released in June 2009, the Georgian conflict had become largely forgotten in the 24-hour, amnesiac news cycle. But, true to Baudrillard (1994), the simulacra of the video game conflicts continued to exist in their own right. The Chenarussian enemy, deliberately crafted to resemble the Russian-backed South Ossetian government, problematically rewrote the history of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia to involve the American military in a combat-oriented role. This Russian,


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now also terrorist, enemy was reintroduced to popular culture in November 2009, when the hugely successful commercial game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released, complete with a mission in which players, as undercover agents, witness (and have the opportunity to participate in) a massive slaughter of civilians at a fictional Russian airport. Sales were augmented, rather than hampered, by news of this controversial level. The subsequent release of Call of Duty: Black Ops in late 2010 showed a continuing evolution of enemy representations, repackaged and rebranded to fit contemporary desires for an immersive virtual consumption of war. With first-day record sales that far outstrip the movie Titanic (5.6 million copies of the game being sold in the US within the first 24 hours), Call of Duty: Black Ops revisits US counter-insurgencies in Cuba and Vietnam, while also playing upon the recurring figure of the Soviet/Russian enemy that characterizes all of the games explored in this essay. The player participates in an attempted assassination of Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion and later, when undergoing interrogation, relives flashbacks of combat in the Soviet Union and Vietnam and as a member of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam—Studies and Observations Group. Czervenia, although so carefully constructed not to resemble a specific enemy in order to avoid the visual ‘othering’ of these commercial games, was shown to have a similar, albeit unwelcome, potential to be conjured into a particular, real-world foe, despite the best efforts of its designers. Comparable situations occurred earlier in the history of America’s Army during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when some players of the game noted a simultaneous resemblance and disparity between the mythical and the actual enemies of the US Army (Li 2003). As was the case with ARMA 2, other America’s Army media

Games without Tears, Wars without Frontiers


campaigns have deliberately played upon this juxtaposition of representational fidelity and narrative disjunction (Allen 2009, 2011). This uncanny sense of interconnectedness led one game developer—who had been using a made-up pejorative while playing against Czervenians—to hesitate and ask me, “Is it racist to use a slur against a fictional enemy that you invented?” The imagination, creation, and maintenance of these mythic enemies through war games, simulations, and recruitment campaigns such as America’s Army are part of a cycle of continual production that occurs through various, and sometimes contradictory, narratives. As I have tried to demonstrate, using the contrasting examples of Czervenia and representations of explicitly Russian/ Soviet enemies in contemporary, military-themed commercial games, these hyperreal enemies selectively draw upon past and contemporary experiences to affect how the US military defines, envisions, and engenders nascent enemies. These definitions, as the examples above show, are not absolute: the ambiguity of the ‘insurgent’ enemy, like the floating signifier of these mythic enemies, contributes to an overall conception of an enemy that “is no longer concrete and localizable but has now become something fleeting and ungraspable, like a snake in the imperial paradise. The enemy is unknown and unseen and yet ever present, something like a hostile aura. The face of the enemy appears in the haze of the future and serves to prop up legitimation where legitimation has declined. This enemy is in fact not merely elusive but completely abstract” (Hardt and Negri 2004: 30–31). Like many video games, the ones discussed here present the opportunity to ritually subjugate this mythical, abstract enemy at both the individual and the collective institutional levels. For some, including me, this ritualistic element of gameplay is therapeutic, imparting a sense of


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agency and control over an environment when much of the external world is chaotic and seemingly without order. This is one reason why, unlike many social scientists, it seems, I do not view military-themed video games as categorically ‘bad’. However, the sensation of control and order that is imparted also has the potential to become delusional when these games and simulations are in the hands of institutions of power, especially the military. When this happens, the sense of control conveyed through ritual tends to morph into a belief that the world itself is controllable—and nothing could be further from reality.

Notes 1. See http://www.americasarmy.com/intel/recon.php. 2. A civilian artist at the now non-existent America’s Army development studio in Emeryville, California, told me that he “[did]n’t want to get into googling ‘war zones’ because you get a lot of messed-up imagery. But there’s definitely a look to war zones” (field notes, 7 April 2009). 3. See http://www.americasarmy.com/graphicnovel.

References Allen, Robertson. 2009. “The Army Rolls through Indianapolis: Fieldwork at the Virtual Army Experience.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 2. http://journal.transformativeworks. org/index.php/twc/article/view/80/97 (accessed 27 April 2011). ______. 2011. “The Unreal Enemy of America’s Army.” Games and Culture 6, no. 1: 38–60. Baudrillard, Jean. 1994. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Der Derian, James. 2001. Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ______. 2004. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin. Lenoir, Timothy, and Henry Lowood. 2005. “Theaters of War: The Military–Entertainment Complex.” Pp. 427–456 in Collection— Laboratory—Theater: Scenes of Knowledge in the 17th Century, ed. Helmar Schramm, Ludger Schwarte, and Jan Lazardzig. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. Li, Zhan. 2003. “The Potential of America’s Army: The Video Game as Civilian–Military Public Sphere.” MA thesis, MIT. http://www. gamecareerguide.com/education/theses/20040725/ZLITHESIS.pdf (accessed 27 April 2011). Lutz, Catherine. 2001. Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century. Boston: Beacon Press. ______. 2009. “The Military Normal: Feeling at Home with Counterinsurgency in the United States.” Pp. 23–37 in Network of Concerned Anthropologists 2009. Network of Concerned Anthropologists, eds. 2009. The CounterCounterinsurgency Manual: Or, Notes on Demilitarizing American Society. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm. Simons, Anna. 1997. The Company They Keep: Life Inside the U.S. Army Special Forces. New York: Free Press. US Army. 2007. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


% Matthew Sumera

Shortly after the 2005 launch of the video-sharing Web site YouTube, several journalists began writing about a purportedly new form of war representation appearing there: homemade combat videos, ostensibly filmed by military personnel and uploaded online.1 In their initial attempts to make sense of these depictions and the locations in which they were circulating, reporters quickly dubbed the war in Iraq the ‘YouTube War’, situating such an appellation within the context of CNN’s coverage of the First Gulf War and common conceptualizations of the war in Vietnam as America’s ‘living-room war’ (see Cox 2006; Hedges 2006; Kaufman 2006; Meyershon 2007). Such a McLuhanesque approach, while useful in identifying an aspect of the distinctiveness of these videos, nevertheless fails to capture what is most unique about them. Most are simply little more than combat footage set to some form of predominantly Anglo-American popular music. As reporter Ana Marie Cox (2006) notes about an MTV special devoted to these representations: “The [television] special closes a loop in pop culture, since these clips are essentially music videos.”

Music, Aesthetics, and the Technologies of Online War


War music videos—a term I employ that is consistent with usage among video editor-producers and audiences alike—define a conspicuous representational site of contemporary warscapes.2 In this essay, I will explore their complicated nature and various meanings, with a primary focus on the aesthetics of these representations and their war-making power. Drawing on a three-year, ethnographically informed research project, I argue that the use of music in these homemade productions is neither incidental nor unimportant.3 Rather, music is central to the images of war that are produced and consequently is fundamental to the ways in which these videos operate, circulate, and come to assume value. In my analysis, I employ an approach to aesthetic meaning consistent with Bruce Kapferer and Angela Hobart’s (2005) understanding of the productivity of symbolic forms. As they argue, “The aesthetic and its compositional forms are what human beings are already centered within as human beings. This is to say that human beings are beings whose lived realities are already their symbolic constructions or creations within, and through which, they are oriented to their realities and come to act within them” (ibid.: 5). A focus on the aesthetics of war music videos, then, helps us to understand better the symbolic constructions and imaginative spaces that are both responsive to and constituent of collective violence and militarized killing. Moreover, a focus on aesthetics underscores the importance of examining the formal, symbolic, and affective structures of violent practices and representations to the anthropology of war. This approach operates usefully within David Riches’s (1986) threefold model of violence in which he differentiates between the perspectives of performers, victims, and witnesses while adding a fourth social role, that of the consumer/aesthete.4


Matthew Sumera

Musical Mediation ‘Combat videos’, the most common war music videos, typically feature scenes of US forces in battle scenarios. To a lesser extent, they also highlight Australian and British troops in Iraq and Canadian forces in Afghanistan.5 These are the principal referenced productions in media accounts of war music videos and, as such, are the kinds of depictions invoked by the term ‘YouTube War’. Writing about one such video, reporter Michael Hedges (2006) provides a now standard interpretive response: “As the video clip picks up momentum, driven by a heavy-metal soundtrack, U.S. Marines pour a hailstorm of bullets and grenades into a housing complex while ducking return fire.” It is a salient, if oversimplified, observation. In actuality, combat music videos tend to fall into two main categories—those that feature battle sequences from specific operations and others that represent amalgamations of countless different battles, oftentimes unlabeled and unidentified. In the latter category, videos may lack any sense of temporality or locality of place. For example, footage may feature numerous troops from different deployments representing activities that sometimes span multiple years and even different conflicts. Combat music videos, in general, make extensive use of heavy metal, although hip-hop and alternative rock are also common. In particular, combat videos tend to feature Nu Metal, an amalgamation of metal and hip-hop that rose in popularity in the mid-1990s to virtually dominate hard rock airplay by the end of the decade. Featuring bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Drowning Pool (whose song “Bodies” has been affectively mapped, more than any other song, to the current warscapes of Iraq and Afghanistan),6 Nu Metal has routinely been described by fans, bands, and promoters alike as aggressive and violent,

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dispatching with lengthy guitar solos and replacing them with guitar-driven noise, samples and turntables, and screamed vocals. Most importantly—and imperative for the ways in which the genre is deployed in combat videos—Nu Metal often features drumbeats and rhythms borrowed from hip-hop, giving the music a heavy, immediate groove while still remaining harsh and discordant. Beyond the shared sounds of Nu Metal, combat videos also tend to specialize in elaborate editing. Imagery (sometimes recycled across numerous video productions) is often synchronized to a variety of musical features, mostly rhythmic (in which images or the sounds of explosions and/or gunfire are aligned to a song’s beat), timbral (in which images are aligned to changes from sung to screamed vocals or from ‘clean’ to distorted guitars), and/or formal (in which images are aligned to transitions from chorus to verse). Combat video editors excel in the development of these ‘synch points’, a term I borrow from Michel Chion’s theorization of film sound. Chion (1994: 59) writes: “Synch points naturally signify in relation to the content of the scene and the film’s overall dynamics. As such, they give the audiovisual flow its phrasing.” This is a particularly accurate description of synch points in combat videos, especially those comprising amalgamated combat scenes—productions that would otherwise be little more than a series of randomly organized images. Through the creation and deployment of such synch points, music defines the temporal feel of combat videos. Moreover, music also defines the starting point for video production. Among the editor-producers I contacted, all began with the choice of the song, choosing and editing the video imagery only afterward. “I always select the music first, the music will set the mood and pace of the video,” explained one American civilian editor (pers. comm.). Music use in these videos, then, defines a process


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in which song selection marks the first step in video production. Subsequent visual editing is done to conform to the contours, feel, and musical features of the chosen song. War is made musical through and through. The success of such editing, in turn, defines one of the reasons that audiences choose to watch and listen. A good war music video, as one audience member wrote, includes “effective music, touching lyrics/tune. [I]mages and music should make the hairs on your back stand [up]” (pers. comm.). The selection of specific musical content by editor-producers consequently helps define a video’s affect, delineates its aesthetic forcefulness, and, in this way, contributes to a certain kind of ‘feelingfulness’ of representation.7 Indeed, audiences of war music videos often congratulate editor-producers about the perceived rightness of fit created between sound and vision, an audio-visual blending that is itself historically defined by previously affective war representations in media as diverse as film, documentaries, music videos, recruiting advertisements, and video games. Specific moments of extraordinary cohesion reverberate across video productions. The use of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in Apocalypse Now and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in Platoon are consistent reference points for video editors. Drowning Pool’s “Bodies,” in its countless uses, is also a significant touchpoint, an “affective platform” (Johnson and Cloonan 2008: 153) for current war representations.

