Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cultural Sensivity Isn't About Being Nice

There is a deep cultural aversion to cultural sensitivity amongst military practitioners and pretenders who think that killing or capturing the enemy, occupying the high ground, and rearranging the furniture is the sum total of the profession at arms. These cries and belches have diminished somewhat in view of the apparent success of the new counter-insurgency doctrine in Iraq. Will the new namby-pamby cultural sensitivity doctrine work against the Taliban?

Well, maybe. It depends on whether the pressure is against the sensitive parts of the Taliban sensibilities. And that’s why being culturally sensitive doesn’t mean being namby-pamby socialist liberal wishwashery. Take “Black Jack” Pershing in the Philippines for example..

There is an urban legend about Pershing that attributes a world wide halt in Muslim terrorism after he had executed some Muslims and buried them with pig parts. While even if the legend is false, it is nevertheless a good example of cultural sensitivity. Pershing was very keen on culture. There were a lot of old fashioned massacres in that campaign. A widely quoted slogan was “civilize them with a Krag”, a Norwegian rifle used by US troops.

Another example of Pershing’s sensitivity takes place in Mindanao, then as now, has been plagued with Muslim “Moro” rebellions. Moro ferocity in battle, aided with tight body bindings to stem bleeding and a toke of smoke, was such that the Luger 9mm pistol then being considered as Army standard, was rejected in favor of the .45 caliber pistol. The 38 caliber or 9mm pistol wouldn’t stop a charging Moro with a really big sword in hand. The 45 dropped them, then as now.

Pershing would supplement fire and maneuver with chess. He would enter a village, proceed to the center, set up a chess table, sit down and wait. He knew that the chiefs of the Moros, called Datos, loved chess. Sooner or later, someone would show up, sit down and play chess. During this exchange, Pershing would negotiate acceptable terms with the Dato, terms which were conducted in accordance with Moro sensibilities.

Pershing was called “Black Jack” as his early career was in commanding segregated black troops, including the 10th Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers at San Juan and Kettle Hill. This early experience in commanding black troops was clearly an opportunity to learn how to get the most out of a vastly different culture.

It isn’t about being nice. It’s about being effective.

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