Academic journal article Military Review

Dealing with Absolutes

Academic journal article Military Review

Dealing with Absolutes

Article excerpt

Religion, the Operational Environment, and the Art of Design

Joshua conquered the whole land. He defeated the kings of the hill country, the eastern slopes, and the western foothills, as well as those of the dry country to the south. He spared no one; everyone was put to death. This was what the Lord God had commanded. '

- Joshua 10:40

When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.2

- Koran, Sura 9:5

MY DISCUSSION HERE examines the effects of religion on the operational environment and how planners and commanders may use the concept of Design to gain a deeper situational understanding of the role religion plays in motivating and justifying actions in this environment.

Design and Ideological Mobilizations

Recently, the U.S. Army has recognized the need for a broader understanding of the complex environments in which it operates. Consequently, the Army is institutionalizing a more holistic approach that seeks to understand situations in greater breadth and depth with an aim to find deeper and more durable solutions to complex problems. This process, known as Design, seeks to understand by "framing" a given situation within a context. When the situation changes, planners will "reframe" a perspective against a more relevant context. Practitioners of Design include not only traditional military, political, and environmental factors in their analysis and synthesis, but also broader areas of human endeavor such as history, culture, society, and religion.3

The method of Design is useful to strategic planners only if it facilitates a more accurate understanding of reality and therefore fosters helpful modifications to operational plans. Fully understanding the role of religion in a given situation or event goes beyond simple rational understanding. It includes accepting and apprehending other modes of human perception, exchange, and discourse. These modes include emotional empathy and consideration of other opinions - even those opinions that lie outside the parameters of traditional Western logic, judgments, perceptions, and intuitions.

Planners tend to approach their work in a rigorously logical, methodical, process-oriented manner best exemplified by formalized military staff processes such as the Joint Operations Planning Process and the U.S. Army's Military Decision Making Process. A process approach can be very good for straightforward (linear) actions such as force-on-force operations. However, such process approaches are ill-suited to communitycentered action in which force has second-and thirdorder (or greater) effects which often undermine the desired outcomes. If planners seek to understand a human system in which religion plays a significant part, they must remember the inherent complexity of the individual religious experience and its many social dimensions. Specifically, planners and thinkers involved in the Design process should bear in mind the following guidelines when assessing the potential impact of religion on the strategic or operational environment.

Religion as a Presence in the Operational Environment

Although many religions have been used to further political, social, or spiritual aims, 1 focus on the three monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These religions tend to be dogmatically exclusivist. They classify people into believers and non-believers. This bifurcated worldview tends to create an "us versus them" mentality, which can foster conditions to justify the use of force against those who have not accepted "the truth."

Judaism originated as the religion of an ethnic group - the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Throughout its history, Judaism has retained its exclusivist character. It has not been especially keen to convert others. …

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