Editing Technologies Given the importance of synch points, editing technologies, not surprisingly, are central to the realization of video success. In her work on music videos, Carol Vernallis (2004: 49) writes that “editing … places the video’s images and

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the song’s formal features in close relation.” Ryan Hickman, the editor of one of the most circulated war music videos, “Taliban Bodies” (set to Drowning Pool’s “Bodies”), has written tellingly about the importance of editing and editing technologies in the creation of his video: “With as many as 30 unique images crammed into one second of audio in some spots, I had Premiere’s timeline window zoomed in as far as it would go. It took try after try to get the timing right and countless previews before I was finished … [I]t took another week of work getting all the pictures to land on the beats of the song and to get the timing right for the intro.”8 Hickman’s own war music video site, GrouchyMedia. com, situates editing and home computing as crucial to the creation of such video productions. Self-identified as the “place to find those pump-you-up-to-kill-the-bad-guys videos that everyone has been talking about,” GrouchyMedia includes an FAQ section geared toward technologically savvy audience members. The technological complexity of discourse here is worth noting. Hickman writes: “Then it was time to export the movie using Microsoft’s Windows Media Tools, the Ligos LSX-MPEG encoder, and the export feature built into Premiere. I threw it all together in a Web page using ColdFusion Studio 5.0 (I now use DreamWeaver), and posted it to the web.”9 The fetishism of home studio technology apparent here defines a central discourse of the kinds of videos found on GrouchyMedia, as well as other combat music video sites. Intriguingly tying the force (and implied success) of war representations to the site of the home computer, such discussions also underscore the time, effort, and skill of video editors. In experiencing “Taliban Bodies,” audiences enter a celebrated world of technological mediation, one in which militarism is realized through the discursive realm and editing potentials of Ligos LSX-MPEG encoders


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and ColdFusion Studio 5.0. The productive power of the home computer—that is, its ability to facilitate the creation of precise synch points through specific software and hardware configurations and the skill set of a knowledgeable editor-producer to use them—cannot therefore be separated from the meanings and attendant pleasures of war music videos to those they most engage. As such, it is useful to situate successful video productions vis-à-vis the precision and accuracy lauded in military terms, such as ‘surgical precision’ or other descriptions of idealized, distanced killing. In striking ways, the meticulousness of video editing is comparable to a kind of military accuracy, and the development of the former pays tribute to the immanent potentialities of the latter. Such tribute, in circular fashion, also becomes part of warfare itself: videos are officially shown during basic combat training and deployments, shared among soldiers in informal ways, or acknowledged through a variety of other practices. GrouchyMedia, for example, proudly features two bombs with the words “Thanks Grouchy” handwritten across their sides.10 In another example, a member of the ‘kill team’ of US soldiers found guilty of murdering and mutilating the bodies of Afghanistan civilians created and circulated a highlight video, “Death Zone,” in which scenes of carnage are set to the sound of the heavy-metal cello quartet Apocalyptica.11 These videos are not so much about war as they are part of it.

Truth and Meaning in War Music Videos Thus far I have outlined the general role of music in combat videos and the ways in which home computing technologies are implicated in larger issues of the militarization of imagination. I now want to address another

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aspect of video meaning as articulated by audiences and editor-producers alike. As I have argued, war music videos are highly edited, musically mediated representations of war and combat. And yet, when I asked war music video fans why they choose to watch and listen, their most common response referenced the perceived truth content of such video depictions. As one fan put it, “It’s the only place to SEE what’s really going on. You certainly won’t see the media reporting the true picture” (pers. comm.). Another fan observed, “I like to show them to people who want to know the truth about what’s happening” (pers. comm.). Strikingly, music falls away, is ignored, and is made silent in such comments. According to audience members like those quoted here, war music videos are most valued for the ways in which they bear witness to an otherwise hidden truth. However, what truth do these depictions represent? Given everything I have argued, it is tempting to assert that such videos are a classic example of Baudrillard’s ([1993] 2004) ‘third-order simulacrum’, where the distinction between reality and representation breaks down and the simulation itself is the only thing that remains. Although a potentially compelling analysis, such a claim obscures the social and symbolic worlds in which these videos operate and overlooks the ways in which people interact and engage with them. Instead, I am interested in how these videos reveal the ways in which editor-producers and audiences alike subjectively engage with war, combat, and the aesthetic constructions of warfare. Representations like war music videos, as Marilyn B. Young (2007: 243) observes in her analysis of contemporary war movies, “abstract war from its context, leaving it standing on its own, self-justifying, impervious to doubt, a fact of nature.” While undoubtedly a trenchant analysis, for those most directly involved in the production and


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consumption of these videos, this is precisely their value. Situated within a mainstream media that, according to video creators and fans alike, reports only the facts of battles, the number of casualties, or the political machinations behind military objectives, war music videos provide the rare opportunity to feel—whether those feelings are of pride and vengeful anger or are engendered by the excitement of gratuitous violence. These videos, rather than suggesting a distanced impersonality, offer an intimate encounter with the affective power of the felt imaginary of war, providing a complex, oftentimes ambiguous emotional engagement with the aesthetics of war. Such intimacy and affect, as I have argued, must be understood within the aesthetics of symbolic construction that I have explored in this essay. As Kapferer and Hobart (2005) note, and as can be seen in the use of such videos by soldiers before, during, and after deployment, aesthetics orients individuals to their realities and helps to define the ways in which they, in turn, act in them. Musical use and editing practices are central to this productive force. Music can tie separate imagery together, can suggest an appealing flow, and can highlight specific moments through practices of synchronization and elaborate editing. As such, musical presence is crucial to these war videos, and although it may fall away in editor-producer and audience claims about the ‘truth’ of video representations, such claims can be understood only within the affective content of the felt impact of music. This paradox of the presence of music— being both there and not there, being both ‘feelingful’ and invisibly insidious—is essential to the status and import of these combat depictions. It is a key element, moreover, in the aesthetics of contemporary warscapes. As such, the truth content of these videos is located neither in the veracity of their representations nor in the privileged access that they provide to the reality of armed

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conflict. Rather, and most significantly, their truth is located precisely in their ability to allow people to feel engaged through a symbolic construction of war, whether the feelings are of pride or shame, elation or horror, humor, or, as is often the case, the pleasures of entertainment and the gratuitousness of violence and idealized killing. This is the unique militarized meaning of these videos and their terrible war-making power—and this is precisely why the anthropology of war would do well to pay attention to such aesthetic representations.

Notes 1. Such videos can also be found on a variety of niche sites, including Military.com’s entertainment ‘channel’ titled “Shock and Awe,” Grouchymedia.com, RealWarVideos.com, and MilitaryVideos.net. LiveLeak.com, which specializes in more graphic representations, also contains several war productions set to music. These are organized under its “official Iraq channel” and “official Afghanistan channel.” 2. Carolyn Nordstrom (1997: 37) originally developed the term ‘war-scape’, which she derived from the work of Arjun Appadurai (1990) and his introduction of the term ‘ethnoscape’. 3. My primary research was conducted in 2007–2009 and included participant observation on numerous chat boards, e-mail correspondence with video editor-producers and audiences, in-person interviews with enlisted personnel, and an online survey. Interviews were conducted in confidentiality, and the names of interviewees have been withheld by mutual agreement. 4. See Kleinman and Kleinman (1997) for an important analysis of the usage of images of suffering in the political economy of ‘infotainment’. See also Der Derian (2001) for a critique of the military-industrial-media-entertainment network in which war music videos operate and which, in turn, they help to compose. 5. There are countless self-described resistance/Mujahadeen/Jihadist videos as well, the analysis of which is beyond the scope of this essay.


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6. For high-profile uses of the song “Bodies” in film representations, see Soundtrack to War (Gittoes 2004), Fahrenheit 9/11 (Moore 2004), Stop-Loss (Peirce 2008), and Rambo (Stallone 2008). 7. For references to musical feelingfulness, see Feld (1994) and Meintjes (2003). My approach to the aesthetic force of war music videos is indebted to the insights of Renato Rosaldo (1993: 2) regarding “how to talk about the cultural force of emotions.” The creation and resonance of emotional force are central to the meaning of war music videos. 8. http://www.grouchymedia.com/videos/taliban_bodies/makingof. cfm (accessed 4 April 2007). This page has since been removed during a Web site redesign sometime in 2009. 9. Ibid. 10. During a Web site redesign sometime in 2009, these images were removed. 11. An excerpt from the video is linked to a feature story at Rolling Stone. See http://www.rollingstone.com/kill-team (accessed 29 March 2011).

References Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” Public Culture 2, no. 2: 1–24. Baudrillard, Jean. [1993] 2004. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Chion, Michel. 1994. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Ed. and trans. Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press. Cox, Ana Marie. 2006. “The YouTube War.” Time, online edition, 19 July. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1216501,00.html?cnn=yes (accessed 10 April 2009). Der Derian, James. 2001. Virtuous War: Mapping the MilitaryIndustrial-Media-Entertainment Network. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Feld, Steven. 1994. “Communication, Music, and Speech about Music.” Pp. 77–95 in Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues, ed. Charles Keil and Steven Feld. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gittoes, George, dir. 2004. Soundtrack to War: The Movie. DVD, Melee Studios.

