How not to conduct Cultural Warfare

As an intentional or unintentional tool to reach out and communicate with people, online videos have tremendous power. Websites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo allow the rapid and uncontrolled proliferation of content, regardless of language or intent. From the recent slam on the Bush Administration by a rural 15-year-old girl in Alabama to a video by an active duty Marine seemingly, even if not intentionally, mocking the Haditha killings.

Unlike other military videos commented on here, such as the Norwegian video mocking the politics behind Kosovo mission or the Brits having fun in Iraq, this new video demonstrates a severe and damaging insensitivity to the mission (Download hadji-girl.wmv).

The Marine who made the video says it was a joke and a search for the video’s title, Hadji Girl, primarily turns up blogs with little to no understanding of the implications of such a message. The reality is perceptions matter and this video plays into a popular mental framework of America. The concept of Cultural Warfare, a somewhat new term, is completely wacked by a video like this.

Question: is it best to ignore this video or to quickly refute it to the public (not the American public)?

11 thoughts on “How not to conduct Cultural Warfare

  1. Matt,I enjoy your blog, but here i generally disagree with you.
    Iraq and Afghanistan are not Core states that somehow went off the rails (like Germany and Japan did). They are from the deepest part of the AfroIslamic Gap.
    As such a “hearts and minds,” or even a narrow Westernization, strategy is out of the question . Attempting to make Iraqi Shia and Sunni like us because of who we are is a fools errand. So would attempting the reverse. Neither is much possible. We’re not going to enrage Iraqis with things like this. Too little, too late.
    That said, what is the function of this blog? Obviously it’s humorous — that’s why there was laughter to it and why it was spread on the blogosphere. Obviously CAIR doesn’t like it — but CAIR is better seen as a foreign agent than an American political organization.
    Rather, is serves nearly the same purpose as the anti-German and anti-Japanese cartoons Bugs Bunny cartoons (which had to meet a far higher standard of cultural sensitivity — see above). Indeed, as much of the lyrics are taken from a marionette movie (Team America: World Police) the analogy is strong.

  2. Sadly Dan, the PC era (“Team America” not withstanding) is here and we have to care deeply about the impression the world is getting from our actions and words, particulary in America. This is serious business, the instability caused by (say the Koran flushing story or the cartoon mess) such accidents, incidents and misunderstandings often cause serious harm to US efforts in the region.If we don’t like it (and I for one, don’t) we need to put our money where our mouth is and develop (with the “quickness”) alternative energy sources for our economy so we can get the hell out of the MENA in our present form of addicated oil consumer fraught with irrational bouts of conscience about the consequences of our needs.

  3. Matt,Take a look at this map. Those Germans didn’t move in the 1950s.
    Thus, speaking as if America is much more vulnerable to a secret attack because of immigration (and thus has to self-censor now) is misguided. I believe German had already become the plurality ethnic group by the time of the Second World War, and the fear of Japanese fellow travellers in Hawaii and California is of course well known.
    Nor is it meaningful to say propoganda is only important in all-out wars. Or that only the military is paying the price for the war. America is a capital rich country, so is primarily fighting this war through capital (that is, financial spending). Those in the military are the heroes in this war, but it is simply incorrect to say they are the only ones to pay a price.
    Boyd’s summary of war is instructive here:

    Evolve and exploit insight/initiative/adaptability/harmony together with a unifying vision, via a grand ideal or an overarching theme or a noble philosophy, as basis to:
    Shape or influence events so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success,
    yet be able to
    Operate inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action loops or get inside his mind-time-space as basis to:
    Penetrate adversary’s moral-mental-physical being in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist.

    The main purpose is of course the “grand ideal.” For Iraqis, it is reasonable (without retreating to Orientalism or Occidentalism) that the grand ideal will focus on the nature of life in Iraq. Much of public diplomacy is thus a profound distraction, because it assumes that Iraqis care more about us than they care about themselves.
    Of course agitprop has its uses to the enemy, but the “All in all, I’d rather not have Americans here right now” ship has long since sailed. Those Iraqis that support us do so because they think we can improve their lives. Not because they are suffering from a delusion that we have tender hearts. (I’d like to see polls on this in Iraq. “If you wish America to stay in Iraq, do you do so because (a) American forces are neccesarily to create domestic peace or (b) you hold a positive image of American culture.)
    I’ve never heard of 4th Generation war being described as “short-sighted.” Could you elaborate on this criticism?

