The Human Terrain System and Anthropology: A Review of Ongoing Public Debates



ABSTRACT  The advent of the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System (HTS) and the recruitment of anthropologists to provide “cultural knowledge” for the purpose of more effective counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan has created numerous conflicts and debates between HTS advocates and anthropological critics. These debates involve issues of ethical research, the role of anthropological research in war, the consequences of militarization, further harm to the reputation of the discipline, and the possible jeopardizing of anthropological fieldworkers who could be mistaken as U.S. spies. Those advocating for HTS claim that it is not unethical, that it helps to save lives, is not involved in collecting intelligence or targeting, and is a key way for anthropology to become relevant. This article serves as a primer on these debates and examines why HTS has largely failed to attract anthropological recruits.