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Thread: Good Anthropology, Bad History: The Cultural Turn in Studying War

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    Default Good Anthropology, Bad History: The Cultural Turn in Studying War

    Parameters, Summer 2007:

    Good Anthropology, Bad History: The Cultural Turn in Studying War
    ...This article makes four arguments. First, it shows that there has been a cultural turn toward an anthropological approach to war. As part of this cultural turn, some historians and strategists argue that there is an undifferentiated nonwestern way of war, to be found in both strategic texts and historical behavior, and that eastern and western warfare are intrinsically different. Second, it argues that classic writings do not support this notion. Such a notion oversimplifies the western strategic tradition, and overstates its differences with eastern conceptions ofwar. Third,when it comes to understanding the actual behavior of cultures at war, the cultural turn is empirically unviable. There are toomany exceptions and qualifications that must be made to the picture of two conflicting eastern and western ways of war. Finally, by depicting culture as the driver of military history, the culture turn notion risks being politically naïve. This can result in overlooking the many moments where strategic cultures do not control states, but where states control strategic cultures, and where the differences between conflicting approaches to war are dictated less by cultural traditions and more by the hard realities of power, weakness, and pragmatism....

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    I agree with the thrust of the article up to a point, Culture is not the be all and end all in determining patterns of warfare, and those that argue that a deep anthropological understanding of culture is the magic bullet for successful counterinsurgency are missing the point. The paper, in the opinion of this armchair critic, fails to take the essential step of asking "If it's not culture that is determining the pattern, then what is?", as well as the other obvious question: "What is the role of culture in determining strategy?" Then of course there is the giant elephant in the room that the author misses completely "What is the impact of American culture on American warfighting characteristics????"

    My two cents worth, speaking as an Australian, is that culture is important because it affects, and most importantly limits, available behaviours for both sides of a conflict. What follows is the Walrus Law: " If the available behaviours of one side in a conflict are superior to the available behaviours of their opponents, then the opponents lose." Without going into detail, while technology is an important determinant of available behaviours, the culture is the limiting factor, as brilliantly understood by Gen. Schwarzkopf in his positioning of Arab Armoured Forces in Gulf War One so that "Arabs would not be seen to be attacking brother Arabs".

    At the risk of getting stoned, flamed, banned and ridiculed, I would like to state that I can think of no other cultural foundation worse than American culture from the point of view of behaving in such a way as to defeat an insurgency. I was always amazed by the technology and resources available for deployment in Vietnam, as well as the pride and courage of American soldiers - and was just as amazed on how ineptly this tremendous power was employed. On the other hand, Some Third world cultures are uniquely fitted to winning an insurgency because their cultures give them better behaviours.

    I will try and provide examples of how culture limits behaviours.


    American Cultural Trait - Outcome
    ================================================== =======
    Intolerance of Ambiguity. - Frustration - "Black hats vs. White hats"

    Love of Creature Comforts - Complex logistics, intolerance of discomfort.

    Incurious about rest of world - Makes unnecessary enemies.

    "Can do" spirit - Can win, but at what cost?

    Bigger is Better - Complex logistics.

    Technology is supreme Neglect of the human variable.


    Arab Cultural Traits Outcome
    ================================================== ========

    Tolerance of ambiguity - Different day, different answer.

    Loyalty to clan - Inability to trust outside tribe.

    Religion - Suffers for the faith.


    I'm sure better people than me have explored this subject and can add to the lists.

    I would like to suggest that there is endless room for discussion, with appropriate beveridges, over the relationship between national character, culture, and the resulting strengths and weaknesses on the battlefield.

    For example The Action at Snipe during Alamein is a totally British thing.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Good Post, Walrus

    I'm inclined to agree with you in general terms and I certainly agree that the article possibly understates the effects of culture. There is an Arab / ME way of war and we have witnessed it for 35 years being tried out on the West. didn't respond properly to it because our western egos got in the way and we, mostly, didn't understand it.

    I also agree that we Americans are tempermentally unsuited to wage a counterinsurgency, we lack patience. That is a national trait and it appears to be getting more rather than less pronounced. It is not our forte as they say and if it is going to involve more than a few SF elements, we'd do better to go in and do great damage and hire a contractor to do the cleanup.

