During the days of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, the military decided to try a science approach to working with the residents there.
Unfortunately, they picked an American anthropology field that is at war with itself over whether or not it wants to be scientific or advocacy-based. It was the wrong solution at the wrong time - as Israeli leaders have long told American presidents when being patronized, the Middle East is not the Middle West.
"The Human Terrain System sought to bring a degree of anthropological and interpretive acumen to a military that badly needed it," wrote author Vanessa Gezari in the New York Times, but it cost taxpayers $600 million to do nothing. Putting a personal face on it, she notes the case of Paula Loyd, who was inexplicably set on fire by someone she was interviewing about the cost of the fuel he was carrying.
Battlefields are not academia.
It was worse than cluelessness. Internal Army investigations of the program, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showed the whole program has been rife with racism, sexism and fraud, notes USA Today.
Was it doomed to fail? Probably. The military thought the reports were valueless and anthropology is far left wing even for academia so most of them had no interest in helping the military, even if the goal was helping the military be a positive force in countries previously overrun by despots and terrorists.
Here's hoping Republicans don't see 'soldiers vote for us' and Democrats don't see 'academics vote for us' and circle the wagons around this junk program for another year.
Human Terrain Systems - Battlefield Anthropology's Murky Aims Led To Racism, Sexism And Fraud