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Hedges, Michael. 2006. “Iraq Videos on Web Offer Soldier’s-Eye view of War.” Houston Chronicle, 12 August. Johnson, Bruce, and Martin Cloonan. 2008. Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence. Aldershot: Ashgate. Kapferer, Bruce, and Angela Hobart. 2005. “Introduction: The Aesthetics of Symbolic Construction and Experience.” Pp. 1–22 in Aesthetics in Performance: Formations of Symbolic Construction and Experience, ed. Angela Hobart and Bruce Kapferer. New York: Berghahn Books. Kaufman, Gil. 2006. “Iraq Uploaded: The War Network TV Won’t Show You, Shot by Soldiers and Posted Online.” MTV news special, with reporting by Gideon Yago, 21 July. Kleinman, Arthur, and Joan Kleinman. 1997. “The Appeal of Experience; The Dismay of Images: Cultural Appropriations of Suffering in Our Times.” Pp. 1–24 in Social Suffering, ed. Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock. Berkeley: University of California Press Meintjes, Louise. 2003. Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Meyershon, Jon. 2007. “The YouTube War.” 20/20, online edition, 28 April. http://www.abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id= 2746937&page=1 (accessed 6 March 2009). Moore, Michael, dir. 2004. Fahrenheit 9/11. DVD, Sony Pictures. Nordstrom, Carolyn. 1997. A Different Kind of War Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Peirce, Kimberly, dir. 2008. Stop-Loss. DVD, Paramount Pictures. Riches, David. 1986. “The Phenomenon of Violence.” Pp. 1–27 in The Anthropology of Violence, ed. David Riches. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Rosaldo, Renato. 1993. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon Press. Stallone, Sylvester, dir. 2008. Rambo. DVD, Rogue Marble. Vernallis, Carol. 2004. Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context. New York: Columbia University Press. Young, Marilyn B. 2007. “In the Combat Zone.” Pp. 241–252 in The Practice of War: Production, Reproduction and Communication of Armed Violence, ed. Aparna Rao, Michael Bollig, and Monika Böck. New York: Berghahn Books.


% Sverker Finnström

In this short and preliminary essay, I revisit a few months of intensive fieldwork conducted in late 2005. This spell in the field was part of a much longer engagement with wartorn northern Uganda that began in 1997 and is still ongoing. In 2005, I could follow closely the unfolding of local news as the International Criminal Court (ICC) unsealed its warrants of arrest for the Lord’s Resistance Army/ Movement (LRA/M, or simply LRA) leadership. I will draw examples from the New Vision and the Daily Monitor, two Ugandan newspapers—the first state-controlled, the second independent—that I always follow carefully during my fieldwork stints. From this fieldwork horizon, I will sketch a violent intersection of international interventions and insurgency/counter-insurgency warfare. For more than two decades, the LRA has fought the Ugandan army. In recent years, the LRA has gone regional, with the army always in pursuit. The rebels established themselves in South Sudan in the early 1990s and in 2005 moved their main camps to northeastern Congo. Since then, their presence has extended into the Central

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African Republic and even into Darfur. In the deep forests at the alleged global peripheries, helicopter gunships and US-supported Ugandan troops constantly try to eliminate the ever-evaporating and re-emerging LRA fighters. Local realities are deeply entangled with larger regional—even global—warscapes.

Magical Terror and Global War I propose that ‘magical terror’ is primarily produced not by the so-called primitives of Africa but by the emplacement of global forces on the African scene. I furthermore suggest that magical terror is at the same time both physical and discursive and that one of its most prominent features is the production of an omnipresent Manichaean master narrative that magically reduces a murky reality of war into extremes of black and white (see Finnström, forthcoming). It is a story of us versus them, victim against perpetrator, and the secularized and modern Ugandan government and its international partners in development defending the Ugandan citizenry against the primitive barbarians of the LRA. The LRA’s human rights abuse record is horrendous. Among other things, they have abducted tens of thousands of minors, and by the turn of the millennium they had made themselves world-infamous for their wartime crimes. During my fieldwork in late 2005, the original ICC warrants were unsealed and immediately thereafter published in Ugandan newspapers. Rebel leader Joseph Kony was wanted for “thirty-three counts on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility,” including both war crimes and crimes against humanity (ICC 2005). Four other leaders were wanted as well. Okot Odhiambo’s warrant list included 10 counts. Dominic Ongwen, abducted into rebel


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ranks when he was only ten years old, was to answer to 7 counts. Raska Lukwiya, killed in action in 2006 despite a formal ceasefire, had 5 counts to answer to. The warrant for Vincent Otti, number two in the rebel hierarchy, listed 32 counts. Otti eventually fell out with Kony, and in 2007 he was killed on Kony’s orders. In one of Africa’s longest-running wars—starting in 1986 and still ongoing—the Ugandan army promotes itself as the rational and modern party to the conflict. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, has described his enemies in arms as a bunch of peasants and criminals, driven by intoxication, witchcraft, backwardness, mysticism, and obscurantism (see, e.g., Museveni 1992; cf. Finnström 2010a). He thereby recycles the most essentialist colonial stereotypes about primitive savages in darkest Africa. In addition, the language of denigration used by President Museveni and his associates has taken on a symbolic dimension that is accessible to the Ugandan public. Periodically, Museveni has branded rebel insurgents, as well as his political opponents, as ‘hyenas’ (Karugaba and Bwebale 2000; Muhangi 2002). By lumping them together and calling them hyenas, Museveni implies that they are wild creatures, which in many African cosmologies means that they have vitality and power, but also that they represent the uncultured wilderness, the realm of danger, depredation, death, sorcery, and witchcraft. “Hegemonic groups are able to define such a vocabulary, an ability that enables them to identify opposition and protest as witchcraft, banditry, and terrorism,” wrote Winans (1992: 110), with reference to south-central Tanzania on the eve of its independence. Of course, Kony and his LRA fighters have made themselves co-authors in the violent process of magical terror. They are responsible for the worst crimes against humanity that can be imagined. Yet the complex developments that led to the ICC intervention are not my immediate focus

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in this short essay.1 Rather, I want to revisit the argument put forward by Olara Otunnu, a Ugandan opposition politician and the former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. Otunnu (2006: 45) contends that “[t]o keep the eyes of the world averted, the [Ugandan] government has carefully scripted a narrative in which the catastrophe in northern Uganda begins with the LRA and will only end with its demise.” Starting with this claim, I will now proceed to outline the violent realpolitik that unfolded on the ground after the unsealing of the ICC warrants.

The Death of Joseph Kapere In late December 2005, the Ugandan army airlifted a group of journalists for a press briefing that was held deep in the war-torn bush of Pader district in northern Uganda. This particular area, nicknamed Kandahar in the local parlance, was known for the fierce fighting that had taken place for years between the army and the LRA. There, lying in the scorched grass of the hot dry season, was the body of Brigadier Joseph Kapere, on display for the journalists. At the time, Kapere had been one of the most senior LRA field commanders operating inside Uganda, while the majority of the high command was in South Sudan or in new bases in the forests of northeast Congo. It happens now and then that the Ugandan army purposely leaves dead bodies behind as warnings, so that potential rebel supporters appreciate the danger of opposing the government (Finnström 2008: 88). This time, the Ugandan army’s propaganda machinery created a media spectacle of the successful killing of a senior rebel commander. They army had done so a few months earlier as well, claiming to have killed Dominic Ongwen, one of the LRA


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commanders wanted by the ICC. “Ongwen was buried on October 1,” wrote reporters for the New Vision, “after his body was paraded at Soroti Public gardens” (Moro, Omoding, and Opolot 2005). The story in the state-controlled daily was illustrated with a color photo of Ongwen’s presumed body being exhumed for DNA testing on behalf of the ICC. But the army was mistaken: the body on display for journalists, it eventually turned out, was not that of Ongwen. When a temporary ceasefire and peace talks commencing in 2006 were announced, Ongwen magically reappeared, as reported by Ugandan media at the time, and he soon joined the rest of the high command in the Congo base camps. Consequently, in July 2006, the ICC unsealed the DNA test results, confirming that there was no match between Ongwen and the tested body. The death of Kapere in December 2005, however, was final, and the public display of his dirty and bloody body was a direct illustration of magical terror and its war propaganda. Again, the New Vision reported the story. A color photo of Kapere’s body, surrounded by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) dignitaries of the day, appeared on the front page, along with a report: “Kapere was killed in an ambush … in Atanga sub-county, Aruu county, Pader district … Journalists were taken to view Kapere’s body. Present during the press briefing were the jovial UPDF acting 601-brigade commander, Maj. Joseph Balikudembe, flanked by the UPDF 4th division intelligence officer, Maj. Mike Kisame and the 5th division spy chief Maj. Ddamulira Sserunjogi” (Ochowun 2005). A few months before this spectacular event, and just after the unsealing of the ICC arrest warrants, rumors had started to circulate about the LRA’s growing annoyance at the warrants on their leaders’ heads. It was even rumored that they had issued a ‘counter-warrant’—that humanitarian aid workers and expatriates should leave northern

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Uganda, or they would be killed. As the rumors continued to fly and the stories persisted, the name of Brigadier Kapere figured frequently in them. When I tried to investigate this matter during my fieldwork in 2005, I was met with firm denials from representatives of the Ugandan government and its army. I recognized the politics of denial from my previous research efforts: at that time, the existence of actual political manifestos of the rebels had been fiercely denied, by both government officials and international humanitarians. Now, as then, officials and humanitarians who I knew for a fact had information—or even copies of rebel documents and written statements—issued point-blank denials during interviews with me (see Finnström 2008: 99–130; 2010a). Nonetheless, an acquaintance of mine provided me with a copy of the rebels’ written response to the ICC warrants. According to one version, the statement was delivered by the rebels directly to local elders in the wartorn north; according to another, it ended up with the British High Commission in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Either way, the letter was photocopied and distributed widely in the closed corridors of power in Kampala. Soon after, a number of international organizations threatened to suspend operations in northern Uganda. The person who gave me the letter had attended a UN meeting where it had been discussed. The handwritten letter, reproduced here, reads in part: Make sure that the ICC question is answered and we have been directed to kill any white person moving anyhow in this region, they come like NGOs but they are the one talking bad about LRA, so you should also know that white people are like Museveni. [Signed]


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This threat was real. Balam Bongonyinge, a Ugandan working with ACCORD, an NGO, was killed and five of his colleagues injured in an LRA ambush in late October 2005. Another aid worker, this time from Caritas, was killed in a separate ambush. After these ambushes, most humanitarian aid organizations suspended their operations.2

The Death of Steve Willis Of all the wartime deaths in late 2005, perhaps the most widely reported, in both Uganda and beyond, was the killing of a British citizen, Steve Willis, on 8 November 2005. Soon after rebel commander Kapere had issued his letter, Willis and his travel party were ambushed by the LRA inside Murchison Falls National Park, which is located on the frontiers of the immediate war zone. Interviewed by the New Vision, Ugandan army Brigadier Nathan Mugisha immediately declared the ambush an “isolated incident” (Allio 2005). But in all its sadness, it was a rather typical rebel ambush, with no magic to it whatsoever. After some 20 years of low-intensity warfare between the LRA and the Ugandan army, with a history of countless rebel ambushes just like this one and, indeed, a number of army ambushes on civilians as well, the attack was in no way an isolated incident; rather, it was part of a systematic pattern of wartime violence. In the experience of Ugandans living in the immediate war zone, there are periods when ambushes happen on a daily basis, something that has sustained the experience of war, making it and its multiple forms of violence routines among other routines in everyday life.

