Saturday, July 27, 2013

Issue 19

Anthropology & War
July 2013

Cover of the North County Times, San Diego, CA on September 12, 2001.  Photo by Ryan Anderson.


One Man's Pieces of War
Spencer Gavin Smith

The Wars We Ignored
John McCreery

Introduction: Ideas that send people around the world

I used to work in this little restaurant in Oceanside, California.  I worked there for about 8 years, including those strange, terrible years right after 9/11.  If you haven't heard of Oceanside, California, it happens to be located right next to one of the biggest military bases in the United States: Camp Pendleton.  So we had our fair share of soldiers--men and women--who came into our place.  They were all so young.  That's what I remember thinking.  Especially considering where they were going and what they were doing.

We had a pretty unique mix of people coming into that restaurant.  The place had a bit of grit, and the customers ranged from hippies to surfers to former meth addicts all the way to the soldiers.  A lively mix, yes.  Most of the folks who came in there had liberal/left politics going on, which made things interesting considering the fact that Oceanside is a big military town.  I remember one 4th of July there was this huge military parade passing by right out in front and one of the employees was blaring "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival on the restaurant sound system.  It was a place of contrasts.

The place definitely wasn't a bastion of support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It was basically the exact opposite.  So I always found it intriguing that folks from the military came in.  They weren't coming to our place in droves by any means, but we had more than a few who came in pretty regularly.  I always wondered what they thought about the reasons behind the war--or even what they thought about all the anti-war folks.  I remember a few of these young people very clearly.  Sharp, short memories.

I remember talking to this young married couple when they both had just gotten back from serving in Iraq.  Both of them kept telling me how much they hated it over there, how it was a shithole, hell.  They told me it was all sand and heat.  They kept telling me over and over how terrible it was and that they never wanted to go back.  I had a hard time imagining these two--they couldn't have been much older than 21--all the way over in Iraq taking part in all of that.  They just wanted to get home.

Another young guy came in all the time before he was deployed.  He was blond, and tall, and so incredibly polite every time he came in.  He'd often try to bus his own tables and help us out when we were busy.  Then he was deployed, and I didn't see him for a couple years.  Then one day he came back in.  I started an afternoon shift and I saw him sitting at one of the tables near the register.  I watched him for a second.  I was glad to see he was ok.  When I talked to him he was as polite and soft spoken as ever.  I was standing alongside the table and he just looked at me and said he was so incredibly glad to be home.  He didn't have to say it; you could see it on his face and in his demeanor.  He looked relieved and content, but he also looked like there was a lot more to tell than the sort of surface conversations you have in momentary restaurant conversations.  I didn't ask.  I just put in his order and let him be.  At the end of his meal he said he was being deployed again and he would be heading out soon.  That was the last time I saw him.  I have always wondered what happened and where he is now.

There was another guy.  He was one of the most physically-fit people I have ever known.  The guy looked like a personal trainer or something.  I think he was a Navy Seal.  I can't remember--but it was either that or Special Forces.  He was also gung ho and loud--but in a very happy, gregarious sort of way.  When he came in with his friends you knew he was there.  Before he was deployed he came in for dinner with some of his buddies, who were also heading out.  They drank, ate, had a good time.  I never knew what to say.  I mean, it all seemed like it was inevitable.  They were being shipped to this place, for all of these reasons, and that was that.  By processes, machinations, forces.  So it seemed.  None of them ever talked directly to me about going to Iraq.  Not the details--they would just mention where they were going and leave it at that.  To me it all seemed senseless.  I think the boss took care of their dinner that night.  Nobody seemed to know what to do or what to say.  And then they left. But a year or so later this guy came back and he was different.  He was a little harder, but still nice.  His hair was longer and he seemed a little less connected or attached to the military.  He was less clean cut, less formal, less...something.  He looked like he'd been through a lot.  But I never really asked him about any of it.  I usually just tried to leave people in peace.  If that was possible.


Parade, Oceanside, CA, circa 2003.  Photo by RA.
All of that sending young people around the world to engage in war and violence stemmed from what took place on that crisp morning on September 11, 2001.  That was the spark that really sent the USA over the line and led to two wars that lasted for years and years.  It was depressing to see--how people reacted.  I remember that morning.  I was living with some roommates in Northern San Diego County.  One of my roommates woke me up.  He was in his room yelling "WAR!!" at the top of his lungs.  The guy wasn't pro-war...I think he was screaming about the insanity of it all.  He'd heard the news on the radio and that was his way of sharing the madness with the rest of the household.  I remember the chaos of those first few hours when news networks were reporting that we were under attack and everyone was wondering what it all meant.  Were we at war--or what?

It didn't take long for people to start sliding off the edge.  Losing their grip.  Within days there were reports of attacks against anyone who looked even remotely like they had anything to do with the Middle East.  American flags suddenly appeared everywhere--they were even being distributed by local newspapers in all the latest editions.  People I knew well talked about turning the Middle East into a "glass parking lot."  That's a quote.  AM radio stations ramped up the rhetoric.  I was 26 years old, and to me it looked like my country had gone completely insane.  With fear, mostly.  And this fear translated to hatred, violence, racism, you name it.  The next thing I knew we were dropping bombs on Afghanistan, and then invading Iraq.  None of the justifications made any sense.

Ground Zero, NY, 2004.  Photo by RA.
What was most striking was how a massive region full of people became stigmatized, essentialized as the epitome of evil.  I can't count the number of times I got into arguments with people, basically trying to argue that you can't judge millions and millions of people based upon the actions of 19 young men.  These conversations rarely went anywhere.  The ideas were set in place.  And it was those ideas--based in a particular knowledge of the world--that drove the whole machine.  The machine that sent billions of dollars of weapons across the world...and legions of young people with them.  War--the all-encompassing social, material, and physical violence of it--is a lot more than just guns and weapons and tanks.  It starts with ideas--about people.  Others.  The ideas people have about others are the basis for rationalizations, justifications, politics.  For war, and violence.

Anti-war protest, Santa Cruz, CA, 2005.  Photo by RA.
There are a few key life experiences that led me to anthropology, and 9/11 was definitely one of them.  I went back to school in 2002, in part motivated to find some answers to what was then a very vague sort of "what the hell happened" question that I had about everything that was going on.  It was a good path, I think.  Anthropology definitely provided a lot of insight into the racism, prejudice, and ethnocentrism that was running rampant back in those years.  That's a start.  It's something, right?

But then, look at where we are today.  Syria.  Libya.  And on and on.  Insight matters.  Perspective matters.  But we also clearly need something more.  And I think anthropology can be a crucial part of that something that we need to break the cycles of violence that plagued the entire 20th century, and which are certainly bleeding their way well into the 21st.  Perhaps a renewed anthropology could help transform the reasons why so many young people are sent around the world, year after year, decade after decade.  Maybe someday all those young people will be traveling for entirely different reasons.  Maybe.


This issue is about anthropology and war in a broad sense.  Perspectives about war, relationships between anthropology and war, personal memories, and more.  We have contributions from Spencer Gavin Smith, John McCreery, Emily Sogn, John Lunsford, David Price, and Steven Tran-Creque.  Thanks everyone for taking part in this project.  As always, feel free to post comments, responses, complaints, thoughts.  Whatever.  Or links.  Something.  Pass this around.  Let us know what you think.

Until next time.


The Forever War Is Always Hungry

An earlier version of this essay was published here.  Thanks to the folks at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College for allowing us to include this piece as part of this issue.

Whenever someone mentions sovereignty and drones, it's pretty easy to come away with the impression that all that's at stake is the law: questions of territory, jurisdiction, violations of airspace and so on. Consider, for example:
  • Two months ago, Pakistan accused the United States of violating its sovereignty with drone strikes, demanding that their own government be granted control over strikes within their borders.
  • Addressing recent drone strikes in Yemen, Glenn Greenwald noted that “killing a person without trial is not only extrajudicial, it also violates the sovereignty and dignity of the entire tribe to which the slain person belonged.”
  • Most recently, writing for Foreign Affairs in the emerging genre of drone sinomania, Andrew Erickson and Austin Strange voiced concern about how China is following the United States’ example in disregarding the sovereignty of other nations as the Chinese drone fleet has rapidly caught up to American military and surveillance capabilities.
And so on. In both popular discourse and the policy press, pundits and commentators have overwhelmingly adopted the same familiar blueprint: a legalistic invocation of sovereignty that emphasizes borders and governmental authority to the exclusion of much else.