    The corollary to your excellent question; ""What is the impact of American culture on American warfighting characteristics????" is, of course, why do we not adapt our warfighting to our culture...

    As for Viet Nam, I cannot understand why you say what you said. We simply tried to fight a land war in Europe in the rice paddies of SE Asia, surely there's nothing wrong with that?

    Seriously, In fairness to us, you do have to admit that after the inept Harkins and Westmoreland * departed, the far more astute Creighton Abram went full bore into CORDS and that worked. Unfortunately, by the time it did, the pusillanimous politicans had lost their nerve and forced an unsatisfactory conclusion.

    You have to give us credit though. In Viet Nam, it took seven years to stop fighting the wrong war; in Iraq it's only taken three -- we're getting better.

    * Speaking of culture; World War II produced in the US two Armies and two schools of Generalship. One each for Europe and the Pacific. Totally different parameters and opertional and tactical requirements and it created two cultures in the Army. There were far more European types, so they won most of the postwar planning and thought efforts as well as most command slots. Pity. As I told someone the other day, I trained or helped train to fight a land war in Europe for almost 45 years. Never went to Europe; sure did eat a lot of rice. Had there been more Pacific Generals, history might have been different. You guys were lucky in that respect; most of your senior folks got their experience in both theaters so they understood the Asian milieu. We were simply less fortunate in that respect.

    I agree that there's endless room for discussion on the topic but, old and wise as I am, I have been in discussions involving beverages with Strines on previous occasions and you are not ambushing me...

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default On Cultural 1st Battles

    The rest of this should be in SWJ Vol 9 :

    America's Cultural First Battles:
    Little Big Horn, Pearl Harbor, Mogadishu, and Nasiriyah
    LTC Thomas P. Odom, US Army (ret.)


    Somalia serves as stark reminder of the risks in not understanding the cultural battlefield.

    As a military, our record in understanding the effects of culture on military operations is very much a history of learning by making mistakes. Ultimately we tend to get it right but only after getting it wrong. Custer vision of battle at the Little Big Horn was certainly culturally flawed. And as a people we certainly had it wrong with the Japanese; those "near-sighted" pilots could indeed deliver bombs and torpedoes accurately. Although neither Custer nor his command survived to see it happen, we eventually conquered the Sioux and Cheyenne. We did the same against the Japanese less than four years after Pearl Harbor. Sometimes as in the case of Mogadishu in 1993 getting it wrong meant we lost. Period. The war goes on Iraq four years after Fedayeen resistance in Nasiriyah surprised us. In many ways that pattern of cultural misreads matches our experience in battle.

    Losing to Win

    In the 1980s, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Heller and Brigadier General William A. Stofft put together an anthology of essays entitled America's First Battles, 1776-1965. Both Heller and Stofft had been members of the Combat Studies Institute, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Stofft became the Chief of Military History for the U.S. Army, going on later to become Commandant of the U.S. Army War College. First Battles described the American military pattern of losing early battles only to ultimately win the war in question. The sole exception to that pattern was Vietnam where early victories were misinterpreted and ultimately the U.S. lost the war. Heller and Stofft's anthology described these struggles in terms of training, equipment, doctrine, and political factors. Cultural effects also played a role in these wars. Certainly the misinterpretation of early victories in Vietnam can be tied to cultural understanding.

    No More Task Force Smiths
    Even as Heller and Stofft's work appeared on bookshelves, the U.S. military and the U.S. Army in particular were taking steps to break the seeming tradition of losing early to win later. The U.S. military had become a professional standing force, one that concentrated on training for war against the Warsaw Pact. The U.S. Army established the Combat Training Centers to ensure that we won first and won decisively. U.S. Army doctrine similarly shifted from the Active Defense to the offensively minded Airland Battle. All of these changes were validated in 1991 in Desert Storm. We had the doctrine, the organization, the training, and the Soldiers necessary to win our first battle and we did decisively.

