My first contact with the military was in 1992, through a contact6 organised by my Master’s supervisor, at the time. I arrived at the Army’s Command and Joint­ of­Staff School (Escola de Comando e Estado-Maior do Exército, ECEME), situated in Rio de Janeiro, with a notebook and a “project” – written as a letter of intentions, in which I punctually summarised a

programme of research that, above all, requested my deployment to an Amazonian frontier platoon, probably near the town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira (Amazonas State), for a period of at least six months. My first reception was driven by reciprocity – I submitted the project, telephone numbers, addresses, and in return I was given a textbook,7 which I was to “study and then present a summary”: as one officer told me “this is what we do here”. This became a routine for more than two years. During intermittent periods, I spent my days attending activities in the same location and seeing the chances of an authorisation to leave and research the platoons become increasingly less feasible. At various moments, I understood that there was a subliminal message saying that the “place of a university student” was in that space – which was by all appearances what the military world had that most closely resembled the civilian university. More than that, it was assumed that it was there that (to a certain degree) I could come close to “what a soldier thinks”, and although I did not perceive this at the time, it appeared to have its desired effect on me, for at a certain point there the insistence grew for me to leave the university and join the army. At the time, I was about 25 years old and this was still a possibility; sometimes I could feel the officers’ frustration at my refusal, which was generously understood as something like “my role here is more impor­ tant” – a phrase that actually replicated various discourses heard before, which claimed that I could have a “fundamental role in strengthening ties between institutions that had the mission to build a project for Brazil”. The relation between these military and myself was elaborated through their systematic attempts to establish a policy of “strengthening ties” with what they understood to be “the university”. Note here that my own insti­ tution was spoken of in the singular, a fact that was interpreted by myself, at the time, as a reverse understanding of their own corporation; that is, as a type of “paisano” (a deprecatory term and category with which soldiers define civilians, cf. Castro 1990) replica of the armed forces, that suppos­ edly guarded two principal symmetrical properties – hierarchy and disci­ pline (Leirner 1997). I understood that at that moment, I was entering the grey zone that follows the canonic stages of the relationship between researcher and natives – which includes “culture shock”, the exchange of pleasantries, mutual attempts at reciprocal understanding, the symbolic stabilisation of the arrangement that served to process the associations executed by them and myself, and finally, the control of this learning process and its objectification as “culture”: the invention of a controlled “object” (Wagner 1981: 44ff.) – and which allowed me to re­ examine the relations experienced in the field in ethnographic terms. At the time, the thought that the military, like ethnographers, might “invent” a culture (ibid.) and that all of these events could be treated as “ethnographic facts”, did not cross my mind. I supposed that this was a type of preliminary phase and so I gave the notion of “strengthening ties”

little thought, beyond the need to continue this policy as a means to acquire the eventual authorisation to conduct actual fieldwork. What they called “alliance”, “ties” and “policy” certainly were not the same things that these concepts meant to me, which, in the best possible scenario, were concepts saturated with a series of common­ sense notions, or ideas taken from political science, sociology or even from an anthropology that was very distant from this “object”. But if these concepts suffer a kind of “creative torsion” or “invention” in the military mind, my place here is to reanalyse these and retrace them from another perspective. Thus, in this article, away from urgent fieldwork requirements, I can reconsider the meaning of ideas of “politics” and “alli­ ance” between the military and the “university”. On the one hand, these notions should be encompassed by the grammar of war, this object’s reason for existence; on the other, they can be approximated to a lan­ guage of war that is familiar through broader anthropological literature: as such, these relations can be seen to reflect, for example, the permanent tension that governs the unstable alliance between brothers­ in­law, which is resumed through “pacifying” exchange.8 Strangely enough, a retired general (and ex­ minister) once commented something like: “So, how are you going at the university? Still a bunch of communists?”, which sounded as if it came from someone who one has not seen for a long time, and who thus uses cordially suspicious words. “Faithful enemies”, to borrow Fausto’s (2001) idea. If these notions are indeed indexed by war, the perception of “the uni­ versity” as a hierarchical and disciplined mirror­ reflection becomes clear. The university would be seen as an army; knowledge as discipline; science as strategy; anthropology as espionage; the ethnographer (in the attack) as a double agent, that is, both an informant and propagator of ideas. And, thus, politics can also be conceived as a “continuation of war by other means”, as Foucault (1999) suggests in his inversion of Clausewitz’s famous saying.9 It is a matter of taking the idea that “we are at war” seriously: where war is no longer a phenomenon thought through battles or as “such and such a war” that was won or lost. In the native understanding, war is a potential state at every moment, which is currently being deterred: as the officers often insisted, “if you do not perceive the war, it is because we are deterring the enemy”. This is not simply a case of reproducing the native argument. While looking for a notion that could encapsulate this argument, it became clear that war could not be understood as a concrete fact, but should rather be seen as a relation, and this is a point that we are more used to in anthro­ pology; war as a type of social relation between reciprocal enemies. In the end, there is no way in which this native notion would not affect my own concepts and, in this line, we can attempt to identify some others: “alli­ ance”, for example, or “exchange”. In anthropological literature, these concepts have already been taken as modes of war or at least in relation to

