Anthropology and Geography

In my comments on Stanford University, I pointed out the absurdity of abolishing the geography department while creating two anthropology departments.  I suggest that, while geography is politically neutral, anthropology allows political activists to do work in what used to be called the Third World.  That this surmise is correct is proved by  Lesley Gill, The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political  Violence in the Americas. It deals with the training school for Latin American officers established in Panama as the School of the Americas and later relocated in Fort Benning, Georgia. It has been over the years the target of demonstrations by pacifists.  The school was recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation.  The author charges that this was an attempt to make it appear that it was a research institute, but it is simply carrying on the old training under a new name.   She is one of a number of anthropologists studying Latin America on the ground, allegedly to find out what the people think. This would be an excellent enterprise if it were carried out in an impartial, scientific fashion, but that does not seem to be the aim.

She did field work in Honduras, Colombia and Bolivia, but mostly she attended courses at the School and accompanied the students on their trip to Washington, where they visited the Pentagon and the office of Amnesty International.  The students rightly accused this organization of not presenting a balanced view, and the same can be said of her book.  As far as I can tell, the Pentagon was generous and open in its dealings with her, but she showed little appreciation.  She stressed the Latin American officers trained there who became military dictators, and rejected the School's observation excuse that they were just a few bad apples. There was little or no mention of the hundreds of officers who have returned to Latin America with a better understanding of the proper role of the military. Her bias was evident in her discussion of Colombia.  She did not discuss terrorists, but portrayed the army as terrorizing the population.  Her conclusion was that the School should be closed. The protestors can now wave this bible as proof of the justness of their cause. The Pentagon must think that you can't win with there people.

Note that I am in many ways critical of the Pentagon, but I object to propaganda disguised as scholarship.  As for geography and anthropology, my original contention has been confirmed.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004