    Desert Shield and Desert Storm

    Did we also get the cultural question right in Desert Storm? In retrospect, yes and no seems to be the answer. Our read of the strategic situation and its cultural implications was largely correct. We built an effective Coalition that isolated Iraq militarily and culturally. We understood the ramifications of the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict for the stability of our Coalition. But we did not anticipate just how quickly cultural factors could come into play until Saddam began his SCUD war against Israel and us. We did not adequately prepare for the aftermath in Shia southern Iraq or Kurdish northern Iraq of our sudden victory in Kuwait. Tactically we generally treated cultural effects as something to be contained; our separation of Arab armies from Western armies in the Coalition's battle array makes that clear....

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    I think the American people per se can accept long term committments and prolonged fighting but our partisan politicians certainly can't. Political power and profit at home are the driving forces of modern war. 250+ years of Native insurgency taught us something and a culture's history includes the whole chronology and not just the past few decades. In light of the litany of errors so aptly documented, the logical question to ask would be, " how is it then we have managed to survive and grow for so long?" and that is the ultimate and true test of any culture, its longevity. 400+ years ain't no small potatos. Viet Nam always crops up but the veterans of that conflict are way back in the line already in light of all the post-Nam fights we have been in. Scholars can claim failure in about every war we have been in, yet here we are, still alive, still defending what we collectively deem needs defending.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default An interesting article

    on the whole, but it really reminds me of the discussions out of the 19th century. As some of you know, I dislike (and mistrust) the "national culture" model - it works (sort of) for fairly homogeneous states (e.g. Imperial Japan in WWII), but fails miserably in non-homogeneous states or in highly communicative states or settings.

    I suspect that a large part of this has to do with how "culture" is being defined. For example, Porter "... accepts the definition of “culture” in the strategic context as “a distinct and lasting set of beliefs [and] values” and preferences regarding the use of force, its role and effectiveness in political affairs." This is certainly in keeping with the general academic definitions, but it is problematic.

    For one thing, it misses out on the entire range of thinking of the symbolic definition of culture which, I think, would be more appropriate (i.e. "Culture" is the symbolic interface between individuals and their environment.). The "cultural determinism" that Porter bewails, and rightly so, is actually an artifact from the very definition of culture that is being used! I think it would be far more profitable to look at institutional and organizational cultures within a society, than at some sort of "national culture".

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    I think it would be far more profitable to look at institutional and organizational cultures within a society, than at some sort of "national culture".
    Agreed, Marc. here is an extract from the same up coming article

    US Military Culture

    Like our greater "collective popular culture", the U.S. military culture is western in its outlook: it is founded largely on the basis of self-less service to the people as captured in the concept of the Nation State. It is critical in our cultural IPB process that we identify how that U.S. military culture guides our approach to war. There are many studies, histories, or articles written about an "American Way of War." Russell F. Weigley's work of the same title is a classic. In many ways our doctrine is a cultural statement.

    Indeed our adherence to doctrine as a base plate for our operations documents that we as a military continually evaluate, test, and rethink how we define our approach to warfare. FM 3-0 Operations is the Army's "bible" on the conduct of warfare. But looking at this issue from a longer perspective, certain trends or characteristics emerge. Four key trends emerge:

    • Preference for Fire Power Over Manpower

    • Preference for Offense Over Defense

    • Preference for Technologically Complex Over Simple

    • Preference for Speedy Resolution Over Extended Operations

    • Preference for Destruction Over Defeat of Our Enemies

    These five "preferences" drive our approach to military operations. Consider those five longstanding American preferences from an enemy's perspective. Then you will start to see US strategic, operational, and tactical weaknesses.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default Analytic advantages of Institutional / organizational analysis

    Hi Tom,

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Agreed, Marc. here is an extract from the same up coming article....

    Preference for Fire Power Over Manpower

    • Preference for Offense Over Defense

    • Preference for Technologically Complex Over Simple

    • Preference for Speedy Resolution Over Extended Operations

    • Preference for Destruction Over Defeat of Our Enemies
    This is the type of "institutional vectors" that are probably better for figuring out a strategic culture than the ones I've seen listed elsewhere. Obviously I haven't read the article yet, but let me toss in a few observations on each of the points.

    • Preference for Fire Power Over Manpower: probably derives from the initial professionalization of the US Army post-Revolution, tied in with class elements in the early 1800's (e.g. Artillery had the highest social status tied in with education).
    • Preference for Offense Over Defense: probably derives from geography (i.e. sea bounded) with limited continental conflict.
    • Preference for Technologically Complex Over Simple: a paradoxical relationship, probably rooted in the early industrial revolution and the general cultural paradigm of "tinkering". Converted into a solid institution during WWII (the "Military-Industrial Complex"). Reinforced after WWII in international trade, and currently under massive attack from economic competitors.
    • Preference for Speedy Resolution Over Extended Operations: a "classic" problem with democracies, also exacerbated by distance to combat operations area. Strongly related to preference for offense over defense, and tied to "go over THERE, fix the problem and come HOME". Also supported in foundation myths of the Revolution with the militias and the general lack of a warrior aristocracy.
    • Preference for Destruction Over Defeat of Our Enemies: possibly deriving from an early imperative to "crush" invaders tied in with the actual combat technologies available during the first 100 years of the US army (e.g. muzzle loaders, line based warfare, etc.). Also possibly tied in with invasion and destruction of First Nations groups, especially the campaigns against the Iroquois in the Revolution and against the souther nations under Andrew Jackson.
    *********

    One of the reasons why I prefer an institutional / organizational analysis over a "national culture" analysis when looking at "strategic culture" is that we have a much more flexible model that avoids many of the flaws Porter points out. Before going any further, I had better clarify a couple of definitions I am using:
    • Institution - used in the classic Malinowskian sense, an "institution" is not the same as an organization. It is the cultural grounding and justification for individual organizations. Possibly the easiest way to think of it is as the sum total of potential organizational forms relating to a particular cultural "need".
    • Organization - used in the more "normal" sense, and organization is a particular "incarnation" or "avatar" of an institution. While Malinowski's analytic model is useful for organizations, I think a better model is the professionalization model of Andrew Abbot, especially since it includes the various maneuvering and conflict between organizations operating in the same institutional arena.
    The relationship between organizations and institutions is a complex one that operates both ways. Organizations fight each other for control of "task areas" and, depending on how they play out in reality, may end up with socially constructed monopolies in these task areas (until the next fight over them). These task area fights may actually shift the definition of an "institution" over time or with a really major disaster or success (think of cavalry in WW I).

    At the level of the institution itself, it is, as I mentioned, the sum potential of organizational forms including myths / stories (often overlooked as a really important source of generative ideas). These myths / stories (folk "history" if you will, cf. Wm Von Humbolt Steve ) offer the germs of task area operations. For example, if a culture has a lot of stories about fading and raiding (which all pastoralist cultures do), that will be a "top of mind" tactic. But those same pastoralist cultures may also have other stories; certainly they exist in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan!

    So, if this is going to be a useful analytic form, we have to look at both organizations and institutions - not "national cultures". We also have to look at how task areas are shifted between institutions; the fight over the term "jihadi" (vs. irhabi) comes to mind.

    Anyway, sorry for the rambling in this post. I'm prepping for that article with Steve right now and my brain is playing through models.

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Alternatives...

    Good post but some random thoughts occur.

    "* Preference for Fire Power Over Manpower: probably derives from the initial professionalization of the US Army post-Revolution, tied in with class elements in the early 1800's (e.g. Artillery had the highest social status tied in with education)."

    Or from the intuitive knowledge that a bullet is better than a sword. In the US, the technology to provide better firepower than the opponents had has always been the case (whether it was fielded or not is a different issue). That and concern for ones troops are more contributive than class elements.

    "* Preference for Offense Over Defense: probably derives from geography (i.e. sea bounded) with limited continental conflict."

    Or from the strong Scotch-Irish, Scot and Irish contributions to the culture up until the 20th Century. Crazy Celts. Strange culture...

    "* Preference for Technologically Complex Over Simple: a paradoxical relationship, probably rooted in the early industrial revolution and the general cultural paradigm of "tinkering". Converted into a solid institution during WWII (the "Military-Industrial Complex"). Reinforced after WWII in international trade, and currently under massive attack from economic competitors."

