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Publication: American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain

March 10, 2009

By Roberto J. González (San José State University), The University of Chicago Press, 2009, ISBN 9780979405747, 134 pages.

Politicians, pundits, and Pentagon officials are singing the praises of a kinder, gentler American counterinsurgency. Some claim that counterinsurgency is so sophisticated and effective that it is the “graduate level of war.” Private military contracting firms have jumped on the bandwagon, and many have begun employing anthropologists, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists to help meet the Department of Defense‚Äôs new demand. The $60 million Human Terrain System (HTS), an intelligence gathering program that embeds social scientists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan, dramatically illustrates the approach. But when the military, transnational corporations, and the human sciences become obsessed with controlling the “human terrain”—the civilian populations of Iraq and Afghanistan—what are the consequences? Roberto González offers a critique of HTS, showing how the history of anthropology can be used to illuminate the problems of turning “culture” into a military tool.