  4. Dan,I see your logic, but your logic and the directions it leads you to (based on 4GW and over simplified Clash / Core-Gap) is problematic. What may seem like an imposition of a Western mindset (i.e. Judeo-Christian Europeans and Americans) on an “other”, in your specific reference being Shi’a and Sunni, is clearly problematic. The reality is different and the fool’s errand (and threat of perpetual violence) is failing to understand this.
    One of the keys here is the very understanding of what it means to be in a group and what is identity. Whether one is measuring happiness as Bhutan’s King tried to do 1972 termed the phrase Gross National Happiness (an attempt to “organise an economy attentive to the spiritual values of Buddhism and thus the particular needs and aspirations of Bhutanese people. GNH emphasises how people actually perceive their overall lot in life, as opposed to measures which may not tell us much more than what the ‘average’ person can consume”) or one is seeking “national” identity, we need to understand how these bonds form, the relative values of various aspects of life (including culture), and the other things that make the “buttons” we need to press and, equally important, avoid pressing when it is not advantageous.
    The “hearts and minds” phrase that originated a) in the English Book of Common Prayer and b) with the British in their campaign against the Malay uprising is a misleading statement, especially as it has been popularly used, especially by this Administration. The goal is to deny sanctuary to the enemy. This includes denying recruiting pools, physical and socio-political safe havens, and any other aspect of support.
    Your statement that “we’re not going to enrage Iraqis” further can have one of two sources, or both: a) either the so-called Clash of Civilizations (a clash of
    common sense is more like it) is an entrenched reality, or b) “who we are” is cemented in “their” mind (“they” being only Sunni or Shi’a in your counter). The reality is that are implied message, through both direct statements and through action has created and continually reinforces a “who we are” that is counter to what we see of ourselves. In other words, when “problems” like Abu Gharib or Gitmo or Haditha happen, we think of it as something we did not symbolic or emblomatic of who we are. Many, too many, others see these “issues” as furhter examples of “who we are”.
    Consider two examples from totally different times. When the Soviets shot down KAL 007, the US media and government portrayed the actions of the Soviets as something intrinsic to their being. They “knew” it was a civilian airliner, the (faceless) Kremlin “knew” all the facts, and human decisions were direct, clear, and decisive. Compare the message with the US shoot down of the Iranian airliner. Quickly a face is put on the tragedy. Tiny graphics appearing in news magazines show dizzying arrays of computer screens and buttons. The tone and overall message was one of “we don’t shoot down airliners, it is not who we are. We made a mistake.” compared to the message of the Soviets of something elemental to their being. Today, however, we do not control the message as well and audiences are found wide and far. We have also limited, by our own actions and inaction, our communication to the “other” people (Arab, Muslim, Asian, or otherwise) to get our version of the story across. So, let’s say we wanted to frame Haditha like the shootdown by the USS Vincennes, how might we do that? The video becomes our only message.
    Those who saw humor don’t just neglect the perceptions of others, who include not just the Iraqis (some of whom are not our enemy, not all Shi’a or Sunni are “against” us) but other political, social, and economic actors, small and large. Our image as both a State and as Americans are adversely effected by comments like the video. This is far from Team America, which was a parody and, more importantly, not an official military message. The video, made by active duty personnel, can be, not unreasonably, seen as a belief by our military. We must create relations with the occupied.
    Unfortunately, your reference to the propaganda during the all-out war of World War II (anti-German and anti-Japanese imagery) is simply not valid in this so-called Global War on Terror. Quite simply, this is not an all-out war, despite what some say. Thomas Friedman said it well (New York Times, 8 February 2004, Editorial, p15), when he commented on the Administration going out of its way to isolate Americans from war: “You all just go about your business of being Americans, pursuing happiness, spending your tax cuts, enjoying the Super Bowl halftime show, buying a new Hummer, and leave this war to our volunteer Army. No sacrifices required, no new taxes to pay for this long-term endeavor, and no need to reduce our gasoline consumption, even though doing so would help take money away from the forces of Islamist intolerance that are killing our soldiers. No, we are so rich and so strong and so right, we can win this war without anyone other than the armed forces paying any price or bearing any burden.”
    Let us not forget about the world sixty years ago. Interconnections between peoples were far different and homeogenity much greater. How Americans ate sushi, mooshu pork, cooscus, or bought products made from resources in Africa? There are many examples beyond the obvious oil factor (remember the Operation Iraqi Freedom was NOT called Operation Iraqi Liberation for a reason, despite all the talk of “liberating” Iraq). We have vast diasporas today that did not exist then. Quality anti-German and anti-Japanese messages embedded in movies, cartoons, posters, and news reports were part of this all-out effort to manage public will against an enemy.
    The reality is our “enemy” is not cleanly described or identified, as we all know. The enemy may be created by a crime against a family member or by an increasingly popular hate monger masquarading as a cleric. Consider the PEW Research polls and American popularity and support for policies? The failed and short-sighted theory of Fourth Generation Warfare fails to consider historical and present socio-political and socio-economic trends contributing to insurgency. The “Spanish Ulcer” of Napoleon, at the outset of the so-called Third Generation of War, is a nearly exact model of the growth of insurgeny in Iraq. With an idle population and detiorating living conditions, local history and culture resulted in a similar insurgency.
    Why do we care about what “they” think? General Zinni nailed it in 1998 when he said, “What is it about their society that’s so remarkably different in their values, in the way they think, compared to my values and the way I think in my western, white-man mentality?” We do not need to think the same way, but we need to understand how they think to prevent, inhibit, disperse, trap, etc. Through understanding we can, for example, turn the sea against the fish to use Mao’s metaphor. In effect, through understanding the public becomes a force multiplier for us and not the insurgency. Consider again why Hamas won the Palestinian elections (reinforced by Hamas’ fear of a
    plebiscite on the official platform of whether Isreal has a right to exist). Hamas did not reach office because of their violent actions, but in spite of them. They provided safe streets and an alternative to a corrupt Fatah. Much like the Cali and Medelian Cartels of the past, locals turned to them in lieu of any alternative.
    How does a video such as Hadji Girl help our image with these, or any people? I understand were you are coming from, but 4GW misleads you and literal Core-Gap also lends an over-simplification of reality.