    Or from the fact that Congress is willing to pay big bucks for hardware built in many districts while being less willing to fund good solid training. Culture?

    "* Preference for Speedy Resolution Over Extended Operations: a "classic" problem with democracies, also exacerbated by distance to combat operations area. Strongly related to preference for offense over defense, and tied to "go over THERE, fix the problem and come HOME". Also supported in foundation myths of the Revolution with the militias and the general lack of a warrior aristocracy."

    Or from two generations accustomed to sound bites and TV shows that wrap it all up in an hour. Culture rears its ugly head...

    "* Preference for Destruction Over Defeat of Our Enemies: possibly deriving from an early imperative to "crush" invaders tied in with the actual combat technologies available during the first 100 years of the US army (e.g. muzzle loaders, line based warfare, etc.). Also possibly tied in with invasion and destruction of First Nations groups, especially the campaigns against the Iroquois in the Revolution and against the souther nations under Andrew Jackson."

    We can agree on that one. Nations do have personalities and cultural traits...

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Certainly agree with Marc on the focus on institutional and organizational cultures vice national models in this case. The paper I'm working on is turning up some interesting ones for cavalry alone, not to mention the other stuff we're kicking around.

    I would also propose that organizational cultures don't necessarily have to mimic national ones, although there is obviously some overlap and common foundation properties.

    In terms of the vectors you mention, another thing to consider is the original concept that in time of war the US would rely on militia forces backed by a small regular army. There was a great deal of concern (accurate as it turned out) that these militia/conscript armies couldn't master more complex maneuvers and tactics (the term at the time for drill and such), so there was a reliance on mass and firepower. Over time I think this became so ingrained that it became part of the base organizational culture. The reliance on speed and technology may also stem from this early thought process (militia could only be mobilized for so long, thus speed was key...firepower is often driven by technology, so that's a link as well).

    Loose thoughts right now, coming from two different research efforts....
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Talking Random thoughts are good...

    Hi Ken,

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Good post but some random thoughts occur.

    "* Preference for Fire Power Over Manpower: probably derives from the initial professionalization of the US Army post-Revolution, tied in with class elements in the early 1800's (e.g. Artillery had the highest social status tied in with education)."

    Or from the intuitive knowledge that a bullet is better than a sword. In the US, the technology to provide better firepower than the opponents had has always been the case (whether it was fielded or not is a different issue). That and concern for ones troops are more contributive than class elements.
    All depends on the situation, sword vs. bullet, especially when it's a muzzle loader <shrug>. As far as the US having better firepower than heir opponents, that really hasn't always been the case. For example, the US got trashed badly in the War of 1812 partially due to better British equipment and training. Again, in WW II, if you look at the tanks being fielded, the US's Shermans and Sheridans were trash compared with the German Tiger IVs and King Tigers. It wasn't quality in WW II, it was quantity.

    I think you may be right about the concern for troop casualties, but I suspect the class element was still operative. Probably a good bar topic .
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    "* Preference for Technologically Complex Over Simple: a paradoxical relationship, probably rooted in the early industrial revolution and the general cultural paradigm of "tinkering". Converted into a solid institution during WWII (the "Military-Industrial Complex"). Reinforced after WWII in international trade, and currently under massive attack from economic competitors."

    Or from the fact that Congress is willing to pay big bucks for hardware built in many districts while being less willing to fund good solid training. Culture?
    Could be. I certainly suspect that that is one f the things hat kept that vector alive and well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    "* Preference for Speedy Resolution Over Extended Operations: a "classic" problem with democracies, also exacerbated by distance to combat operations area. Strongly related to preference for offense over defense, and tied to "go over THERE, fix the problem and come HOME". Also supported in foundation myths of the Revolution with the militias and the general lack of a warrior aristocracy."

