Anthropologists at War: "Hi! We're from the U.S. Army and We're here to Understand you!"
I've lifted the title to this post from Schweder. This program obviously raises all sorts of matters of professional ethics as well as (more importantly to my mind) flat out politics. While it seems to me that U.S. Troops should be better educated on matters of cultural difference (Schweder rightly notes the irony of sending groups of 'cultural relativists' into what arguably is a battle between fundamentalists) it is not at all clear that anthropologists actively involved in counterinsurgency programs will be able to avoid being swallowed whole. As Scheweder remarks: "It turns out that the anthropologists are not really doing anthropology at all, but are basically hired as military tour guides to help counterinsurgency forces accomplish various nonlethal missions." This is the impression I too had from listening to and reading reports on this program. Better that more missions become "non-lethal," of course. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking it likely that the military missions will become more enlightened by learning about the "human terrain" they are seeking to pacify. The point of military strategy is to elicit compliance, not to treat the Iraqis or Afghanis as sovereign peoples.
I've always thought this old Far Side was quite funny. I guess my view of the "human terrain" program is that what the anthropologists might now risk missing is less the lives of "natives" and the predicaments they find themselves in, than the realities of our military and what it is up to.
P.S. Regular readers may recall that political scientists have encountered similar difficulties in trying to find efficacious ways of intervening in current foreign policy. I've noted this in posts before  .