  5. Dan,That is a cool map, but for a Californian it seems very dated. The old joke here, to your point on the Germans, is Mexicans are retaking California through immigration. Now that the hispanic population is near or exceeded 50% of the state, you don’t hear that joke very often. Case in point: Los Angeles now has a very fine Hispanic mayor.
    The importance of propaganda, whether in the nefarious context generally granted to the word since World War I or through grammatically correct usage, is not the question here. What is important is the nature of the message and the definition of the group being demonized. You simply cannot argue with a straight face that the total and complete efforts across of elements of daily living to gather moral, fiscal, and physical resources in the 1940’s is remotely similar to today.
    That Germans were here before WWII is not really the issue. That they assimilated is. That Japanese could not assimilate as well because of the looks and more foreign customs is important. Consider how difficult it was to have a Chinese girlfriend, or even travel to China for that matter? Or to even travel to China during the Cold War? The world is much less clear today with vast diasporas and communication nets providing instanct awareness of fact and fiction.
    The comment about driving our Hummers is absolutely correct as is your statement on the military being the heroes. However, and this is a big however, the civilian world is hardly impacted by the war. Look at how many people actually know a man or woman who has served in the military, or better yet, is related to one. Ask that same question of any Congressman or Senator or Administration official. Compare the realities of conscription, rationing, and watching a military sedan drive down the street, panicking it might be coming to your house. Do we have that today? Do we even see the flagged drapped coffins anymore? (By the way, we are paying the price of the GWOT to the tune of an estimated $1 – 2.2 Trillion dollars by a study released earlier this year, co-authored by a Nobel-prize winner in Economics… which is a little more than the $200 Billion estimated by the Bush Administration.)
    Boyd’s description is useful, but more tactical than strategic. Left out are the deeper purposes behind conflict, which are frequently not about “grand ideals” or nobility. The nature of life in Iraq, to walk through your statement, is, by itself, an acceptance of an artifical construct and fails to acknowledge or accept the realities on the ground. Here, you can go back to your previous comments on Sunni and Shi’a and tribal allegiences. Just like any student of history or politics that had any awareness of the territory of Yugoslavia knew that Tito’s death would be problems (an understatement to say the least), any student of the Middle East knew the same about the territory known as Iraq only recently aggregated into a coherent territory. The need to understand the dynamics on the ground, between groups, even understanding what constitutes “groups”, how power centers are created (and therefore how they can be dissolved), are important.
    A question: What makes an Iraqi an Iraqi? Something very similar to what makes a German a German actually, which is what Husri intended when he drew from Fichte, Herder, and Arendt to “create” the national identity of Iraq to be taught… the German model is different than the French, different than the English, and different than the American… something the “Democracy-builders” fail to remember. Furthermore, they were trained by the British. Training of the Iraqi military units was a failure as they couldn’t adapt to the American military training, but once British trainers / style was introduced, they excelled. Afterall, the Iraqis have a British legacy… consider these small differences that result in different trajectories when consider what matters and what does not.
    Public diplomacy is not about making somebody like you, care about you, or otherwise feel any warm and fuzzies. Public diplomacy is about understanding and connecting to a) better understand your friend or your enemy, b) create alliances near and far, and c) foster trade and interchange and granular levels that will trickle upwards. At the very least, the other side should know the real reasons why they hate you. What we are talking about here is a militarization of this concept, Cultural Warfare.
    Fourth Generation Warfare, 4GW, is short-sighted as I’ve mentioned before in our previous discussion on 4GW here. 4GW fails to consider the realities of the contemporary period and the contributing factors to conflict. It aligns itself with technological change while espousing doctrinal change. While not quite a chicken or the egg quandry, explanations about previous incidents of “4GW” and “insurgency” that are repleat in the history books are oversimplistic and again fail to account for conditions. 4GW does not see the big picture and focuses on tactics based on technology, ignoring causal factors and previous examples of “4GW” without the technology.
    Let me throw some quotes out here for consideration:
    “Those engaged in the GWOT should be aware of the culture, customs, language and philosophy of the enemy to more effectively counter ideology of the terrorists.” –Gen Richard Myers, former Chairman, JCS
    In order to fight this long war… “We must be as ‘expert’ in the Middle East as we were ‘expert’ in Central Europe for the past 50 years We must educate, train and develop the next generation of leadership to be as familiar and comfortable with this culture, it’s threats and opportunities” — “The near term battle is for linguists, intelligence experts and FAOs” —
    “The long term battle is develop an Officer Corps (and Senior NCO Corps) that is as comfortable and acculturated operating in this region tomorrow, as we were operating in Central Europe yesterday.” — Gen Abizaid, former CENTCOM Commander
    “War is more than ‘blast, heat, and fragmentation'” — Gen Hayden (when he was still NSA chief)
    (these quotes are from a presentation on the “Long War” — a term applied to the war between the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans in the 1590s and by Philip Bobbit on the period from WWI through the Cold War — I should repackage and post up here, perhaps that will help explain things a bit more 🙂

