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CEAUSSIC: Mars Turns to Minerva

Dr. Laurie Rush

Dr. Laurie Rush

“The AAA’s Ad Hoc Commission on Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) continues its work. Our main activities at present include: 1. the writing of a report to the AAA on the widely and hotly debated Human Terrain System of the U.S. Army (by the fall), 2. The editing of a casebook illustrating the diversity of kinds of practicing anthropology, including associated ethical questions, with a primary emphasis upon the security sector broadly conceived, 3. And providing support for the AAA’s ongoing ethics process. In an effort to keep our work transparent and part of the public and disciplinary discussion of all of the above, CEAUSSIC is also going to be contributing a monthly entry to the AAA’s blog. Each entry, by different CEAUSSIC members, will address topics that have arisen or that we have been thinking about, which we will continue to discuss via the blog, a discussion in which we hope you will also participate.”

Mars Turns to Minerva:  Thoughts on Archaeology, the Military, and Collegial Discourse

July 21, 2009

Laurie W. Rush, U.S. Army Archaeologist, Fort Drum, NY, member CEAUSSIC

One of the purposes of this blog is to offer the anthropology community an opportunity to learn more about the extent, scope, and variety of engagement that US anthropologists currently have with the military, as well as the wider security sector, and with particular attention to ethical forms of engagement.  Professor Albro pointed out this challenge in the June blog and began to remedy the situation by discussing and describing the role of analysts in great detail.  It is my goal to attempt the same for archaeology.  I would also like to take this opportunity to say what an honor it is to work on the Commission and that I cannot even begin to describe how much I have learned from the other commission members and our discussions.

When literature began to appear in anthropological publications that challenged the ethics of those of us who work for the military, I was struck by the tone of the discussions.  It appeared that the intended audience for these articles could be a small number of archaeologists who might be considering engagement with the military.  It was as if the authors were unaware that there were already several hundred archaeologists already employed in archaeological survey, inventory, and evaluation of archaeological sites that are located on the millions of acres of land belonging to US Department of Defense (DoD) Installations.  Many of us began these jobs prior to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of us work on a daily basis as advocates for Native Americans who share our goal of stewardship for the Native American ancestral places that we help to manage.

Anthropologists currently work as cultural resource managers and/or installation archaeologists at all of the large acre military bases for all branches of the services, located in all regions of the United States including Alaska and Hawaii.  For example, I am the Cultural Resources Manager and Army Archaeologist at Fort Drum, New York where I am responsible for all of the archaeological sites and historic properties that could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places that may occur within our 107,000 acres.  I have colleagues and counterparts that work for all of the other large acre Army Bases like Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for Air Force Bases like Hill and Nellis in Utah and Nevada, and Navy Installations like China Lake, California.

The Department of Defense (DoD) archaeology program has been generously funded as part of the DoD Environmental Program going back to the mid 1980s.  The DoD invests billions of dollars on environmental conservation and compliance including archaeology, preservation of historic structures, endangered species management, wetlands preservation, recycling, pollution prevention, waste management, and environmental restoration.  According to Vice President Biden, the proposed 2010 Defense Budget includes 4.3 billion dollars for environmental programs.  During his remarks at the 2009 DoD Environmental Awards Ceremony, he expressed his expectation that the DoD would continue to lead all U.S. agencies in exemplary environmental management.

As part of the DoD Environmental Program, military archaeologists have surveyed hundreds of thousands of acres, have discovered tens of thousands of archaeological sites and in some cases have provided enough new information to rewrite the prehistory of entire regions.  Many military archaeologists have worked in close collaboration with academic archaeologists for years, offering field school opportunities, lectures, and field trips, as well as teaching courses and participating in professional societies.  We also have counterparts in the militaries of other nations that do very similar jobs.

During the recent “Mars Turns to Minerva” conference at Cambridge University (a summary can be found here: http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/766/), one of the organizers suggested that one reason for the current challenges faced by the social sciences in terms of engagement with the military may be due to the fact that the social sciences in general over the past few decades have shied away from directly studying conflict, warfare, and warriors especially in western settings.  If this observation is in fact correct, there would be few interlocutors who can translate between military and academic social science cultures.  Archaeology offers a contrast to this observation.  Conflict archaeology, or the study of battlefields and military features in the landscape, has been a viable subfield for over two decades at an international level.  When the number of trained anthropologists currently working for DoD are added to the number of colleagues who use archaeological methods to study conflict, this adds up to a substantial body of professionals already in place well before 2001 and the US invasion of Iraq.  These realities pose a series of questions.