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But the explicit targeting of humanitarian organizations and expatriates was something new. Without warning, Willis’s four-wheel-drive vehicle was sprayed with bullets. LRA fighters immediately entered the scene to loot items that they usually need—batteries for their communication radios, seat belts to be used as shoulder straps on backpacks, cash, and clothes. Willis’s fellow travelers survived by jumping out through the windows of the vehicle and hiding in the bush. However, Willis, behind the wheel, unfortunately died in the initial shooting. A few days before this ambush, a different rebel unit had ambushed and killed another Briton, this time in the borderlands between Uganda and Sudan. The deceased had been working with International Aid Services, a relief and development organization (Osike 2005). Some days previous to this attack, two mine-clearance experts were killed in yet another LRA ambush in South Sudan (Agencies Sudan 2005). New Zealander Cam McLeay (2005), who had traveled with Willis, wrote a survivor’s first-hand account for the New Vision: The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) acted in an exemplary manner in responding to the ambush. Within minutes of hearing of the attack, Brig. Nathan Mugisha had ordered a military helicopter to the scene fully equipped for such a tragedy with paramedics on board. The helicopter was supported on the ground by two armoured personnel carriers which arrived swiftly on the scene. Under the command of Lt. Col. Kidega, there can be no other army in the world that could have responded in a more professional or timely manner. The expedition team … and myself would like to express our sincere thanks to President Yoweri Museveni, Brig. Mugisha, Lt. Col. Kidega and the entire UPDF 4th Division for responding so swiftly in coming to our rescue.


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Humanitarian Death For Ugandan authorities, McLeay’s praise of the Ugandan army as the world’s most professional, published by the state-controlled New Vision, was timely. In 2003, the army had charged several international human rights bodies with propagating the cause of the LRA. For example, Human Rights Watch (2003) had published a report on Uganda that criticized not only the rebels but also the conduct of the Ugandan armed forces. An army spokesperson immediately “dismissed the report as the work of those bent on mobilising for the LRA,” reported Jabweli (2003) in the New Vision. Then, during my fieldwork in 2005, Human Rights Watch (2005) launched a new and equally critical report. In a long New Vision article, Amama Mbabazi (2005), at the time minister of defence, wrote that the Human Rights Watch report was “unfounded, partisan and politically motivated” and a “deliberate attempt to distort the truth” with “outrageous allegations.” In a press conference preceding his published assessment, Mbabazi demanded that the 2005 report be withdrawn because of its “sweeping statements which read as political pamphlets of the Uganda political opposition” built on “street talk” (quoted in Nyakairu 2005). Human Rights Watch had rebuttals published in Ugandan papers, and the issue was debated in the country. Many Ugandan commentators, as well as my informants, considered the stand of the Ugandan government to be ridiculous. But around the same time, the Uganda Human Rights Commissions (UHRC) also published a report, and it contrasted with that of Human Rights Watch. As reported by the state-controlled New Vision, the UHRC claimed that the human rights record had improved in Uganda (Mugisa 2005). Interestingly, a few months earlier, the Ugandan prime minister had stopped human rights activists from

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filming in camps for internally displaced persons in the war-torn north, arguing that a number of documentaries had portrayed a negative image of Uganda that would affect its relationships with its international partners in development (Masumbuko 2005). In fact, an increasing number of Ugandan commentators and academics had started to ask why the ICC did not proceed with investigations of the Ugandan army’s arbitrary killing and rape of civilians, torture, forced labor at gunpoint, and forced displacement of millions of people to squalid camps with mortality rates reaching in excess of 1,000 Ugandans per week in 2005 (WHO 2005). All of these actions are potential crimes against humanity. But the debate on government abuses soon evaporated, as the international radar of attention again focused on the “pointless terrorist activities against innocent civilian” of the LRA, “which cowardly attacks unarmed civilians [and] retreats animal-like into the bush at the first sign of any engagement,” to quote again from McLeay’s (2005) account of Willis’s death. As in much government rhetoric, here too the rebels are portrayed as animals of the uncultured wilderness. Perhaps to the satisfaction of the Ugandan government, the hyenas were back—if not in town itself, surely in the surrounding bushes. Few external observers paid any further attention to the debate on human rights abuses committed by the government forces. With the killing of Kapere, and even more so because of the public display of his bullet-ridden body, the Ugandan army magically managed to retake the initiative in the wartime propaganda battle. With Kapere’s death, the Ugandan army also admitted, even if only implicitly, that the rebel attacks, in all their brutality, had been quite well-coordinated. In December 2005, as Kapere’s body was displayed to the media crowd, I could also read in the New Vision Maj. Balikudembe’s declaration that “Kapere had written a letter threatening


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to kill charity workers based in the north. Many NGOs threatened to withdraw from the area after LRA killed two workers” (Ochowun 2005).

A Conclusion without Closure Above I have given examples of a Manichaean vocabulary. In the hands of dominant groups, it has, at least in part, helped to perpetuate regional war, contributing to the globalizing of war that this volume deals with. It is a magical vocabulary that enables those in power to denounce opposition and protest as witchcraft, banditry, and terrorism, as Winans (1992) pointed out. The hyenas are always and only on the side of the enemy. In revisiting those months of fieldwork in 2005, and in acknowledging the tragic deaths of Steve Willis and others, I maintain that a simplified picture was drawn for the public. When it comes to the war in northern Uganda, the government has always had the upper hand in defining the discourse on meaning, while the LRA, as the obvious co-authors in the process of war, were to occupy the sole moral category of evil. Still in 2011, with the Ugandan conflict being exported to neighboring countries, as far away as the Central African Republic and Darfur, nothing has really changed in this regard. The static categorizing probably represents one of the most prevalent instances of magic, for it sustains conflict by describing an opponent as singularly evil. Any alternatives are rendered invisible. Now and then during fieldwork, I hear from my informants that rebel leader Joseph Kony, after being told for many years that he is a terrorist—which he obviously is—has decided to become one. In 2002, one young man expressed what he imagined to be Kony’s way of

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reasoning: “They say that I am a terrorist. Well, let it be so, and let me then give them terrorism.” Such a selfconfession to terrorism can be interpreted as an effort to recover political agency that is denied in official discourse. On the road of no return, perhaps the elusive LRA leader, wanted by international justice, has decided to do something that nobody seems able to avoid in contemporary conflicts, in war mediated by written or other media—that is, “to become his fate, to live it as though he himself had conceived it” (Jackson 1989: 101).

Acknowledgments This short essay reports from a research project on global war and transnational (in)justice, funded by The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. It is an outline version of a full-length article in a forthcoming volume, Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing, edited by Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström, to be published by Duke University Press.

Notes 1. For more detailed analyses of the ICC intervention in northern Uganda, see, for example, Allen (2006), Branch (2007), and Finnström (2010b). 2. “Aid Agencies Stop Work in North,” Sunday Monitor, 30 October 2005.


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References Agencies Sudan. 2005. “LRA Rebels Kill Mine Experts.” Daily Monitor, 2 November. Allen, Tim. 2006. Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army. London: Zed Books. Allio, Emmy. 2005. “Briton Rejected Escort.” New Vision, 10 November. Branch, Adam. 2007. “Uganda’s Civil War and the Politics of ICC Intervention.” Ethics and International Affairs 21, no. 2: 179–198. Finnström, Sverker. 2008. Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History, and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ______. 2010a. “An African Hell of Colonial Imagination? The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Another Story.” Pp. 74–89 in The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality, ed. Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot. London: Zed Books. ______. 2010b. “Reconciliation Grown Bitter? War, Retribution, and Ritual Action in Northern Uganda.” Pp. 135–156 in Localizing Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities after Mass Violence, ed. Rosalind Shaw and Lars Waldorf, with Pierre Hazan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ______. Forthcoming. “Magic, Intervention, and Global War in Uganda.” In Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing, ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Human Rights Watch. 2003. “Abducted and Abused: Renewed Conflict in Northern Uganda.” http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/ docid/45dac8872.html (accessed 11 July 2003). ______. 2005. “Uprooted and Forgotten: Impunity and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Uganda.” http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/uganda0905.pdf (accessed 1 November 2006). ICC (International Criminal Court). 2005. “No.: ICC20051410.056-EN.” Daily Monitor, 17 October. Jabweli, Okello. 2003. “Child Abuse High in War-Torn North.” New Vision, 15 July. Jackson, Michael. 1989. Paths toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

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Karugaba, Michael, and Kagyenda wa Bwebale. 2000. “ADF Rebels are like Hyenas—Museveni.” Daily Monitor, 16 February. Masumbuko, Emma. 2005. “Premier Stops Filming of Refugee Camps.” Daily Monitor, 20 June. Mbabazi, Amama. 2005. “Is Human Rights Watch a Mouthpiece for the Opposition?” New Vision, 3 October. McLeay, Cam. 2005. “First-Hand Account of Steve Willis’s Murder.” New Vision, 16 November. Moro, John, John Omoding, and Job Opolot. 2005. “LRA Brigadier Killed in Teso.” New Vision, 6 October. Mugisa, Anne. 2005. “Rights Record Has Improved—Report.” New Vision, 27 September. Muhangi, Jossy. 2002. “Amin, Obote Were Hyenas—Museveni.” New Vision, 25 March. Museveni, Yoweri K. 1992. What Is Africa’s Problem? Ed. Elizabeth Kanyogonya. Kampala: NRM Publications. Nyakairu, Frank. 2005. “Govt Demands Withdrawal of Human Rights Report.” Daily Monitor, 23 September. Ochowun, Chris. 2005. “Ex-LRA Kill Brig. Kapere.” New Vision, 27 December. Osike, Felix. 2005. “LRA Kill British National.” New Vision, 7 November. Otunnu, Olara A. 2006. “The Secret Genocide.” Foreign Policy, no. 155: 45–46. WHO (World Health Organization). 2005. “Health and Mortality Survey among Internally Displaced Persons in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts, Northern Uganda.” http://www.who.int/hac/ crises/uga/sitreps/Ugandamortsurvey.pdf (accessed 2 November 2006). Winans, Edgar. 1992. “Hyenas on the Border.” Pp. 106–129 in The Paths to Domination, Resistance and Terror, ed. Carolyn Nordstrom and JoAnn Martin. Berkeley: University of California Press.

