Montgomery McFate: anthropologizing the anthropologists

Mcfate I read last week about anthropologists engaged in the war effort in Afghanistan.  There is a "Human Terrain Team" working there, as the Pentagon searches for new ways to understand the field of battle.

Apparently, the terms of engagement there have been changing over the last 18 months.  Whereas Rumsfeld optimized the fighting force, General David Petraeus puts an emphasis on the social and cultural contexts in place. 

(It was my understanding that Rumsfeld was using new ideas of dynamism, some of them culled from Complex Adaptive Theory, to make the military more responsive.  His notion was, or may have been: if the military is maximally responsive, it doesn’t really matter what the social or cultural context is.  This is, often, the very logic of capitalism, after all, so it’s not a notion that’s entirely untested.)

The Times articles notes the participation of Montgomery McFate (pictured).  McFate may be considered an architect of the Human Terrain approach in Afghanistan.  In 2005 she co-wrote as essay that served as the basis of a Department of Defense program called the Cultural Operational Research Human Terrain System.  This program has been called "an anthropological brain transplant" for the military.

McFate has her Ph.D. from Yale and a J.D. from Harvard.  She grew up in a houseboat community in Sausalito in the throes of the hippie revolution.  As a teen, she was something like a Goth and sometimes like a Punk.  After Harvard, she had a go at corporate law, but decided, pretty quickly, that this was not for her.  It wasn’t until 2002 that she saw her calling.  After a long talk with her husband one evening, she scribbled on a napkin: "How do I make anthropology relevant to the military?"

Fellow anthropologists are unhappy with this undertaking.  Hugh Gusterson, a professor of cultural studies at George Mason University, says, “I think she’s encouraging people to do things that I regard as unethical.”  He has accused McFate of creating a "hit-man anthropology" that "prostitutes" the discipline.  (San Francisco Chronicle, SFC hereafter)

Gusterson sees anthropologists in Afghanistan as instruments of destruction. 

The thought that you would cultivate those relationships of trust and intimacy and then … go to the Pentagon and say ‘these are the people you should kill, these are the people you shouldn’t kill,’ that’s extremely problematic… (SFC)

But it is not clear that anthropologists are combatants in the conventional sense of the term.  The Times quotes General Petraeus as saying that social scientific advice has helped reduce combat operations.  Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, says operations are down by 60% since the anthropologists arrived.  By understanding the concepts of Afghani cultures and social tensions on the ground, anthropologists have helped remove the Taliban recruiting levers and its ability to exploit local tensions.  (This is another way of saying that the enemy has been using local, entirely anthropological, understandings to prosecute it’s war effort.  The military is finally fighting fire with fire, ethno-anthropologists with professional anthropologists.)

McFate is proud of her accomplishments.  “I’m frequently accused of militarizing anthropology.  But we’re really anthropologizing the military" (NYT).  And she makes quick work of the criticism brought against her by other anthropologists, referring to,

their intentional disengagement from policy process, their uninformed unwillingness to learn about what actually goes on in Washington. There’s a blanket condemnation without trying to understand, which strikes me as particularly un-anthropological. (SFC)

I think she has this right.  Listen to the first paragraph of the petition that Gusterson and several other anthropologists circulated late last month. 

We, the undersigned, believe that anthropologists should not engage in research and other activities that contribute to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the “war on terror.” Furthermore, we believe that anthropologists should refrain from directly assisting the US military in combat, be it through torture, interrogation, or tactical advice.

Is there something odd about assuming that what anthropologists do when assisting the US military must consist of torture or interrogation? It seems to me these petitioners are not very good at imagining what might make them useful, and that they leap to conclusions that assume the worst.  As we have seen, Gusterson imagines that anthropologists in the field would engage in a "hit man anthropology," that their task would be deciding who the military should kill. 

This is clear evidence, I think, of McFate’s criticism, of an "intentional disengagement," an "uninformed unwillingness to learn about what actually goes on," and a "blanket condemnation." These are unattractive qualities in anyone but in anthropologists they are deeply problematical.  After all, this is a field that justifies its existence on the grounds that we need to find out what people are thinking, that the world is wrong to proceed without understanding what is happening "on the ground."  There most certainly is something "un-anthropological" going on here.   

But here’s McFate getting at a deeper issue. 