    Or from two generations accustomed to sound bites and TV shows that wrap it all up in an hour. Culture rears its ugly head...
    Nah, you guys had that well before sound byte culture . I'll admit, he vector has been accelerated like crazy as a result of it, but it was certainly operational in WW I.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    "* Preference for Destruction Over Defeat of Our Enemies: possibly deriving from an early imperative to "crush" invaders tied in with the actual combat technologies available during the first 100 years of the US army (e.g. muzzle loaders, line based warfare, etc.). Also possibly tied in with invasion and destruction of First Nations groups, especially the campaigns against the Iroquois in the Revolution and against the souther nations under Andrew Jackson."

    We can agree on that one. Nations do have personalities and cultural traits...
    Yup, they're just pretty lousy predictors for specifics, except in the negative .

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Default Culture and conflict

    I think an understanding of tribal culture is most important for gathering intelligence on an adversaries organization for fighting and method of fighting. You still have to find, fix and destroy the enemy are change his mind.

    As for the preferences listed by Tom, they seem to be based on experience of what has worked in the past against enemies who mass their forces in combat persisting battles. Since tribal societies tend to lose that kind of war they revert to primitive raiding strategies that causes adversaries to have to disperse their forces and disburse the effect of their preferred way of fighting.

    I think it is important that we find a way to defeat their preferred way of fighting or we will be left with the opportunity to fight many such wars.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Steve,

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Certainly agree with Marc on the focus on institutional and organizational cultures vice national models in this case. The paper I'm working on is turning up some interesting ones for cavalry alone, not to mention the other stuff we're kicking around.
    Hmm, I'd like to see that paper when you get it done. End of the week I think you said?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    I would also propose that organizational cultures don't necessarily have to mimic national ones, although there is obviously some overlap and common foundation properties.
    From what I have seen, organizations play off of institutions which, in turn, play off of "national' cultures. BTW, I just added a whole slew of stuff to that paper we are working on on this; more in the next couple of hours (hey, I've got to put out some of my dissertation's stuff ).

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    In terms of the vectors you mention, another thing to consider is the original concept that in time of war the US would rely on militia forces backed by a small regular army. There was a great deal of concern (accurate as it turned out) that these militia/conscript armies couldn't master more complex maneuvers and tactics (the term at the time for drill and such), so there was a reliance on mass and firepower. Over time I think this became so ingrained that it became part of the base organizational culture. The reliance on speed and technology may also stem from this early thought process (militia could only be mobilized for so long, thus speed was key...firepower is often driven by technology, so that's a link as well).
    I think that's a good pint, and it certainly played out n the War of 1812. About the only forces we were concerned with were the Marines and the US artillery. There are some interesting parallels that may be worth looking at between the very early US army and the early French revolutionary army. The complexity of battlefield evolutions led the French to use those huge columns, which work as long as you are willing to take the casualties. For the US, that wasn't really an option given how much of the forces were militias, sow what are you left with? Really, it comes down to light infantry tactics for the militias and using artillery as your major strength option (most American cavalry sucked in the Revolution and 1812-1814, especially against British regulars and was also too expensive).

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default

    Steve Blair: In terms of the vectors you mention, another thing to consider is the original concept that in time of war the US would rely on militia forces backed by a small regular army. There was a great deal of concern (accurate as it turned out) that these militia/conscript armies couldn't master more complex maneuvers and tactics (the term at the time for drill and such), so there was a reliance on mass and firepower. Over time I think this became so ingrained that it became part of the base organizational culture. The reliance on speed and technology may also stem from this early thought process (militia could only be mobilized for so long, thus speed was key...firepower is often driven by technology, so that's a link as well).
    Agree on those factors as well. I would also say that John Nagl's "Soup with a Kinfe" makes excellent points on how the US military--despite years of frontier fighting--defined itself using European, especially Napoleonic, insutitutions as its model for a "professional" military.

    MarcT: Yup, they're just pretty lousy predictors for specifics, except in the negative
    Not necessarily, Marc. Our enemies have on occasion been quite successful in using these tendencies against us.

    Best

    Tom

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Thanks Marc; Good point, Tom

    We can agree on 1812 and the quantity versus quality elements but all muzzle-loaders weren't equal, the rifled types had significant benefits. Probably just as well for the nascent US that Feguson's Rifle didn't reach mass issue, either as a result of his demise at King's Mountain or the British Army bureaucracy of the time or both.

