Michael Bhatia Died in Afghanistan on May 8, 2008
May 10, 2008 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Michael Bhatia, Army social scientist, was killed in Afghanistan on May 8, 2008.
posted by geos (21 comments total)
the Boston Globe obituary
posted by geos at 8:37 AM on May 10, 2008

Soldiers get killed in Afghanistan all the time. When I just did a similar search for scientists killed in Afghanistan I only saw one name before the results further down the list appeared to not apply. That name was Michael Bhatia.

One social scientist. Whole bunch of soldiers. That sounds about right.

Now, I don't pretend to understand war beyond my solid belief that it's pointless and stupid and a prime example of why I believe humanity will inevitably cause its own extinction and all that unimportant stuff. However, how I think it's supposed to work is soldiers go out there on the front line of the 'disagreement' with another conflicting society, in order to protect their own society's scientists and civilians from that other society's conflicting life choices.

So you and me (unless you happen to be in the military as you read this) hide behind flesh and blood like cowards so that we can live our lives in an illusion of peace, and pretend that this lie called freedom is actually free and doesn't cost blood. One social scientist. Whole bunch of soldiers. That sounds about right.

We can still tell ourselves we're winning. Insert celebratory hooting and hollering here. I'll sleep sound tonight. ...What? You thought only soldiers die in a war? Don't make me laugh. It only hurts when I laugh.

...What? You didn't know we're still at war?
posted by ZachsMind at 9:03 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

How sad, awful. "Everybody knew he was exceptional at an early age," she said. "It's heartbreaking to think that the life he had in front of him is gone."
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:04 AM on May 10, 2008

It sounds like he was an exceptional person.
posted by peacheater at 9:06 AM on May 10, 2008


Wow, ZachsMind, you sure are a righteous dude. But since you knew in advance pretty much everyone here agrees with you—war is bad, soldiers are dying pointlessly, etc. etc.—your "We can still tell ourselves we're winning. Insert celebratory hooting and hollering here" is pure posturing, and you are not doing anything but trolling for favorites. Enjoy them.
posted by languagehat at 9:11 AM on May 10, 2008 [32 favorites]

Needs power/knowledge tag.
posted by stammer at 9:43 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

However trite this may sound, I liked that he played Halo 2 and watched Firefly. I don't actually like either of those things in particular, but basically it's an example of what was so touching about the third link. I liked that someone talked about him more as a normal person, since I think a lot of people look at academic types and think they'd be weirdos if they were to hang out with them.

Anyway, I think it's a dick thing to post on this thread that it's somehow inappropriate that a social scientist gets attention for dying in Afghanistan when soldiers die there every day. Everyone knows that it's unfortunate every soldier doesn't get the same amount of attention. The solution isn't to troll a dead social scientist's thread and detract from his death.
posted by Nattie at 9:44 AM on May 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

It sounds like Bhatia did a lot of good work.

The funny thing is, though, freedom would be free if so many people, foreign and domestic, didn't believe otherwise. (Not really funny ha-ha.)

I have no doubt that the scientific consultants working for the Human Terrain Project have good intentions, but I do wonder where the faith comes from if they have historical knowledge of how governments usually use this kind of information. Proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if they're deescalating violence, that's a good thing. But even the objectivity of those numbers is easily questioned.
posted by Skwirl at 10:00 AM on May 10, 2008

More on the highly controversial use of social scientists, especially anthropologists, by the military. Anthropology is still healing the wounds of its participation in the administration of colonies and, more recently, in participation in developing US Military strategies in the Vietnam war. Since the AAA relaxed its ethical guidelines on secret research to accommodate anthropologists who wished to work in confidential corporate milieus it became possible to be a AAA member AND an army consultant, which many find uncomfortable.
posted by Rumple at 10:01 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by Rafaelloello at 10:40 AM on May 10, 2008

posted by perilous at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2008

If anyone's interested, it looks like Bhatia's forthcoming book (co-authored with Mark Sedra), Afghanistan, Arms and Conflict: Armed Groups, Disarmament and Security in a Post-War Society, is due out in Fall of this year. Although the paperback edition ($39.95) is not yet listed on amazon, it is listed at the publisher website (and the hardcover edition is listed here). His book Terrorism and the Politics of Naming appears to only exist in the reather expensive library hardcover edition for now. And here is another book by him.

I am curious about the decision by Bhatia and Sedra to call Afghanistan a "post-war" society.