The military is so willing to listen now … and for anthropologists to sit back in their ivory tower and spit at these people that are asking for their help — I think there’s something unethical about that.  If you’re not in the room with them, you won’t influence their decisions. (SFC)

This is exactly right.  For some anthropologists, there is no such thing as an opportunity cost.  Not participating in the work of the military, the state, the corporation, this is always seen to be manifestly the right thing to do. For many anthropologists, engaging with the world is always to enter the embrace of its compromises.  Anthropology, that ancient student of world-renouncing culture, has made itself world-renouncing too. 

I think the refusal to participate as an anthropologist in Afghanistan has problems of its own.  If this refusal makes it easier for the Taliban to recruit young people, to divide communities, to wreck terror locally and abroad, well, refusing to participate now has a cost. There is something to answer for here.

In point of fact, anthropology’s chief contribution to discourse these days sometimes seems to be righteous indignation and positions that are blanket and unsubtle.  In the words of Roberto Gonzalez, an associate professor of anthropology at San Jose State University,

The American military is being used by and large from my point of view for geopolitical domination.  I think it is very problematic for anthropologists to be involved in a system of essentially domination.  (SFC)

Inclinations to generalize in this way sometimes costs a scholar his credibility, if not his chair.  But when it comes to talking about their own society, it is par for the anthropological course.  This is the disciplinary idea of a badge of courage, their cry from the heart, a noble willingness to stand and be counted.  Ah, they are nothing if not self-dramatizing, this group.  Anthropology has gone from studying identity politics to practicing identity scholarship. 

Anthropologists used to worry about "arm chair" anthropology, the kind of scholarship undertaken in the 19th century by the founders of the field. But I wonder now if the object of our concern shouldn’t be something like "high horse" anthropology, that inclination to address the world outside the ivory tower as if it were always and only an exercise in compromise and prostitution.

Some anthropologists may be too good for the world.  But they have to understand that their refusal to participate has consequences and that these consequences have moral implications.  You say McFate is an easy target.  How bout you? 


Gusterson, Hugh, et al.  2007.  Pledge of Non-participation in Counter-insurgency.  Network of Concerned Anthropologists.  Circulated September 29, 2007.  here.

Rohde, David.  2007  Army Enlists Anthropology in Wars Zones.  New York Times.  October 5, 2007.  here.

Stannard, Matthew.  2007.  Can one anthropologist possibly steer the course in Iraq.  San Francisco Chronicle.  April 29, 2007.  here.  (referred to herein as SFC) 

17 thoughts on “Montgomery McFate: anthropologizing the anthropologists

  1. Inaudible Nonsense (DC1974)

    When the Iraq war broke out, I was just starting to read the Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

    Although some have questioned Benedict’s ethnographic methodology and conclusions over the years what I found the MOST revealing was that Benedict was there at the planning stages for the war with Japan and the occupation of Japan thereafter.

    There was a concerted effort to understand the Japanese by the U.S. government and thereby, I assume, minimize casualties on both sides — foreknowledge in battle’s primary goal, really.

    I thought at the time, this was truly remarkable and in complete contrast to the current situation. It was very clear to me in the run up to the Iraq war and the early stages that we were not planning this war at all — knew nothing, really, about what makes the Iraqis tick and what they may think of the U.S. We were operating on some political theories from a bunch of pie-in-the-sky think tanks who apparently had never read a history book.

    In the end, unfortunately, this has been proven true. For as anyone with any common sense has realized: the war in Iraq has been incredibly, painfully, stupidly mismanaged.

    Now, ee are playing catch-up. Anthropologists should have been there before and should be there now. Just as language experts should be there too — an extension of military intelligence. (I won’t even go into the idiocy of discharging language experts because of their sexual orientation.)

    And I’m someone who absolutely believes we need to bring our troops home, now. The intelligence gathering, the anthropological research — must go on, though.

    I realize for a lot of anthropologists that have struggled with anthropology’s ties to colonialism and whom have struggled to distance themselves from that past, this might seem like heresy. But hasn’t anything about cultural theory of the last 30 years taught them anything? There is no black and white. Military doesn’t always equal bad. And a badly managed war does not mean their aren’t good generals. Just bad civilian leadership, in this case.

    If anthropology has a role in society it has a role in all parts.

  2. Mayumi

    Consider this a posting of a compliment instead of a comment. I have just stumbled upon your blog and now understand that I will be spending copious amounts of time avoiding work and reading your blog. Thank you for such a cogent and entertaining site! (p.s. I’m ME over at AA … I wish I could publish your blog in full in AA, but I don’t have that kind of power.)