  • Is there an ethical distinction to be made between archaeologists who went to work for the military prior to or after the US invasion of Iraq?
  • Why is there a stronger and more formal partnership between archaeologists as professionals and a series of Ministries of Defense including the United States than one finds in other social science professions or in other sub-fields of anthropology?
  • What do archaeologists bring to the table in support of the military?
  • What does engagement with the military offer to archaeology as a profession and to archaeologists as professionals?

I am going to answer the last question first, since it provides greater insight into the nature and level of the current cooperation between archaeology and the military.  The advantages of working for the Department of Defense as archaeologists include:

  • Steady and predictable employment with reasonable salaries and benefits.
  • Funding for fieldwork.  In order to manage and preserve archaeological sites on military land, inventory and identification is critical.  The DoD funds large acre surface surveys in the American west and shovel test surveys in vegetated areas where holes are excavated looking for archaeological material.  There is also funding for test excavations for newly discovered sites so that their potential significance can be evaluated, and support for data recovery on threatened sites.
  • Access to and funding for the use of state of the art research tools including GIS, aerial imagery, satellite photography, lidar (light detection and ranging, a remote sensing system used to collect topographic data), laser scanning, remote sensing, and archaeometrics.
  • The opportunity to use the state of the art tools described above to develop spatial predictive models for archaeological site location and the funding to test these models.
  • The opportunity to consult in good faith with Native Americans who have ancestral ties to military lands.
  • Funding for travel to professional meetings and conferences.
  • Access to acreage that is only available to individuals working on behalf of or for DoD.
  • Access to acreage that is restricted due to conflict situations.
  • The opportunity to save sites that are located on military lands and in conflict areas.  The global press has covered many stories of damage and destruction to cultural property related to the current conflicts from the Bamiyan Buddhas to damage at Babylon.  Military archaeologists have now been offered opportunities to work on this issue.  In addition, many of our Old World archaeological colleagues who trained as scholars in the Classics and Art History have been volunteering to teach military personnel and to work with military archaeologists because of their strong commitment to site preservation and protection of cultural property.  Members of the Archaeology Institute of America (AIA) volunteer to do Soldier lectures and fly at their own expense to military installations all across the US.  Over the past two years, the AIA has sponsored round table discussions and workshops with DoD partners at their Annual Meetings.  Donny George, the exiled Director of the Iraq National Museum, described the most recent AIA/DoD partnership workshop as a “dream come true.”

For archaeologists who study conflict, there have been professional and personal rewards in terms of identifying unknown Soldiers and lost personnel.  These colleagues have been offered the honor of participating in re-interment ceremonies and have experienced the grateful appreciation of families whose lost loved one has been accounted for at last.  Others find satisfaction in the fact that their work may bring honor and memory for fallen warriors, some whose sacrifices date back thousands of years.

The contributions to the profession then include:

  • Tremendous amounts of new knowledge
  • Development of powerful predictive models that can be used by academic colleagues
  • Demonstration of the importance of working with Native Americans as partners in interpreting the landscape and features of ancestral places
  • Viability as a profession outside of the academy encouraging students to sign up for archaeology and anthropology courses
  • Funded field training opportunities for students

So to rephrase the question above concerning what archaeology brings to the military, why is the military so extraordinarily generous in support of archaeological investigation?

In the United States, military land is subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  This legal requirement means that the military is required to consult with preservation advocates before initiating or undertaking a project that could have an adverse effect on a cultural property that is potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  In summary, with respect to archaeology, military land is managed just like Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or any other federal acreage. In the military, failure to follow Section 106 can result in legal action that will appear on the military record of the officer in charge.  Needless to say, these officers take these issues seriously.  Subsequent legislation like the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and a series of executive orders further strengthened the requirements for sound archaeological management of all federal property including military lands.

Better yet from my perspective, the legal drivers and successful legal challenges to poor examples of federal land management also drove development of the DoD Native American consultation policy.  This policy may well be the most pro-active in federal service and requires military land managers to do everything within their power to establish positive consultation relationships between DoD garrisons and federally recognized Native Americans who have ancestral ties to military lands.  Native American sovereign nation leaders are treated as heads of state when they come to military installations for meetings to discuss ancestral issues.  As an aside, working with Native Americans in this enlightened environment has become far and away the most rewarding aspect of my domestic job responsibilities.  Military archaeologists are finding that working closely with Native Americans is informing their archaeological interpretations in new and far more sophisticated ways.

