Why soldiers fight

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Matthew Cancian concluded his service in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2013, but in some ways he never left his Afghanistan battlefield experience behind. A rising fifth-year doctoral candidate in political science, Cancian researches what motivates people to enlist and to engage in combat.

“It could be said that my dissertation is a poorly disguised attempt to understand myself,” says Cancian.

During a seven-month tour of duty in Helmand province, Cancian served as an artillery officer responsible for delivering high explosives to strategic hot spots, locating and taking on the enemy. “We were in harm’s way over and over,” he says. He has ruminated on his reasons for deploying, tagging some combination of patriotism and a sense of duty, but ultimately, he says, “we are poor observers of our own motivations — especially in real-time.”

To learn about why soldiers fight, social scientists have traditionally sought out ex-combatants. But given his own history, Cancian decided to stake out novel territory, and learn directly from soldiers in the midst of conflict. “The point of my research is to understand why soldiers in the field commit to combat, and to identify the structural factors that go into their decision,” he says.

Kurds in conflict

At the heart of Cancian’s doctoral research is a large-scale survey of the Peshmerga, the fighting forces of the Kurds, who allied with the Iraqi government and other players to drive the Islamic State (ISIS) out of northern Iraq. This protracted conflict evolved in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s ouster and execution, the collapse of his Sunni Muslim power structure, and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Cancian’s interest in the Kurds was sparked by an acquaintance at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where Cancian was pursuing a master’s degree.

“I began watching news about ISIS attacks, and saw videos of their fighters murdering Kurdish soldiers assembly-line style, shooting them in the head and pushing them into the river,” says Cancian. After flying to Iraq to learn more, Cancian perceived sharply contrasting cultures among the different combatants: “I met an Iraqi soldier going into battle with an axe, collecting ears of ISIS fighters — someone hard to lionize,” he recalls. He also encountered Kurds, whom he found to be tolerant, respectful of diverse ethnicities and religions. “The Kurdish culture is morally tasteful to American sensibilities,” he says.

Cancian arrived at MIT in 2016 still gripped by this clash of cultures on the battlefields of Iraq, the subject of his master’s thesis. When it came time to zero in on a doctoral research topic, Cancian began searching for a way to deepen and broaden his understanding of the situation of the Peshmerga, and more generally to explore the singular experiences of soldiers in action.

His advisor, Roger Petersen, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, introduced Cancian to Kristin E. Fabbe PhD ’12, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and an expert on economic and political development in the Middle East who was concerned with how the conflict in Iraq intersected with issues of Kurdish nationalism and identity.

In summer 2017, Cancian and Fabbe teamed up to organize and administer a survey of 2,300 active soldiers, primarily Peshmerga. They trained local professors and students, who headed out to several regions — some under Kurdish control and others in dispute by ISIS and the Iraqi government.

“Our teams would drive out to places often on the front lines, asking soldiers questions about how they felt about the enemy and treatment of civilians,” says Cancian. “We felt it was important to understand active combatants, to know what people with assault rifles think.” Most of their respondents were male and Muslim, literate, with a secondary education.

This survey yielded a rich cluster of findings and crucial fodder for Cancian’s three dissertation papers. Among the most significant takeaways: Economics, ideology, social networks, and past victimization (primarily by Sunni Muslims) “all shaped the motivations of Kurds to enlist in the Peshmerga,” he says, although the vast majority joined for nationalist reasons. Kurds in northern Iraq have long sought to establish a geographically and politically distinct state, and entire families join the Peshmerga. “There is an element of self-preservation involved,” says Cancian.

In addition, his analysis showed that Kurdish fighters trained by the United States and other western nations felt more confident on the battlefield, and were less likely to desert or hide. And in response to questions about whether Peshmerga would offer medical aid to the enemy, Cancian found that they made sharp distinctions among their foes; 50 percent said they would not provide life-saving medical aid to Iraqi Sunni Arabs who had joined ISIS, but were significantly more likely to help foreign fighters who joined ISIS or local ISIS members who had not taken up arms against them.

“We wanted to understand how political violence plays out, so it was important to know whether the Peshmerga perceived certain ISIS fighters as not deserving of basic medical treatment, seeing them as subhuman,” says Cancian. A nuanced view of the beliefs of fighting forces such as the Peshmerga, especially around combatants from different ethnic groups, Cancian says, could prove germane to American military policy.

Resolved to serve

Cancian’s fascination with the difficult dimensions of a soldier’s active duty is a matter of scholarly, personal, and family interest. In 2006, while Cancian was at the University of Virginia reading ancient Greek and Roman history, his father, Mark F. Cancian — a retired Marine Corps colonel with 30 years of duty that included tours in Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf War — reactivated to serve in Iraq. “I’m at a great American university, eating well, and my dad’s in Iraq, fighting for our country,” Cancian recalls. “It motivated me to try to join.”

Emphasis on “try.” Cancian overcame multiple hurdles to enlist while still at college, including correcting a congenital heart defect. He was 6 feet, 4 inches tall, but unathletic, “so I stopped partying, spent two hours a day in the gym, eating Nutella and steak to bulk up,” he says. The summer after junior year he attended an officer screening program. “People were yelling at me all the time, and full masculine dominance culture was on display,” he says. “There were moments when everything hurt and I felt like dropping out, but I really, really wanted it, and kept going.”

