Monthly Archives: November 2007

Twelfth Knight

If there’s an EA-6B Prowler circling your campus on a Friday afternoon…

…there’s a chance Charm City may see your students dressed in gray tomorrow.

It’s been a busy week: on Tuesday, there were pairs of Apaches, Black Hawks, and Chinooks landing on the Plain at lunchtime, with appropriate pyro. Talk about a lot of JP8 for a pep rally. I won’t make it to the Army-Navy game at Ravens stadium, but my brother lives and works in Baltimore, and I hope he’ll be nice to the Army cadets he runs into.

I’ve got to admit, though: to this point, the squids have the West Point cadets beat with their spirit videos. What’s up with that, discipuli? Are you going to let that spirit video go unchallenged?

Beat Navy!

Time to Breathe

For various reasons, this semester has been even more ridiculously busy than last year’s, to the point where I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above the surface — and, well, sometimes sucking down a lungful of water. I completely blew a meeting today where a colleague needed my help making a case for a concern related to the staff syllabus; got caught up giving a cadet guidance on his essay after class, and I didn’t even realize I’d failed until I saw the other two people who’d been at the meeting coming down the hall. That’s the way it’s been going lately, and even the breaks — a pleasant, low-key Thanksgiving, taking the cadets in the opera club to the Met to see Aida, giving a good presentation at NCTE in NYC, celebrating my brother’s birthday with him for the first time in ten years — have felt like blurs.

When I find the time, I’ll offer a concluding post about the plagiarized field manual, but I think I’ll also take Clancy’s and Bradley’s advice and develop my reflections on the topic into a journal article — probably over winter break, when things slow down a bit. There’s a lot to be said there, I think, about genre and context, but also to build on the super-smart stuff Amy’s written about the relationship between affect and citation — and there are a whole range of affectual responses to the situation here, and I want to be respectful to that range.

For now, though, it’s back — back, I say! — to the house of pain stack of grading.

David and the Governor

If you know me and my writing, you may (or may not) know that my younger brother has served a prison sentence. He’s out now, doing good and doing well; gregarious, forthright, smart, altruistic, and dedicated. And I couldn’t not share this email from him, including a recent snapshot with the Governor at an Orioles game at Camden Yards:

Bumped into the Gov.
He said excuse me.

David and the Governor

I said Pardon me, please.

:-)

The Plagiarized Field Manual, Part 2

(This post, the second in a series, builds upon, responds to, revises, and condenses a number of emails sent in somewhat different form to WPA-L, the writing program administrators’ listserv.)

In response to the emerging controversy over the plagiarized Army field manual on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24, Chuck Bazerman and Christopher Strelluf made what I think are some important points on WPA-L. On October 31, Bazerman observed that anthropologist David Price’s article “is not just a plagiarism gotcha,” and I’m inclined to agree: as Bazerman points out, the article offers some “subtle observations about the writing and research process, the ability to handle source material and depth of disciplinary understanding, a subtle understanding of the motives for plagiarism,” among other things. For the reasons Bazerman notes, I think Price’s article is valuable — although it also seems to me quite clear from Price’s tone that the article was, indeed, primarily intended as what Bazerman and other very smart people before him have referred to as a “Gotcha!” in support of his broader strongly implied claim that Military=Bad. (Note the supporting characterization by the Counterpunch editors of “military enterprises” as “evil.”) In serving the ends that its author intended, Price’s article critiquing the plagiarized field manual raises other, more complicated issues as well.

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The Plagiarized Field Manual, Part 1

(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.)