    Also agree that the lack of patience is indeed a long standing US trait; it was apparent as far back as Louisbourg in 1745...

    I'd suggest that the national traits also are fairly good as predictors of positive things, for instance, I'd never expect to meet an impolite Canadian, an Australian who eschewed alcohol, either a Frenchman or Italian who did not like good food or a Briton without a dry sense of humor. Or an American who wouldn't help if asked.

    You're correct in that the whole bit is a good bar topic. Causation for minor problems that can be remediated is valuable knowledge, that for imponderable and essentially unalterable things like national cultures / characteristics / traits or whatever tag one is comfortable applying tend to be of little more than academic or esoteric interest. In this case, the issue is really the identified trends and I, for one, agree with the list as far as it goes. They have been characteristic and evidenced in all our wars with only minor exceptions.

    The fortunate thing is that generally at the tactical level, the troops over the years have made it work -- still are doing so now. At the Operational level, failure to acknowledge those trends by too many senior folks has in the past been and is today a problem. At the Strategic level, most US Administrations have ignored them totally.

    The principal point, it seems to me is not how or why the trends exist but why we do not acknowledge them and adjust our efforts both in training and on operations accordingly. There is some indication that efforts to adjust are being undertaken by the Army and the Marines but I suspect that the bureaucracy will move on this ponderously if at all and there is no indication that the political masters will consider the factors in their planning.

    As Tom said:

    "Not necessarily, Marc. Our enemies have on occasion been quite successful in using these tendencies against us."

    All too true...

  16. #16
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Tom,

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Not necessarily, Marc. Our enemies have on occasion been quite successful in using these tendencies against us.
    I've been thinking about this for a while, now, and I think that what they are doing is attacking the linkages between institutions rather than the institutions themselves. At least one of those preferences, "Preference for Speedy Resolution Over Extended Operations", is also a general cultural characteristic, i.e. shared between a lot of institutions in the US. I suppose you could say it was part of the national culture.

    I think that it is also important to note that, frequently, the irhabi strategy is not to "win", but to make the US and coalition, "loose" - which is distinctly different. If all we (i.e. the West) wanted to do was make the Muslims "loose", we could certainly do it easily enough. But, I suppose, the real question is can we make AQ and the irhabis loose without inflicting a loss on the rest of the Muslim world?

    I argued elsewhere that the CoG for the irhabis was the symbolic ability to transform terrorist actions into legitimate jihad. Can we strike at that linkage? More importantly, can we strike at it in a manner that is ethical? I think we can.

    The first step is exactly what Jim Guirard argued for - change our terminology. The next step would, probably, be the creation of some form of international convention, similar to the Geneva convention, on the Laws of War that actually has buy in and support from the Muslim world. Probably most important in this would be clarifying the status of belligerents (specifically including non-state [e.g. AQ] and para-state [e.g. Hizbollah] actors) and codifying the exact terms of their treatment under various conditions. Much as I dislike the body, the UN is the place to get this done, and it is a political initiative.

    The goal in these two steps is simple - drive a wedge between AQ and other non-state and para-state actors and the general Muslim community by restricting their MO to agreed upon operations. At the same time, a recognition of, especially, para-state actors via an international convention will go a long way towards "regularizing" their interactions in the international community. For non-military examples of this type of thing, look at Quebec (it runs its own trade and cultural delegations) and Hong Kong.

    On the more "active" side, how can we target the radical interpretations of Islam that are inspiring many of these groups? Ultimately, they will have to be rejected by the broader Muslim community, which means that we should be supporting interpretations that call for restrictions on operations that are considered as "terrorist". Let's face it, trying to get Muslims to dive into a Western, Liberal Democracy is a crack pipe dream, but we can certainly agree with the vast majority of Muslims on the "legality" of certain types of operations.

