Military Musings on “Minerva”

Military Musings on

The Military decided use of “embedded anthropologists” in combat zones was effective, but the discipline ruled it unethical. Now the Department of Defense is preparing to launch Minerva, a project based on the concept that knowledge of culture is essential to defense. This sounds like a logical proposition, but no mix of academe and arms is without controversy


The Pentagon would be setting the agenda for the proposed “Minerva Consortium” and aiming (so to speak) research at what it perceives to be culture areas and cultural issues of importance. This assumes the DOD knows enough about culture to do this, and restricts funding to one or two geographical regions.

Does the DOD strategic command do this? Hardly. You know the Pentagon war-games the atlas until the maps fall out, on the theory that you can’t assume who tomorrow’s allies and enemies will be. Why narrow the scope of cultural research?

Ironically, the DOD funded disinterested cultural research back in the 1960s and 1970s. Every university had “Centers for Intercultural Studies” for various regions of the world, and these were vehicles for graduate studies in language, political science, history, and culture. Not only did this increase the number of Americans who spoke minority languages of the world, publications (and graduates themselves) were available for diplomatic, trade, intelligence, and military decision-making.

Most of the academic objections to “Minerva” detail specific cases of “weaponization” of knowledge, but these dissolve if the broader “Centers for Intercultural Studies” model is restored. If Secretary Gates needs convincing from the military end, have him read General Joseph Stilwell’s voluminous comments on the cost of cultural ignorance.

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