Monday, October 20, 2008

Human Terrain Systems

I've got this thing for dogs and the Silk Road, I keep finding my self thinking, "If I understood how dog phenotypes (what the Kennel Club people call breeds, but are simply lying to themselves) got spread around on the Silk Road, I'd understand people and history a lot more." So I found a lot of great pages discussing the U.S. military's Human Terrain System.

I'm a little saddened by the comments that are left on the Wired pages and the overall complexity of the arguments being made about HTS. The American Anthropology Association has shown some sac and is calling a spade a spade: the military's use of social scientists is unethical.

There are arguments like, "those academics don't know what they're talking about, because they don't understand military engagement." Well, that problem is mutual, actually. Those making the above argument aren't recognizing that AAA's concern is to avoid recreating the conditions that allowed medical doctors (conducting scientific research) to perform surgeries on unanesthetized civilians captured by military forces, like what happened only 60 years ago.

The basic tenet of social science research and the performance of social science is informed consent. That means that both parties must agree to communicate with one another without feeling coerced into doing so. Being in a war zone does not allow for informed consent. It simply doesn't. Because war is always unethical. The best we can do is "sanitize" war, remove it from our immediate field of vision, get the enemy as far away from us as possible so that we don't have to acknowledge that we just killed someone that has a family just like we do, or dreams just like we do. Which leads me to
There's a great point in the article where Giunta states, in a rage, "The richest, most-trained army got beat by dudes in manjammies and A.K.’s." Both the American soldiers and the Afghan fighters are doing the same thing, they are fighting for what they believe is right in the best way they know how. According to the latest research, what they believe in most is not some political end - they believe in community, in social solidarity.

That's not so surprising, right? We see it in all the conventional Hollywood movies, soldiers fighting for their buddies. When their buddies are face down in the muck they look around, wild-eyed, wondering how they got to this point. You can't hold it all in, I guess, so you just go with what you know: that your buddies got your back and you'd better have theirs also. What Giunta and Rubin are pointing out is even more sad: we're simply raining tons and tons of metal (piles and piles of excess capital) onto some of the poorest people in the world. So we have two groups of people engaged in the very same activities, and have been doing so for years and years. The definition of madness is doing the same thing in the same way and believing with each attempt that a different outcome will arrive.
Another problem is a ludicrous faith in the ability to predict human behavior using models that rely too heavily on the bias of the programmer - that is, the person that creates this model has an assumption about the values of Others that probably isn't going to match well with what the Other actually values. So we have an effect that doubles: first their if the faulty assumptions of the author of this model, then there is the faulty assumption that the map is the territory. Then, it gets worse as people start making poor decisions based on these first two false leads.

Ultimately, what's most disturbing is that the U.S. forces are being asked to do so many things all at once. Soldiers should not be asked to win hearts and minds. That's not the role of a soldier. If soldiers want hearts, they should cut them out. If they want to win someone's mind they should beat the brains out of their opponents. That's what soldiering should be.

Militarizing the services that the State is necessarily going to mean having a military state, not a democracy. A look at the history of terrorism will show you that terrorism only occurs in States that are free. Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes don't have terrorists.

That means, you are only as free as you are able to trust that your society will trust you to not become a terrorist. The less your neighbor trusts you, the less democratic your society becomes. Like Benjamin Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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