Anthropologists’ selections of topics and field sites have often been shaped by militarism, but they have been slow to make militarism, especially American militarism, an object of study. In the high Cold War years concerns about human survival were refracted into debates about innate human proclivities for violence or peace. As “new wars” with high civilian casualty rates emerged in Africa, Central America, the former Eastern bloc, and South Asia, beginning in the 1980s anthropologists increasingly wrote about terror, torture, death squads, ethnic cleansing, guerilla movements, and the memory work inherent in making war and peace. Anthropologists have also begun to write about nuclear weapons and American militarism. The “war on terror” has disturbed settled norms that anthropologists should not assist counterinsurgency campaigns, and for the first time since Vietnam, anthropologists are debating the merits of military anthropology versus critical ethnography of the military.


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