  3. Tom Guarriello

    Very nicely said, Grant. Broad-brushing people and motives is supposed to be the kind of thing that scholars argue against, not for. In my youth, I despised anything having to do with the military. Vietnam did that to many of us. Unfortunately, too many of us never got beyond that simplistic, juvenile judgment. I fear social science academics have been living their entire lives seething at all things military instead of taking a look at the truly remarkable organizational innovations that have taken place there. This has not prevented disasters like Abu Grahib from occurring, but the remarkable thing about the military is an extraordinary commitment to learning from its mistakes, a commitment unlike anything I’ve seen in the many US corporations with which I’ve worked over the course of my career.

    Not knowing enough about the people with whom we were engaging (in friendship and conflict) was a huge mistake in the early part of this war. Learning the lessons of that failure and righting them is a classic example of what our military does today. McFate clearly sees that commitment and a place for her knowledge to aid that learning. I’d think her professional colleagues would be proud of her for doing so.

  4. Deborah M

    It seems to me that three of of the most important messages we who support Gusterson’s position need to broadcast are: One, yes cultural knowledge, insights, findings and applications are key (to combating terrorism for example) and that work must be done; two, the Human Terrain Teams – including anthropologists – are in military uniforms carrying guns; and three, military solutions are inimical to cultural solutions.

  5. Steve Portigal

    FYI, SFGate is the website for the San Francisco Chronicle; you’re referenced article is a piece published in that newspaper. SFG is a bit of a confusing/misleading way to reference it, perhaps.

  6. Patricia

    “…But I wonder now if the object of our concern shouldn’t be something like “high horse” anthropology, that inclination to address the world outside the ivory tower as if it were always and only an exercise in compromise and prostitution.”

    I completely agree. I have an MA in “Applied” Anthro. During my studies I discovered that applied anthropology is considered the ‘bastard child’ of anthro proper (eg, the ivory tower). This was confusing; what good is anthropological research and insight if it is not applied to real world situations (and not just those that can be solved quickly and neatly)? But then again, those ensconced in ivory towers don’t live in the real world.

    The irony is that anthropology is the study of “us”, in all our genius, ugliness, and everything inbetween, yet those who take this path to knowledge reject its application and potential for positive outcomes, preferring instead to bury their insights in little-read society journals.

    The real world is messy and filled with contradictions. Anthropology applied creates risks that ivory-towered elites don’t want; but if you’re not part of the solution, well then, aren’t you part of the problem?

    I’m against the war, but have wondered from day one why anthropologists were not part of the advisory team. I believe if there were, many lives would’ve been saved. I think McFate is onto something, and am glad that someone in DC finally realizes they can’t ignore cultural issues.

  7. Todd Kalhar

    Grant, what a great summary of this information. I heard McFate and Gusterson on NPR the other day, discussing just this topic. What I didn’t get from the interview with both of them on NPR, though, was the insight that perhaps the issue here is McFate’s willingness to introduce some new ideas into anthropology and what it is as an area of expertise. Gusterson rails against the idea of anthropology being in any way involved with the military, yet what a great example of applying the tool of anthropology to an area previously thought as completely unrelated. McFate is being innovative, and as a result, the established practice is being forced to accept and adapt to the change.

    It’s interesting to talk with those who have served overseas for extended periods about how becoming familiar and comfortable with the culture where they were stationed greatly improved their sensitivity to real dangers and their understanding of the issues facing those they were sent to defend or defend against.

    Thanks for pulling this together in such a great way.

  8. srp

    This contretemps has nothing to do with anthropology as an intellectual discipline and everything to do with anthropology as a social/cultural system composed of soi disant academics. There are no special ethical problems with employing culutral knowledge in war, any more than there are for metallurgical knowledge. Should metallurgists refuse to develop better armor to protect our troops? I doubt they argue much about that amongst themselves.

    Grant is of course right that better anthropology probably reduces civilian casualties, so “ethical” concerns are doubly bogus. But even if the only effect of anthropological advice were, say, to make it easier to find and kill enemy leaders, disapproval of such assistance is either a) all-out pacifism or b) disapproval of American victory and preference for American defeat. The former is both unlikely and hard to justify as a principle of anthropology; the latter is dishonorable and immoral.