RESIDENT VIOLENCE Miner Mwanga Magic as a War-Technology Anthropology

% Koen Stroeken

“Mwanga,” my Sukuma friend replied to my question about the purpose of this magic for which a gang of Tanzanian criminals was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging in the summer of 2009. BBC World and Al-Jazeera widely reported on the matter, mostly contextualizing it as a symptom of poverty and lack of education in Africa. About 50 Tanzanians suffering from albinism have been killed between 2007 and early 2010 (Lumanyika 2010). Their bones and skin are said to serve as ingredients in magic. They would be powerful additives in the magical recipes that fishermen and artisanal miners need in order to get lucky. The word mwanga literally means ‘light’ in KiSwahili. It is also a translation for the abstract concept of ‘enlightenment’. Why should fishermen and miners need ‘light’ and albinos be killed for it? A young man whom I had known for many years was arrested. He was a healer in one of the Sukuma villages where I had worked. In the mid-1990s, he had told me his life story and had shared some of his medicinal knowledge with me, but he never mentioned mwanga. He was released from prison after a few months, only to be moved

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to an unknown destination, so I did not get the chance to ask him about this presumably novel form of magic. I can only base my understanding on what local people say. People in the village explain that ‘light’ is what everybody needs in these dark times, and that fishermen and miners in particular look for something shining in dark areas, notably for fish in the deep waters of Lake Victoria or for a diamond or a gold nugget in the putrid depths of a pit. The idea that a miner counts on human sacrifice in return for luck seems significant for a particular anthropology, defined in the broadest sense of people’s concept of what it is to be human. That concept of the human has changed, this essay argues, stripping humans of their ‘halo’, that is, of their umbilical link with their clan and ancestral world. In place of this halo, which inspires caution and a respectful distance in social affairs, now emerges a magical belief that perpetuates a state of war—a state that does not fundamentally differ from the global politico-economic order known as Empire (Hardt and Negri 2000) on which socio-economic conditions in Africa largely depend. The miners’ anthropology is an instance of war-technology anthropology. To the cultural element should be added a socio-structural condition that is closely entwined with that particular anthropology and which, following the miners’ symbolism, I have termed the ‘carrion system’. This essay starts with the cultural component of this form of anthropology and concludes with the structural.

Resident Violence: A Third Kind To further qualify the cultural element of war-technology anthropology, I revisit two earlier works on violence and witchcraft, those by Bruce Knauft on Melanesia and by


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June Nash on Mexico. Based on comparative research of types of violence, Knauft (1987) concluded that violence in highly egalitarian societies, for example, those without male status distinctions, such as the Gebusi in Papua New Guinea, can be contrasted with that in more complex political systems that engage in feuds, as evidenced by the Nuer’s segmentary organization. The former, egalitarian type of violence is “sudden, spasmodic, and extreme, [and] it is apt to subside almost as quickly as it arises” (ibid.: 477). This form of violence is more internal to the group and dissociated from its ethos; it is more homicidal but escalates less in revenge. It is often a response to homicidal sorcery attribution and is less likely to occur among members relating reciprocally, such as through sister exchange marriage. Organized violence is its opposite—more external and less homicidal, but involving several, larger groups. Where should we situate the wars that this volume deals with? Under neither type, I argue. Empire stands for a permanent sort of war that is moreover unacknowledged. In Knauft’s two types, the violence is recognized and subsides, either abruptly (after the act) or gradually (through conflict management). Next to subsiding violence and organized violence, we must consider a third type of violence—one that resides. In this form of violence, conflict is not meant to be settled; rather, it continues to exist where stealth, denial, or debate help to perpetuate it. The accumulation of capital at the expense of others exemplifies this sort of violence, which is neither egalitarian nor organized. Another example is the miners’ belief in the magic of mwanga. The war underlying such a belief or, in the former example, underlying capitalism is not acknowledged, and thus the source of violence or ‘curse’ can be transmitted both vertically (from generation to generation) and laterally (from region to region).

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This third type—resident violence—is the point that is missing on Knauft’s scale ranging from organized to subsiding violence. I believe that the concept of resident violence was introduced in June Nash’s (1967) study entitled “Death as a Way of Life.” Nash described how the homicide rate in a Maya village began to rise dramatically after state interventions caused healers to lose their role as mediators of ancestral spirits. Those spirits and the contingent mediation of their wishes had served to absorb the violence; in conflicts, the spirit realm was to blame. That realm acknowledged the social and cosmologically significant part, or halo, of the self. There resided the source of violence, which was hence associated with the X, the unknown. There the conflict could be settled, or at least expelled. The Mexican state, however, could not deal with the X and so got rid of the thing that had made violence subside. The death of the ancestral spirit, as a social reality, had a perpetuating effect on violence. In the case of mwanga magic, I similarly posit that human sacrifice correlates with the disappearing role of ancestral spirits and the associated rituals that come into play when people are initiated into magic. In post-initiatory globalized Africa, magic becomes a sort of alternative science, a discovery on the basis of which people can act. Liberated from the capricious blessing of the spirits and from democratic group decisions, which are both contingent, magic has become a technology.

Miners as Vultures “There is no place for friendship,” one of the artisanal miners in Mwanangwa told me. “We call ourselves babeshi [vultures].” From morning until evening, these


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subsistence miners peer down their sifting baskets in search of a diamond. The rare stone will land in the hands of European agents, whose assistants wait by the roadside. The miners are vultures too in the way that they take turns to peer down the pit and check on their team members. Relentless competition and suspicion reign. Across the many hundreds of pits densely scattered over some 20 acres of land, split by the Mwanza-Shinyanga tarmac road, people were shouting, chanting, and joking during my fieldwork, but they also firmly addressed me, with dozens on the verge of aggressive behavior, as I passed them and tried to jest away their requests for food, something that visitors back in their villages are spontaneously provided with and that they would normally be ashamed to ask for. Anger and despair were visible on their faces, but for food and even water one pays dearly. Everything is calculated in Mwanangwa. In conceiving humans as vultures, the miners’ anthropology resembles the anthropology of mwanga, which treats albinist patients as worthless. It does not sustain a spasmodic, subsiding violence like that of dancers and great sorcerers engaging in magical combat. The violence is perpetual and structural. Vultures feed on carrion; they anticipate the fall of the weakest. Three implications seem relevant here. First, vultures have to wait for the desired thing to happen. They have to be patient because have no means to change the situation. Secondly, vultures cannot intervene with the more powerful players. The buyers of the gems are the lions killing the prey, leaving remainders to the scavengers. The already-haves are never in danger, never threatened by a system that welcomes vultures. Thirdly, for the vultures, competition is the main principle. They have nothing else to fall back on but luck. Taking these three elements (conservation of status quo, segregation, competition) together, I can think of no better

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description to sum up the position of most Africans within the global economic system. To become a cattle owner is not that difficult, a Sukuma told me. It only takes patience and some trading—liwelelo (nature) does the rest. Everything starts with catching a pigeon, which anyone can do. Two pigeons are worth a chick. Two chicks can grow to breed. Two hens are worth a little goat. Two goats can be traded for a calf, and there you have it—the birth of the herd. But when farmers become miners and begin to call themselves vultures, they are attesting to a new awareness. Vultures cannot change the carrion system.

Rational Violence, Magic, and ‘Albinicide’ Killing for magic does not accord well with the intuitivist culture of Sukuma healers (bafumu), nor with their primary concern, which is quite simply to cure. An important aspect of such a cure is that the initiated patient formally becomes a child of the healer, usually after a period of two years. People who sell medicine to anonymous clients on the market bypass this initiatory aspect, which requires a personal bond and depends on secrecy and ancestral blessings in order for the medicine to work. Albinicidal magic thus belongs to the non-initiatory category of medicine. It is sold to those employed in two categories of professions that fall outside of village life: fishermen and artisanal miners. Many of them are emigrants, some living in circumstances more dire than the poorest farmers. Both professions involve livelihoods that, quite literally, depend on a lucky catch. The collection of the magic’s main ingredients and its use presume a peculiar belief. To believe that white skin will yield ‘white fortune’ (i.e., fish, diamonds) sounds like


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the improbable discovery of a natural law. I argue that it actually presents magic as something it never was—an alternative science. Perhaps Tambiah’s (1973) conventional definition of magic in terms of ‘persuasive analogies’ commits the same error, but my Sukuma informants at least reacted strongly to the idea of such non-initiatory magic. The remote possibility of success seemed to them disproportionate to the act of killing and torturing an innocent person for medicinal purposes. I should add, however, that those informants had undergone their village initiation (ihane), which combines medicinal training with cosmological knowledge. With the disappearance of this two-day training since the late 1990s, a major obstacle to the diffusion of human-sacrificial magic collapsed because magic became marketable and ‘purified’ from the demands of tradition and ancestral spirits and from the societal approval mediating cultural creativity in initiatory cults. An indication of that economic, ‘de-haloing’ process is the use of the word mwanga, from the national commercial language of Swahili, instead of a Sukuma term, in acknowledgement of the local traditions. Based on initiation practices in two medicinal associations, Bunamhala and Cwezi, I contend that mwanga makes a very uncommon and rationalist sort of claim. It signals that nobody needs to summon ancestral support (lubango) in order to get lucky. The discovery of a magical law—in this case, one that links albino skin to the miners’ search for bright things—can do the trick. In sum, the source of this belief cannot be situated in Sukuma traditions of magic. Rather, it originates in the economically violent condition of artisanal mining, which in turn derives from the de-haloed, dehumanized anthropology of the global economy. There is another way to consider the hyper-rationality of mwanga magic. In peasant communities with a history of famines and epidemics, every helping hand under the

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burning sun (and each belly to feed) makes a difference. Children suffering from albinism become a burden and their death a practical solution. Judeo-Christian souls tremble at the very thought that this pragmatism could explain the term reserved for sufferers of albinism—zeru zeru (worth zero), a derogatory epithet used by albinos themselves. From what I was told, the elimination of albino babies at birth used to be a practice in Sukuma villages, showing the community at exceptional, crisis-driven moments of hyper-rationality. This may be illustrated by the fate of the mentally handicapped boy whom I used to see running around naked in the neighborhood where I lived. When he reached puberty, the embarrassment grew. His corpse, found in a nearby field, had been painted with hued dots. In the eyes of non-Sukuma policemen from town, this was appropriately suggestive of the occult, clearing the family of suspicion. The possible drift of this rational violence in exceptional circumstances toward the center of Sukuma everyday life is the alarming part of mwanga magic. To be a vulture is not one experiential state within a widely ranging palette of experiences, such as that of a dancer at festivals, or an elder at village councils, or an initiated member of a healing cult, or a descendant honoring ancestors at the altars. Many people travel between these and other experiences, permitting them to release the burdens of one state as they enter another. The experiences of the miners in Mwanangwa are reduced to the constraints determined by the capitalist system. The mwanga of miners differs from the magic that Sukuma are traditionally initiated into and the multiple and dynamically shifting experiences of the Sukuma user of magic. The miners’ magic accords with the reductionism of the global economy. The rise of witch killings in northwest Tanzania during peaks of globalization in the mid-1990s exhibits the same


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reductionist type of rationality (see Stroeken 2010). In the old days, chiefs (batemi) engaged in exceptional activities such as executing a witch. Society provided them with the ritual means to absorb and end the cycle of violence, to terminate its dangerous rationality. The common way was for the victim to respond to the witch’s attack with counter-magic, whose success or failure would depend on ancestral blessings. Witch killing instead meant that the victim and his or her family opted for the sure blow of the machete. The violence originating from the witch (who herself supposedly reacts out of envy) is thus transmitted in all its contagion, while the ancestral world has been squarely bypassed. That is the truth of witch killing, which lies at the periphery of the domain of magic. With this cultural change, away from ancestral traditions of magic and toward a state of resident violence, we have begun to touch on the structural dimension of war-technology anthropology as well.