Today, Cancian is wrapping up his thesis in an idyllic, rural homestead in Rhode Island, where, in March, in the midst of the pandemic, he and his wife celebrated the birth of a second child. He is preparing to publish several journal articles drawn from his research, and collaborating with Fabbe and Petersen on two different book projects. He also partners with his father on opinion pieces about such subjects as NATO and Pentagon practices. After years of pondering the military experience — both his own, and others’ — he has a better understanding “of why people join armed groups and gravitate toward political violence.” But he is still searching for his own motivations. “How much work we humans have to do to understand ourselves,” he says.

Source: Why soldiers fight

Former Employees At Central Casting, Hollywood’s Legendary Agency, Say Actors Were Tired Of Being Typecast Into Stereotypical Roles

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“There are people who rely on them, and Central Casting couldn't care less about what goes on there as long as they are getting their money.”

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Source: Former Employees At Central Casting, Hollywood’s Legendary Agency, Say Actors Were Tired Of Being Typecast Into Stereotypical Roles

3 Questions: Chappell Lawson on U.S. security policy

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The year 2020 has featured an array of safety and security concerns for ordinary Americans, including disease and natural disasters. How can the U.S. government best protect its citizens? That is the focus of a new scholarly book with practical aims, “Beyond 9/11: Homeland Security for the Twenty-First Century,” published by the MIT Press. The volume features chapters written by 19 security experts, and closely examines the role of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was created after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The book is co-edited by Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science at MIT, who has served at DHS as executive director of policy and planning, and senior advisor to the commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. His two co-editors are Juliette Kayyem, faculty director of the Homeland Security Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, who was previously an assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at DHS; and Alan Bersin, Inaugural Fellow at the Belfer Center’s Homeland Security project, who was previously Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and later head of policy at DHS. MIT News talked with Lawson about the book.

Q: If homeland security is moving “beyond 9/11,” as the book puts it, what does that entail?

A: It’s hard to imagine a functioning government without homeland security, which means protecting the country from nonmilitary threats: responding to global pandemics, managing borders, counterespionage, and protecting critical infrastructure from cyber attacks. It’s also hard to imagine these things being done without the federal government. The aspiration is to do them more efficiently and coherently.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks crystallized a particular notion of homeland security. But that focus on counterterrorism obscured almost everything else. Hurricane Katrina was a course correction, highlighting the fact that many other threats deserved attention. More recently the issue of cyber threats against critical infrastructure, including election infrastructure, raises a whole new set of challenges, and Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of preventing and addressing deadly pandemics. All of those are homeland security issues, and the effort the government puts into them has to be proportional and balanced.

Q: Okay, speaking of balance, what’s the right balance of power between the federal government and states? The book explores this, and we can grasp — for instance — that there are clear benefits to distributing election oversight among states, counties, and even towns. But it might be harder for those smaller administrative entities to accumulate the cybersecurity knowledge they need to protect elections.

A: It’s a mess. When it comes to immigration, it’s clear the federal government has the leading role. But there are places where the roles themselves are not clear, including management of pandemics and cybersecurity. So, nobody’s solved the issue of homeland security in a federal structure. For instance, the Constitution allocates responsibility for election administration to the states, and the states then decentralize further. Yet it’s very clear that a breakdown in one or two particular counties in swing states could disrupt the entire system. If a determined adversary were trying to accomplish this goal, with relatively modest and focused effort they could call into question the legitimacy of the entire system. And that makes it a homeland security issue. We haven’t sorted that out yet.

We wrote this book imagining how to improve the homeland security enterprise. The analogy is Berlin in 1990: You could look at the city and see some blighted areas and some beautiful areas that showed what the city might be 30 years later, the gleaming capital that Berlin is today. The book is providing a roadmap for getting from Berlin in 1990 to Berlin in 2020. But we can also see from earlier history that without proper oversight, there are real dangers of politicization.

Congressional oversight is cluttered and capricious — fragmented among different committees. I think there’s a consensus that oversight should be streamlined. Of course, every congressional committee would like to streamline oversight in its own hands. Still, there are plenty of people on Capitol Hill who care about homeland security being executed properly, so there should be an opportunity to create better oversight.

Q: What have you learned about security issues from the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: I think everything we predicted about homeland security was borne out in the context of the pandemic. If the right relationships are not built between the federal government, the states, civil society, and the private sector, you will reap a very poor harvest.

A slightly different revelation from Covid-19 is that homeland security has distributional consequences. We’re used to thinking of homeland security as what economists call a pure public good [enjoyed equally by all], but some people suffer more from the measures that are needed to secure all of society. In the pandemic, the self-employed and the hospitality sector, among others, have borne the brunt of social distancing measures. That’s something the whole homeland security apparatus has not wrestled with yet: Society as a whole can be better off, but some are doing so much better than others, that we’re inadverdently recapitulating the inequality in society. That’s a good lesson for other disasters.

Source: 3 Questions: Chappell Lawson on U.S. security policy

Startups In India Want To Build Their Own App Store To Bypass Google's

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To avoid paying a 30% cut, Indian tech companies are looking for new ways to get apps in the hands of consumers.

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Source: Startups In India Want To Build Their Own App Store To Bypass Google's