Friday, October 12, 2007

Marshall Sahlins and more on Anthropologists go to war

Marshall Sahlins addresses the call for a more updated discussion on anthropologists and Iraq/Afghanistan in his letter to NYT. See the link below, which was forwarded to the e-anth listserve.

The incident he was talking about can be found here: U.S. Guards Kill 2 Iraqi Women in New Shooting - New York Times

(an open letter to the New York Times)

To the Editor:

The report (Oct.11) of the killing of two Iraqi women by hired guns of the State Department whose mission was “to improve local government and democratic institutions” bears an interesting relation to the story of a few days earlier about the collaboration of anthropologists in just such imperious interventions in other peoples’ existence in the interest of extending American power around the world. It seems only pathetic that some anthropologists would criticize their colleagues’ participation in such adventures on grounds of their own disciplinary self-interest, complaining that now they will not be able to do fieldwork because the local people will suspect them of being spies. What about the victims of these militarily-backed intrusions, designed to prescribe how others should organize their lives at the constant risk of losing them? What is as incredible as it is reprehensible is that anthropologists should be engaged in such projects of cultural domination, that is, as willing collaborators in the forceful imposition of American values and governmental forms on people who have long known how to maintain and cherish their own ways of life.

Of course, these collaborating anthropologists have the sense that they are doing good and being good. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw years ago, I think it was in the Saturday Review of Literature, which shows two hooded executioners leaning on their long-handled axes, and one says to the other: “The way I see it, if I didn’t do this, some sonovabitch would get the job.”

Marshall Sahlins


My last comment is this:

Let us again remind ourselves of the consequences of the Iraq war. Per Deborah White, as of September 23, 2007:

US SPENDING IN IRAQ- About $600 billion of US taxpayers' funds

  • Cost of deploying one U.S. soldier for one year in Iraq - $390,000 (Congressional Research Service)
  • Lost & Unaccounted for in Iraq - $9 billion of US taxpayers' money
  • per ABC News, 190,000 guns, including 110,000 AK-47 rifles.
  • Mismanaged & Wasted in Iraq - $10 billion, per Feb 2007 Congressional hearings
  • Number of major U.S. bases in Iraq - 75 (The Nation/New York Times)


  • Iraqi Troops Trained and Able to Function Independent of U.S. Forces - 6,000 as of May 2007 (per NBC's "Meet the Press" on May 20, 2007)
  • Troops in Iraq - Total 179,779, including 168,000 from the US, 5,00 from the UK, 1,200 from South Korea and 5,579 from all other nations
  • US Troop Casualities - 3,800 US troops; 98% male. 90% non-officers; 80% active duty, 12% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 10% African-American, 11% Latino. 18% killed by non-hostile causes. 51% of US casualties were under 25 years old. 70% were from the US Army
  • Non-US Troop Casualties - Total 300, with 169 from the UK
  • US Troops Wounded - 27,936, 20% of which are serious brain or spinal injuries (total excludes psychological injuries)
  • US Troops with Serious Mental Health Problems 30% of US troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home


  • Private Contractors in Iraq, Working in Support of US Army Troops - More than 180,000 in August 2007, per The Nation/LA Times.
  • Journalists killed - 112, 74 by murder and 38 by acts of war
  • Journalists killed by US Forces - 14
  • Iraqi Police and Soldiers Killed - 7,460
  • Iraqi Civilians Killed, Estimated - A UN issued report dated Sept 20, 2006 stating that Iraqi civilian casualties have been significantly under-reported. Casualties are reported at 50,000 to over 100,000, but may be much higher. Some informed estimates place Iraqi civilian casualties at over 600,000.
  • Iraqi Insurgents Killed, Roughly Estimated - 55,000
  • Non-Iraqi Contractors and Civilian Workers Killed - 539
  • Non-Iraqi Kidnapped - 305, including 54 killed, 147 released, 4 escaped, 6 rescued and 94 status unknown.
  • Daily Insurgent Attacks, Feb 2004 - 14
  • Daily Insurgent Attacks, July 2005 - 70
  • Daily Insurgent Attacks, May 2007 - 163
  • Estimated Insurgency Strength, Nov 2003 - 15,000
  • Estimated Insurgency Strength, Oct 2006 - 20,000 - 30,000
  • Estimated Insurgency Strength, June 2007 - 70,000


  • Iraqis Displaced Inside Iraq, by Iraq War, as of May 2007 - 2,135,000
  • Iraqi Refugees in Syria & Jordan - 1.3 million to 1.75 million
  • Iraqi Unemployment Rate - 27 to 60%, where curfew not in effect
  • Consumer Price Inflation in 2006 - 50%
  • Iraqi Children Suffering from Chronic Malnutrition - 28% in June 2007 (Per, July 30, 2007)
  • Percent of professionals who have left Iraq since 2003 - 40%
  • Iraqi Physicians Before 2003 Invasion - 34,000
  • Iraqi Physicians Who Have Left Iraq Since 2005 Invasion - 12,000
  • Iraqi Physicians Murdered Since 2003 Invasion - 2,000
  • Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity - 1 to 2 hours, per Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (Per Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2007)
  • Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity - 10.9 in May 2007
  • Average Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity - 5.6 in May 2007
  • Pre-War Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity - 16 to 24
  • Number of Iraqi Homes Connected to Sewer Systems - 37%
  • Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies - 70% (Per, July 30, 2007)
  • Water Treatment Plants Rehabilitated - 22%

RESULTS OF POLL Taken in Iraq in August 2005 by the British Ministry of Defense (Source: Brookings Institute)

  • Iraqis "strongly opposed to presence of coalition troops - 82%
  • Iraqis who believe Coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security - less than 1%
  • Iraqis who feel less secure because of the occupation - 67%
  • Iraqis who do not have confidence in multi-national forces - 72%

Other sources:

Iraq War Results & Statistics as of Sept 23, 2007,

Casualties in Iraq - 2007,

War with Iraq Sources

Iraq War Casualties - FCNL Issues

Brookings Institute’s Most Recent Iraq Index PDF

Anthropologists working for the military imply engagement with the military as an institution. The operative word is engagement. In this context, one end goal of the anthropologist should be to influence policy, vision, goals, and objectives of the institution. Are anthropologists really in a position to do so?

What aspect of the statistics shown above are they working on and hoping to achieve? What part of it includes studying culture, society, and humanity without compromising the interests of your subjects?

Are they really doing applied anthropology? Or are they using applied anthropology methods and perspectives in counter-insurgency operations? Someone noted to me that in a free country, anyone including anthropologists, can express their opinion and choose their employer. That is correct, but semantically, are they applied anthropologists or just counter-insurgency specialists or even- soldiers? Let us get our semantics right.

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