There is a dangerous intellectual poverty in this. We are not, as Trevor Paglen recently observed, “moving toward a surveillance state: we live in the heart of one.” This is the era of total surveillance and extrajudicial killing, of public austerity and mass incarceration, of permanent unemployment and global warming: what Jakob Augstein recognized last week in Der Spiegel as nothing short of totalitarianism. The extraordinary measures of rendition, black sites, secret laws, black budgets and retroactive legalizations that have accompanied the vicious internal targeting of Muslims, protesters and whistleblowers—all of this has become the new normal, and coming decades will reap the whirlwind. This is what Paglen has dubbed the “terror state”: not merely the possibility of “turnkey tyranny” one step away, but its virtual inevitability.

As the War on Terror now transforms into the forever war, I think we must begin by asking how exactly we ever got here.

Of course, at first glance, the connection between all of this and the question of whose legal jurisdiction prevails in Waziristan seems faint at best. Certainly, no matter how broadly one reads the term “war,” one struggles to find in this anything like the strangely resilient imagery of nation states battling each other with state of the art weaponry, no matter how much this continues to dominate the way we think of war. In none of the usual accounts can one find something like Jean Bodin’s definition of sovereignty as “the absolute and perpetual power of the republic,” one of the principal influences from which Carl Schmitt famously drew his definition of the sovereign as “he who decides on the exception” to the law. But I would insist: these are not esoteric historical or theoretical concerns.

I want to offer a very different approach here to the question of what sovereignty means. Sovereignty has never been a clinical policy question of whose jurisdiction applies, of who controls drones, or of how visible such clandestine military programs will be. Rather, following Eyal Weizman, one should begin by asking how sovereignty came to be exercised as the economistic management of death.

In the strangest of places, David Graeber’s historical critique of an old anthropological debate over the divine kingship of the Shilluk of Southern Sudan offers what I find to be the most compelling explanation for the forever war. That is, that the War on Terror is better understood as an unusually visible example of the constitutive principle of sovereignty: a permanent war between the sovereign and everyone else—the only kind of war there is.

This is why, as Teju Cole once remarked, the forever war is always hungry.

The raw material of sovereignty
Weizman’s question is simple. “How, after the evacuation of the ground surface of Gaza, did bodies, rather than territories, or death, rather than space, turn into the raw material of Israeli sovereignty?”

In Weizman’s Thanato-tactics, sovereignty is simply the management of death. The Israeli General Security Service’s assassination program launched in 2000—notably, more than a year before 9/11—producing the sprawling surveillance and counterinsurgency apparatus of the occupation. At the time, the the Bush White House in fact issued diplomatic condemnations of the assassinations of several Palestinians. After 9/11, however, the tenor of the White House changed, and the GSS’s program provided the template and testing grounds for the United States’ own assassination program. What was once the work of F-16 fighter bombers and Apache helicopters is now done by drones, but the development of the necessary intelligence apparatus and intellectual concepts began in here.

What Weizman is really interested in is the logic of the lesser evil, by which economizing language produces this environment of managed death. From this perspective, collateral damage calculations are not a humanitarian triumph limiting the scope of violence. Rather, they are a crucial part of the ideological apparatus by which acts of state violence are rendered legal and legitimate, encompassed within the permissible logic of forestalling greater violence. Weizman quotes Israeli Air Force commander Eliezer Shkedi saying, before the 2006 invasion of Gaza, that "the only alternative to aerial attacks is a ground operation and the reoccupation." Assassination, he added, "is the most precise tool we have."

So too with proportionality, balancing, efficiency, pragmatism, the injunction to “be realistic,” and the entire pantheon of reasonable constraints. All of the oppositional forces of military interests, intelligence agencies, human rights groups and journalists can be incorporated within the same project: the maintenance of humanitarian violence, albeit one that bills itself as a lesser form of violence compared to the alternatives. As Will Saletan put it in Slate earlier this year, with memorable enthusiasm:
Drones kill fewer civilians, as a percentage of total fatalities, than any other military weapon. They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others. … civilian casualties? That’s not an argument against drones. It’s the best thing about them.
The choice presented is always between assassination and invasion, between hellfire missiles and imprecise bombs—between fewer dead and more dead. It is not a choice between war and peace. Well-trained commentators cannot even imagine a world in which such things simply do not happen. And one never questions the legitimacy of the system in which, as Hannah Arendt emphasized, one must choose evil.

Periodic eruptions of unchecked violence—as in the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008 and bombardment in 2012—are neither accidents nor failures. The normal practice of violence through checkpoints, annexation, resource extraction, and assassination is maintained against the the ever present threat of greater violence, regularly demonstrated: the greater evil kept at bay by the lesser evil, in an endless state of war.

This permanent threat of arbitrary violence is precisely what we call sovereignty.

The only war there is
Beginning with his observation that states are “at the same time forms of institutionalized raiding or extortion, and utopian projects,” David Graeber’s definition of sovereignty is simple enough: “the right to exercise violence with impunity.” Graeber offers the example of the Ganda kingship to the south of the Shilluk. In the late 19th century, European visitors to the court of King Mutesa offered a gift of firearms. Mutesa responded by firing the rifle in the street and killing his subjects at random. When David Livingstone asked why the Ganda king killed so many people, he was told that “if [the king] didn’t, everyone would assume that he was dead.” However, the notoriety of the Ganda kings for arbitrary, random violence towards their own people did not prevent Mutesa from also being accepted as supreme judge and guardian of the state’s system of justice. Indeed, it was the very foundation for it.

Specifically, Graeber is interested in the transcendent quality of violence: the violence and transgression of the king makes him “a creature beyond morality.” Paradoxically, the sovereign may be arbitrarily violent—the etymology here is telling—and nevertheless seen as the supreme source of justice and law.

Graeber calls this transcendent aspect of violence “divine.” It isn’t just that kings act like gods; it’s that they do so and get away with it. This remains the case in the modern state. Walter Benjamin’s famous distinction between “law-making” and “law-maintaining” violence refers to the same phenomenon. We often say that no one is above the law, but if this were true, there would be no one to bring the legal order into being in the first place: the signers of the Declaration of Independence or the American Constitution were all traitors by the legal order under which they were born.

There really is no resolution to this paradox. The solution of the Left is that the people may rise up periodically and overthrow the existing legal regime in a revolution. The solution of the Right is Carl Schmitt’s exception: that sovereignty is exercised by the head of state in putting aside the legal order. But whichever solution one prefers, this really just defers the dilemma: all sovereignty is built on a foundation of illegal acts of violence, and it always carries the immanent potential for arbitrary violence.

If we return to the Shilluk, the ritual killing of the king really starts to look like a kind of check on the danger of a rampant divine king. In a way, this marks the always immanent fragility of sovereignty: if the balance of forces changes—if the sovereign no longer commands violence with impunity—divine violence loses its transcendent quality and becomes simple criminality once again.

In 19th-century accounts of rainmakers in Southern Sudan, the function of violence is even clearer. With rainmakers, as with Shilluk kings, the health of the land is tied to the health of the king. If the rains fail to fall, first people will bring petitions, then gifts. But after a certain point, if the rains still don’t come, the rainmaker must either flee or face a community united to kill him. It isn’t hard to see why rainmakers would want something like the state’s monopoly on violence or a retinue of loyal, armed followers. But the crucial point is that insofar as “the people” could be said to exist, they were essentially seen as the collective enemy of the king. European explorers in the region often found kings raiding enemy villages only to find that the villages contained the king’s own subjects, a literal enacting of the mythic role attributed to them in rain dramas: delivering arbitrary violence to the people they were supposed to protect.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
So Graeber reminds us: “predatory violence was and would always remain the essence of sovereignty.” Such is the hidden logic of sovereignty. Above all, it depends on the transcendent quality of violence that allows the sovereign to become, as Hobbes put it, a “mortal god.” But this is also means that arbitrary violence is the constitutive principle of sovereignty, defining the relationship between the sovereign and everything else:
What we call ‘the social peace’ is really just a truce in a constitutive war between sovereign power and ‘the people,’ or ‘nation’—both of whom come into existence, as political entities, in their struggle against each other.
There is no inside or outside here. Contra Schmitt and his friend-enemy distinction, this constitutive war precedes wars between nations and peoples. As Graeber explains, from the perspective of sovereign power, “there is no fundamental difference in the relation between a sovereign and his people, and a sovereign and his enemies.” And this constitutive war is a war the sovereign can never win—a forever war that can never end.

