(This post, the first in a series, builds upon, revises, and condenses a number of emails sent in somewhat different form to WPA-L, the writing program administrators’ listserv.)
The Army recently published a revised version of its field manual (FM) on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24. Field manuals are how-to guides for soldiers: step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructions for everything you can imagine you might have to do in wartime, from loading a boat to reading a map. They’re some of the most clearly written documents I’ve seen, and they’re also all in the public domain, since — like any writing I do in my current official capacity — they’re products of taxpayer dollars.
The counterinsurgency field manual, however, represents a shift in perspective on the Army’s part. Field manuals are efficient, straightforward, commonsense. For the most part, FMs are careful to avoid complexity and ambiguity, and eschew the complications that attend upon the intricacies of intercultural interaction. But the Army realized that what’s going on today in Iraq and elsewhere is a whole lot more complicated than what they were initially prepared for, and that realization prompted a fundamental revision in doctrine; a revision than actually engaged the complexities and ambiguities of intercultural interactions, and relied upon peer-reviewed academic scholarship in anthropology and sociology to do so.
So there’s the initial ground for debate, which has made the rounds in various forms on WPA-L and elsewhere: is it acceptable for the Army to adapt scholarship — yours, mine, anybody’s — to the warfighting and peacekeeping ends decided upon by the nation’s civilian leadership? (I’m doing my best here to make careful distinctions as to who does what, both out of a self-conscious awareness of my status as a civilian instructor at a military institution, and out of a discomfort with the ways I’ve seen academics sometimes unknowingly conflate military leadership with high-level civilian command.)
The scandal, though, is this: according to anthropologist David Price, the published version of the Army’s FM 3-24 on Counterinsurgency is deeply and thoroughly plagiarized, particularly in its Chapter 3, which patches together a wide range of verbatim or minimally edited passages from prominent sociological and anthropological texts without any sort of sufficient documentation in order to establish a series of definitional terms for use by officers, NCOs, and soldiers seeking to implement counterinsurgency tactics in the field.
Now, initially, when I saw this, I immediately got out all my old FMs: not a single works cited among them. David Price writes that “The cumulative effect of such non-attributions is devastating to the Manual’s academic integrity,” but apparently fails to grasp that this is in some ways a matter of genre: FMs are manuals for use in the field rather than the library, and the sergeants and lieutenants and captains who will put them to use are far less interested in where ideas come from than in matters of implementation. Some officers I’ve spoken to have echoed the observation that Army writing is community property and definitionally in the public domain, which likely contributed to the habits of mind that led to the failures of documentation. I don’t believe that excuses the plagiarism — particularly given Price’s point that “The most damning element of the Manual’s reliance on unattributed sources is that the Manual includes a bibliography listing of over 100 sources, yet not a single source I have identified is included” — but it does help to explain it.
But I’ve put my hands on a copy of the new FM, and the plagiarism is unfortunately damning, particularly given the hyperattention to citation in other areas. I don’t know whose intent it was, but the bottom line is this: there is clearly some intent to deceive associated with the citations in this document.
(More to follow.)