Frequently Asked Questions


The Network of Concerned Anthropologists (NCA) is an independent ad hoc network of anthropologists seeking to promote an ethical anthropology.  For more information, write us at


1.  Where will the Pledge and its signatures go? 

When we have finished collecting signatures, we will send the Pledge and its signatures to the president and executive board of the American Anthropological Association, as well as to the chairs of the House and Senate armed services committees.  We will send letters including the text of the pledge and the total number of signatures (but not the names) to (at least) the directors of the Department of Defense, the military branches, the CIA, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We will also publicly announce the total number of collected signatures.


2.  What is the motivation for signing the Pledge?  Has anything like this ever been done before?

The eleven originators of the Pledge are deeply concerned that the "war on terror" threatens to militarize anthropology in a way that undermines the integrity of the discipline and returns anthropology to its sad roots as a tool of colonial occupation, oppression, and violence.  We felt compelled to draft the Pledge to say that there are certain kinds of work—for example, covert work, work contributing to the harm and death of other human beings, work that breaches trust with our research participants, and work that calls other anthropologists into suspicion—that anthropologists should not undertake.  In many ways we are restating the position that Franz Boas famously articulated in 1919.  We encourage you to sign the Pledge as a way to support this position on ethical work in the discipline and as a way to make a statement to government and military officials, the social science and other scientific communities, and the broader public that that anthropologists will not participate in such work or support wars of occupation.

Our Pledge is modeled on a pledge campaign in the mid-1980s organized by two physics graduate students who are now on the staff of the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Signatories to that pledge promised not to seek or accept funds to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative (also known as "Star Wars").  The pledge was signed by 6,500 scientists and engineers, including 15 Nobel Laureates.  Over half of the faculty in the top 20 physics departments signed it. 


3.  I don't have a Ph.D. in anthropology, but I'm an anthropology graduate student.  (Or: I don't have a Ph.D. in anthropology, but I am a scholar in a closely related field.)  Can I still sign the Pledge?

Yes, you can still sign the Pledge!  We welcome anthropology graduate students and scholars in related fields (particularly those that use ethnographic methods) to sign the Pledge and join our email list.


4.  If you are against anthropologists participating in counter-insurgency operations, then aren't you against US troops and their immediate safety? 

The political and cultural climate in the US today has made "do you support the troops?" the most prominent framing question for debate about war.  It has emerged as such a powerful question in part because it appeals to patriotism, nationalism and basic humanitarianism, but more importantly because it diverts attention from civilians dying in war zones and from powerful policymakers who put US soldiers on the battlefield in the first place.  (This was in fact a public relations strategy first developed in its modern form by the Nixon administration to thwart anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam War.)  The Pledge, conversely, directs our attention to those same policymakers who want to put anthropology on the battlefield or in the command bunkers.

Nonetheless, if we take up the question in its own terms, we might view the Pledge as a way of encouraging anthropologists to help and protect US soldiers as human beings in much more effective ways.  Some examples might include anthropological research on: (1) techniques used by the US military to recruit 18-year olds for employment and social valorization, and the other options they have available; (2) the degree of homelessness, war injuries, employment, social support, and resilience among enlisted veterans of this and previous wars; and (3) popular attitudes that sustain or contest the war including attitudes towards the nation, race, and Islam, towards permanent bases in Iraq, and towards Americans' rights to world resources.  Such anthropological work would be more likely to address the problem of assisting past, present, and future soldiers through ethnographic realities, rather than through propaganda about homefront mobilization and war.

An anthropological "surge" of efforts to make culturally smarter soldiers on the battlefield, whatever its putative effects, is destined to be used by the government on the US homefront to claim that it is fighting a humane war.  More importantly, it draws attention away from the ways in which war hurts soldiers and the communities from which they come, no matter how culturally smart they become.


5.  Isn't it true that anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan are reducing the casualty rate?

This is the central claim made by anthropologists who defend the work of Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There are many problems with this claim: 

(1) Anything that prolongs the war may, in the long run, increase casualties.  We need to stop the fighting, not find ways to optimize it; 

(2) During the Vietnam War knowledge generated by the equivalent of Human Terrain Mapping (CORDS) was used in Project Phoenix to target the assassination of thousands of Vietnamese.  In Guatemala anthropological research was used by death squads in the selection of victims.  The creators of the Human Terrain Team concept have spoken about integrating cultural and tactical intelligence on the battlefield, and Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense John Wilcox has said that Human Terrain Mapping "enables the entire kill chain." Human Terrain Mapping will inevitably be used not just to avert fighting in some instances, but also to select people for death and injury in other cases.  We do not believe this is an appropriate use of anthropological knowledge; 

(3) Defenders of the Human Terrain Teams say that they help the U.S. military to find non-violent ways to win the allegiance of villages formerly sympathetic to the Taliban so that the U.S. military does not need to use force in those villages.  But, of course, this may mean that those villagers will now be attacked by the Taliban rather than the U.S. military.  Human Terrain Mapping is undertaken to benefit the U.S. military, not local populations who often find themselves trapped between violent forces; 

(4) Recent media coverage has made clear that official casualty estimates in Iraq and Afghanistan are highly suspect, and are often massaged to support funding requests by military commanders in Washington; 

(5) Proponents of Human Terrain Mapping have failed to provide evidence for or to demonstrate a direct causal link between the Human Terrain Teams and claimed reduction in casualties.


