'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Thursday, 19 May 2011


A 2000-word article I wrote on Afghanistan has been kindly published by Standpoint. Online here. Whilst on the subject of Afghanistan, a friend took a number of photos from his last tour and has also kindly allowed me to reproduce two below. 

The first shows the operational difficulty of counter-insurgency in the green zone (fertile area on banks of Helmand river) during the Spring/Summer because of the added concealment afforded by the flora. 

The second is just a photo that appealed to me but perhaps also shows why anthropologists were mobilised into the counter-insurgency efforts as Human Terrain Teams (see also the Network of Concerned Anthropologists and also Human Terrain movie); visually it seems to show the difficulty of negating cultural differences and language barriers when prosecuting "post-conflict reconstruction".

Culture has become an overarching concern for COINistas. Consider the first photo and then this extract from Operational Culture for the Warfighter (2008):

"U.S. personnel in Afghanistan frequently notice a drop in insurgent activity during the winter. Over time, they have come to understand that this is related less to diminished insurgent enthusiasm for anti-Afghan violence, and much more to the local cultural disinclination to fight during the winter months in high altitude. Conversely, the upsurge in violence over the summer and autumn is seasonally driven, and not necessarily a function of greater insurgent zeal."

In fact, tactical considerations are mistaken here for "local cultural disinclination", which seems to hark back to ideas of the "lazy natives". Material interests are mistaken for cultural practices. The flora in the summer makes insurgent activity easier than in the barren winter months. We need culture in our calculations, but must not let it drive every aspect of our considerations. Culture is fluid and easily manipulated - stereotypes are a poor weapon in war. Material considerations - survival - trump cultural norms.

Copyright: Adam Collington

Copyright: Adam Collington

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