No war but the forever war
What exactly is one supposed to make of John Brennan’s admission that the war against Al Qaeda will continue for another decade? How did the AUMF and the Patriot Act together come to constitute something like America’s Article 48, creating a permanent state of exception in which something like the NSA’s “giant automated Stasi” is simply accepted as the new normal? How did drones become an inevitable part of the near future in New York City?

After all, the War on Terror really isn’t anything like a war at all—at least, not in the conventional imaginary of nation states commanding disciplined military forces on established fields of battle. The United States commands a degree of military power and comparative dominance simply unprecedented in human history—what is elegantly referred to, in the anodyne language of military planners, as “asymmetry.” There are no strictly defined battlefields, and the formal enemies in the War on Terror have rarely amounted to more than the insurgent army of a deposed dictator (funded and armed by the U.S., albeit long ago) and a few hundred religious students in the mountains of Central Asia.

It is in fact genuinely strange how resiliently this conventional image seems to persist in both popular and intellectual imagination. Even scholarly responses to the War on Terror begin from the assumption that something new and strange is happening when battlefields and opponents alike are no longer delimited but rather always and everywhere. If one limits oneself to legal documents, this is pretty much the only possible conclusion.

The conventional imagery really seems to be most useful in obscuring the more fundamental realities of what war really is. In part, war consists of the far more common practice of civil wars, guerrilla wars, genocide and internal repression—but also, in a larger sense, the fundamental state of war between the sovereign and his people that is the originary, constitutive state for sovereign power itself.

The forever war, then, has effectively allowed the United States to claim sovereignty to farthest reaches of the earth. Certainly, this is not a question purely of drones: the apparatus also consists of a deep surveillance state, total international digital surveillance, a military larger than the combined militaries of the rest of the world, and extralegal rendition and detention programs. But at the edges of this arrangement, one finds Giorgio Agamben’s homo sacer, Magnus Fiskesj√∂’s barbarians: those excluded from the legal order, stripped of rights, subject to death at any time—the point at which an empire converts those beyond its reach into obedient subjects or corpses. This is the logic of sovereign violence taken to its most extreme—and not insignificantly, this has been accomplished in part by euphemizing that violence, whether in the sanitized parlance of the military—“focused obstruction,” “targeted killing,” “kinetic action”—or the more artful, ideological euphemization by which assassination programs become complex and debatable moral issues in the liberal press.

It should come as no surprise that this has been accompanied by the infinite expansion of an apparatus of domestic surveillance and control unprecedented in human history. One should never forget that the instruments of sovereignty—drones, militarized police, mass surveillance apparatus—were always directed inwards as much as outwards, because the security state secures one thing: the safety of the sovereign above all. From the perspective of sovereign power, there is no inside and there is no outside.

There is only the violence to which we are all subject.

“One simple imperative: Know your enemy”
The legalistic definition of sovereignty, the preoccupation with policy making, even the basic assumption that the debates we have really matter—all of this starts to look ideological in the worst sense.

Following the Prism revelations last week, Christian Caryl wrote a retrospective in Foreign Policy comparing the NSA and the East German Stasi:
So which is worse, the Stasi or the NSA? Definitely the Stasi. East German citizens had no defense whatsoever against its intrusions. American citizens can still exercise control over our own intelligence organizations, which are still bound (or so we are told) by the rule of law. But do we really have the will to restrain them?
There is admittedly some faint courage in being willing to even make the comparison, but there is something utterly more remarkable in the ideological refrain of asking if “American citizens can still exercise control over our own intelligence organization”—as if the state’s intelligence apparatus had ever been democratic—“or so we are told.”

But this is hardly uncommon. Dan Gettinger’s recent piece for the Bard Drone Center frames the question in terms of legislative oversight in the application of the AUMF:
Understanding this legal debate and the evolving strategic situation determines how this country deploys it’s forces abroad, the kinds of military technologies that we invest in, and the degree of oversight that Congress has over the use of force by the Executive Branch. While the outcome of this debate will likely result in some form forever war against terrorism, the question remains as to whether it will be conducted in the shadows of ambiguity or limited by some degree of Congressional observation. 
 And here we are back at the lesser evil. It is significant, I think, how fundamentally impossible it is to reconcile any of this with anything like actual democracy. These are questions for policy elites—and perhaps for those who imagine themselves among their ranks. But the question is always between more killing and less killing, between more secrecy and less secrecy, more oversight and less oversight—always witheringly loyal to the same order of violence that produced these choices in the first place—and which never bore any of us any loyalty.

As the American liberal left has foundered for years, attempting to articulate a challenge to the logic of permanent war and the terror state, it has failed to recognize that the War on Terror does not represent an aberration or a failure of policy. It is not an imperial venture run rampant. Neither is it the military-carceral response of an empire incapable of delivering prosperity for anyone beyond its increasingly rapacious aristocracy. Nor is it even the immanent danger of building weapons that will always one day be turned inwards. Of course, it is all these things—but at its heart, the forever war is only an unusually visible moment in the only war there’s ever been. 

Steven Tran-Creque

Reflections from a Balinese Cockfight: Conflicted Realities in Post-Conflict Bali

Balinese cock pre-cockfight.  Photo by John Lunsford.
In the late days of June of 2011, I arrived in Bali, Indonesia excited yet diffident. A graduate student entering my second year of study I was anxious for the opportunity to venture out of the books and try my hand at ethnography. As I stepped out of the airport amidst a swarm of vocal freelance cabbies and exuberant self-appointed luggage handlers – my luggage seemed to have acquired the habit of wandering off, only to be halted, half-shoved into the open window-door-trunk of someone’s vehicle – I quickly realized that this may not be Bali I had read about, the Bali I expected.

Four weeks into research I found myself in an enlightening situation. Wings beat furiously at the air and I stood transfixed at the events in front of me, Geertz’s Notes on a Balinese Cockfight (2000) in one hand – figuratively, it was actually in my backpack – and my camera filming a Balinese cockfight in the other. A flash of steel leaked through a shifting cluster of tousled feathers and was just as quickly gone. Immediately, both roosters were swiftly scooped up, each owner deftly avoiding the small razor sharp spur affixed to their roosters’ leg.

To those knowledgeable enough to understand the ebb and flow of a Balinese cockfight, such a flurry of wingbeats nearly always signified momentum. A forward progression in the match culminated in a mortal blow and the inevitable expiration of one or both roosters. When the cocks are engaged, the observing crowd is generally quiet, the silence is punctuated by eruptions of noise upon the match’s conclusion as bets are paid, casualty and winner alike extricated from the ring, new bargains negotiated, and the ritual of the match is set to begin anew with different opponents.

Those attending exhibited a demure behavior, a phenomena not unknown to Geertz who observed that “those not immediately involved give it at best but disguised; sidelong attention; those who, embarrassedly, are, attempt to pretend somehow that the whole thing is not really happening” (Geertz 2000: 421). Despite the reserved nature with which attendance at a cockfight was acknowledged, one aged man I briefly conversed with admitted that he had attended cockfights since he was a child, lending the ceremony a sense of uninterrupted longevity that spanned decades.

Though a communal event, observing a cockfight is a relatively solitary experience. As Geertz noted, the mass of people gathered was “not vertebrate enough to be called a group and not structureless enough to be called a crowd”, a form who’s description he borrowed Goffman as a “focused gathering” (Geertz 2000: 424). While observing this focused gathering I encountered a group of three comprised of an elderly man, his son, a middle aged man, standing behind him, and atop the son’s shoulders sat his son, to whom the cockfight was being explained. The degree to which knowledge of the cockfight was passed from grandfather to father I cannot attest, however, as both proceeded to explain the intricacies of the cockfight’s rules and betting scheme to the youngest member of the party, the importance of passing such information was evident. Unlike the first man who attended cockfights alone for many years, the multi-generational presence demonstrated a keen desire to not just participate in but also to have knowledge of the ceremony extend past the scope of their own lives.

What struck me about this situation was how preserved the ritual of the cockfight was, with its center bets, side bets, and outlying smaller games, a gong to sound the beginning and end of a match, and a slowly sinking punctured coconut to delimit the time in which the cocks had to initiate an engagement; how the structure and operation had remained so similar over the last four decades insofar as I had understood it as described by Geertz. The more I watched the cockfight and watched those watching it, the more I realized that it was preserved because the Balinese wanted it preserved. The cockfight as a communal event had remained a mechanism through which Balinese society could be understood; the creation and maintenance of relationships, religion, public behavior, and social roles and responsibilities was as applicable now as it had been during Geertz’s research.

