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Blurry Lines Unethical

April 6, 2010

Last week I wrote a post about the blurring of civilian and military lines that has become routine in the U.S. government, which I find both scary and problematic. I wrote about how the science fiction film, Avatar, portrays a relationship between civilian and military actors that is not all that different from the U.S. government. When I wrote that, I was optimistic that the U.S. had not yet reached the level of exploitation depicted in the film, but I am starting to change my mind.

Yesterday morning I heard a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition about a Pentagon program entitled Human Terrain System, which employs civilian anthropologists and social scientists to gain information from local Afghan people in order to give cultural advice to military commanders in the field. While some think of this as a smart strategy to “win Afghan hearts and minds,” a group of concerned anthropologists are outraged that their discipline, which holds “do no harm” as one of its primary tenets, is now being exploited in this way.

It would seem that U.S. military strategy is only a hop skip and a jump away from Jake Sully and Dr. Grace Augustine from Avatar. I’ve heard of people weeping when they left the theater, wishing that they could live in a world as beautiful as the one James Cameron created in his film. Well, we do have a beautiful world (in fact Cameron said that most of the creatures and plants in his film were just bigger versions of creatures that already exist on Earth) and it is time that we start to protect it from misuse. While it may have been the beauty of a fictional world that induced tears for some, I am aghast at how complicit civil actors have become with military objectives–even at the cost of ethics. Ultimately this partnership harms the balance of power in government, the earth through continued warfare, and the people of the world who desperately work and hope for peace.

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