A Practical Approach to Cultural Insight
ARMY COMBINED ARMS CENTER FORT LEAVENWORTH KS MILITARY REVIEW
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This article proposes a simple model to help understand a culture-any culture. Though more than a checklist, it cannot substitute for detailed study of a language or cultural immersion. Neither will it provide any solutions. What it can do is provide the user with a way to think about a particular society, to help focus observations and actions. The object is to help the user figure out what things pose real problems and to provide insight on what solutions might work. The past two decades have shown, especially since our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq began, that we need some ability to understand and work with other cultures. Lack of understanding has led, at best, to frustration and setbacks, and, at worst, to tragedy. Examples are many and familiar. In 2004, a machine gunner in a Baghdad convoy shot at a car, killing its driver a father and wounding the passengers members of his family because of a simple cultural misunderstanding. The gunner had signaled the car to stop while the convoy passed. He used the common American arm signal arm extended toward the driver, palm raised Halt Unfortunately, the terrified Iraqi driver, raised in a society that used European-style traffic signals, misunderstood the gunner to mean, Proceed in the direction of my raised arm. He did, with tragic results. Other examples abound. Construction programs that cost hundreds of millions of dollars ended up not satisfying local needs and in some instances creating further resentment. Programs developed state institutions that seemed normal to Americans but were ill-suited to the local society.
- Sociology and Law
- Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics