View Full Version : Cultural Anthropology

16 Jan 07,, 03:21
Here's a thread to discuss the impact of culture on military operations. This will probably end up being a close cousin to the COIN thread in terms of content, but I wanted to separate the two so that this receives the attention that it deserves. Rather than posting a teaser from the first article, I'll just list these two quotes from the article. The first highlights that we have really only begun to consider cultural anthropology know that we realize that we have wasted many opportunities in our initial approaches to OIF. The second highlights that this need to know our enemy is nothing new, although we limited ourselves in the case of OIF solely to the enemy that we wanted to fight, and not the one that we found ourselves confronted with.

And when people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way around. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.
-Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
-Sun Tzu

16 Jan 07,, 03:26
Here's a second article, "Using Occam's Razor to Connect the Dots: The Ba'ath Party and the Insurgency in Tal Afar (http://usacac.army.mil/CAC/milreview/English/JanFeb07/Patriquin.pdf)," that can be found in the new edition of Military Review. Some of you may recognize the author - he's the officer who created the stickman cartoon "How to Win in Anbar" that was killed last month by an IED.

Something that isn't highlighted by the author, but is worthy of consideration. Compare and contrast the operation names between the fall 2004 operation (Black Typhoon) and the fall 2005 operation (Restoring Rights) in Tal Afar, and think about how the names would be perceived by the Iraqi population and how it would frame the mindsets of the soldiers participating in the operation.

24 Feb 07,, 01:54
Here's an Economist article on the Pashtun tribal code.

Pushtunwali | Honour among them | Economist.com (http://www.economist.com/world/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=8345531)

28 Feb 07,, 02:43
Iraq Tribal Study - Al Anbar Governate: The Albu Fahd Tribe, The Albu Mahal Tribe and the Albu Issa Tribe


15 Apr 07,, 02:42
The journal article that this abstract describes should be published in the next couple of weeks. I'll post it when I come across it.

I think that this abstract hits on the correct approach to targeting - one must understand the human terrain in which they are operating, and unfortunately, this is an inherent weakness in our military coming out of the Cold War.

Viral Targeting of the IED Social Network System (SWJ Blog) (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2007/03/viral-targeting-of-the-ied-soc/)

The following is a summary of an article that will appear in Volume 8 of the Small Wars Journal online magazine to be published in April. Scott Swanson is an intelligence specialist who advises military and government special projects in the area of irregular warfare and counterinsurgency. He can be reached at s2@delphiresearch.us.


By Scott Swanson

Extremist groups, insurgents, and resistance elements continue to use Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) to attack coalition forces to thwart “infidel Crusaders’” occupation activities and assault rival sectarian factions. The effective and low-cost IED weapon in Iraq hides as a tool created within an elusive social network system and its use will persist in opportunistic attacks if the status quo does not shift. This IED system further devastates Iraq with evolving ambush accuracy and component sophistication, creates supply-chain income opportunities within the community, and beckons the youth who require a social-psychological outlet. Regrettably, IEDs will continue to be a weapon to channel the three “Rs” attributed to insurgencies: resentment, resistance, and revenge, unless social improvements can be rapidly implemented or the supporting networks can be debilitated.

Cutting off the regenerative hydra- heads of disparate insurgent networks is nearly impossible. Excessive direct action without timely intelligence runs the risk of civil infringements and insurgent propaganda opportunities. Capture and kill counter-IED solutions being used today have significant counter-effects of alienating and angering many Iraqis. The perceived social infractions create more discontent within the Iraqi communities and increases resistance participation.

Iraq’s IED use persists as a highly effective weapon against coalition forces. Many counter-IED solutions appear to be focused on reactive tactics (sniffers, frequency jammers, convoy procedure changes, etc.) and conventional mindset, with an outcome of specific incident successes. To change the counterinsurgency advantage, a full understanding of the IED’s complex system is required to shift from reactive conventional approaches to more aggressive small-war initiatives that stun and damage the IED sources.

Most reading this would agree that social networks enable resistance activities, and outsider military forces soon find an inability to penetrate tight family, tribe, and clan relationships. The IED system in Iraq leverages this network requiring a solution to destroy elusive alliances from within without adding to insurgency growth. Viral network penetration built on adversarial insights is a disruptive tool that can change COIN targeting.

This seemingly germ-warfare associated “viral” attack does not actually use bio weaponary but is built on similar physiological weaknesses.

In short, social and psychological information operations are conducted to push misperceptions and rumor carried by a human communication “virus” in a lytic cycle similar to a biological or computer system attack. The virus is created by a contrived solution that directly correlates to the target and damages or ostracizes the group from within. While it damages individuals’ credibility and trust, it also decelerates the flow of knowledge and information, creates some bottlenecks, and reduces IED innovation enablers.

Viral targeting is highly effective in counterinsurgency for a number of reasons. First of all, it directly concentrates on the human factors that are involved in resistance activities: demographics, culture, tribes, clans, class, ethnicity, and key actors. Second, threats are often indistinguishable between insurgents, active/tacit supporters and general population, so a solution must not inflict irreparable “friendly casualties” to incite more sympathy towards resistance. Third, and only the final for this particular argument, is the targeting follows decentralized operations that can slip outside of pattern and incident network analysis used to formulate typical COIN tactical missions. All of these reasons are contrary to most Conventional Operations and a conventional solution to the current IED threat.

The white paper, “Viral Targeting of the IED Social Network System” assesses the IED system and further defines this unconventional method of disruption.

