Academics, soldiers team to examine war issues

Bart Dean, left, an associate professor of anthropology at Kansas University, and Lt. Charles Bartles listen to an audience member's comment during the military-social

? Bart Dean and Charles Bartles might seem an unlikely team.

Dean is a self-described “left-leaning” anthropologist and an associate professor at Kansas University; Bartles is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, has been deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and is a Purple Heart recipient.

But they teamed together for their part in a “military-social science roundtable” Thursday at Fort Leavenworth.

“People will criticize me,” Dean said of his participation in the roundtable. “I will be viciously criticized. : But that’s OK. I like controversy.”

Five teams, each made up of a social scientist and a student or faculty member at the fort’s Command and General Staff College, teamed up for presentations designed ultimately to help the military better conduct its operations in unfamiliar lands.

Also representing KU at the roundtable were Felix Moos, an anthropology professor; Garth Myers, director of KU’s African Studies Center and an assistant professor of geography and African and African-American studies; and Aaron Kirby, a graduate student in anthropology.

The presentations were based on real-life military experiences in the war on terror. Dean and Bartles, for example, examined an Army unit’s response to try to quell, without the use of force, the use of individual explosive devices, or IUDs near a military base in a rural part of Iraq.

Moos and his teammate, Maj. Daniel Hibner, explored why detainees or prisoners taken in the war on terror become even more steeled against the West during captivity.

“Why is it that prisoners in American military confinement become more radical as they are held?” Moos asked during a break at the roundtable. “What are we doing wrong rather than getting these people to help us?”

He noted the nature of military prisoners hasn’t always been as it is now; during World War II, for example, German POWs helped build Danforth Chapel on the KU campus.

Rob Kurz, of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, and Brian Blew, of the Center for Army Tactics, organized the roundtable.

The exercise actually began earlier this year when the Command and General Staff College students and faculty wrote papers about their military experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Those papers then were shared with their academic teammate, who responded with questions about key assessments or conclusions drawn from the experience.

After Thursday’s roundtable, the social scientists will write a paper explaining their findings, focusing on the processes that occurred with the local population during the military operation.

Later, those papers will be combined and suggestions for future operations regarding so-called military anthropology will be added.

Kurz and Blew’s hope is for the studies to be published in academic and military journals. Ultimately, Kurz said he hoped their conclusions would become part of the military’s training doctrine.

“This is one small initiative among a lot of initiatives in the Army and throughout the armed services to expand cultural awareness and language training,” Kurz said.

Kurz said he was hopeful the exercise with the academicians would have lessons and applications that can be used well beyond current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He thanked the anthropologists for their help.

Dean said the landscape today is beginning to turn for anthropologists’ relations with the military, which reached a low level of trust in the Vietnam War era.

“Nobody’s for war,” he said. But “you can’t be a fence-sitter. You have to jump in and help.”

Moos said his participation was based on the reality of what is happening.

“I’m doing it from the simple supposition that the country is at war,” he said. “All of us citizens have a stake in this. : If the entire country is not mobilized – really thinking about the challenges we face – I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors.”