  6. SummerBlog ’06 (Micro Edition)
    Before I left for Beijing, I started SummerBlog ’06. This online experience syndicated four recent projects — Coming Anarchy, Redefining the Gap, Perspectives & Peers, and Variations of the OODA Loop. For the rest of this week (Wednesday to Saturday…

  7. Can I have a link to that Abizaid speech please? That about sums up my argument I’ve been having onboard for the past week about “big ticket” systems, wasteful exercises like the one I’m involved in right now (Valiant Shield) and the real needs of the “Long War”.

  8. TDAXP:”America is a capital rich country, so is primarily fighting this war through capital (that is, financial spending)”

  9. Dan, let me add some on getting to know people. To start w/ the bad, it could be bad getting to know somebody. You could not dislike somebody then realize you really don’t get along (model case in point is the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood after his time in Colorado on an exchange… apparently he didn’t like what he saw). One could also realize that what they *thought* or had been told about the “other” is not in fact true.Now, this does not mean we all get together and play canasta, if anybody really still plays that. It does mean that in critical strategic and tactical senses, including the Boydian definition you provided, you can better understand and *anticipate* the enemy. Someone far smarter than I once wrote:
    “Knowing others and knowing oneself, in one hundred battles no danger.
    Not knowing the other and knowing oneself, one victory for one loss.
    Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself, in every battle certain defeat.”
    I think Sun Tzu was on to something there. Then again, what do we care what some ancient Chinese wrote? We have no need to understand or even read about other cultures or others’ way of thinking, do we? Should we consider thinkers such as ibn Zafar (the Muslim Machievlli that substantially predated the Italian) as insightful?
    Nah, let’s disregard what some General named Zinni said back in 1996: “…the lesson learned [in Somalia] that kept coming out was that we lacked cultural awareness. We needed cultural intelligence going in.” Might some awareness of how things work on the ground helped shape strategy and tactics?
    The Defense Sciences Board in 2004 also spoke on this: ”We need to treat learning knowledge of culture and developing language skills as seriously as we treat learning combat skills: both are needed for success in achieving US political and military objectives.”
    The DoD’s emphasis on language acquisition is not just about how to tell somebody to lie on the floor, but to gain tactical field intelligence and knowledge.
    Some more on public diplomacy in the context of this conversation can be found on a previous post of mine here.
    Eddie, I’ll get the sources for you and send directly.

  10. Dan,In an article title “Culture-Centric Warfare” published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings of Oct 2004, Major General Scales wrote the following:
    “Transformation has been interpreted as exclusively technological, but against an enemy who fights unconventionally – as this civil military operations team faced in Afghanistan – it is more important to understand motivation, intent, method and culture than to have a few more meters of precision, knots of speed, or bits of bandwith…. I asked a returning commander from the Third Infantry Division how well situational awareness (read aerial and ground intelligence technology) worked during the march to Baghdad. “I knew where every enemy tank was dug in on the outskirts of Tallil,” he replied. “Only problem was, my soldiers had to fight fanatics charging on foot or in pickups and firing AK-47s and [rocket propelled grenades]. I had perfect situational awareness. What I lacked was cultural awareness. Great technical intelligence . . . wrong enemy.” ”
    At the very least, we need to understand the people we are fighting, understanding the support base and seperate him from them. Getting the sea to deny the fish is a lot easier than hunting each and every fish, don’t you think?

  11. …and, getting to know the enemy allows one to really get into their OODA loop.Matt

Comments are closed.