This insight was particularly interesting because, despite their documented significance, cockfights were illegal and viewed by the government as ”primitive,” “backward,” “unprogressive,” and generally “unbecoming an ambitious nation” (Geertz 2000: 414). Yet they occurred with a frequency that belied their supposed unimportance and furthermore were considered integral to “the Balinese Way of Life” (Geertz 2000: 414). The significance of the cockfight extended beyond flimsy assertions of addiction or deviance – Geertz has already published an extensive account identifying “addict gamblers” that participate in the cockfights as declassed fringe dwellers, and to reduce the meaning of the cockfight to be deviance for deviance’s sake undervalues and vastly oversimplified its symbolic importance (2000: 445). Therefore, how can something as symbolically saturated or dense as the cockfight be so discouraged as to be declared illegal by the government and yet simultaneously its observance intrinsic to the way the Balinese choose to negotiate their everyday social reality?

The incongruity between the socio-cultural importance of the cockfight and the government’s refusal to recognize it as such and subsequent attempts to abolish or extinguish its practice was in fact representative of a larger discordant relationship. It was illegal for the Balinese to represent themselves in a way that challenged the image of Bail the government had created, an image that had been specifically shaped to both mask a terrible act of violence perpetrated against the Balinese people during the massacre of 1965-1966 and simultaneously shape Bail into a financially prominent and successful tourist destination (Robinson 2005).

Between September 30, 1965 and the early months of 1966 estimations of 500,000 to over one million people across Indonesia were killed and the island of Bali bore witness to some of the largest occurrences of violence, though the an accurate account of the loss of life is still unknown (Cribb 1990). While the relationship between civil society and the government had been contentious prior to the massacres due to the regime’s fears of communist uprisings, the violence acted as a catalyst that ignited conflict in an already inflamed situation (Robinson 2006). The violence of the 1965 massacres did nothing to resolve the issues between many Balinese and their government and instead “deepened” (Geertz 2000:283) existing conflicts. The government’s new political leader Suharto, a military general-turned president, instituted reform during and after the conflict that further suppressed Balinese civil society while reshaping its cultural and geographic landscape in an effort to mask the atrocities his regime committed and globally reinvented Bali as an idyllic tourist destination (Robinson 2005, Kammen and McGregor 2012).

In the wake of the violence, the newly empowered regime implemented campaigns which simultaneously attempted to scrub the atrocities of 1965 and 1966 from literary and verbal histories as well as reshape the geographical face of Bali, acts which were conducted under the guise making the island a more appealing destination for tourists (Cribb 1990, Robinson 2005). The government directed international campaigns through magazines and other literature to reinvent Bali as an island paradise, instituted propaganda campaigns across the island to suppress both the discussion of violence and the aspects of Balinese culture that threatened to interfere with the reimagined and idyllic version of Bali (i.e. social or cultural institutions deemed controversial or distasteful, such as the cockfight), and sculpted the landscape by selling plots of land that housed mass graves for hotels to be built on or for other construction projects (Tumarkin 2005).

These campaigns objectified the Balinese and served to inhibit their ability to grow as a society (Robinson 2005). It forced them into an identity, created to both silence them and profit from them; one that dictated which parts of their own culture were worth preserving and attempted to force them to abandon ones that did not fit in this ideal, even if they still held meaning. As a result, the Balinese were forced to contend with the government (and its supporters) for the definition of their own reality, of what it meant to be Balinese, rather than what they were told it meant to be Balinese. In his final research visit to Bali in 1971, Geertz had noted that “the half-suppressed memory of events will perpetuate and infinitely widen the gulf between the process of government and the struggle for the real” (Geertz 2000: 325). Dissatisfied at being silenced, and objects for profit, the Balinese have created a reality true to themselves. The real, as Geertz referred to it, is a reality constructed by the Balinese to maintain the traditions that are important, to challenge the institution that confined them, and afforded themselves an opportunity to grow as a society.

The cockfight is a perfect example for this. While the ritual of the cockfight has remained the same since Geertz’s research, as has its ability to be used to conceptualize important social and cultural aspects of Balinese society, its meaning has evolved. Its significance as a ritual, a piece of heritage, a mechanism for exploring social relations holds fast, but as an evolving society the Balinese have added to it. Amongst those other things, the Balinese have integrated a whiff of discontent, the barest scent of rebellion, of opposition to the tourist ethos and the false reality.

The cockfight was not preserved solely for ceremony, ritual, or heritage’s sake (although those are certainly weighty influences on its continued maintenance) but also for its representation as being squarely in opposition to a false reality.

John Lunsford


Cribb, Robert. 1990. The Indonesian Killings 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali. Melbourne: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 2000 [1973]. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.

Kammen, Douglas. and Katharine McGregor. 2012. The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia, 1965-68. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Robinson, Geoffery. 2005. The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Tumarkin, Maria. 2005. Traumascapes: The power and Fate of Places Transformed by Tragedy. Maria. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

The Wars We Ignored

In 1973, I was awarded a Ph.D. in anthropology for a dissertation titled “The Symbolism of Popular Taoist Magic,” based on fieldwork in Taiwan 1969-1971. Here I want to reflect on what I learned in the field that was not included in my dissertation and how those exclusions were typical of anthropological research in Taiwan during the period in which my research was conducted. I begin with a random assortment of memories that illustrate my theme: My research was conducted in wartime, in a place whose history was shaped by wars—wars ignored by anthropologists.

First, a personal note: We, my wife Ruth and I, were approaching the halfway point in two years of research funded by the National Science Foundation and Cornell China Program, itself funded by the Ford Foundation. A letter from my draft board arrived, informing me that my status had been changed from 2S, student deferment, to 1A, eligible for the draft and advising that I get a medical examination to determine my fitness for service. I was upset. As a former member of Students for a Democratic Society, who had carried medical supplies for North Vietnam across the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, NY with the Berrigan brothers to express my opposition to the Vietnam War, and someone who, like former US Vice-President Dick Cheney “had other priorities,” I did not want to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I very much wanted to retain the privileged status that had so far prevented that fate.

I quickly wrote a reply to the draft board, noting that I was married and doing research funded by the National Science Foundation but also asking if I could get the necessary medical exam at the US Air Force base in Taichung, the closest to Puli, the market town in the center of Taiwan in which I conducted my research. The secretary of the draft board replied — at least this is how I remember the words — “Son, I note that you are 27 years old and married, and we haven’t drafted anybody like you since 1865. I’d relax.” I did, and I wasn’t drafted. But I’d had a sharp reminder of the context in which my research was conducted and why it was being funded.

The Vietnam War had revealed a severe shortage in the USA of individuals with expertise in Asian languages and cultures. I recalled a seminar on the ethnography of mainland Southeast Asia in which Lauriston Sharp remarked that when the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred in 1964, there were only three academics in the USA who spoke and read Vietnamese — and two were archeologists. China was both ally, the Republic of China on Taiwan, and enemy, the communist People’s Republic of China on the mainland. The “fall of the mainland” to the communists in 1949, the People’s Republic’s intervention during the Korean War, and the possibility that it might intervene again in Vietnam had made China a top priority for US national security planners and unleashed a flood of money, some of which was paying for my research.

If any one had asked what research on Daoist (Taoist in the old Wade-Giles romanization) magic had to do with national security, I would have replied that Daoism had been part of Chinese history and culture for thousands of years and that understanding Daoism was vital to understanding how Chinese think. But, as I recall, no one asked. The money was there, I took it and went off to do my research. Before Ruth and I set off for Japan, we were, however, advised to avoid politically sensitive topics.

Criticism of the Kuomintang (KMT) or its leader, the Republic of China’s president Chiang Kai-Shek, was clearly out of bounds. As US citizens, we would likely only be deported. If identified, however, those from whom we heard such criticism might disappear, in what was still an authoritarian police state. We would, moreover, inflict serious damage on the the relationships that made possible the research of anthropologists from Cornell and other institutions working in Taiwan. It was better to stick to such topics as village community structure, the spatial geography of market towns, kinship and marriage, ancestor worship, or popular religion and magic —all safely in the realm of “Chinese tradition” and easy to treat separately as customs and habits divorced from current politics.

