Human Terrain System Controversy

In 2005-06 the Army created the Human Terrain Program
a system which involved bringing highly educated anthropologists to Afghanistan and Iraq. The purpose of the program was to “help the military understand ethnic groups that were mysterious to soldiers, potentially saving the lives of Americans and those who lived in the region.” This program finally ended in July 2015 when the army declared there were no longer enough ground troops to deploy these “honorary” army memberhuman terrain systems.jpgs. As this program developed, it received criticism from many people especially other anthropologists who argued it violated their ethical values as academics as well as put additional lives at risk.

Many felt as if this created a weapon towards their subjects by using the study of other cultures as an aid in inflicting harm causing many anthropologists to refuse to aid the program.  Based on the theory of culture
relativity, an abiding concept to anthropologists, they were too close to the interests of the government to properly study the culture anyway. Anthropologists study cultures with the goal of impartiality towards any culture, to study the culture from the eyes of the culture itself. Using anthropology as a tool, violates this key concept.

However, perhaps had these scholars not taken the viewpoint of cultural anthropologists but rather as aids to the subjects of war would the criticism be less harsh.  The army would not continue this program had they felt it was not saving lives as there were four casualties of HTS members, a risky job considering their small numbers. This system was a useful system in war however taking the viewpoint of an anthropologist immediately crosses the line and violates their own moral code. Since the termination of this program many anthropologists have taken stronger consideration in what their moral code of conduct should be.


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