it (Lévi­Strauss 1976 [1942]; Clastres 1980; Fausto 2001). In the field, “alli­ ance” was a task from the “strengthening of ties” agenda; the “exchange” between institutions, and between the ethnographer and his subjects, encompassed by hierarchy and discipline – the effect of a command chain. These relations, which were directed by a military routine that is envel­ oped by war, were also somehow transferred onto the ethnographer. In this case, the ethnography came to be a logical extension of war – a rela­ tion, military style. This does not just refer to events that took place during the first few moments of contact: discipline (and punish). These events take place even today, with students that I supervise and who have decided to study this theme. The ethnographer is studied from the minute he enters the mili­ tary unit; they know “who he is”, how and why he is there; someone is expecting him; someone takes him to the person designated to receive him; and that person will say: this or that interests you and this is what you will do. “This is what should be seen.” Today I notice that this is a conse­ quence of something that these natives always said, “the soldier thinks pro­ spectively”, he must anticipate the unexpected. It is true that to anticipate the unexpected is not a soldier’s privilege in cultural terms, as Sahlins sug­ gested the Hawaiians did it and many others still do (Sahlins 1990, 2008). But few do it as a conscious exercise that transforms cultural categories in action. As a stranger the ethnographer has to be investigated. How does this begin? In a first contact, the initial step is to have an official letter from the ethnographer’s institution, which passes through the hands of super­ visor, head, department and university. But this may not be enough. Requests are made so that the ethnographer’s immediate superiors – supervisor, departmental or unit head – somehow indicate that they are involved in the process themselves. This is the first sign of the hierarchy’s commitment to the ethnographer, that the “university’s chain of command” (in the sense of how they understand the university’s hierarchi­ cal structure, as if it has a chain of command) can be called upon if some­ thing goes wrong. If the ethnographer changes the military unit that he wants to study, all of these steps must be repeated: once again, a new letter of intentions, stamped by the university, will be submitted. If the ethno­ grapher changes, even within the same military unit, this step is also neces­ sary, and more: if the same ethnographer wishes to study the same unit again, after some time away, this step must be repeated. This procedure is also an effect of the chain of command. Although the common­ sense perception of military hierarchy suggests a “stratified pyramid”, what takes place is a much more detailed and complex composi­ tion: each individual appears in a singular place in the chain, two people will never be in the same position, there is always someone who commands and someone who obeys immediately “before” and “after” each person. When the chain of command “moves” – for example, during a period of

promotion – individuals move together, by changing ranks or posts (Leirner 1997). Thus, the effect of this movement for the ethnographer is to restart the relation from scratch, because as the chain is remade, the ethnographer also “stops existing” in his previous dimensions for the par­ ticular section that he tries to approach. It is worth noting that I went through this situation myself on various occasions, as well as going through this again through my students (and they through me in an interminable and, just in passing, unnerving cycle: and once again, the “side effects” appear). This situation indicates a peculiar relation between individual and the collective group, which is largely unstudied in sociological and anthropo­ logical literature. Everything operates as if collective determinations simply encompassed the individual,10 but notably this hierarchy has specialised itself so much that it reproduces itself individually, and thus appears as an “individualist hierarchy”. One of the effects for the ethnographer is that he is perceived as a “representative” of his institution, while the latter must also pass through the approval of its own “chain of command”. One of the most extraordinary things heard repeatedly in the field was the question of whether someone was a “friend or enemy of the army”, that “such and such a person was a friend of the army”, or that another “had been a friend, but had become an enemy of the army”. At first I thought that it was just an expression, but after some time I saw that the binary friend/enemy was absolutely central as a native category. Its impor­ tance is based above all on the quantity of dimensions that it is able to articulate: countries, armies, commanders, politicians and simple ethno­ graphers can be friends or enemies of the army. In a certain way, this indistinguishable scale can be understood as one of the chain of com­ mand’s principal effects, wherein it is able to include the ethnographer as part of a foreign army. But above all, what it reveals is that the category “friend/enemy” is imbricated in the chain of command; that is, that it can be seen as an “extension of war by other means”. Some ethnographic information is required here so that the extensive quality of this proposi­ tion can be understood. The observation of the daily military routine in action can provoke questions such as “how does the way in which one sits at the table have anything to do with how one combats?” This type of question returns us to the idea of prospection, as well as to the codification of military life; with such a perspective on military recruits, which aspects of the daily routine mark their socialisation? Celso Castro (1990), whose research was con­ ducted through an ethnography of the Agulhas Negras Military Academy (AMAN), shows that from the very first moment of his four years at the boarding school, the recruit is submitted to a battery of expiatory rituals, physical training and the constant repetition of mnemonic exercises, whose function seems to be “naturalised” inculcation or “memorisation” of military principles.11 These mechanisms seem to have a dual aim: (a) to