It was that same focus on Chinese tradition that diverted attention from another important topic — the fifty years (1895-1945) in which Taiwan was part of the Japanese empire. Taiwan had been ceded to Japan following the first Sino–Japanese War (1 August 1894 – 17 April 1895) and, then, as a Japanese colony, developed economically. In contrast to the China mainland, devastated by civil wars, Japanese invasion, and then renewed civil war between the KMT and the communist People’s Liberation Army — Taiwan enjoyed a half-century of development, during which the island acquired railroads, an electrical power grid, modern irrigation and public health systems, light industry and universal elementary education. An Imperial University (now National Taiwan University) was established in Taipei, and members of the Taiwanese elite enjoyed other opportunities for higher education in Japan itself. Then, during World War II, Douglas MacArthur’s decision to leapfrog Taiwan and go straight to Okinawa had spared the island from the severe damage inflicted by war on other parts of Asia.

When Japan handed back Taiwan to China at the end of World War II, most Taiwanese were happy to be freed from Japanese colonial rule. But the Republic of China, to which Taiwan was handed over, was on its last legs. The only troops that could be spared from the battle against the communists on the mainland were two of the KMT’s worst divisions, the dregs of its army, commanded by corrupt generals. They regarded the Taiwanese as collaborators with the Japanese instead of loyal Chinese and saw nothing wrong with stealing everything in sight. The KMT soldiers were, I was told, so ignorant that they tore down telephone and electrical power lines for the copper in them, and those who stole bicycles carried them away, not knowing how to ride them. The Taiwanese rebelled. The rebellion was savagely put down. Distrust between Taiwanese and “Mainlanders,” those from the mainland who retreated to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-Shek and the KMT, persisted for decades.

On the positive side, the combination of KMT rule and expropriated Japanese capital made possible one of only two successful, non-violent land reforms in Asia. The other was in Japan, and both were conducted under the auspices of US allies/occupiers.

In the case of Taiwan, instead of expropriating land from the landlords and handing it over to their former tenants, the KMT government was able to buy out the landlords with bonds representing shares of expropriated Japanese capital. Thus, it was, for example, that the Lim family, the largest landlords in northern Taiwan became the owners of the Taiwan Cement Corporation and made a very large fortune supplying the concrete used in Da Nang and other US military bases in Vietnam. Meanwhile their former tenants provided most of the vegetables consumed by US troops fighting in Vietnam, and, in some cases their daughters found employment as prostitutes servicing those troops during R&R in Taiwan. Several new houses on the bluff above where we lived were paid for by the daughters in question. Overall, the result was a massive influx of capital, analogous to that provided by the special procurements in Japan during the Korean War, that kick-started the island’s economy.

Thus it was that when Ruth and I arrived in Taiwan in 1969, economic growth and social change were well underway . Soon after we found an apartment in Puli, we visited the Foreign Affairs Policeman, whose job was to keep an eye on the foreigners in Town. His first question was whether or not we knew Susan. Susan was a 16-year old redhead from Illinois, spending a year living with the family of a local doctor as part of a Rotary Club exchange program. On our first night in our new field site, we saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the local movie theater. But these observations, too, had no place in my dissertation.

Also excluded were other events: evidence that we were, indeed, living in an authoritarian police state. One night, shortly after we moved in to our apartment, we returned home to find that the screens on the ground floor windows had been removed and the windows left open. The neighbors told us that someone had come to investigate us, suspicious that we were CIA agents. The day before February 28, the anniversary of the Taiwanese rebellion against the mainlanders, the Foreign Affairs Policeman came to visit us. Puli had been where the rebels made their last stand, and on that day the valley was sealed off by heavily armed soldiers. The Foreign Affairs Policeman advised us to stay home that day in case something bad might happen.

Some future historian of anthropology may find these anecdotes useful. Here, in conclusion, I would like to offer a few thoughts about their relation to anthropological theory and practice.

The focus on Chinese tradition that excluded the various wars and events mentioned above from the anthropologist’s dissertation can be defended on many grounds. Ethically speaking, it kept those whose lives I was privileged to briefly share out of harm’s way. Scientifically speaking, it made sense to focus on problems of interest to other anthropologists, which during the sixties and seventies included such topics as kinship and marriage, religion and ritual. It made particular sense in the case of those of us who studied Chinese society and culture. China is a very large country. Including Chinese who live outside of mainland China, Chinese account for roughly one-quarter of humanity. To pretend that careful study of any one community or practice could be definitive was laughable. To develop accounts of traditional customs and institutions, we had to put aside other topics. The best we could do was add our own contributions to a growing understanding that included work by historians, art historians, literary scholars, economists, sociologists, and political scientists as well as anthropologists.

Still, in retrospect, I and my contemporaries do seem guilty of willful blind spots, averting our eyes from the wars that shaped the places and historical moments in which we worked. Like Evans-Pritchard working among the Nuer, we, too, ignored the bloodshed — unless, of course, it had some ritual significance.

John McCreery

War Stories and the Shifting Frontiers of Military-Civilian Divides

Teaching a class about war media to freshman at an expensive liberal arts college can be a tricky business. Students in my class had just arrived in New York City from far-flung places all over the country. Yet they all had two things in common: The first was that they had lived more than half of their young lives in so-called post-9/11 America – a nation embroiled in a shapeshifting war that has drawn on for over a decade. The second was that, aside from cursory knowledge gleaned from news coverage, they had very little connection to the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. These students are the heart of what I have come to think of as the "all-volunteer generation," a cohort of people raised during a time when American militarism commands vast amounts of human, economic, technological, and resources for war, but who can choose the extent to which they expose their bodies and minds to its potentialities.

This gap between first-hand experience of war and the way people come to know war from afar was the starting point from which we began our work together in class. For 15 weeks we gathered at the uncivilized hour of 8:30 A.M. to engage with war media that included critical theory, fiction, memoir, journalism, satire, and film. Like any good anthropologist, I encouraged them to be ethnographic in their investigations, paying attention not only to the content of a specific narrative, but to the form in which it was packaged. We approached war stories not only wanting to know “what happened,” but also what kinds of narrative strategies and evidence were used to bolster a perspective, and what may have been minimized or glossed over in service of coherence. Looking critically at these details helped us to better understand how war stories can help us to interpret the multiple meanings that we - modern American civilians - attribute to organized violence.

In class, it soon became clear that despite their lack of experience, my students, like most Americans, were anything but ignorant about war. In fact, its traces are everywhere, and most people who consume popular media are primed to recognize even its contradictory elements without much effort. War is loud, bloody, exciting, traumatizing, evocative of some of the best and worst in human capacities and responses to threats, both real and perceived. Or, it’s dull, alienating, and systematic, compelled by forces far bigger than the mere individuals who get caught up in its visceral and organizational machinery.

We know what war looks like from images we've seen in movies, on TV, and circulated through the Internet via social media and 24-hour news sites ever hungry for click-worthy content. When we want the facts, however, we turn to different sources. Once a war is over, it's history. The mountains of literature on the First and Second World Wars make clear how many varieties of hay can be made of a rough dozen years' worth of large scale conflict. Yet, with each new rendering, it becomes clear that the facts of “what happened” do not stand for themselves. Places and dates, military strategies, political analysis, and occasional testimony tell some of the story. But clearly, if that were all there was to tell, there would not be such an appetite for the continual rehashing and retelling, the relentless pouring over the details of what happened, and more importantly, why.

The mediascape has recently rippled with a resurgence of questions about how the systematic violence of Nazi Germany should be interpreted, largely connected to the release of a new biopic about philosopher Hannah Arendt. Arendt is renowned for her analysis of the Adolf Eichmann trial, published serially in the New Yorker in 1963 and which remains one of the most resonant theories about the nature of war in the industrial age. Yet, it has recently been argued, Arendt developed her ideas based on partial evidence, highlighting certain facts about Nazi systematicity while ignoring others.

Arendt condenses the Third Reich mentality into the dispassionate figure of the bureaucrat who orchestrates terror out of a desire for order and deference to authority regardless of the consequences. Not so, say new critics who argue that Eichmann's adherence to Nazi ideology was a matter of passion rather than obedience. While Arendt’s theories emerged from first-hand observations of the war crimes trial, a new paper trail of Eichmann’s activities during the war seem to reveal the makings for a different story. A virulent anti-Semite, Eichmann actually defied party leadership in order to ensure the suffering inflicted by the Final Solution would not cease, even when the tide had turned and it was clear that the crimes would be subject to the judgment of the international community.