15 Apr 07,, 02:46
Here's an older document that lays some of the groundwork that I'm sure the above article will build on.

Iraq: The Social Context of IEDs

Montgomery McFate

IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE devices (IEDs) are among the deadliest weapons coalition forces face in Iraq, and defeating their use by insurgents is both essential and extremely challenging. Thus far, U.S. defense science and technology communities have focused on developing technical solutions to the IED threat. However, IEDs are a product of human ingenuity and human social organization. If we understand the social context in which they are invented, built, and used we will have an additional avenue for defeating them. As U.S. Army Brigadier General Joseph Votel, head of the Pentagon’s Joint IED Task Force, noted, commanders should focus less on the “bomb than the bombmaker.”1

A shift in focus from IED technology to IED makers requires examining the social environment in which bombs are invented, manufactured, distributed, and used. Focusing on the bombmaker requires understanding the four elements that make IED use possible in Iraq: knowledge, organization, material, and the surrounding population.

Read it all here, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/milreview/mcfate3.pdf, or download the .pdf file.

10 May 07,, 08:16
Do not neglect culture

By Nassrine Azimi

Published: May 8, 2007


The Rand Corporation recently published a study called "The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building." It covers the basics with clarity and objectivity, defining the roles of the military, the police and the judiciary; distinguishing humanitarian relief from economic stabilization and development, explaining the complexities of governance and democratization.

But the book has almost nothing about what is clearly the Achilles' heel of recent nation-building adventures: culture. No single chapter is devoted to it - nothing on the role of culture in countries being rebuilt and, just as importantly, nothing on the culture of the nation-builders themselves.

Though we are reminded that six of the seven cases of nation-building initiated in the last decade by the United States were in Islamic countries, we do not learn much of the lessons of this extraordinary experience.

How, for example, did it inform the dispatch of some 120,000 mostly Christian soldiers to Iraq - a Muslim country and one of the most ancient civilizations on earth?

Neither do we learn much about what kind of cultural preparations, if any, were undertaken in advance of embarking in Afghanistan, also an ancient and proud land, with subtle values and vulnerabilities not readily accessible to the Western mind.

The fault, however, may not lie as much with the Rand book as with nation-building operations themselves. In most, culture has been at best an afterthought and at worst a shallow and cynical exercise in public relations.

This was not always so. The U.S. occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952, so often cited as a model for Iraq, was quite different. American planners then appeared to have asked themselves some hard questions about dealing with a country they barely knew or understood, with which they had fought for almost four years, and which lay in ruins.

Shoichi Koseki, a professor of constitutional law in Tokyo, has described some of the American preparations for the occupation of Japan, which started while the United States was still at war. Already in 1944 for example, more than 1,500 American military and civilian administrators were being put through intensive six-month courses at America's best academic institutions - Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Northwestern.

They studied with teachers educated in Japanese universities, learning not just about politics and economy, but also the language, and the workings of local government and the educational system of Japan. Ruth Benedict's "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" was mandatory reading.

The U.S. Department of War, for its part, closely studied Japan's prewar cinema. Weeks after the occupation began, American officials were consulting with local filmmakers and writers about the use of film in the country's post-war reconstruction.

Certainly those were different times, and Japan was a different country. But the Japanese were probably just as alien to the Americans as Iraqis and Afghans are to Western nation-builders today.

Surely it is naïve to believe that it was easy for the proud and sophisticated Japanese - physically starving and spiritually exhausted as they were by the end of the war - to see the youthful, well-fed and self-confident GIs taking over their cities and streets.

Still, by any post-conflict reconstruction standard of today, the U.S. occupation of Japan was an outstanding achievement. At least part of that success can be ascribed to the fact that in the midst of the chaos, confusion and sacrifices of a war, the Americans had the wisdom to operate on the fundamental assumption that knowledge and culture matter.

Last year, on a trip to Kabul, my colleagues and I found that our small guesthouse received satellite TV, with endless channels. Many were dedicated to pornography. What a gift to the Taliban!

This is not a pious point. In nation-building as in life, perceptions matter, and missing the subtlety of the symbols and values of others is an unforgivable strategic error.

General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander in Japan after World War II, had a clear vision of the need for respecting the dignity of the defeated Japanese. He extended this understanding even to his own dress - he is said to have frequently changed shirts in the torrid heat and humidity of Tokyo, understanding that living up to Japanese standards of cleanliness would reflect well upon his position and his policies as well.

Some weeks ago at a gathering in Hiroshima of managers of cultural heritage from Asia, the soft-spoken and thoughtful Afghan participant read to us the sign that stands at the entrance of Kabul Museum: "A nation is alive if its culture is alive."

The far-reaching implications of these simple words should become the mantra of all aspiring nation-builders.

Nassrine Azimi is director of the Hiroshima office for Asia and the Pacific region of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.
Do not neglect culture - International Herald Tribune (http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/08/opinion/edazimi.php?page=1)

Anyone paying heed?

The Chap
26 Jul 07,, 05:09
T. E. Lawrence anyone?:rolleyes:

Mesopetamia; again eh?

25 Sep 07,, 03:29
Here's a primer on Iraqi tribal structures from the 2007 Sep/Oct issue of Military Review. The article, written by Lt. Col. Michael Eisenstadt, emphasizes the importance of engaging the tribes and includes a section on lessons learned.


05 Oct 07,, 23:01
From today's New York Times...