  9. Peter

    I find this dispute resonant of an earlier argument within anthropology — that the discipline had begun life (some argued) as the handmaiden of colonialism and had thus been tainted, or even corrupted indelibly. Now, it seems, some people are upset that the discipline might be acting as the handmaiden of the military. Indeed, this would not be the first time that young Miss Anthropee has flirted with GIs — see Project Camelot in the early 1960s. A cynic might argue that there’s not much difference between colonialism then and now (at least, not for its victims), and so Miss Anthropee is just dancing with the one what brung her.

    As a non-anthropologist, I still seek to understand the difference between sociology and anthropology. Is it the case, as a Zimbabwean anthropologist friend used to insist to me, that sociology is the study of white people and anthropology the study of non-whites? If so, then being the handmaiden of someone or other is likely to the fate of the discipline whilesoever there are large inequalities in wealth between nations.

  10. Carol Gee

    Grant this was a wonderful post, and, as you can imagine, right up my alley. Some quick thoughts:
    First, if McFate can maintain her objectivity as she studies the culture of the U.S. military, which she NEEDS to do, it might be OK. But remember how hard embedded journalists have to work for a modicum of objectivity in a combat zone, where their lives depend on military protection. Even with objectivity there are still deep ethical considerations in all of the “people” professions.
    Second, the growing belief that “the military is THE answer” is deeply dangerous to the U.S. and to its neighbors. I have great respect for the military, but they are not the only game in town — or are they? For example, my gratitude was great when the Coast Guard officer came in on his white horse in New Orleans during Katrina. I was so very disappointing that the military seemed to be the only capable institution during a natural disaster. Just look how hard Pakistan is having to work to disengage itself from having the military be in charge.
    Thanks again for a very special piece of thoughtful and courageous writing. Your arguments were very well drawn. And your cause is just.

  11. nmf

    After finishing my comps at Penn in 1977 (my dissertation is still in a box in the basement), I returned to the real world working successively in Federal health policy, consulting and health care operations. I’ve used the tools, methods and concepts of ethnography and cross cultural analysis every day since leaving Philadelphia. For 30 years, I’ve been astounded at how disconnected anthropologists have been from the public debate.
    For the last several years, I’ve been working for the Army, watching our staff struggle to understand the ideas that generated the attacks of 9/11 and the cultures that those ideas spring from. The number and influence of anthropologists in the military is miniscule. If anthropolgists were more involved in the military planning process, it is very likely that the number of casualties of all types (combatants and civilians, ours and theirs) would be substantially reduced.
    The reason I went to graduate school in anthropology was so that I could argue about the shape of the world with the economists and lawyers who drive most government policy. None of my colleagues came along, prefering to stay unpolluted by the give and take of the policy process.
    Grant has managed to carve out a niche helping people understand that the world has more than two diminsions and isn’t all black and white, but, while his community is growing in size and influence, not many folks on Wall Street or in Washington are framing their decisions based on his insights. This is not the first time the academic elite has raised the threat of excommunication for the heresy of working with the military. Perhaps the colonial past (remember Gertrude Bell’s role in the creation of Iraq) is too big a burden for the keepers of the field to carry. But we should all hope for greater application of the more subtle anthropological Weltanshaung throughout our accelerating interactions with a shrinking world.

  12. markus

    FYI, SFGate is the website for the San Francisco Chronicle; you’re referenced article is a piece published in that newspaper.

  13. Tom Dalzell

    TO: CONCERNED ANTHROPOLOGISTS – who oppose the war (too bad our enemy didn’t get their memo) and want anthropologists to boycot helping our military

    Let me see if I understand you correctly.

    We face a barbaric enemy who’s militant and intolerant ideology commands it to execute (preferably by beheading as prescribed in the Koran) all those who violate its draconian lifestyle and Sharia laws. Such capital offense violations would include being a homosexual, a woman having relations with a man without being married, listening to foreign music, flying a kite, wearing a short skirt, educating girls, etc., etc. This militant ideology doesn’t ask permission to impose its will upon its citizens, but, rather uses extreme force to subjugate the population.

    This militant ideology considers America, all Western nations, India and Asians as mortal enemies. It believes it has a duty to execute all Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and, especially, Atheists, as well as communists and socialists.

    This militant ideology unilaterally declared war on the United States in 1996 during the Clinton Administration and has violently attacked Americans on a dozen of occasions prior to 9-11-01, on which date it murdered almost 3,000 innocent civilians that it deliberately targeted – there was no collateral damage, they were the targets.

