October 31, 2007

Controversy: FM 3-24 Plagarism "Scandal"

Issandr over at The Arabist -- whose job description includes reading publications like CounterPunch so Abu Muqawama doesn't have to -- sent over a .pdf file yesterday morning of this article, which you can now read for free. In it, David Price pretty much tees off on the authors of FM 3-24, accusing them of plagiarism as well as, hilariously, being "marginally skilled writers" and "desperate people with limited skills." (Nope, no academic elitism here. None at all. Look away, please.)

Yes, folks, it's a smear piece. (Price can't even be bothered to get John "Jon" Nagl's name right in the original article, he's so full of righteous anger.) Yes, it was published by CounterPunch, whose breathless headline was "Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Manual." (Who writes their headlines? The Sun?) And yes, the charges that Page 3 stunner Montgomery McFate is "prostituting" the field of anthropology to the services of empire is nothing new either. (Abu Muqawama guesses this is because of the obvious financial rewards involved with a Harvard Law graduate working for, uh, the federal government.) But the plagiarism claim is new and deserves attention. Read the article, and don't feel bad if you skip toward the end to the unacknowledged sources section.

In the final analysis, the folks over at the Wired blog probably have it correct when they write:

Does military doctrine need to adhere to academic standards? No, it doesn't, it's not scholarship. Then again, should Pentagon officials really be surprised that academics are acting, well, like academics? No, they shouldn't be.

I predict it'll only get worse from here.

Yes, Dear Readers, it very likely will. The self-righteous struggle of the anthropological establishment against the forces of hegemony must continue. (Because every other academic field -- political science, the physical sciences, etc. -- has pretty much thrown in the towel and decided that if you're going to get all culturally relative, working for The Man isn't any worse than toiling away in some cushy academic post in the developed world. Either way, that little hunchback Sardinian whose picture hangs on your wall thinks you're a total sell-out.)

Abu Muqawama will be interested to see how the University of Chicago Press handles all of this. Will they panic and print some disclaimer or re-call the books? Or will they just shrug and say, "Yeah, dudes, it's a military manual. We, like, re-printed it. So go sue Bob or something." (Abu Muqawama is not entirely sure why he imagines Jeff Spicoli as the U. of Chicago spokesman here, but he does, so go with it.)

Anyway, stay tuned. Abu Muqawama knows Charlie has an opinion here.

(By the way, does anyone else think that CounterPunch's language of violence -- "Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Manual" -- is just crying out for some English Literature PhD student to lend his/her analysis? I swear, as soon as they finish their espressos and an American Spirit, the folks at CounterPunch are off to join the revolution. Just wait a sec ... one more sip ... they'll catch up.)