Democracy, Schooling, Psychiatry: The Carrion System The global economy presently deserves the label ‘carrion system’ because of a combination of three traits: (1) a segregation of (2) fields of competition that (3) conserves the status quo. The poorest countries are condemned to internal competition and scavenging, neither of which could ever alter the status quo at a global level. Potential changes are thus limited to the national field of competition. ‘Carry on’ is the carrion system’s principle. The violence of poverty never subsides. Global war, the visible side of this resident violence, takes place in the same countries. The vultures compete, but those who make the kill decide what they are competing for.

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Why have the usual solutions not worked? More democracy, education, and development appear only to perpetuate the carrion system. Every alternative developed since the Enlightenment ends up reproducing that system, exhibiting exactly those three traits—external powerlessness, relentless internal competition, and benefits that accrue to the already-haves. Two well-known emancipatory means are democracy and schooling. We want others to be democratic and schooled like us. Political and educational connectedness increases access to our markets. Yet local democracy is no guarantee of peace, given what Stiglitz (2002) has called the international ‘democratic deficit’, that is, the fact that economic globalization is outpacing political globalization. What is the point of holding democratic elections in countries deprived of the profits made from their soil? Can national democracy change Tanzanians’ lack of influence on the global scene? Democratic elections do no more than organize internal competition. Whatever the results, the elections conserve the global status quo. Moreover, the party obtaining the most votes will be the one with the greatest campaign funds, which means that the capitalist system is already integrated into democracy’s outcome. In such a view, Chabal and Daloz’s (1999) famous patronage system, supposedly characterizing African politics, may be seen instead to apply to the global hegemonic political and economic system. If democracy itself cannot wipe out injustice, we may turn to a second means of emancipation, which is often deemed more fundamental: schooling. But schooling is structured worldwide in such a way that only the ‘best’ continue in secondary school and move on to university and postgraduate education. The ‘lesser’ students are identified annually and channeled toward a profession earlier in the process. This is explicitly the case in Tanzania, where much talk in newspapers and on the radio


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concerns the prestige lent to a region or district by the percentage of students making it into secondary school (i.e., from darasa la saba, seventh grade, into Form I, the first year of secondary school). The next major selection, widely publicized, happens after the national exams for Form IV. The results of the exams for Form VI determine one’s chances for a university education, with Class I being reserved for the very few who are accepted into American or European universities. While the system envisages a collective improvement—of knowledge in the case of schooling and of influence in the case of democracy—its impact ensures a further division of the population. Here again we put our trust in an instrument that is powerless to change the global system and advantageous to the already-haves—and whose main principle is competition. Carrion will be carrion. Further, the ideas that students are taught derive largely from Western curricula. Neither democracy nor schooling can increase the likelihood of a genuine two-way cultural exchange, one that would consider the beneficial side of cultural traditions. Europe, Russia, and the US invented a third means to escape from the evils of war, from violence and injustice. If democracy cannot liberate you and education only causes stress, there is still psychiatry. This final solution keeps those at work who, thanks to pills, can just about cope with the stresses of our society. Psychiatry does not question the system that might be causing unnatural stress. (Social sciences are of little help, too, as they question the existence of anything natural or unnatural.) In Tanzania, the nurses and the few doctors willing to become psychiatrists offer tranquilizers. Like democracy and schooling, psychiatry will not alter the position of Africans in the global economy. Psychiatry recreates Africans so that they can become ‘crazy like us’ (Watters 2010). The asylum and the pills help to conserve the status quo.

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What has kept the peace in the EU and made war virtually unthinkable are these three means of emancipation. Thanks to democracy, we elect our leaders. Thanks to schooling, our leaders are educated more or less like us. Thanks to psychiatry, the most obviously deviant ideas and conducts have been filtered away—or at least we are aware that ideas and ideologies can be delusional. At the same time, these three instruments have become the basis on which we decide who is not like us and thus who is a potential target for war. Democracy divides, segregating the undemocratic from the democratic. Schooling divides, segregating the uneducated from the educated. Psychiatry divides, segregating the abnormal from the normal. Each of these implies a binary division. The binarity justifies, or at least facilitates, acts of violence committed by one category against the other. Hence, paradoxically, the democracy, education, and psychiatry that contributed to peace within Europe and the US raise the chances of our waging war against those who are not like us. The three underpin our detection of ‘others’. If all practices can be sources of binary division, the previous observation makes little sense. But, I argue, the ingenuity of the three modern inventions consists precisely in their binary structure, which can be contrasted with non-binary practices that allow for transformation and healing. Such practices include rituals that make the abnormal normal by changing the abnormal or, alternatively, by accepting it—that is, by adapting the system so as to create an additional category (e.g., shamans). The binary structure provides democracy, schooling, and psychiatry with a formal, very accessible procedure that can be rapidly diffused worldwide; however, it also presents other cultures in a hierarchical manner so that they could never be considered as alternative models or sources of transformation for the world. Many of the dystopias of


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the nineteenth and early twentieth century that criticized modernity for its universalism and rationalism (e.g., Weber [1905] 2002) seem to anthropologists today like ‘nostalgic’ reactions (Herzfeld 2001: 102). The current globalist idea that the market is inclusive and universal (along the lines of democracy, schooling, and psychiatry) and thus does not exclude particular cultures is a convenient illusion—one that is kept alive by the silence of anthropologists. When the possibility of radical difference is denied, culture can become a sum of ethnographic data, objectively recorded, that a military organization can apply for its own purposes. The ethnographer will not be affected by that culture or its values and thus will not be transformed by the ethnography in a way that could make him or her question the government’s policies and, most of all, question the reasoning behind the policies that the population has supported via democratic elections. Free rein is given to an anthropology that serves an army just as it served the colonial administrator before it.

Conclusion The combination of (1) a global economy that segregates the poor, (2) emancipatory means that conserve the status quo, and (3) an anthropology that is forfeiting its political role by denying radical difference has kept the power elite intact and its violence constant. The resident violence that we encounter among Tanzanian artisanal miners echoes the global economic war of Empire (Hardt and Negri 2000). The logic of the carrion system is illustrated by the miner vultures, the albinist killings for magic, the use of mwanga magic, the recent spates of witch killing, and the global de-haloing of the human that sustains war in easily ‘othered’ places, such as Afghanistan.

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The magic that perpetuates war boils down to a rational belief: for every insurgent killed, our paradise comes nearer. The total sum of deaths should at some point give rise to a moment of magic: ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ denote the magic that is used to justify the killings in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We all buy cell phones, cars, and jewelry that finance the killings over coltan, oil, diamonds, and gold that are taking place in Africa today. Had these resources not been rare—so much so that it has warranted wars to secure their production—they would have lost their magic. The main difference between us sponsoring killings for magic and Tanzanian gold diggers buying mwanga is that for us the magic is a purpose in itself, whereas for the Mwanangwa miners the magic is a means—however desperate—for a purpose. The miners’ purpose is quite plainly to survive the war of every day.

References Chabal, Patrick, and Jean-Pascal Daloz. 1999. Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument. Oxford: James Currey. Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Herzfeld, Michael. 2001. Anthropology: Theoretical Practice in Culture and Society. Oxford: Blackwell. Knauft, Bruce M. 1987. “Reconsidering Violence in Simple Human Societies: Homicide among the Gebusi of New Guinea.” Current Anthropology 28, no. 4: 457–500. Lumanyika, Gerald. 2010. “Police Arrest Kenyan Attempting to Sell an Albino.” Citizen, 17 August. http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/ business/13-local-business/3601-police-arrest-kenyan-attempting-to-sell-an-albino.html. Nash, June. 1967. “Death as a Way of Life: The Increasing Resort to Homicide in a Maya Indian Community.” American Anthropologist 69, no. 5: 455–470.


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Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2002. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: Penguin. Stroeken, Koen. 2010. Moral Power: The Magic of Witchcraft. New York: Berghahn Books. Tambiah, Stanley J. 1973. “Form and Meaning of Magical Acts: A Point of View.” Pp. 199–229 in Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies, ed. Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan. London: Faber. Watters, Ethan. 2010. Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. New York: Free Press. Weber, Max. [1905] 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Penguin.


% Neil L. Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha

MAGIC—The use of ritual activities … to influence the course of events … usually involving the use of an occult or secret body of knowledge … — Oxford English Dictionary

Much of the scholarly discourse on ‘suicide terrorism’ focuses on attempts to discern the political strategies that underlie such acts of violence but utterly fails to consider the cultural dimensions that are key to understanding how these acts gain popular support and become potential individual motivations.1 As with other modes of occult violence, such practices are conceived through cultural forms related to local knowledge and historical memory that are poorly understood by most Western researchers and reporters. As a result, they appear to be ‘magical’ in the way that they confound the rationalities of Western political and cultural discourse (Whitehead 2002). The difference in the terminology that describes these acts as ‘suicide’ in Western discourse and as ‘martyrdom’ in Palestine signals the width of this epistemological gap. These acts are far more


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complex than a desperate suicide or an unstoppable desire to ‘kill the enemy’. Through their performance and wider representation, they generate collective cultural conceptions among Palestinians and, at the same time, continue a violent dialogue with the Israeli state. In this way, there is certainly a ‘magical’ quality to acts of self-sacrifice: magical for the way in which this violent performance eludes the controlling discourses of the Israeli state and the wider ‘international community’, and magical also for the way in which it completely perplexes external commentators and their conventional analyses based on rational actor models of social action. What cannot be understood in these terms is therefore relegated to the realms of psychological dysfunction, atavistic subjectivities, and/or intellectual bewitchment as a result of mysterious and occult religious views, which makes suicide terrorism appear as unnatural, if not supernatural. The rituals of videotaping the martyr’s last message, the infusion of religious ideas into the auto-narratives of such acts, and the occult nature of individual motives thus all contribute to the magic of martyrdom.