The benefit for the military lies in having unencumbered land available for military training.  There is no question that military training will have ground disturbing impacts on the landscape.  The ability to demonstrate that affected lands have been inventoried by a professional archaeologist and that consultation with stakeholders has been completed in an honorable way protects those military personnel responsible for these lands from lawsuits and court injunctions against training.  Competent cultural resources management also prevents construction delays and unnecessary damage to archaeological sites that would occur if ground disturbing projects were permitted to go forward without archaeological survey.

When I began working for the DoD, I expected that I might be pressured to rubber stamp project proposals without regard for archaeological integrity.  My experience has been in direct opposition to my expectations.  All of the Garrison Commanders that I have worked for have taken pride in the Fort Drum cultural resources program and in the acreage that they have protected on behalf of archaeological stewardship.  Our archaeological survey records and management decisions are completely open to our Native American consultation partners and to the State Office of Historic Preservation.  We encourage scrutiny and also present the results of our work at professional meetings on a regular basis.

These realities inform the next question which is whether there is an ethical distinction between archaeologists who engaged with the military prior to the invasion of Iraq and those who began to work for the military after that time.    There is no question that participation in making land available for military training is part of a process that helps prepare men and women to go to war.  There is no way around that fact.  For many of us who began this work in the eighties and nineties, it seemed unthinkable that the young men and women that we saw training would actually ever go into combat.  At that point in time, Fort Drum, NY actually had welcome signs that said, “Fort Drum, Dedicated to Preserving Our Environment.”  Clearly, military installation priorities have unfortunately shifted since that time, and all of the military archaeologists are that much more immediately affected by the true nature of military training and uses of military training lands.

The next question would be whether there is an ethical distinction between domestic military archaeology and involvement in the archaeological challenges that have occurred as a result of the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some of these challenges have included damage at Babylon, the U.S. protection of Ur and the subsequent return of stewardship there to the Iraqi people, inadvertent damage to a karez water system (an irrigation system dating from antiquity) in Afghanistan by US personnel, and issues related to looting and smuggling of antiquities.

Development of cultural property protection training programs for military personnel deploying to areas of conflict appears to be the most controversial aspect of current military archaeology. However, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property during Times of Armed Conflict was ratified by the US Senate in September of 2008, and engaged archaeologists are going to play an essential role in keeping the US in compliance with this international treaty law.  A sampling of criticisms leveled at archaeologists who are working on cultural property protection during conflict issues include:

  • Engagement with the military in any way is unethical – period.
  • Heritage training programs are nothing more than an attempt at improving public relations for the US military.
  • Showing respect for cultural property during armed conflict would legitimize military action.
  • Engaging with the military in any way could lead to further engagement that could be unethical.

To these concerns can be added criticisms also leveled at forensic archaeologists who have worked on mass graves in conflict settings.  Comments to this effect that I have heard include:

  • Mass grave archaeology in Iraq was a political tool to justify the invasion.

As a civilian who works for the military, I personally appreciate well thought out discussions about the ethics of working with the military.  The military is an extremely effective organization when it comes to socializing associated personnel, and thoughtful debate on the issue is critical for me in terms of offering substance for a periodic reality check.  Even the most seasoned and analytical anthropologists can find themselves becoming rapidly acculturated when exposed to a military environment, and our colleagues can play a very important role in helping us to continually question the nature of our participation and the secondary and tertiary effects that our work may have.   However, the only way for that form of interaction to be productive is if those thoughts are knowledgeable and are offered in a collegial manner.  When Mars Turns to Minerva, we would hope that Minerva, in the form of the Academy, would set the tone for positive informed conversation with room for productive discussion and collegial disagreement.  These issues are far too important to settle for anything less.

3 Responses

  1. […] not come at the expense of our freedom to criticize, rebuke, and reject. Nor do they get to set the terms of the debate, nor are they automatically entitled to be accepted. If there is one thing that the militarized […]

  2. […] “Mars Turns to Minerva: Thoughts on Archaeology, the Military, and Collegial Discourse” ~ Laurie W. Rush (July 21, 2009) […]

  3. […] Rush, Laurie W. (2009). CEAUSSIC: Mars turns to Minerva:  Thoughts on archaeology, the military, and collegial discourse. Blog of the American Anthropological Association, July 21. http://blog.aaanet.org/2009/07/21/ceaussic-mars-turns-to-minerva/ […]

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