Academics at War

In my junior year at ASU I was awarded a fellowship to work with a professor on a research project. His research project was particularly interesting because of the framework: he was researching counter-insurgent discourse in Southeast Asia, West Africa and Western Europe. His research was diverse, but boiled down to trying to figure out who was on “our side” in contested regions, and how to connect with them. It was one of a small group of projects that comprised The Minverva Initiative, a program funded by the Department of Defense to help better understand the conflicts in which the United States is involved.

A couple years removed from this, I’m wondering if I would still choose the same fellowship (we each chose from a list of potential projects on which we would work, I ended up landing on this one, researching the background of the rebellion in southern Thailand). The Minerva Project, being fully funded by the DoD through the Office for Naval Research, uses academics to assist the military in its work around the world. There’s a lot to be said about the pros and cons of such a relationship, and I find myself wavering a bit in whether or not academics should really be so involved in the military’s operations. One – well, four – points made by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists was this:

The US university system is already highly militarized, that is, many universities take in a large proportion of their research funding from military sources.  This is problematic for four reasons:

  1. The fields so supported are distorted by focus on issues of utility to warmaking.  Whole fields of study hypertrophy and others shrink or are never developed as researchers are drawn from one field into the other, Pentagon-desired ones.  Nuclear and other weapons research related areas grow, at the expense of environmental research, for example.  Moreover, theory, methodology, and research goals in such fields as physics, computer science, and engineering after decades of military funding now operate on assumptions that knowledge about force is paramount.
  2. These research foci begin to structure what gets taught to students and what research projects students themselves see as the best options for their own work. A brain drain from other research directions occurs.
  3. The dependence on single sources of funding with their own agenda tends to reduce intellectual autonomy in ways that go beyond the selection of subject matter for research.
  4. The University becomes an instrument rather than a critic of war-making, and spaces for critical discussion of militarism within the university shrink.

And if you find this program a little too cozy of a relationship, you’ll shiver at the thought of Human Terrain Mapping. A couple of years ago the Army unveiled a new program called Human Terrain Systems which dwarfs the involvement of academia that programs like Minerva created.

HTS Researcher in Afghanistan, via

The program, as described by the Army, places small Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) with Army and USMC combat teams on the ground in conflict zones. HTTs conduct research on the ground to help create “human terrain” maps that influence combat decisions, including “planning, preparation, execution and assessment of operations.” The teams are a mixture of military and civilian, including social scientists, researchers and analysts. Some have argued that HTS is “weaponizing” disciplines such as anthropology, and the debate has continued over the last couple of years. It’s hard to argue against the fact that universities are being funded more and more by the military, and that this does alter how universities operate – whether you think it’s good or bad.

Live from Kampala

Thursday morning I rolled out of bed to Skype a friend in Uganda. His name is Morris, he’s the head of exchange for his AIESEC group, and hes been amazing. We talked for a bit and he explained the prospects of my internship. If I go with them, I’d probably spent a couple of days in Kampala getting used to life in Uganda, then head upstate to Gulu district. There, I’ll find myself a youth hostel to stay in and work with an NGO.

The group is called the National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA), and they have been doing work for women affected by AIDS and their families by providing support, empowerment and treatment.  According to Morris, my work would include: ensuring a healthy and empowered community, improve the health status of women and children living with HIV/AIDS by providing health services, improve quality of life, help people build skills to benefit their community.

I’m trying to meet with Dr. Peskin to figure out his research trip’s main objective and see if there is any way that I can help.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much a go-ahead with this group.  Once I decide that I will be going with them, I will need to talk to them about dates and then be on my way. It looks like another step forwards in the internship process! Hopefully my decision will be made soon and I can move on with all of this.

Uganda Calling

So, another update on the internship search.

For the passed two weeks or so, I’ve been in touch with an AIESECER in Kampala who is being very, very helpful about getting me an internship.  In the beginning, his internship offers included AIDS education, community development, etc.  Things I liked but wasn’t juzzed about.  After getting my CV and a cover letter, he contacted some NGOs in northern Uganda and he thinks he’s got some bites.  It sounds like, as long as I can swing housing, I might have an internship up north.  Not completely sure what the tasks would be yet, but it would be relevant to the crisis caused by the LRA, so that’s a one up.

Meanwhile, everyone and their mother is motivating me to convince Dr. Peskin to take me along.  I’ve bugged him a little bit in the past, but I’m going to send him an e-mail requesting a full-on meeting to discuss what is ideal and what is for-real.  Hopefully I can figure something out.  The AIESEC job just might pan out, but either way I don’t think it would be better than working with Victor Peskin and Eric Stover researching Uganda and the International Criminal Court.  I just need to use persistence and persuasion and hope for the best.

Alphabet Internship

So, another internship update.  As far as the Uganda-search goes, I’ve found two viable options barring unique chances, but I’ll get to that part later.  For the passed month or so I’ve looked at two organizations to go with, and I talked to some people about them recently.

On Tuesday night, my friend Kevin gave my class a talk about AIESEC and how they help students go abroad. I talked to him about some registration details, and they’ve got a lot of programs at Makarere University. They’re all HIV/AIDS advocacy and awareness programs as far as I can see. AIESEC’s cost is $500, and I’d have to cover my flight and visa.  It’d be an inexpensive way to get me to Uganda and do some rewarding work. It would be in Kampala instead of in the north, but I think I’d be okay with it.

On Thursday, I had a long chat with my friend Heidi, who spent 6 months (about) in Uganda doing AIDS work and agricultural something-or-rather. She went through FSD, a group that partners organizations with potential interns. The group seems pretty good, and they have a human rights wing that would put me in an even better field that the aforementioned AIDS work (still admirable!).  According to the site, human rights work could include: lobbying for children’s rights, represent marginalized groups in community development, help communities protect themselves from exploitation, and rehabilitate and reunify youth with their families. The program is quite a bit more, and the price goes up per week that I’m there.  Estimates would put me down $4000, which is quite the whammy when I would still have to cover tuition and such other costs. According to the website, the fee is 100% tax deductible, which I’d have to look into. The internships would be in Masaka or in Jinja, still not in the north but I could deal.

So, it’s AIESEC v. FSD.  While I think of the two, I’ll be following more routes to put me in Gulu or Pader. I have a few last contacts that I could at least try, and Cameroon is in my back pocket.


So, the internship search is still very, very on.  But, I’ve got some decisions to make I guess.  My parents are trying to help me out by talking to friends from/in other countries while I continue pestering NGOs and think tanks.  My idea has always been to try to go to Uganda (or somewhere else in the Great Lakes region) as a priority. If not, West Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia would all be great as well.

My parents have some small possibilities in Taiwan and Thailand, which would be cool.  However, they have a friend from Cameroon that has some pretty high-and-mighty connections.  By that, I mean my dad said she called one of the Supreme Court justices to see if there was anything they could do to help me.

I have sent countless letters to groups in Uganda. My friends at Resolve Uganda apologized and said they would if they could, but passed me along to another group that might help.  There’s also a placement group that will help me get around in Uganda if I research something there.  But, I’m facing an impasse: should I struggle to find a mediocre internship in fields like AIDS awareness, soldier rehabilitation, or displacement aid, or should I go to Cameroon and get a sweet   government placement?

The problem is that my heart is in Uganda. I have spent several years following the conflicts in northern Uganda, criticizing the President, and watching scores of friends go and come back hoping that I could one day join them.  I have the prior knowledge, I love the place (from afar), and I want to go there.  But Cameroon might be a better fit and the work there might get me further as far as future paths go.

Maybe I’ll end up in Canada or something.