6.  Are you saying that anthropologists should only work within the "ivory tower" of academia?

No, opposition to participation in counter-insurgency operations does not mean that anthropologists should only be working within academia.  Such an argument presents a false dichotomy be demarcating only two positions.  From this perspective, action can only be achieved by working for the government towards military goals, while opposition or criticism of government policies is inaccurately portrayed as abandoning the US government, soldiers, and the public.  This argument leaves no room for a discussion about the issues surrounding military- and security-related anthropological work.   The Pledge aims to raise critical awareness about ethical concerns surrounding such work.

It is worth mentioning that research, planning, and policy decisions made within the Pentagon, the CIA, and many "think tanks" often takes place within cloistered "ivory towers" of their own.


7.  What do you mean by "related theaters in the 'war on terror'"? 

The "war on terror" includes US counter-terrorism military initiatives throughout the world.  For example, US military involvement in Africa as part of the "war on terror" has skyrocketed since 9/11.  The establishment of the US African Command (AFRICOM) by George W. Bush has established US military and surveillance bases in many African countries.  Countries like Kenya, Algeria, Djibouti, and Mali are now defined as frontline states or active partners in the "war on terror," and have received between eight and forty times more military funding after 9/11 than in the five years prior to 9/11.  Congress approved the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative at a cost of $500 million between 2005-2011.  US military forces operating in the Horn of Africa have launched secret incursions into Somalia as part of the "war on terror," contributing to the ongoing destabilization of that country and the abuse of local populations in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.  Because of the harm caused to local populations by the militarization of their countries and the use of military force to silence local political dissent, the Pledge asks anthropologists to refrain from supporting covert military work throughout the world.


8.  Are you opposed to all dialogue and communication with members of the military and other government officials?  How do you expect to change  things if you aren't talking to policy makers and other government officials?  

We are not opposed to dialogue and communication with members of the military and other government officials.  Several of the authors of the Pledge engage in such dialogue on a regular basis, advising peacekeepers, briefing diplomats, debating military policy, and informing the general public about issues of war and peace, to name a few examples.  We do, however, draw a distinction between work that falls within the ethical codes of the discipline and work that, directly or indirectly, enables and condones the occupation of one nation by another, assists with military combat operations, or otherwise supports military and other activities causing harm and death

Peacekeepers provide a good example of where most of the original signatories draw this line.  Peacekeepers are charged with keeping the peace, protecting civilians, and preventing violence.  US and allied forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the "war on terror" are not keepers of the peace.  They are occupying forces engaged in regular, active combat operations often charged with killing other human beings.  Most of us believe that while anthropologists can ethically support those attempting to prevent violence in the case of peacekeepers, they cannot ethically assist with the violence inherent in the "war on terror." 


9. Isn't it a good thing that military and government officials want to work with anthropologists, think anthropologically, and draw on anthropological insights?

Whether or not it’s good that military and government officials want to draw on anthropology depends, of course, on the use to which they will put anthropological insight.  The signatories of the pledge have all argued in various contexts that it would make for better policy and better anthropology if the policy-making process were more anthropologically informed.  However, we believe that participating in counter-insurgency work is exactly the wrong way to make anthropology policy-relevant since it runs the risk of harming the communities we study and inflicting collateral damage on the reputation of anthropology.  Armed ethnography also threatens to suck anthropologists into a world where they are only allowed to talk about their work to select audiences, rather than engaging in the free exchange of knowledge that has usually defined anthropological research.

Military thinkers themselves often distinguish between strategic and tactical levels of planning.  We note that government officials showed no interest in anthropological insight at the strategic level -- i.e. in deciding whether U.S. occupation of Iraq was likely to succeed, how Iraq's neighbors would react, how the occupation would be perceived around the world, what effects it would have on U.S. society and so on.  Instead military officials seem to see anthropologists as band-aids: social technicians who may find ways to adjust the United States' failing counter-insurgency tactics. At the tactical level, the anthropologist's data will be used however the military sees fit, despite claims that the military anthropologist is a kind of development assistance adviser or cultural sensitivity trainer.  Counterinsurgency warfare is warfare that includes both kinetic and nonkinetic targetting, and the anthropologist's data can and will be used for both. 


10. Is there a risk that your pledge campaign will turn into a "witch-hunt" of anthropologists who are doing work for military and intelligence agencies?

 Some military anthropologists have raised the specter of the pledge as prompting “witch-hunts” or “blacklists.”  These fears are unfounded for two reasons: First, the pledge is focused on raising awareness about the use of anthropology in counterinsurgency in order to suggest that anthropologists make other choices when the Pentagon offers them employment to do so and remind their students of the ethical guidelines of the Association. The primary concern of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists is widely shared across the discipline: i.e. to be honest about the intents and purposes of our research with the people with whom we work and to not support activities that harm their well-being.  

Second, these terms evoke inappropriate historical analogies (the scapegoating of the weak members of a society by its most powerful members and the firing of suspected leftists from their jobs in the McCarthy era).  We denounce any attempt to draw up a list of people who ought to be fired from their jobs for speaking or acting in support of or against the US military’s counterinsurgency campaigns around the world.  A more appropriate concern is the ongoing, and in many infamous cases successful, campaign to oust professors who speak out against militarization from the academy.