Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Updates on the Geographic Controversy over the Bowman Expeditions / México Indígena

These are some links collated by Zoltan Grossman on the issues surrounding the México Indígena project at the University of Kansas and its connections to the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In Zoltan's wordsa: "It is important to understand the larger context of military targeting of Indigenous dissent in the hemisphere, a background which has generated the concerns about the project. The México Indígena project was jointly funded by the FMSO and the American Geographical Society (AGS). It was coordinated by Kansas geography professors Peter Herlihy and Jerome Dobson, workingwith the FMSO's Geoffrey Demarest and Autonomous University of San Luis Potosi (UASLP) Professor Miguel Aguilar Robledo."

Soldiers struggle to put a Bosnian protester outside of a gate at Eagle Base in Tuzla. Local farmers were upset at road construction across their land.

Concerns were sparked in July 2005 when the U.S. Army initiated a $20 million counterinsurgency program called the Human Terrain System (HTS). The program consists of five-person "human terrain teams" featuring anthropologists and other social scientists embedded with combat brigades. One team was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2007 and five more to Iraq in summer 2007. Some of the social scientists wear combat fatigues and carry weapons. If this all sounds a bit like a social scientists 'Boys Own' make believe, think again. Do we assume that the study of social science somehow innoculates us against complicity in moral dubious fieldwork?! I recall a PhD candidate at the University of Canterbury who desparately wanted to go to Yugoslavia during its violent disintergration, to study the associated geopolitics (he put in his budget for a camoflage flak jacket and helmet...). There's something appealing about war, to boys.

I digress. Roberto Gonzales reports accounts that have emerged about "difficulties plaguing HTS, including missed recruitment goals, ineffective training, and paralyzing organizational issues. Former human terrain team member Zenia Helbig has publicly criticized the program, claiming that during four months of training there were no ethical discussions about the potential harm that might befall Iraqis or Afghans or the importance of voluntary informed consent. Furthermore, Helbig claims that, "HTS's greatest problem is its own desperation. The program is desperate to hire anyone or anything that remotely falls into the category of ‘academic,' ‘social science,' ‘regional expert,' or ‘PhD'," which has led to incompetence." (Of three anthropology PhDs assigned to the teams, none has appropriate regional expertise and none speak Arabic.)."

All in all an interesting debate for geographers who, afterall, have mortgages to cover, children to feed, spouses to clothe... On a lighter note, Zoltan's own webpages provide some nice insights and tangents. It's not all about 'hopping the bags' (this is a new Aussie term I've learnt, from WW1 and yet another metaphor for going over the top).

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Simon Lambert

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