The details, in this case, have the capacity to change the tenor of the story and give us a different way to envision the human capacity to neglect what we in the “human rights” era view as a moral and legal obligation to preserve lives that can be defined as innocent. In my class, we looked at the intentional killing of civilians in the Second World War from multiple perspectives, reading Arendt alongside John Hersey’s chilling vignettes of Hiroshima survivors (1989), W.G. Sebald’s musings on the literary silence regarding the destruction of German cities (2001), and Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical, sci-fi memoir about experiencing the fire-bombing of Dresden as a young American prisoner (1991). Using different kinds of evidence, these narratives each grapple in their own way with the problem of how to represent something that seems to elude representation, because of both practical exigencies and the limits of language and human capacities to witness and convey certain forms of experience. Though each of these stories offered the class a lens with which to understand the extent of the suffering caused by the war, the forms that frame them are often fragmented and partial, the facts of “what happened” eclipsed by the immensity of the significance they have for our understanding of ourselves and our cultural legacies.

The question of how to represent contemporary war has become no less complicated by virtue of its simultaneity and the wealth of information technologies offering the allure of instant access to the story on the ground. Just a cursory glance at headlines in this week’s news alerts us to ongoing violence in Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Yemen, Egypt, and Syria, to name only the ones worthy of the most column inches, or their digital equivalent.

Yet two refractions of war’s violence that have circulated outside of the traditional genres of reportage have been etched in my mind in recent weeks, adding new poignancy to the questions my students and I pondered together in class. The first is a raw and incisive commentary by the Italian freelancer Francesca Borri who has been reporting on the ground in Syria for the last 5 months. Her frustrated and alienated voice alerts us to a paradox that exists within the political economy of conflict reporting. War stories often unfold without a coherent narrative arc to guide us through, yet this does not keep our partial conclusions from having lethal consequences.

There are people who are, like Borri, willing to risk their own safety and comfort in the pursuit of vital bits of evidence that can help us understand the shifting borders and alliances that determines how cycles of violence are playing out in places like Syria. Yet, this vital form of labor is seriously dis-insentivized by insultingly low salaries and the privileging of stories that are more easily digested into pre-existing narratives about how state authority, ethnicity, and religion intermingle in regions marked by instability.

Another piece of similarly unconventional war media was not published in any established news forum, but rather, was circulated via Youtube and social media as a piece of “agitprop” performance. For those who wished to become spectators to what many define as torture, the rapper Mos Def offered his own body up to the visibly agonizing discomfort of force feeding, a procedure that is currently being used to nourish hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility - at least until he forced his simulated captors to stop. It was a provocation meant to lend grotesque immediacy to commonly known facts.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has condemned force-feeding as cruel and the World Medical Association has specifically forbid it. Yet the fact that it is ethically reprehensible and illegal cannot seem to penetrate the juridical safe zone that has been built up to countenance the ever-shifting moral and geographical terrain of preemptive military doctrine. The ambivalent relationship between what we cognitively know to be the truth and the eruption of that truth into sensory consciousness forms what anthropologist Michael Taussig has called “public secrets” – unacceptable realities that hide in plain sight. The condition of a public secret depends less on the state’s obstruction of the facts than on the unspoken rules of a public, whose most important social knowledge consists of “knowing what not to know.” It is this state of knowing/not knowing that I believe was being challenged by Mos Def’s performance. Whether or not such a tactic can successfully provoke more than passing outrage in a media landscape saturated with outrageous images remains to be seen.

Discussions of modern war often reference a figure called the "civilian soldier,” a person who pivots between the role of the "ordinary" citizen and that of a citizen who, during wartime, is enabled to kill and die on behalf of the nation. In the contemporary mediascape, discussions about the responsibilities, burdens, and needs of the citizen soldier are commonplace. These stories are important and must be told. Yet what of the citizen-civilian? What responsibility do we have as producers, curators, and consumers of media to play an active role in the shaping of our contemporary war stories?

My students took their role as citizen civilians seriously. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in curiosity, critical reflection, and a conviction that the conditions of living in a militarized society gives the circulation of war stories a unique significance and a set of responsibilities not shared by other forms of storytelling. I found their example encouraging. As the U.S. public continues to consider whether and how to intervene in regional conflicts like the one in Syria, how to end the disturbing trend of ethical abuses presented by preemptive war doctrine, and weigh the consequences of expanding counterinsurgency operations into Africa and elsewhere, I hope the rest of the citizen-civilian population will follow their lead.

Emily Sogn is a teacher, writer, and Ph.D. Candidate at New School for Social Research.

Works Cited

Hersey, John. 1989.  Hiroshima. New York: Vintage.

Sebald. W.G.  2003.  On the Natural History of Destruction. Anthea Bell, trans. New York: Modern Library.

Taussig, Michael. 1999.  Defacement: Public Secrecy and the Labor of the Negative. Stanford; Stanford University Press.

Vonnegut, Kurt. 1991.  Slaughterhouse Five. New York: Dell.

One Man's Pieces of War

Working as an archaeologist, my daily work consists of writing reports of sites prior to their proposed development. It's varied, taxing and occasionally very rewarding. A sense of professional detachment is a necessity in order to produce a balanced view of the evidence collected, but what happens when the material being assessed has a very personal connection?

With my family, I am currently looking through and attempting to catalogue and contextualise the photographs and other ephemera my paternal grandfather amassed during his time in the Royal Air Force in World War Two.

Thomas John Smith died aged 98 in 2009 when I was 37. I knew him very well, and I saw him at least once a week apart from my time away at University in my mid twenties. Occasionally he told me war stories, but they were only ever asides or glimpses of his time spent away from his home in North-East Wales.

Thomas John Smith (left) and friend,
probably taken in Egypt in 1941.

As a small child he gave my brother and I brass buttons from his tunic, emblazoned with the RAF Eagle, and later we were given his two bakelite identity discs; a round brown one and a octagonal shaped black one. Even then I knew that the discs were laden with significance as we had them both. Had he died we would have seen neither of them, as one would have been left with his body and one taken by those responsible for reporting his death to his family.

Later I was given two pieces of volcanic rock from Mount Etna in Sicily and told a story about his meeting of Pope Pius the Twelfth in Rome when he accompanied a friend to an audience in the Vatican. I was also given a magazine, published in 1945 which described the particular part of the War my grandfather had been involved in.

A single placename, El Alamein, provides a mental trigger for many to encapsulate the war in the Western Desert in World War Two. My grandfather was there, and watched the gun muzzle flashes in the night sky. I've seen the photographs, but I can't even begin to imagine the noise they made.

So. What do we know as a family about World War Two through the eyes of Thomas John Smith? We know in later life he developed skin cancer on his face and ears from the time spent out in the sun without any protection, and required a course of treatment. This left him with a long thin scar down one side of his face and a series of marks and indentations on his ears from where the cancerous growths were removed. We also know that he was serving abroad when his first child was born in March 1941, someone he would not see for the first time until after the end of the war in 1945.

The one physical feature of my Grandfather I remember most of all was just how powerful his arms were. Well into his 70s his grip and handshake were incredibly strong, almost superhuman. You could put this down to my idolising him. However, my father, who worked as a mechanical engineer during his working life is also possessed of a powerful grip from handing torque wrenches and other tools, and is nowhere near as strong.

The reason for his strength - and I'm sure the reason he was known as 'The Iron Man' by the schoolchildren he taught post-war - was an exploding, burning aeroplane which almost killed him in the desert.

We don't know all the details of my Grandfather's RAF service yet as we are awaiting his war record, but we do know after basic training and being assigned a trade as an engine fitter (mechanic) he was eventually put on to a troop transport ship which was bound for South Africa. He joined RAF 223 squadron, equipped with American built Martin Maryland light bombers. These had air-cooled radial engines, very different to the liquid-cooled inline engines he had trained to service and repair in Britain.

223 Squadron were based at Shandur, near the Suez Canal in Egypt when we think my Grandfather joined them, and among the photographs are at least one of a Martin Maryland, and several of the Pyramids of Giza, both from the air and from the ground. 223 served as an OTU (Operational Training Unit) where newly-formed crews (there were three crew members for a Maryland) learned to work together as an efficient fighting unit.

The Martin Maryland was replaced by the Martin Baltimore, a larger, more powerful aircraft with four crew members. By May 1942, having trained it own crews, 223 Squadron were ready to go to war.

A list exists of the airfields the squadron flew from and some of them I've been able to locate near existing settlements, whilst others existed merely as a runway carved out of the desert, designated with the prefix LG (Landing Ground) - for example between April 1942 and March 1943 LG116, LG99, LG Y and LG86.

The event of the exploding, burning aeroplane happened somewhere out in the deserts of Egypt or Libya. From discussions we all had separately with my grandfather, we have established an outline of the chain of events. As an engine fitter, part of his routine was to ground run the aircraft engines to ensure there were not problems with them before the crews flew them into battle.