The Magic of Martyrdom This brief essay is intended to outline the ‘magic of martyrdom’ as a meaningful cultural expression, whatever its apparent senselessness and destructive potential to external observers. This exercise entails a questioning of assumptions as to the self-evident nature of violence, how issues of legitimacy critically influence understandings of violent acts, and how such acts themselves are complex social performances expressive of key cultural values. It also implies a critique of analyses that suggest historically transcendent biological and evolutionary homologies in human violence,

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as well as Hobbesian-style analogies drawn between a supposedly primitive and savage past and contemporary tribalism and terrorism (Whitehead 2004). In the spring of 1994, when Hamas first carried out operations (strapping the body of the mission carrier with explosives, whereby the participant exploded his or her own body to accomplish the mission) in the Israeli-inhabited towns of Afula and Khidara, it described these operations as ‘amaliyat istishhadiya (martyrdom operations). Some of the local media also describe them as a’maliyat fida’iyah (self-sacrifice operations). The fida’i (sacrificer) notion is more secular than the istishhad (martyrdom) notion, which is more Islamic. The fida’i was dominant in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) resistance in cross-border operations of the 1960s and 1970s, when such acts of sacrifice were required to complete a mission because of the stark military inequalities of the Israeli Defense Forces and the PLO. Today, istishhad is the most frequently used term to refer to acts of sacrifice in the Palestinian resistance and is used by Islamic, secular, and Marxist groups alike (Abufarha 2009: 26–64). The term istishhadi now being used, in particular for those who carry out the martyrdom operation (or suicide bombing), is new and represents the equivalent of the fida’i as the one who performs the self-sacrifice. The shahid (martyr) became the icon of the First Intifada (1987– 1992). The concept of the shahid—as a victim who falls at the hands of oppressive occupation—was in line with the political dynamics of the time, of lobbying the international community to support the Palestinians’ quest for freedom. The First Intifada primarily banked on the international community and global powers to place pressure on Israel to reverse its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and to address other issues of conflict, such as the fate of Palestinian refugees. In the First Intifada, the


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intended audience of the resistance was principally the international community. In contrast, in the Second Intifada that broke out in September 2000 after the collapse of the peace, Palestinians directed their actions primarily at Israel and at international Israeli publics, as well as inward to their own society (Abufarha 2009). Whereas the notion of shahid (martyr) implies victimization, the istishhadi (martyrous one) is a pro-active notion that emphasizes the heroism in the act of sacrifice over the victimization that is also part of the act. And since the istishhadi is pro-active, the new term also makes the image of the istishhadi contain more life than that of the shahid. The act of istishhad (dying in martyrdom) has developed not only into a military and political strategy for groups and individuals but also into a cultural act packed with wider popular meanings. At the same time, it is primarily those meanings embedded in the act that give it its political and military instrumental capacities. In the Second Intifada, a new discourse of istishhadiyeen (martyrous ones) has been articulated in a way that highlights the intentionality of martyrdom as an act of heroism. In this new discourse of martyrdom, the target audience lies within the Palestinian community and the wider world of Arab and Muslim solidarity, as much as Israel and Israeli publics. However, hardly anyone in Western scholarly and media discourse would refer to these acts as ‘selfsacrifice operations’ or ‘martyrdom operations’, as they are described in Palestine. Although the concept of selfsacrifice represents the core meaning of the act of istishhad, it is totally missing from the lexical terminologies used by most commentators on the subject in the English language (Abufarha 2009: 76–78). Thus, usage in Arabic language discourse in contemporary Palestine suggests that the term ‘sacrifice’, not ‘suicide’, more properly glosses how such acts are to be understood.

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The ‘objects of sacrifice’ refer to those things for whose sake the sacrifice takes place, and the ‘sacrificer’ is the subject who gains the benefits of the sacrifice, represented in the istishhadi as the social person who performs the sacrifice in this context. Moreover, the sacrificer’s body is the sacrificed object, or the ‘victim’, in the act of sacrifice. Hence, the istishhadi represents the ‘moral person’ who bears the cost of sacrifice, and the istishhadi becomes a sacrificial offering from the Palestinian people. This concept of sacrifice informs the dynamics of martyrdom in Palestine today, wherein the cultural conception of sacrifice is seen as a ritual sequence connected to patterns of creation and exchange. The act of sacrifice represents a homological relation between the human body and its cultural environment (see also Lincoln 1991). In the context of the sacrifice of Palestinian bodies in Palestine, the dismembered body parts of the bomber create a new universe within which Palestine is ‘alive’. In Palestinian cultural representations of these acts of sacrifice and martyrdom, the ‘blood’ is ‘water’ that nourishes the fields where streams would flow and birds would sing. The human ‘flesh’ is ‘soil’ where flowers bloom. These meanings are conceived through a poetic reading of such violent performance in which sensory meanings are polarized between realities and aspirations. The polarizations generate a poetic within which a newly generated life is created in the Palestinian cultural imaginary through a fusion of realities and aspirations. The performance of every ritual of sacrifice by Palestinian martyrs in the land of Palestine repeats this process of transformation, shifting imagination from the sacrificed body of the martyr to the cultural landscape of Palestine, sustaining a Palestinian life with Palestinian characteristics, over and against the disappearance of Palestinian signs from the landscape of Israel. Thus, the sacrifice creates a


Neil L. Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha

new ontology through metonymic reconstitution of bodyas-landscape. In the Palestinian context, the notion of sacrifice constitutes a more appropriate concept than suicide to describe the act of being a human bomb because it encompasses the transformations and exchanges that take place between the sacrificed human body, the land of Palestine, and the Palestinian people. The relation of Palestinians to place lies at the heart of the Palestinian struggle to realize Palestine. As they are squeezed more and more out of their historical place, performances that produce cultural conceptions of this strong bond to place become ever more popular.2 This conception of the relationship to place points to the dialogical relationship between Palestinian identity and the politicalontological conditions of confinement and isolation. The attempts to isolate Palestinians from their historical place through the use of roadblocks, barriers, and checkpoints also isolate Palestinians from their identity, community, and culture. As a result, there are a number of common symbols and rituals that occur in the performance and representation of martyrdom missions, particularly those of the istishhadiyeen, which transcend all boundaries, physical and conceptual. The istishhadiyeen ‘penetrate’ the Israeli segregation wall, ‘break’ all the barriers, and ‘pass’ all checkpoints. By simply reaching an Israeli town, the istishhadi breaks down such confinement. The sacrifice of Palestinian bodies in Palestinian places from which Palestinians have been expelled thus recreates an unconfined life for Palestine. In the poetics of Palestinian resistance, the sacrificed Palestinian body parts are a mimesis of flowing streams, nurturing fields, and blooming flowers. In this way, Palestine is revived in memory and cultural imaginary to regain its identity. This transcendence of boundaries and the revivifying of Palestine through nourishing sacrifice reference the physical

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spread of the martyr’s flesh and blood over the land and thereby reaffirm Palestinian identity with the land of Palestine. This process asserts a sense of rootedness, and the sacrifice itself further reconfigures the land of Palestine by attaching new historical meanings to the sites of explosion as sites of martyrdom and sacrifice. The istishhadi performance communicates command and control over self-destiny, becoming a vivid expression of the very independence that is long sought and still denied. Sacrifice also serves as a religious ritual performance that fuses Palestinians’ Muslim lives with the divine life. The martyrs go to live in the divine world but also live on in the cultural imaginary of the Palestinians, thereby fusing everyday lives with that of the divine. This conception creates a sense of calmness, harmony, mercy, purity, and certainty.

Cultural Imaginaries for Killing This essay has focused on Palestinian suicide terrorism in order to draw out the way in which cultural meaning is critical to the interpretation of violent acts, especially when these acts are precisely designed to produce a profound challenge to the cultural meaning of violence among the observers and victims of the magic of martyrdom. Moreover, a better appreciation of how the magic of violence in Palestine is constituted allows us to use that understanding in a wider frame of reference, such as within the US ‘counter-insurgency’. Whatever we may think about the kinds of violence that the news media presents to us daily, it remains the case that it is our own society that has made violent actors, such as the serial killer or school shooter, into icons, if not anti-heroes, representing that central American value of redemptive violence (Slotkin 1973). The unstable and


Neil L. Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha

uncertain nature of ‘law and order’ is itself implied by the instabilities unleashed through terrorism and crime. Such persistent instabilities are what eventually produce those ‘states of exception’ (Agamben 2005) in which violence itself is the only credible social script for public performance. This hyper-production of instability implies a notion of ‘normalcy’ that is heroically revealed by the forces of law and order. The media representations of extreme and unsettling violence are framed not only by the reassurance of forensic procedure but also by the profligate circulation of images of normalcy—the commercial breaks, weather reports, sports scores, and so forth. The eruptive possibility for violence is thus anticipated in the ordinary, and it is the very normalcy of serial killers and school shooters that becomes the source of their cultural potency, another kind of ‘magic’ expressing and embodying (literally) these contradictions through the detailed poetics of their violent practices. The eruptive violence of school shootings, serial killings, and family slayings, so often ending with acts of suicide, thus reminds us that the magic of martyrdom is not confined to the mysterious worlds of the ‘suicide terrorist’ but are part of the Western way as well. If the magical power of killing, both others and selves, is widely culturally present, then the operations of more conventional military institutions are no less part of this conjunction of magic and killing. It has recently been argued (Whitehead and Finnström 2011) that sorcery and magic can be seen as aspects of contemporary Western militarism, even if understood by the military through other concepts. In turn, the operation of the state, not just as a military power, is perhaps always a matter of occult strategies of magical action (Comaroff and Comaroff 1993; Coronil 1997; Geschiere and Roitman 1997; Kapferer 1997; Taussig 1997; Vidal and Whitehead 2004).

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Occult, unseen enemies and visionary prophecies of crisis and social breakdown have become a permanent part of the constitution of political authority, among not only the many dictatorships all over the world, but also the liberal democracies of the West. ‘Wars on terror’, in which ‘terror’ is presented as a shadowy network of occult enemies perpetually plotting to overthrow the very foundations of democracy, are clearly seen as meriting exceptional measures of surveillance and violence to ensure the security and peace of the homeland, as with Israeli invasions of the camps of the Gaza Strip or West Bank. These kinds of occluded strategies of power thus govern a violent world order in which the magical—as much as the rational or the pragmatic—is part of the exercise of power and in which exercising power through killing undergirds the magic of the state no less than the magic of those deemed insurgent, rebel, criminal, or terrorist. As with Abufarha’s ethnographic research in Palestine, so too Whitehead’s ethnographic work with Patamuna Caribs in Guyana has dealt with violence and killing motivated by long-standing cultural and spiritual beliefs.3 Despite the significant cultural and social distance between Guyana and Palestine, kanaimà sorcery is not that different from Palestinian istishhadi martyrdom. It is a cultural discourse that operates at a number of levels, referring simultaneously to the dynamics of the spirit world, physical aggression by individuals, the tensions and jealousies between villagers and family members, and suspicions about more distant enemies, as well as outsiders. Patamuna people are well aware of many features of the global order, and outsiders are not thought of only as missionaries, anthropologists, or Guyanese government functionaries. They are also seen as representatives of global NGOs, such as Survival International, or possibly as foreign police or military agents from Brazil, Venezuela, or even the United


