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Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic

2010
Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by James Der Derian
Directed by James Der Derian, David Udris and Michael Udris
DVD, color, 84 min. and 57 min. versions
Sr. High - Adult
American Studies, Anthropology, Asian Studies, Ethics, Human Rights, International Relations, Islamic Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Military Studies, Political Science, Social Sciences, Sociology


Reviewed by Douglas Reed, Department of Political Science, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 3/17/2011

In the case of Michael Bhatia, an aspiring anthropology scholar, education and idealism could not overcome the harsh realities of modern warfare. Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic tells Bhatia’s story, one that is tragically intertwined with the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency efforts to bridge the cultural divide with civilians.

The documentary carefully and objectively outlines Human Terrain Systems (HTS), an initiative designed by the military to better understand native populations in hopes of reducing casualties on both sides. Embedded with combat troops, the purported role of HTS participants such as Bhatia is to gather information about area customs, economics, and politics, putting a “kinder, gentler” face on the war effort. Throughout the film, HTS critics strongly argue against the program’s purpose and nature, claiming it is based on an utterly flawed rationale. They contend the military oversimplifies culture, perpetuating the myth of homogeneity. Moreover, they argue HTS is merely a public relations campaign to convince American citizens that the U.S. military is waging a smarter, more humane war.

Highly recommended for ethics and social sciences courses, Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic illuminates the debate over whether noble intention can be reconciled with the brutality of urban warfare. To facilitate discussion and further study, the film distributor provides a helpful teacher’s guide that includes summaries, learning objectives, discussion questions, and supplemental readings.

Screened at a number of film festivals worldwide, Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic won an audience award at the 2009 Festival Dei Popoli in Florence, Italy.