Whilst undertaking this duty, something went wrong. We aren't sure if an engine failed of its own internal volition, or the airfield was attacked from the air. Whatever the reason, the result was that the aircraft caught fire.

To exit the cockpit of a Baltimore (my brother remembered being told it was a Baltimore - and as someone with no knowledge of aircraft types - we have no reason to doubt his memory) there were two parts to the pilot's canopy which had to be unfolded in opposite directions before climbing onto the left wing and walking down it to climb down from the trailing edge.

However the fire was so severe that there was only one way to escape. By standing on the pilot's seat and jumping over the nose of the aircraft to land in the sand nearly ten feet below.

The burns to his arms were extensive (I never asked if there were other injuries) and he was sent to South Africa for rest and recuperation. We don't know how long he was there, but we do know that he was sent back to his Squadron, rather than being invalided home.

Undated photograph--probably taken in Italy between 1943 and 1945,
showing the hazards of straying from the prescribed route.
After this, the next move was into Tunisia, before crossing the Mediterranean to Malta. From here we have a series of 'The Times of Malta' newspapers he kept in a larger bundle. The Imperial War Museums have recently put photographs of 223 Squadron online, and it has been interesting comparing the official War photographer's images to the unofficial images my grandfather took.

In the bundle of newspapers there are also copies of 'Eighth Army News'; 'Crusader - British Forces' Weekly'; 'Union Jack - The Newspaper for the British Fighting Forces' and 'The Stars and Stripes Mediterranean' all of which date to 1943 and 1944. We don't know why he kept these particular copies, but we will compare the publication dates to where he was stationed and his war record and see how they match up.

The only conversation about Italy and Sicily I had with my grandfather apart from the story about meeting the Pope was towards the end of his life. One tale - about how cold and terrible the winter of 1944 was in Italy - would be repeated again and again - especially as his short-term memory began to fail. Interestingly, there are no photographs of this winter, although there are many photographs of Italy which we will try and associate with the places they were taken in order to track his journey from town to town and village to village.

As for the end of his war, we don't really know. 223 Squadron were disbanded at Pescara in Italy on the 12th of August 1944, and none of the family really know what happened after this. We know he joined another squadron, but we don't know which one, although a photograph of a Martin Marauder medium bomber suggests he may have joined a squadron using these aircraft.

We hope we can piece together all these fragments of information and find more about Thomas John Smith's own personal experiences of war, and to pass on the information to our descendants so they can see how war shaped him, us and them. We miss him, and hope we can tell his story to the best of our ability.

Spencer Gavin Smith

Anthropologists as Spies

This piece was originally published in the November 20, 2000 edition of The Nation. It was also published on their website here. Thanks to The Nation for allowing us to include this essay as part of this issue.

On December 20, 1919, under the heading "Scientists as Spies," The Nation published a letter by Franz Boas, the father of academic anthropology in America. Boas charged that four American anthropologists, whom he did not name, had abused their professional research positions by conducting espionage in Central America during the First World War. Boas strongly condemned their actions, writing that they had "prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies." Anthropologists spying for their country severely betrayed their science and damaged the credibility of all anthropological research, Boas wrote; a scientist who uses his research as a cover for political spying forfeits the right to be classified as a scientist.

The most significant reaction to this letter occurred ten days later at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), when the association's governing council voted to censure Boas, effectively removing him from the council and pressuring him to resign from the national research council. Three out of four of the accused spies (their names, we now know, were Samuel Lothrop, Sylvanus Morley and Herbert Spinden) voted for censure; the fourth (John Mason) did not. Later Mason wrote Boas an apologetic letter explaining that he'd spied out of a sense of patriotic duty.

A variety of extraneous factors contributed to Boas's censure (chief among these being institutional rivalries, personal differences and possibly anti-Semitism). The AAA's governing council was concerned less about the accuracy of his charges than about the possibility that publicizing them might endanger the ability of others to undertake fieldwork. It accused him of "abuse" of his professional position for political ends.

In 1919 American anthropology avoided facing the ethical questions Boas raised about anthropologists' using their work as a cover for spying. And it has refused to face them ever since. The AAA's current code of ethics contains no specific prohibitions concerning espionage or secretive research. Some of the same anthropologists who spied during World War I did so in the next war. During the early cold war Ruth Benedict and lesser-known colleagues worked for the RAND corporation and the Office of Naval Research. In the Vietnam War, anthropologists worked on projects with strategic military applications.

Until recently there was little investigation of either the veracity of Boas's accusation in 1919 or the ethical strength of his complaint. But FBI documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act shed new light on both of these issues.

The FBI produced 280 pages of documents pertaining to one of the individuals Boas accused--the Harvard archeologist Samuel Lothrop. Lothrop's FBI file establishes that during World War I he indeed spied for Naval Intelligence, performing "highly commendable" work in the Caribbean until "his identity as an Agent of Naval Intelligence became known." What is more, World War II saw him back in harness, serving in the Special Intelligence Service (SIS), which J. Edgar Hoover created within the FBI to undertake and coordinate all intelligence activity in Central and South America. During the war the SIS stationed approximately 350 agents throughout South America, where they collected intelligence, subverted Axis networks and at times assisted in the interruption of the flow of raw materials from Axis sources. Lothrop was stationed in Lima, Peru, where he monitored imports, exports and political developments. To maintain his cover he pretended to undertake archeological investigations.

From his arrival in Lima in mid-December 1940, Lothrop was dogged by constant worries that his communications with Washington were being intercepted by British, Peruvian, Japanese or German intelligence operatives. By August 1941 he became concerned that his lack of significant archeological progress might lead to the discovery of his true work in Peru. Lothrop reported his fears of being detected to FBI headquarters: "As regards the archaeological cover for my work in Peru, it was based on the understanding that I was to be in the country six months or less. It is wearing thin and some day somebody is going to start asking why an archaeologist spends most of his time in towns asking questions. This won't happen as soon as it might because the Rockefeller grant for research in Peru makes me a contact man between the field workers and the government."

Lothrop was referring to the Rockefeller Foundation, which financed twenty archeologists who were excavating in Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela and Central America. He also used his ties to a variety of academic and research institutions--including Harvard, the Peabody Museum, the Institute of Andean Research and the Carnegie Institute--as cover in Peru. Archeologist Gordon Willey, who worked on an Institute of Andean Research Project in Peru and had some contact with Lothrop at this time, recalled that "it was sort of widely known on the loose grapevine that Sam was carrying on some kind of espionage work, much of which seemed to be keeping his eye on German patrons of the Hotel Bolivar Bar."

In fact, Lothrop was considered a valuable agent who collected important information on Peruvian politics and leading public figures of a nature usually difficult to secure. An FBI evaluation reported that headquarters "occasionally receive[s] information of sufficient importance from Mr. Lothrop to transmit to the President." Lothrop's principal source was an assistant to the Peruvian minister of government and police. In the spring of 1944 this informant resigned his governmental position and began "working exclusively under the direction of Dr. Lothrop." In May 1944 the US Embassy reported that Lothrop's principal informant was fully aware of Lothrop's connection to the SIS and FBI. Lothrop's cover was compromised by four Peruvian investigators in the employ of his top informant. His informant had been heard bragging to the Peruvian police that he made more by working for the US Embassy than the police made working for the Peruvian government.

The FBI decided to test the reliability of Lothrop's key informant by assigning him to collect information on nonexistent events and individuals. The informant was given background information about a nonexistent upcoming anti-Jewish rally that he was to attend, including a list of specific individuals who would be present. Though the rally did not occur, the informant provided a full report on it. He also filed detailed reports on a nonexistent commemorative celebration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor held in a distant town, and on a fictitious German spy who supposedly had jumped ship in Peru.

Lothrop was instructed not to tell the informant that his duplicity had been detected; instead, he was to say he was out of funds to pay for informants. Lothrop refused to believe his informant was lying and sent a letter of resignation to J. Edgar Hoover. His resignation was accepted and he returned to the United States to resume his academic duties at Harvard's Peabody Museum and the Carnegie Institute.

What is now known about Lothrop's long career of espionage suggests that the censure of Boas by the AAA in 1919 sent a clear message to him and others that espionage under cover of science in the service of the state is acceptable. In each of the wars and military actions that followed the First World War anthropologists confronted, or more often repressed, the very issues raised by Boas in his 1919 letter to The Nation.