Neil L. Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha

States. Kanaimà sorcery is able to engage with any and all of these discursive levels, and their differing ontological appearances, as fragments of sorcery. The NGO worker, the CIA operative, and the revenant spirit of a long-dead warrior thus mingle and shape-shift in the practices of magical engagement displayed by kanaimàs (Whitehead 2002: 174–201). For these reasons, the pervasive and profound discourse of kanaimà, like that of istishhadi, is a central fact of the lives of the people of the Guyana Highlands, dramatizing the human condition while indicating its futility. It is a daily matter of conversation and closely influences the decisions that people make through the vision it supplies of a cosmos filled with predatory gods and spirits whose violent hungers are sated upon humans. Since it affects the decision to go to the farm, to go with another or not, to carry a gun or not, to pass by the spirit abode of a famed killer, or to walk by a longer route, kanaimà is thus woven into the texture of everyday life. For those who participate in this discourse, there are also the distant but steady rumors of killings that are the discursive proof of the malign nature of the cosmos and the enmity of others. Undoubtedly, the practice of kanaimà involves criminalized activity and would be considered a terrorist strategy in a context of insurgency against the political order, as was the case in the nineteenth century when kanaimàs performed targeted assassinations of those collaborating with evangelical missionaries and even those missionaries themselves.4 Today, however, a constant theme in commentaries on contemporary killings is the indifference and inattention of the Guyanese national government and police. In this context, my ethnographic forms of witnessing and reporting were felt to be relevant to Patamuna attempts to gain development resources and government infrastructure. Part of the magic of current kanaimà killings relates

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to how this practice can affect the distant national political scene. For these reasons too, kanaimà killings, even when they are local in character, are accepted and endured as a potent sign of continuing Amerindian autonomy. Therefore, Western ideas about kanaimà sorcery, as with that other notorious category of South American ethnography, cannibalism,5 cannot be taken as simply reflecting the results of an encounter with some objectively present form of native savagery or exoticism. Rather, our interest in the savagery of others—particularly when it supposedly takes mystical and magical forms such as sorcery or cannibalistic sacrifice—clearly has served an ideological purpose in both politically justifying and morally enabling the violent conquest and occupation of native South America, as it has elsewhere in the colonial world. This cultural proclivity on our part does not rule out forms of cultural practice by others that are truly challenging to interpret, in the sense that others do apparently give meaning and value to acts that we might abhor or simply deny to be ‘real’. However, this lack of ‘reality’, this ‘magic’ reflects our lack of understanding: the act seems incomprehensible. Kanaimà and istishhadi performance perfectly instantiate such a category of acts that appear to outsiders as strange and troubling due to a lack of insight about the cultural milieu from which they arise. As Edmund Leach (1977: 36) noted over 30 years ago, during the upsurge in Irish Republican Army ‘terrorism’: We see ourselves as threatened … by lawless terrorists of all kinds … we feel ourselves to be in the position of the European Christians after the withdrawal of the Mongol hordes rather than in the position of the unfortunate Caribs … at the hands of the Spanish invaders … We now know that the dog-headed cannibals against whom Pope Gregory IX preached his crusade were representatives of a far more sophisticated civilization than anything that


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existed in Europe at the time … However incomprehensible the acts of terrorism may seem to be, our judges, our policemen, and our politicians must never be allowed to forget that terrorism is an activity of fellow human beings and not of dog-headed cannibals.

In the cultural imaginary of the West, the cannibals have been supplanted by witches and sorcerers, who have become the terrorists of today.

Notes 1. This essay is ethnographically based on the long-term fieldwork project of Nasser Abufarha in the West Bank of Palestine, principally in Jenin, where Abufarha was born. Most of the supporting empirical data has been published in Abufarha (2009) and is supplemented by materials and interviews conducted in 2009 by Abufarha and Whitehead in Jenin. The discussion of kanaimà sorcery in the concluding section is based on Whitehead’s (2002) ethnographic fieldwork among the Patamuna of Guyana. 2. As one of the reviewers for this essay noted, our argument here is that through the istishhadiyeen there is an escape from or transcendence of confinement, termed ‘encystation’ in Bowman (2009). 3. See Whitehead (2002) for a discussion on forms of assault sorcery called piaii and kanaimà, particularly the latter. Comparatively, Taylor’s (1999) work on the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s also shows how traditional ideas about sacrifice can be mobilized for the contemporary work of terror. 4. There is an important link to be made between traditional forms of terror and violence, such as sorcery, and the contemporary depictions of terrorists, suicide bombers, and other anti-social threats. Earlier commentators on sorcery were no less aware of the significance of the imaginative order. As one missionary in Guyana wrote: “At times I was warned that they were going to ‘piai’ me, that is, to cause sickness or death by their art; information which gave little uneasiness. For though the Obiah

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men of the negroes, and these Piai sorcerers of the aborigines, do often cause sickness and sometimes death by the terror their threats inspire, they can only have this effect on minds imbued with a belief in them. In order to injure others they must resort to actual poison, as in compassing the death of Mr. and Mrs. Youd” (Brett 1881: 59; emphasis added). 5. This topic is discussed extensively in Whitehead and Harbsmeier (2008), but it should be noted here that the etymology of the Euro-American word ‘cannibal’ is from the ethnonym ‘Carib’.

References Abufarha, Nasser. 2009. The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. State of Exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bowman, Glenn. 2009. “Israel’s Wall and the Logic of Encystation: Sovereign Exception or Wild Sovereignty?” Pp. 292–304 in Crisis of the State: War and Social Upheaval, ed. Bruce Kapferer and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen. New York: Berghahn Books. Brett, William Henry. 1881. Mission Work in the Forests of Guiana. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: E. & J. B. Young. Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff. 1993. Modernity and Its Malcontents: Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Coronil, Fernando. 1997. The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Geschiere, Peter, and Janet L. Roitman. 1997. The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. Kapferer, Bruce. 1997. The Feast of the Sorcerer: Practices of Consciousness and Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Leach, Edmund. 1977. Custom, Law and Terrorist Violence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Lincoln, Bruce. 1991. Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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Slotkin, Richard. 1973. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Taussig, Michael T. 1997. The Magic of the State. New York: Routledge. Taylor, Christopher. 1999. Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Oxford: Berg Press. Vidal, Silvia, and Neil L. Whitehead. 2004. “Dark Shamans and the Shamanic State: Sorcery and Witchcraft as Political Process in Guyana and the Venezuelan Amazon.” Pp. 51–81 in In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia, ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Robin Wright. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Whitehead, Neil L. 2002. Dark Shamans. Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ______, ed. 2004. Violence. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press. Whitehead, Neil L., and Sverker Finnström, eds. 2011. Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Whitehead, Neil L. and Michael Harbsmeier, eds. 2008. Hans Staden’s True History: An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


% Nasser Abufarha has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the Founder and Chair of the Palestine Fair Trade Association, a national union based in Jenin, Palestine, that has introduced fair trade and organic farming concepts and practices to Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. He recently published The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance (2009). Robertson Allen is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Washington and a Fellow in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington-Bothell. His dissertation, War Games at Work: Networks of Power in the U.S. Army Video Game Project, is based on two and a half years of ethnographic fieldwork among the designers, soldiers, marketers, and government employees who work together to produce the video game America’s Army. Recent publications include Virtual Soldiers, Cognitive Laborers (2012), The Unreal Enemy of America’s Army (2011), and The Army Rolls through Indianapolis: Fieldwork at the Virtual Army Experience (2009). R. Brian Ferguson is a Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University-Newark. His primary research area is war and other collective violence, including tribal warfare, state-tribe interactions, war in ancient and medieval states, early archaeological evidence of violence, ‘ethnic’ conflict, chimpanzee ‘warfare’, recent global conflicts, peace, organized crime,



anthropological theory on war, and biological explanations of war. Recent publications include the edited volume The State, Identity and Violence (2003) and War in the Tribal Zone (2000), co-edited with Neil L. Whitehead. Since 2002, he has been a Governor of the New York Academy of Sciences. Sverker Finnström is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University, where he is a researcher in political violence and genocide studies. Since 1997, he has conducted recurrent fieldwork in war-torn Uganda, with a focus on how young adults, born into civil war, understand and attempt to control their moral and material circumstances. Besides his articles, popular and academic, he is the author of Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History, and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda (2008), for which he was honored with the 2009 Margaret Mead Award. Roberto J. González is Associate Professor of Anthropology at San José State University, where he teaches courses on a broad range of topics, including the history of anthropological thought, economic anthropology, and controlling processes. He is the author of the books Zapotec Science: Farming and Food in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca (2001), American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain (2009), and Militarizing Culture: Essays on the Warfare State (2010). He is a founding member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists. Antonius C. G. M. Robben is Professor of Anthropology at Utrecht University and a Past President of the Netherlands Society of Anthropology. He received a PhD in 1986 from the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent books include the ethnography Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina (2005), which won the Textor Prize from the American Anthropological Association in 2006, and the edited volumes Iraq at a Distance: What Anthropologists Can Teach Us About the War



(2010) and Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader ([2007] 2012), co-edited with Jeffrey Sluka. Jeffrey A. Sluka has a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and is an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at Massey University, New Zealand. A political anthropologist with extensive fieldwork experience in Northern Ireland, his research areas include political violence, the cultural dynamics of armed conflicts involving ethno-nationalist movements and indigenous peoples, and managing danger in ethnographic fieldwork. He is the author of Hearts and Minds, Water and Fish (1989), and his edited volumes include Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror (2000) and, with Antonius Robben, Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader (2007). Koen Stroeken is an Associate Professor of Africanist Anthropology at Ghent University and a member of the Centre for Studies in African Humanities. His long-term and ongoing ethnographic fieldwork with Sukuma traditional healers in Tanzania culminated in the monograph Moral Power: The Magic of Witchcraft (2010). He has a keen interest in cosmology (“Why Consciousness Has No Plural,” 2011) and in methods for comprehending, rather than interpreting or explaining, culture (“Questioning Cognitive and Interpretive Takes on Ritual,” 2011). Recent work concerns HIV research and psychiatry in East Africa. Matthew Sumera is a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently completing his dissertation, “Auditories of War: Music and the Representation of Contemporary Conflict.” In addition to his work on music, aesthetics, and representations of war, he is also interested in the history of ethnomusicology, the ethnography of popular music, and jazz studies. His article “Black Rage, White Noise: The Jazz/Punk Connection” is available in Japanese translation in New Horizons in Jazz Research (2010).



Neil L. Whitehead is Professor of Anthropology, Latin American and Religious Studies at the University of WisconsinMadison. He is the author of numerous works on the native peoples of South America and their colonial conquest, as well as on the topics of sorcery, violence, sexuality, and warfare. His latest works include a new edition of Hans Staden’s sixteenth-century account of captivity and cannibalism among the natives of Brazil (Hans Staden’s True History, 2008) and essays on terrorism, torture, and cyber-sex. He is currently developing archaeological research on ancient agriculture and settlement along the Berbice River, Guyana.