Monday, November 05, 2007

More on military, anthropologists, and plagiarism

Last week, we noted the expose of anthropologist David Price on possible instances of plagiarism in the U.S.Army/ Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (COIN), which was recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

The listed author, Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, a West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar, with a PhD from Oxford, has responded to Dr. Price. His article, “Desperate People with Limited Skills", faults Dr. Price for his diatribe and says that adherence to academic writing standards is not applicable in a military manual. He writes;

"To paraphrase von Clausewitz, military Field Manuals have their own grammar and their own logic. They are not doctoral dissertations, designed to be read by few and judged largely for the quality of their sourcing; instead, they are intended for use by soldiers. Thus authors are not named, and those whose scholarship informs the manual are only credited if they are quoted extensively. This is not the academic way, but soldiers are not academics; it is my understanding that this longstanding practice in doctrine writing is well within the provisions of “fair use” copyright law."

Dr. Price immediately rebutted Lt. Col. Nagl's articl and U.S. Army spokesman Major Tom McCuin's assertion that they made several offers to anthropologists to discuss these issues. In his rebuttal
Dr. Price stuck to his point that the COIN manual is being represented as an academic book by its author and the ghost writers who are anthropologists. Worse, he noted that the publication was made to deflect discussions from the Iraq debacle. He concludes with;

"If the Counterinsurgency Field Manual had remained an obscure military document, I can't imagine this exchange would be occurring. It was the Army's calculated decision to use the University of Chicago Press to try and sell the American public the notion that we could win the Iraq War based on intellectual principles, rather than shock and awe that raised the ante on claims of academic worth. If there are public claims that the Manual is a work of scholars, then the scholarship of this work needs examination, and this is precisely what my article does."

The controversy reminds me of the Tasaday Hoax in the Philippines, where an alleged stone-age group was discovered. Anthropologists and scholars immediately debunked this claim and cited the motivations of the Marcos regime to deflect criticism from his martial law regime and to control the resource competition for mining claims among his cronies. Scholars and writers who staked their academic reputation on the Tasadays-as-real were just as determined to prove it so. The saga has tarnished the reputation of anthropologists and has brought suffering to these manipulated indigenous people's group.

Back to the COIN controversy. What struck me the most though was what Lt. Col. Nagl admitted:

"When insurgencies arose in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the United States Army was unprepared to fight them..."