    Now, the DoD wants to better understand this enemy so that our soldiers can track them, find and kill them. DoD has asked the anthropological community to lend its skills to “Map the Human Terrain” so that our fighting men and women may be more effective in neutralizing (and, yes, I do mean killing) these enemy combatants while at the same time minimizing collateral damage to innocent civilians (unlike our enemy which deliberately seeks to kill innocent civilians).

    Given the evil enemy we face, isn’t it the duty of every American to lend his or her skills in enabling our fighting men and women to be as effective as possible in defeating this evil (again, I do mean killing the hard core members of this movement)? In fact, isn’t this the duty not only of every American but of every person who considers himself a decent and humane individual.

    Are you so committed to your belief that America is the root of all evil that you can not recognize true evil when you see it? Will you at least condemn the evil actions of our enemy and their ideology?

    I meet more and more young people today who realize that when their professors tell them to “question authority” that the “authority” they most need to question is that of their very own professors.

    You have lost your way and are on the wrong side of good and evil. This is especially ironic since the enemy we face hates you even more than it hates me.

    Good and evil – make a decision. There is no room on the sidelines. There is only the choice between Western civilization with all of its faults and an evil and intolerant ideology that wants to impose itself upon the world and slaughter all those who disagree with it. One would think the choice would be clear and simple, because it is.

    Good and evil – make up your mind which side you are on. Unfortunately, there are no sidelines, my friend. I wish I was wrong, but I am not.

  14. Maximilian Forte

    I truly enjoyed reading through this page. It was very enlightening to find one of the places where all the right-wing anthropologists come to offer their praises for imperialist engagements, under the grossly mendacious pretext that this is the way out of the Ivory Tower. If anthropology continues to be the handmaiden of colonialism, it continues to do so in good part because of the load of recognition-seeking opportunists who populate its very White ranks.

    Thank you, Peter (above) for the only respectable comment I could find on the whole page.

  15. Phil

    The Charlie Rose Show featuring Sarah Sewall and Montgomery McFate talked about many things that are similar to what Metro Police did in Baltimore to lower crime in the 90’s by changing to a Community Policing Model. Counter Insurgency, in some ways is a spin on a Community Policing Model used by US Police for over 2 decades. The Brits used this model, but with more of a Martial Law style of policing in Ireland to defeat the IRA.

    By placing Iraqi and US Military Police, Military Intel and Contractors in an area where they can study, learn, conduct surveillance and communicate with the locals of a specific area in Iraq, they can slowly counter an insurgency and change people’s mindsets. The basics are that, this would help us in finding the bad people…the “hard-liners” and who can then be arrested, removed or eliminated. Finding the straw the breaks the camel’s back is what they are ultimately trying to do.

    Much of this is a joint effort that would include distribution of reading materials, controlling news and other biometric / psych-ops programs. By having small community meetings with local politicians, business owners, and people of that community that are looking for a “positive change” is what makes the wheels spin on this style of operation. This “change” that would be the topic and discussion of meetings, would be for violence to end and for people to not live in fear. They have to re-educate and slowly change the Iraqi’s and also empower them to defeat their insurgency. Working with the local population and gaining their trust is what primarily needs to take place.

    Sure there are going to be numerous ways of learning more about these people by tapping into local phone lines, seeing what they are doing on their computers, find out who they are communicating with and by putting troop / contractors out there who are going to learn their education levels / finding out what their beliefs and systems are in their native tongue. Are they friend or foe? How can we gain their trust? This is very much a surgical style of operation, compared to what has been used in the past during a War. Will it take time? Yes. Can we do this with a reduced presence of military forces on the ground in Iraq? Yes, but it will increase the amount of analysts and linguists in the rear who are going to crunch information. SPSS and Research Methods will definitely have to be used and key foreign national figures will have to be found or invented, in each region, to help guide the rest of those individuals in the local community to a positive change and outcome.

    It was interesting that Montgomery McFate discussed her dissertation about Counter Insurgency Operations in Northern Ireland by the British. She said that this was where she learned most of her knowledge and information on COIN. The thing I don’t get is, Montgomery said her idea of Counter Insurgency was more hands off, when the facts are that the Brits treated Ireland very much like a Police State and Martial Law was imposed on Ireland by the UK. If one has read up on the Special Branch’s informers and their handlers, particularly since security sources have, in recent years, played up the role of a “double agent” within the IRA known as “steaknife” (or stakeknife – spellings vary), he was the key individual who was responsible for finding and eliminating three of the top leaders in the IRA. Raids on houses in Ireland occurred on a regular basis, for those who were suspected of being involved with the IRA or even being a sympathizer to the IRA. Raids purposes included the planting or removing of listening devices. A Sunday Times article (14 April, 2002) claimed the removal of covert bugs was the motive behind the raids.

