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Unpacking a Cultural Mystery

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Technical Report

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USMC Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning Quantico United States

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In his foreword to Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 Warfighting, Commandant Charles Krulak writes that one purpose of the publication is to emphasize wars complexity and unpredictability. The text goes on to examine war and warfighting, with the implication that appropriate planning and procedures can be considered and adopted to mitigate wars complexity and unpredictability. My conception of culture is similar. Culture is complex and unpredictable, but can become less so over time when a deliberate process is followed. When the military is interacting with a foreign population, there are moments when what is intended leads to an unintended consequence, or when what seems simple becomes complex and opaque. These moments are what I call cultural mysteries. The most frequent negative operational impact of these mysteries is frustration or damaged relationships, but, on rare occasions, the impact can be reduced troop security. Planning prior to cultural interactions is one step that can be taken to mitigate their unpredictability. But given the often pressing nature of the mission and the inevitability of ambiguity surrounding cultural interactions in the battlespace, planning can only take you so far. Another critical process is what can be done after a cultural mystery occurs so that Marines are able to sift through the most likely possibilities and probabilities in a cultural context, and navigate that ambiguity with less error. Over time, this process of perspective gathering, reflection, and analysis can become a skill that adds to the information picture and enhances better cultural decision making in the future.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law

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