Cultural Awareness

Article excerpt


The war in Iraq and Afghanistan represents a microcosm of America's earlier and larger wars, in which we committed ourselves to military victory while planning for a stable and lasting postwar peace. With the defeat of Iraq's armed forces and the Taliban, the center of gravity shifted to the people as they prepared to assume control of their destiny. Today, the host nation populations are the key terrain that we must secure in the global war on terrorism. We have developed greater cultural awareness of the geographical and civil considerations under which we operate. As we have become more knowledgeable of the local populations and their environment, we have become increasingly adept at getting inside our adversary's decision cycle, interdicting his actions, and inflicting losses upon him faster than he can replace them with local resources. This is due in large part to information provided by local civilians and military. In this Commandant's Note I want to talk about cultural awareness, its historical contribution to the Army's mission, and how we are applying it today as we prosecute the global war on terrorism.

Cultural awareness plays a pivotal role in the gathering and assessment of the human intelligence we need. Credibility of refugees, informants, and centers of influence will always carry its burden of uncertainty, but the information they offer will complement that gained by electronic and other intelligence gathering methods. Today's deployed formations are fighting amid local populations whose reaction to the U.S., her goals, and the presence of our Soldiers may be supportive, neutral, or hostile, or a combination of these. This is determined by the nature and extent of their contact with our Soldiers, or their civilians' exposure to the insurgents' propaganda efforts. Our own understanding of the host nation's geography, history, tribal and sectarian concerns, economic system, infrastructure, and religion enables us to move freely among the population and destroy the insurgents.

The use of cultural awareness as a combat multiplier is nothing new in counterinsurgency. During campaigns against the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Apache in the late 19th century, General George Crook - a Civil War veteran of battles at Second Bull Run and Chickamauga and a skilled guerilla fighter - understood the culture and tribal dynamics of the Apache so well that he could exploit conflicts and relationships within the tribes. Today our own knowledge of subtle motivations in Iraq and Afghanistan has likewise created opportunities for success. During World War II, anthropologist Margaret Mead and her behavioral science colleagues investigated the cultures of enemies and allies alike; their and General Douglas MacArthur's knowledge of Asian culture were factors in the decision to retain Emperor Hirohito as Japan's titular ruler. …