    So can we expect that a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus will likely occur in Iraq for the next decade or more? Who knows, but I think Montgomery McFate needs to stop jerking me off from behind and not try so hard to paint a pretty picture of how COIN Operations work. It is War, isn’t it? Hopefully things will get better in Iraq and we‘ve learned from the mistakes that have been made in the past.

  16. DHobgood

    As someone who recently graduated from college, it is a relief to hear your position. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Professors in diverse fields, although mainly the humanities, who are experts in the subtleties and intricacies of esoteric topics suddenly rear back and spout the most simplistic, moralistic, uninformed, contemptuous, and silly political commentary imaginable. I think many academics assume that because they are academics, they are some how “smart” in a metaphysical sense, and therefore instantly grasp political issues in a way that eludes the rest of the population. It is mind-boggling. Case in point,

    “It was very enlightening to find one of the places where all the right-wing anthropologists come to offer their praises for imperialist engagements, under the grossly mendacious pretext that this is the way out of the Ivory Tower. If anthropology continues to be the handmaiden of colonialism, it continues to do so in good part because of the load of recognition-seeking opportunists who populate its very White ranks.”

    Where do you being here? I wonder what this gentleman’s definition of colonialism is? One can make many valid and strong arguments against the invasion of Iraq, but if removing a vile dictator, pumping in billions of reconstruction money, making the security of the local populace the focus of the counter-insurgency strategy, and holding elections is colonialist, then it is certainly a very different kind of colonialism. But it doesn’t matter to people of this worldview. They will say that these things don’t matter, they are just a facade to hide the true purposes. Well in that case, what would matter? Has there ever been a “colonialist” power who held an election in an occupied country after a little over a year of occupation? That instead of trying to keep the “natives” powerless and dependent, spent billions trying to empower them, militarily and economically? In what possible world can these things not matter?
    The use of the word colonialist is extremely telling of the larger symptom. Instead of using words and concepts to get as close to the reality of a situation as possible, everything that is to be disapproved of is lumped together under a word like “colonialism.” All of the differences, subtleties, and particularities of the issue at hand are ignored. When you really stop and examine it, it is amazing how utterly stupid it is. Imagine an alternate case. Let’s say there’s a character whose politics are of the far right, and any domestic policy which he disapproves of, he labels Communist. So Medicare, that’s communist, welfare assistance, communist. I think you get the picture. Now isn’t it obvious how absurd this would be? Because of course there is a world of difference between Medicare and communist doctrine. One can try and make an ideological link, but to completely ignore that there is a fundamental difference is either one of two things: 1)deceptive, probably for rhetorical purposes, or 2) paranoid, fearing that any step in a particular direction will necessarily lead to the culminating, most extreme result. Now this seems obvious, so how can people like the afore-mentioned poster, who I assume is well-educated (I know of few places he would learned such rhetoric than the academy), be so completely brain-dead? The word colonialist matters, because it means something. If you are going to use words, define them. So if removing Saddam is colonialist and bad, then what is leaving him in power? Good? Another key symptom of this kind of thinking: the consistent failure to address alternatives. Instead of examining policies in the context of other available options, policies are compared to some ideal of what should happen. Any realistic argument against the Iraq War would address what alternative course should have been taken and what the benefits and costs of this would have been as compared to what was in fact chosen. But amid all the protest and outrage I saw as a student, very view discussed their opposition to the war in terms of alternative choices. It was simply a calculation of WAR=BAD, US=WAR, so US=BAD. This looks silly, but honestly, this is essentially the level of reasoning that occurs in the minds of many otherwise sophisticated people, like our friendly poster above. Sorry for rambling, I’m at work doing research and your article just sparked some memories. Also, I don’t mean to imply that opposing the war was somehow stupid, merely a particular way of opposing it.

  17. Scott Sommers

    This is an interesting argument. Your post makes it appear that Dr. McFate comes from an alternative background and that her working as a scientist for the military is somewhat of a compromise. If the recent claims about McFate’s background in Mother Jones can be substantiated,
    working for the military of the Bush Administration would be no compromise at all.

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