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An anthropologist's view of the military

It’s not an exaggeration to say Clementine Fujimura helped write the book on military anthropology.

Until she and two colleagues tackled the subject, there was no book.

“Practicing Military Anthropology: Beyond Expectations and Traditional Boundaries” was released by Kumarian Press earlier this month.

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Fujimura, who has taught at the Naval Academy for almost 20 years, helped edit the book along with Robert A. Rubenstein and Kerry Fosher. Fujimura also contributed a chapter about her experiences at the academy titled “Living the Dream: One Military Anthropologist’s Initiation.”

Rubenstein is a Syracuse University professor and Fosher is director of research at the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning.

Fujimura, who serves as chair of the languages and cultures department at the academy, said it took more than three years to finish the project, intended as the jumping-off point for a complete textbook on military anthropology.

There’s a need, she said, because the subject is misunderstood by both the public and other anthropologists.

The objective of military anthropologists isn’t to help the military find better ways to kill people, it’s to help soldiers better understand foreign cultures, she said. This can reduce conflicts on both sides and lead to greater cooperation.

“No one really talks about what military anthropologists do,” said James Lance, Kumarian’s editor and publisher. “I just thought it was time to get a book that brought some sanity to the discussion.”

If soldiers are protecting a village, Fujimura said, it’s important not only to be able to communicate with the people living there, but to understand their culture.

Navy Capt. Stephen Trainor, permanent military professor of leadership at the academy, praised Fujimura as a colleague and said she’s well-qualified to tackle the subject matter.

“In any discipline, it’s important to advance the field, and Clementine is certainly doing that in her work,” he said.

Trainor and Fujimura collaborate on a summer course that combines the study of culture and leadership.

Fujimura said she’s thrilled to be at the academy and is energized by working with midshipmen. She came to the academy with no prior experience in dealing with the military and used her anthropological skills to study the culture of the institution.

When she first arrived at the academy, she taught Russian and German. Her two prior books were about children growing up in Russia and child abandonment in Russia.

Catherine O’Neil, who teaches Russian language and literature at the academy, said Fujimura plays an important role by navigating the civilian and military sides of the institution.

“I grew with the academy the same way the academy grew with anthropology,” Fujimura said. “When I feel down, all I need to do is go back to the classroom.”

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