Should Academics Work With The Military?

During World War II some of the most outstanding anthropologists like Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead worked with the military as did historians and psychologists and sociologists. At the just concluded meeting of the American Anthropology Association, questions are being raised about the work of anthropologists in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, the AAA’s executive board condemned use of anthropologists to help identify and select “populations as targets of U.S. military operations.” In Afghanistan and Iraq academics study society in order to assist the military in fulfilling their mission. Robert Albro of american University in Washington D.C. says anthropologists have no right to serve as spies for the military.

The issue is not so much whether or not academics should work with the military since they played an important role during World War II in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan. But, it is one thing to help defeat tyrants, and another to become involved in war crimes against innocent people. If academics assist the military to kill innocent civilians it is a violation of their responsibilities as social scientists. If the purpose of studying people is to foster peace and avoid death and destruction one can build an argument for such involvement.