    Marc
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  17. #17
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Ken,

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    We can agree on 1812 and the quantity versus quality elements but all muzzle-loaders weren't equal, the rifled types had significant benefits. Probably just as well for the nascent US that Feguson's Rifle didn't reach mass issue, either as a result of his demise at King's Mountain or the British Army bureaucracy of the time or both.
    I always suspected shear idiocy myself . Otherwise, my family would still own the northern half of Albany...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    I'd suggest that the national traits also are fairly good as predictors of positive things, for instance, I'd never expect to meet an impolite Canadian, an Australian who eschewed alcohol, either a Frenchman or Italian who did not like good food or a Briton without a dry sense of humor. Or an American who wouldn't help if asked.
    One of the problems I've always had with the national character / traits stuff was that it was always stretched out of usefulness. For a lot of things, beer, food, music, humour, it works very nicely and, in a few modern instances, it has worked brilliantly (Japan in WW II is a good example).

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    The fortunate thing is that generally at the tactical level, the troops over the years have made it work -- still are doing so now. At the Operational level, failure to acknowledge those trends by too many senior folks has in the past been and is today a problem. At the Strategic level, most US Administrations have ignored them totally.
    Agreed. The same seems to be true of all national leaders, though, so I don't think it is a uniquely US problem. The greatest leaders, especially in times of war, go with these trends and accelerate them - Churchill is a good example (British obstinacy or small "c" conservatism if you prefer ).

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    The principal point, it seems to me is not how or why the trends exist but why we do not acknowledge them and adjust our efforts both in training and on operations accordingly.
    I suspect that it has to do with a couple of things. First, most cultures nowadays don't encourage introspection - "know thyself". Second, in most of the Anglo culture complex, we tend to view free will as greater than predestination, so the idea of defining boundaries to our free will, which s what such an acknowledgment would mean, is anathema to many of us.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    There is some indication that efforts to adjust are being undertaken by the Army and the Marines but I suspect that the bureaucracy will move on this ponderously if at all and there is no indication that the political masters will consider the factors in their planning.
    I always thought that the Byzantine Empire was a useful place to start looking at military - bureaucratic interactions . I have a dark, and somewhat paranoid, fantasy that Nancy Pelosi is the reincarnation of Michael Psellus...

    Marc
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    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

  18. #18
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Thanks, Marc. I'll forego my Narses joke...

    Good points all.

    I've aways had a suspicion that the carpet fibers in the offices of the upper echelons might be highly allergenic and that might be why they did not adapt as well as did the lower plebes...

    Seriously, those trends are IMO fact and I have for years tried to get folks in high places to consider them in their planning. I succeeded with a few, unfortunately while a very few of them got to two stars, only one made it to three stars and none higher where they could truly influence things. I cannot understand why the penchant for the highly elevated is to ignore reality and pursue the chimera of how they would like things to be.

    As many note on the other thread, LTC Paul Yingling surfaced part of it. It seems protecting the institution is more important than doing what needs to be done...
    Last edited by Ken White; 06-19-2007 at 10:33 PM. Reason: typos

  19. #19
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default Good Anthropology?

    You know, I finally realized one of the reasons this article bothered me - the title is, actually, wrong - this isn't "good" Anthropology, it's outdated (1950's) and of limited use.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    You know, I finally realized one of the reasons this article bothered me - the title is, actually, wrong - this isn't "good" Anthropology, it's outdated (1950's) and of limited use.
    Marc,

    his use of "good anthropolgy" is a strawman. He is arguing against emphasizing cultural factors and he is doing it as if those of (Ken, you, me) who look at cultural factors consider only cultural factors. Secondly he argues history and the use of history as if it is not culturally influenced, when the very patterns of thought and speech are culturally influenced and influencing culturally.

    I found it funny that he picked Poole as an example when I found (and said so on here) that Poole goes way to far in his interpretation that Hizballah is an extension of Chinese military thought.

    Overall I found the article muddled and circular in presentation--he really is trying to say it is not all that clear when it comes to the influence of culture. And he took pages to do it.

    I never say things are black and white. I hate simplistic power point models that make COIN somehow appear magically simple. And I cringe when I hear the phrase, "the first (or the most important) thing we have to do is..." when addressing complex issues like COIN, analyzing a global insurgency, or the role of culture in war. Such simplistic thinking ranks up there with the idea that we can train cultural understanding by handing out pointy-talky cards.

    Best

    Tom

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