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[Washington Babylon]

A Surge in Plagiarism?

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Remember the hoopla surrounding the publication late last year of The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual? In one of a wave of favorable reviews, the Chicago Tribune called the book—which General David Petraeus played a notable role in producing—“the single most important document one can read to make sense out of what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The COIN, as the manual was known, was talked up everywhere from the New York Times to The Daily Show.

But Saint Martin’s University Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology David Price, writing in CounterPunch, has claimed that key portions of the manual were plagiarized. Price says that sources for “the Manual’s pilfered passages range from the British sociologist Anthony Giddens’ introductory level sociology textbook to the writings of American symbolic anthropologist (and World War Two conscientious objector) Victor Turner, to an online study guide for an MIT anthropology course, to Fred Plog and Daniel Bates’ anthropology textbook Cultural Anthropology, to the writings of Max Weber.” The overall impact, Price says, “”is devastating to the Manual’s academic integrity.”

As Danger Room reports, “one of the manual’s authors, Lt. Col. John Nagl, is hitting back.” In Small Wars Journal, Nagl writes, “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.”

Not everyone finds this explanation convincing. Gian Gentile, whose bio for several 2007 Washington Post op-eds describes him as “a lieutenant colonel in the 4th Infantry Division [who] operated in west Baghdad last year,” replied to Nagl in a comment at the Small Wars site:

Agree that the Price piece is strident and very angry in tone . . . [However] I am looking for an explanation for the reason so many passages from the manual were pulled directly from other sources (as the Price piece demonstrates) but were not set off in quotations in the manual. I mean heck on page 1–4 of the manual the publishers did find it in their means to use quotation marks to quote directly from TE Lawrence; So why not these other passages?

For his part, Price sent me a soon-to-be-published reply to Nagl. It states:

Lt. Col. Nagl wants to have his cake and eat it too. 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 service of state; yet when it becomes apparent that somewhere along the line the most basic of scholarly practices was not practiced, he now pretends that these rules do not apply in this context. He has to choose what he wants: doctrine or scholarship.

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