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11 Nov 2010

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Thomas Jefferson’s Army Was All About ‘Human Terrain’

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At the birth of our great nation, Thomas Jefferson brought a vision of the military to life — which was all about creating “multipurpose army,” designed for a wide variety of functions that go beyond combat. This is according to a recent NY Times Op-Ed by Dominic Tierney, an assistant professor of political science at Swarthmore College and the author of “How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires and the American Way of War.” These soldiers focused on what we now call ‘Human Terrain” by focusing on localized populations (well, it was our own population). Jefferson’s army actually delivered mail on the frontier helped administer justice, provided medical care and offered relief to the destitute. It was an Army with a mission to build and not destroy. Read more in this post about Human Terrain today and how NGA Director Letitia Long’s GEOINT 2010 keynote specifically addressed this concept.

Last week at GEOINT 2010, Letitia Long, NGA Director, offered two visions for the NGA. The first was to put the power of GEOINT back into the hands of the users, and the second was an increased focus on “human geography.” By doing so, the NGA will create new value by broadening and deepening its analytic expertise. She spoke of how this would offer deeper, contextual analysis of places informed not only by the earth’s physical features and imagery intelligence, but also by “human geography.”

According to Long, human geography is data and information that can be understood spatially and depicted visually that further deepens and enriches our understanding of a “place.” Human geography includes tribal boundaries, political ideology, birth and death rates, populous places, proximity to health facilities, principal market commodities, ethnicity, languages, and other cultural features.

Along these same lines, be sure to check this recent Geospatial Solutions article called “Population Is Critical Terrain for Successful Military Missions” by Marv Gordner, Program Manager in the Intelligence Solutions Division at MorganFranklin. Gordner argues that population is not just key terrain…it is arguably a critical terrain. He also stated that whoever best influences and controls the local population in these areas will likely emerge victorious.

Thomas Jefferson was surely a visionary, and it’s very interesting to see how our military engagements are evolving to focus more on population and human geography. It certainly seems like the next phase. We welcome all thoughts, feedback and commentary.

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