Culture Change In Army

December 2008


The Army is in the midst of a cultural change, that of thinking that the culture of others is important in warfighting–and not merely in COIN. Here’s a slide show I found on LinkedIn (a social networking site) that may be of interest. It’s not a short presentation, and focused on Iraq/Middle East, but the general principles it uses to get to that point are more universal. Click this link for the presentation. (Here’s a sample slide; I would have put it inline but it’s too hard to figure out how to get around the CSS on this site. Little help?) There’s also a related book and a website here for author LTC Wunderle.

I have some strong opinions about how the Navy deals with knowing the other guy in terms of language and culture. When I was a lieutenant and a liaison to another country’s counterpart force, the guys on the ground who were the Navy’s experts on that style of warfighting, culture and those personal connections tended to be guys who their communities thought they could afford to lose rather than who they wanted fast tracked. The guys in that position were good and competent, but as soon as they were done with that billet they got sent home, losing all that knowledge and not integrating the knowledge and personal leverage into the rest of the Navy. The Navy FAO community was among other things created to address this shortcoming.

Over the last four or five years I’ve seen some big muscle movements, particularly with regard to the team that built, evangelized and implemented the COIN manual principles. I’ve also seen a smaller but also important group of individuals furthering the idea that knowing how the other guy thinks–be he enemy or friend–is useful and worth perpetuating. As John Nagl pointed out in the reissue of a WWII Army instructional book on Iraqis, we knew some of this stuff at one point and forgot it. (Here’s a random list of Iraq-centric books from Amazon here that discuss culture and language awareness in that war, by the way. Does USNI have an Amazon store link I should be using?)

Navy has a few people who get this idea deeply, although it’s foreign to many people with a more immediate focus. Some know more about the faith aspect of opponent thinking, some know more about tribal links and educating deployers on cultural mores, a few think about conflict of ideas in warfare and how war changes based on the ideas. I don’t think those people are strongly connected, and haven’t exactly hit flashover point. They might yet one day, though.

Posted by Chap in Army, Books, Navy

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.