stimulate constant desertion among the cadets, so that those who perse­ vere incorporate the notion that they have a “natural vocation” for military life; and (b) forging the construction of a new person, whose new identity is recognised through the notion of belonging to an “internal world”. Such recognition takes place by constantly updating principles of reality in relation to the hierarchy (Leirner 1997) and through distinctly holistic characteristics (cf. Dumont 1992). This is concretely seen by the natives through their engagement with discipline. Differently from “us” (paisanos to them, but mainly “us” from the university, the officers’ principal com­ parative counterpoint), with the diverse disciplines that we pass through as part of our lives, soldiers have an entire prescriptive regime condensed into a unique source of “military capital”, known as discipline. Thus, if our etiquette can be disassociated from our “intellectual disciplines” (I can be a brilliant anthropologist with horrendous manners, or mediocre but dec­ orous), etiquette cannot be disassociated from military discipline. Military regulations foresee rigour as much for combat formation, as for a parade and how to enter an elevator. In the barrack, everything passes through a prescriptive regime, from sitting at a table to walking in the corridor, or speaking, greeting a col­ league, taking part in a funeral, writing a memorandum, entering a vehicle and to combat. Orders and rules that are fixed by the chain of command must be followed, and these are generally available to military personnel through disciplinary and etiquette regulations. For example, in the Brazil­ ian army, sitting at a table abides by the following rule: the first superior officer (let us call him “ego”) sits in the centre, subsequently, others will sit immediately to the right and left of ego following the hierarchic order until all of the seats have been taken. In a basic infantry assault operations manual, in principle, the same rule should be followed in relation to combat lines, always supposing that one of the maximum objectives is to preserve the chain of command. As a counter example, the contemplation of a break in the chain of command generates a type of “horror of incest” among the military. In one case observed in the field, a story was told about the relationship of an officer with a subordinate placed several levels below his “hierarchic circle”. The native classification for this type of relationship is “hierarchic promiscuity”, which is associated with a series of taboos and is taken as one of the worst horrors that can take place in military life. This strong term evoked a series of restrictions and rules that mark the game of alliance, and thus makes one consider the chain of command as an aspect of this. War impresses its meaning on the chain of command. It is, after all, order­ ing the world, and the idea of “promiscuity” could have its origins in the intention to evoke a general principle of classification, something similar to “each in his place”, which obviously includes the ethnographer and his intentions (Leirner 1997). Another message was made very clear to me on another occasion: “Piero, hot soup should be eaten from the edges.”12 It is

always necessary to be attentive to the place that one occupies in the chain and to know which exchanges are possible and which are not. As observed by Castro (1990), it is curious to note that we are speaking of a reality that clearly states that there is a separation between “us” and the “external world”, and that these two worlds occupy different places in a hierarchy with its foundations in war. If in our own world – supposedly “scientific”, or at least a world where values and culture are “invented” by anthropologists – the memorisation of ideas is a lesser form of its conceptu­ alisation, and where double understandings, paradoxes and the coexist­ ence of antagonistic paradigms are worth more, in the military world the constant and repetitive marking of reality suggests that terms and concepts require the unification of word and action. Evidently, this form of reading (and producing) reality (as any other) is also subject to ambiguities from our point of view; nevertheless, for the military it is a matter of (tenta­ tively) always converging for a unified vision.13 Thus, “attention!” means the immediately corresponding corporeal posture: the interval between order and consummation of the act, between command and obedience is reduced to a minimum (completely, ideally).14 One thus notes that the ethnographer slowly has to indicate a vector in the direction of this regis­ ter, if he or she wants to continue researching the military. Actually, this is the case for all the researchers that appear among the military now and then. For example, I was told of situations in which enthusiastic Interna­ tional Relations students “militarised” themselves, by marching, intoning the voice in a peculiar way and singing the national anthem in an almost martial style. This is one of the effects of mechanisms that attempt to “minimise” the civilian characteristics in the individual – be he the Armed Forces recruit or he who wants to cohabit with soldiers – in aiming at a supposedly natural “military essence”, while at the same time trying to fill that space with something15 (and thus we are all potential soldiers and, according to the military, because of this “while the human is human, there will be war”). The social engineering that executes this is based, above all, in a rit­ ualised daily life, entirely marked by the repetitive ordering of reality. This can be traced in the constant graphic representations of timetables and modes of conduct; the automatically recognised mechanisms of action such as orders, corporeal postures and etiquette; the recognition of symbols and notes, such as the emblems and signs that are stamped on uniforms; and, finally, through terminology characterised by the employ­ ment of a language that is encoded through acronyms and native terms (cf. Leirner 2008). External signs that are produced in events such as, for example (and to get back to the subject), during an ethnographic study about them, are also lived and codified. The codification and ritualisation of the ethno­ grapher’s life is in this sense one of the greatest signs that he or she has entered native life, and that he or she is part of the tribe, whether as