It seems like a "perpetual-war" society is more apt, since conflict (along with extreme poverty and the poppy cash crop) is so thoroughly woven into the history of that place.

I have no idea what Bhatia's views on the American occupation of Afghanistan were, and I would not wish to substitute my own views for his, but he clearly had a deep knowledge of the country and its troubled past--which means he may have had some degree if not of fatalism, certainly of the consistent inability of foreign powers to keep control of Afghanistan for long.

Like the British and the Russians before us, Americans are now facing the reality that Afghanistan (like Iraq) is not at all an easily or quickly reconstructed place. Empires come and go, but Afghanistan remains.

Whether our aims there are imperial, geopolitical, ideological, humanitarian, or some mix of these; and whether or not the conflict there is so endemic as to be intractable, it does seem that the historical odds of America (and the other international forces there) being able to truly stabilize (let alone democratize) Afghanistan in the long-term are not especially promising.
posted by ornate insect at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by ruelle at 2:43 PM on May 10, 2008

Anyway, I think it's a dick thing to post on this thread that it's somehow inappropriate that a social scientist gets attention for dying in Afghanistan when soldiers die there every day.

I disagree. I was a social sciences student, and disparities like that between the attention paid to the deaths of intellectuals and that paid to the deaths of cannon fodder is precisely the kind of thing that social science taught us to notice and encouraged us to speak out against.

Without wishing to take anything away from Bhatia's memory, I can't help but think that if every death in this war was felt to be as tragic a loss as his was -- which, of course, they all are to somebody, but few ordinary soldiers have the same ability to make that loss register -- then this war would have ended a long time ago.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

LanguageHat: "you are not doing anything but trolling for favorites"

Don't git yer panties in a bunch, girlfriend. I just voice my opinion.

It's terrible that Bhatia's dead. It's also terrible that countless men and women have had to die so that I may live. I never asked them to put themselves in harm's way in my stead, and if they had asked I would have told them no, but I'm thankful just the same. Now, we could make threads in MeFi for every nameless man and woman in the armed forces. Or we can give them names. We can count the dead and formally read their names off a roster. It wouldn't change the fact that it's terrible, or that their dead. Maybe it'd make you feel better. I would have told them no.

Now that you have brought it to my attention, I glanced at how many 'favorites' I got. Two. You got twenty-something. LOL! You're the one posturing!

I don't count favorites. I honestly don't get the point of a 'favorites' system in MeFi, except as some kinda peer pressuring technique to cause people like me to be less inclined to call them as they see them, so believe me, I'm the last person to give a crap about your precious favorites system.

It's very kind of a person to favorite something I say in here, if they feel an urge to, but I'm sure doing so does more for them than it does for me. I don't even understand the favorites system here in MeFi, and even if I ever did, it certainly would never motivate me one way or the other to say what I mean to say.

I was being snarky. Snide? Yes. Sarcastic? Without question. Facetious? Not a doubt. I was making fun of it. Lightening the gloom and doom and trying to put some perspective to the absurdity of it all. One social scientist gets his own page in the blue. As if his blood is more precious than that which went down the river before his? I was having a lark. How dare you say I was posturing!

If I ever really allowed myself to contemplate just how much blood has been spilt, so that you and I may have this conversation, feel this illusion of freedom, and take that illusion for granted, I'd be huddled in a corner shivering, curled up in a fetal position, weeping uncontrollably and screaming "I would have told them no" at the top of my lungs until I passed out. I fear this would become a daily routine, so my only other sane response is to laugh at it.

How dare you say I'm posturing. How dare you proclaim you know me.

*glances back up and rereads the last two sentences*

Okay. NOW maybe I'm posturing.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:35 AM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fine, you don't care about favorites. I'm perfectly happy to take your word for it. But yeah, you're posturing now and you were posturing then. You want everybody to know how very, very, very, very much you hate war and bloodshed. You realize, I trust, that the implication is that the rest of us, who don't beat our chests and go on for paragraphs about how very, very, very much we hate war and bloodshed, don't care as much as you do? Ah well, enjoy your sense of self-righteousness. Sorry I falsely attributed to you a concern about favorites that you don't have.
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and while it's certainly ironic that my comment got so many favorites, I think you can take them as a collective message from The Citizens of MetaFilter that your "lightening the gloom and doom" was not appreciated. Might want to revamp your clown act.
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Might want to revamp your clown act"

He don't know me very well, do he?

You might wanna find another tree to bark up at, Hat. This one's deaf.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:37 PM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get a room, you two.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:42 PM on May 13, 2008

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