Do American soldiers understand Iraq?
A story in the Middle East report describes US military training material which uses culture as a weapon system. How much do you need to know about your enemy?
The article ‘Culture as a weapon system’ came in Middle East Report and its by Rochelle Davis, an assistant professor of anthropology at the Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
It mentions a kind of pamphlet used by the US military for its soldiers in Iraq, ostensibly so that they can get acquainted with the culture of their area of deployment. A piece worth reading – for instance the following excerpt:
Even as these materials set out to inform Americans about Iraqis, the vision of Iraqi culture that they presented undermined the stated goals of the invasion. The First Infantry Division Soldier’s Handbook to Iraq, first published in late 2003, pledged to provide “the basic information on Iraq’s culture by offering you an overview of the country, its people and their language, as well as their lifestyle and beliefs.”
Wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations are characteristic of many polities, of course; Americans notoriously refuse to pay the taxes necessary to finance the high-quality public schools that they demand. But, its inaccuracy aside, this cultural lesson was surely counterproductive to the US mission, because by the time it was widely taught the White House had announced that the purpose of the war was to bring democracy to Iraq.
The handbook declares, among other things, that the Arab worldview contrasts “wish” with “reality.”
For instance, Iraqis’ “desire for modernity is contradicted by a desire for tradition (especially Islamic tradition, since Islam is the one area free of Western identification and influence). Desiring democracy and modernization immediately is a good example of what a Westerner might view as an Arab’s ‘wish vs. reality.’