While almost every prominent living US anthropologist (including Ruth Benedict, Gregory Bateson, Clyde Kluckhohn and Margaret Mead) contributed to the World War II war effort, they seldom did so under the false pretext of fieldwork, as Lothrop did. Without endorsing the wide variety of activities to which anthropological skills were applied in the service of the military, a fundamental ethical distinction can be made between those who (as Boas put it) "prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies" and those who did not. World War II did, however, stimulate frank, though muted, discussions of the propriety of anthropologists' using their knowledge of those they studied in times of war, creating conditions in which, as anthropologist Laura Thompson put it, they became "technicians for hire to the highest bidder." Although the racist tenets of Nazism were an affront to the anthropological view of the inherent equality of humankind, Boas (who died in 1942) would probably have condemned anthropologists who used science as a cover for espionage during World War II. Approximately half of America's anthropologists contributed to the war effort, with dozens of prominent members of the profession working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Army and Navy intelligence and the Office of War Information.

In the following decades there were numerous private and public interactions between anthropologists and the intelligence community. Some anthropologists applied their skills at the CIA after its inception in 1947 and may still be doing so today. For some of them this was a logical transition from their wartime espionage work with the OSS and other organizations; others regarded the CIA as an agency concerned with gathering information to assist policy-makers rather than a secret branch of government that subverted foreign governments and waged clandestine war on the Soviet Union and its allies. Still other anthropologists unwittingly received research funding from CIA fronts like the Human Ecology Fund.

The American Anthropological Association also secretly collaborated with the CIA. In the early 1950s the AAA's executive board negotiated a secret agreement with the CIA under which agency personnel and computers were used to produce a cross-listed directory of AAA members, showing their geographical and linguistic areas of expertise along with summaries of research interests. Under this agreement the CIA kept copies of the database for its own purposes with no questions asked. And none were, if for no other reason than that the executive board had agreed to keep the arrangement a secret. What use the CIA made of this database is not known, but the relationship with the AAA was part of an established agency policy of making use of America's academic brain trust. Anthropologists' knowledge of the languages and cultures of the people inhabiting the regions of the Third World where the agency was waging its declared and undeclared wars would have been invaluable to the CIA. The extent to which this occurred is the focus of ongoing archival and FOIA research. When the CIA overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, an anthropologist reported, under a pseudonym, to the State Department's intelligence and research division on the political affiliations of the prisoners taken by the military in the coup.

During the Korean War linguists and ethnographers assisted America's involvement with little vocal conflict of conscience. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung's revelations in 1965 of Project Camelot, in which anthropologists were reported to be working on unclassified counterinsurgency programs in Latin America, ignited controversy in the AAA. During America's wars in Southeast Asia the AAA was thrown into a state of upheaval after documents purloined from the private office of UCLA anthropologist Michael Moerman revealed that several anthropologists had secretly used their ethnographic knowledge to assist the war effort.

As a result of inquiries made into these revelations, the 1971 annual meeting of the AAA became the scene of a tumultuous showdown after a fact-finding committee chaired by Margaret Mead maneuvered to create a report finding no wrongdoing on the part of the accused anthropologists. An acrimonious debate resulted in the rejection of the Mead report by the voting members of the association. As historian Eric Wakin noted in his book Anthropology Goes to War, this "represented an organized body of younger anthropologists rejecting the values of its elders." But the unresolved ethical issue of anthropologists spying during the First and Second World Wars provided a backdrop to the 1971 showdown. Almost two decades later, during the Gulf War, proposals by conservatives in the AAA that its members assist allied efforts against Iraq provoked only minor opposition.

Today most anthropologists are still loath to acknowledge, much less study, known connections between anthropology and the intelligence community. As with any controversial topic, it is not thought to be a good "career builder." But more significant, there is a general perception that to rake over anthropology's past links, witting and unwitting, with the intelligence community could reduce opportunities for US anthropologists to conduct fieldwork in foreign nations.

In the course of research in this area I have been told by other anthropologists in no uncertain terms that to raise such questions could endanger the lives of fieldworkers around the globe. This is not a point to be taken lightly, as many anthropologists work in remote settings controlled by hostile governmental or guerrilla forces. Suspicions that one is a US intelligence agent, whether valid or not, could have fatal consequences. As Boas prophetically wrote in his original complaint against Lothrop and his cohorts, "In consequence of their acts every nation will look with distrust upon the visiting foreign investigator who wants to do honest work, suspecting sinister designs. Such action has raised a new barrier against the development of international friendly cooperation." But until US anthropology examines its past and sets rules forbidding both secret research and collaboration with intelligence agencies, these dangers will continue.

Over the past several decades the explicit condemnations of secretive research have been removed from the AAA's code of ethics--the principles of professional responsibility (PPR). In 1971 the PPR specifically declared that "no secret research, no secret reports or debriefings of any kind should be agreed to or given" by members of the AAA. By 1990 the attenuation of anthropological ethics had reached a point where anthropologists were merely "under no professional obligation to provide reports or debriefing of any kind to government officials or employees, unless they have individually and explicitly agreed to do so in the terms of employment." These changes were largely accomplished in the 1984 revision of the PPR that Gerald Berreman characterized as reflecting the new "Reaganethics" of the association: In the prevailing climate of deregulation the responsibility for ethical review was shifted from the association to individual judgments. As anthropologist Laura Nader noted, these Reagan-era changes were primarily "moves to protect academic careers...downplaying anthropologists' paramount responsibility to those they study." The current PPR may be interpreted to mean that anthropologists don't have to be spies unless they want to or have agreed to do so in a contract. A 1995 Commission to Review the AAA Statements on Ethics declared that the committee on ethics had neither the authority nor the resources to investigate or arbitrate complaints of ethical violations and would "no longer adjudicate claims of unethical behavior and focus its efforts and resources on an ethics education program."

Members of the current ethics committee believe that even though the AAA explicitly removed language forbidding secretive research or spying, there are clauses in the current code that imply (rather than state) that such conduct should not be allowed--though without sanctions, this stricture is essentially meaningless. Archeologist Joe Watkins, chairman of the ethics committee, believes that if an anthropologist were caught spying today, "the AAA would not do anything to investigate the activity or to reprimand the individual, even if the individual had not been candid [about the true purpose of the research]. I'm not sure that there is anything the association would do as an association, but perhaps public awareness would work to keep such practitioners in line, like the Pueblo clowns' work to control the societal miscreants." Watkins is referring to Pueblo cultures' use of clowns to ridicule miscreants. Although it is debatable whether anthropologist intelligence operatives would fear sanctions imposed by the AAA, it is incongruous to argue that they would fear public ridicule more. Enforcing a ban on covert research would be difficult, but to give up on even the possibility of investigating such wrongdoing sends the wrong message to the world and to the intelligence agencies bent on recruiting anthropologists.

Many factors have contributed to the AAA's retreat from statements condemning espionage and covert research. Key among these are the century-old difficulties inherent in keeping an intrinsically diverse group of scholars aligned under the framework of a single association. A combination of atavistic and market forces has driven apart members of a field once mythically united around the holistic integration of the findings of archeology and physical, cultural and linguistic anthropology. As some "applied anthropologists" move from classroom employment to working in governmental and industrial settings, statements condemning spying have made increasing numbers of practitioners uncomfortable--and this discomfort suggests much about the nature of some applied anthropological work. The activities encompassed under the heading of applied anthropology are extremely diverse, ranging from heartfelt and underpaid activist-based research for NGOs around the world to production of secret ethnographies and time-allocation studies of industrial and blue-collar workplaces for the private consumption of management.

As increasing numbers of anthropologists find employment in corporations, anthropological research becomes not a quest for scientific truth, as in the days of Boas, but a quest for secret or proprietary data for governmental or corporate sponsors. The AAA's current stance of inaction sends the dangerous message to the underdeveloped world that the world's largest anthropological organization will take no action against anthropologists whose fieldwork is a front for espionage. As the training of anthropology graduate students becomes increasingly dependent on programs like the 1991 National Security Education Program--with its required governmental-service payback stipulations--the issue takes on increased (though seldom discussed) importance.

It is unknown whether any members of the AAA are currently engaged in espionage, but unless the scientific community takes steps to denounce such activities using the clearest possible language and providing sanctions against those who do so, we can anticipate that such actions will continue with impunity during some future crisis or war.

Many in the American Anthropological Association are frustrated with its decision neither to explicitly prohibit nor to penalize secretive government research. It is time for US anthropologists to examine the political consequences of their history and take a hard, thoughtful look at Boas's complaint and the implications implicit in the association's refusal to condemn secret research and to re-enact sanctions against anthropologists engaging in espionage.

David Price