Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Montgomery McFate ’94PhD

Tuesday night, President Barack Obama announced his plan to send another 30,000 American soldiers to Afghanistan. Thursday, the American Anthropological Association released a report [PDF] condemning the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS)—a program that embeds social scientists in combat units to do counterinsurgency work in places like Afghanistan. Devised in large part by Montgomery McFate ’94PhD, a barge-raised artist’s daughter who wrote her Yale dissertation on the Irish Republican Army, HTS aims to equip the military with socio-cultural knowledge so that it can “influence the population through non-lethal means,” the Army says. Or, as McFate told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007, “If you understand how to frustrate or satisfy the population’s interests to get them to support your side in a counterinsurgency, you don’t need to kill as many of them.” The anthropological association, however, calls the program “fundamentally incompatible” with its code of ethics: “when ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review,… and in a potentially coercive environment… it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology,” the report says. Nor a safe exercise: three HTS social scientists have been killed in Afghanistan in the past two years.

Filed under Graduate School, alumnae, military
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