COIN Manual Plagiarized?
Anthropologist David Price has a harsh and rather unscholarly critique of General David Petraeus and his team for “pilfering” from the social science literature without proper attribution, including “no quotation marks, attribution, or citations” for ideas loosely paraphrased from academic works and an incomplete bibliography.
Small Wars Journal publishes a series of responses to Price from Major Tom McCuin, a US Army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a major contributor to the manual and the author of its Foreword, and The Editors.
The crux of the Army position is this, from Nagl:
Price describes the failure to cite all sources used in the manual as evidence of “shoddy academic practices”, but in fact he is applying the standards of one society to those of a very different one—a violation of the anthropological norm of cultural relativism as I understand it. To paraphrase von Clausewitz, military Field Manuals have their own grammar and their own logic. They are not doctoral dissertations, designed to be read by few and judged largely for the quality of their sourcing; instead, they are intended for use by soldiers. Thus authors are not named, and those whose scholarship informs the manual are only credited if they are quoted extensively. This is not the academic way, but soldiers are not academics; it is my understanding that this longstanding practice in doctrine writing is well within the provisions of “fair use” copyright law.
Price also decries the incomplete bibliography of the manual; again, he neglects consideration of the cultural practices of the society which he is examining. Bibliographies are not a common feature of Field Manuals; indeed, the Counterinsurgency Manual is the first of which I am aware that includes recommendations of civilian texts for further reading. The works cited in the bibliography are not all or even most of those consulted during the writing of the text, but those that soldiers are encouraged to read to further their understanding of counterinsurgency. This is a book for practitioners.
Lt. Col. Nagl wants it both ways. He was the Manual’s public spokesman on the well oiled media circuit where he claimed that the new Manual was the product of high scholarship in the service of the state; yet when it became apparent that somewhere along the line in the production of the Manual the most basic of scholarly practices were abandoned, he now pretends that these rules do not apply in this context. He has to choose how he wants to pitch the Manual: scholarship or doctrine. He can’t have it both ways anymore. I read U.S. Army Spokesman Major Tom McCuin’s statement as military doublespeak declaring a mistakes-were-made-but-the-messages-remains-true admission that passages were indeed used in an inappropriate manner, so I guess what we have here is doctrine.
This, though, is to confuse product and process. The COIN manual was put together by a team of scholars and practitioners, most of whom have credentials as both. They employed the methodology of social science while still producing a product aimed at the practitioner. Soldiers, even field grade officers, simply don’t care which sociologist or anthropologist first came up with an idea; they’re just interested in the bottom line. To clutter their manuals with such minutia, therefore, would be a distraction.