Academic journal article Parameters

Culture in Conflict: Irregular Warfare, Culture Policy, and the Marine Corps

Academic journal article Parameters

Culture in Conflict: Irregular Warfare, Culture Policy, and the Marine Corps

Article excerpt

Culture in Conflict: Irregular Warfare, Culture Policy, and the Marine Corps

By Paula Holmes-Eber

Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, Ca: Standford

University Press, 2014.

272 pages



Challenges faced by the United States Marine Corps as it confronted different, and often contradictory, government policies regarding culture is the central point of this engaging and extensively-researched book. The author, Paula Holmes-Eber, Professor of Operational Culture at Marine Corps University, has written an in-depth ethnographic study of the Marine Corps, one which will be extremely useful to academics, policymakers and the general public. This book should be mandatory reading for government officials who are deciding and enacting culture-related policies.

As Holmes-Eber writes, "the book is about cross-cultural problem solving-about the messy process of translation, interpretation, and program implementation as two different worlds struggle to make sense of one another. The focus is not upon the answer, but the process" (xvii). This is the central core of the book. She goes on to clarify the "two different worlds" are not just how the Marines interacted with locals overseas, but also how they had to deal with new US government policies regarding culture and language. Thus, Holmes-Eber directs attention to how there can be, and often are, cultural differences within the United States military and in its relations with the government.

"Cross-cultural," here, does not just mean "how do we (United States) deal with others overseas?" but also how the Marine Corps culture is understood and formed, and how Marines understand external government directives and policy changes.

To illustrate the culture of the Marine Corps and its reactions to new policies, Holmes-Eber divides the book into two parts. The first outlines the ethos of the Marine Corps. Chapters are titled according to key Marine phrases and self-understandings. For example, Chapter 2 is called "Every marine a rifleman" and describes the egalitarian ethos of the Marine Corps. Similarly, the emphasis on being a leader is in Chapter 5 "Tip of the spear." After outlining the culture of the Marine Corps in Part I, the second part of the book focuses on the specifics of how the Marines incorporated and, sometimes, resisted the "new culture policy" of the US government (5). Holmes-Eber claims the Marines "Marinized" the policy through simplification, translation, processing, and reshaping. Each chapter in Part II explicates one of these methods. As such, the book is very well-organized for the reader.

This work would not have been possible without Holmes-Eber's unique access to her research participants--the Marines. Her wideranging research includes observations at Marine Corps educational facilities, training sessions, bases and in-depth interviews with over 80 Marines. This is supplemented by an online survey (with 2,406 responses) on "attitudes toward culture and language learning" (23). She uses the words of the Marines themselves in order to portray their world, as they see it. The results can be noted in Part I, wherein the challenges and difficulties but also the sense of accomplishment of those who pass through Marine Corp training is detailed. …

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