Wednesday, March 10, 2010

F4F: Culture is People Doctrine

METT-TC is doctrine outlining the basic factors in planning military (Army) operations. It includes Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops Available, Time and (most recently) Civilian considerations. Of the six of the factors of METT-TC, half (three) deal with people: that of the enemy, troops available and the civilians. Of the remaining three, Time and Terrain are affected by how people use them leaving only the Mission. Mission is couched in terms that normally include the people on all sides, as in surrender, withdraw, or die.

The rebirth of Stability Operations standing alone or with Offense and Defense Operations have added five Logical Lines of Operation including: Security, host nation security force training, effective basic service, governance, and a viable economy. All five of these are culture centric, especially the last three.

Culture is (People) Doctrine

The rules by which people operate is culture, and, for the warrior, culture is doctrine for people. It includes their military doctrine as well. Even if the weapons, military doctrine, and terrain are the same, two sides of a conflict will have their cultural differences. The is current doctrine, published doctrine (Torah, Bible, Koran, Building Code, Traffic and Tax Law. FM 3-24), operating doctrine, revolutionary doctrine, and old fashioned doctrine that conflicts, conjoins, empowers or emasculates other doctrines.

Cultural awareness isn’t always about being touchy-feely. It may be that the touch and feel includes shell fragments, napalm, and interlocking bands of grazing fire. A fire fight is a cultural exchange in which the outcome isn’t always the results of interacting kinetics. Some people don’t know when to quit, and some use death to kill.

A warrior’s cultural awareness has to cut to the chase in short order. The cultural experts, like any other important asset, won’t be there, or if so is for the wrong culture, or creates a weed patch of irrelevant trivia when one needs to clear a field of fire to push the right buttons.

Apologies to the handful who are in the right place with the right pitch and have proven the concept. And it is to those who have walked in both worlds that have the answers. What the warrior needs now are the questions, and that is what F4F is for.

It has become painfully obvious of late that some folks like the way they do things their way, and as long as they plant IED’s in our public places, It is way past time for the United States to consider culture as a prime factor in the determination of courses of action.

The Erroneous End State:

It is often an underlying assumption that the desired end state of our wars or major operation is the conversion of the enemy to some variation of the American Way as defined by what happens to be politically correct at the time without regard to what is politically or culturally correct in the Area of Operations. It has been an unstated assumption that what works in America is the latest and greatest, and nonconformance is backwardness. It has not been necessary to adapt our objectives to the conditions and standards of different cultures because at the bottom line, we had greater firepower than the others. We are not alone in miscalculating.

The Germans assumed that Britain would come to the negotiating table if the RAF was destroyed. That didn’t happen. The Japanese assumed that destroying the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor would bring the US to the bargaining table. That happened, but the table wasn’t about bargaining and it was in Tokyo Bay. Likewise, Stalin and Kim Il Sung assumed that the US would not defend South Korea. What wasn’t considered was the cultural importance of Face, Fate, Fame and Fortune to the receiving party of various and sundry slaps thereto.

We are engaged in Afghanistan trying to install a unitary form of governance in a culture that survives because of its fierce dedication to decentralization. What become ironic folly is that the United States has a decentralized federation in which each of the fifty states has it’s own army and air force. And our governors aren’t appointed by Federal authority.

Assumptions are the Mother of all Screw Ups. When Assumptions are tied to Murphy’s Law, Screw Ups are an improvement. Likewise, bravery is not a condition of mission success in combat except when somebody, somewhere screws up. If you think it won’t, you obviously missed something, usually an Assumption. Making water going upstream gets one wet.

Family, the People’s Template:

Human nature, like the rest of the natural world, is predicated on the means and measures supporting the survival of the species, the core of which is the family. All human organizations derive key elements from the basic model of Father, Mother and Child, the Child being the membership and future of the family unit. There are fraternal orders, brotherhoods, paternal leadership, baby sitters and surrogate company.

The Father role is akin to that of protector and is engaged with the external world, The Mother is more internally focused on nurturing the family. The distinction of protective and nurturing roles equate roughly to that of the commander’s duty: Mission and the Troops. The First Sergeant is more concerned with the welfare of the troops, while the Company Commander is more concerned about the Mission. There is lot of overlap, and that is one of the key variables one looks for in studying culture.


In the military, the Mission outranks the Troops, but not always. Civil society ranks survival higher. Culture is doctrine and is composed, like doctrine, of Values, Beliefs, Behaviors, and Modes aka VBBN (pronounced V’BBN). Of these, those that prescribe and describe the relations between people and their environment with intent to enhance survival of the individual and society are the most likely to have a strong emotional content.

To make it simple, easy to remember and actionable for troops from fire team to field force to White House, there are four principle sets of survival related Family V’BBN:: Face, Fate, Fame, and Fortune, and four which are related to the physical world: Time, Distance, Ground and Body. In short, the aggregate is called F4F.

Joined at the head of F4F is a related analysis, that of the Drama triangle of Victim, Rescuer, and Prosecutor. The Drama Triangle prescribes the trigger and reaction of transgressions and obligations of the V’BBN in F4F,

F4F: Social (Face, Fate, Fame & Fortune):

FACE: Face issues are those of the mask that the individual or group must wear to preserve place, pride, status, dignity, honor as well as the negatives of shame, and humiliation.. The importance of Face varies between cultures. Cultures that have suffered in the past often are touchy about Face issues.

Face in well trained military units is found when the individual trooper’s principle value is not the let his or her buddies down, even to the point of death. Likewise, it is an important issue that buddies in danger will take risks, even that of death. Face can be both an individual trait and collective one.

A unit that lacks such confidence in others is more likely to place individual survival ahead to the unit. The irony of this is that a unit that breaks under fire usually takes more casualties that the unit with higher cohesion..

FATE: Fate is what happens and why. It is code and consequence.

Fate also describes consequence in terms of rewards and punishments. American troops are loath to leave the body of a comrade on the battlefield, even to the point of losing more to enemy fire in order to retrieve the remains of a fallen comrade.

The customs and traditions of the Marine Corps, or of the 1st Cavalry, or the King’s Guard, provide the basis for collective action that provides the mutual confidence between the individual and the unit. In WW2, the plans for a military action against the German troops depended a lot about whether the Germans were Waffen SS, Volks Grenadier, or regular Wehrmacht units. The SS had considerable tight cohesion in which individual death was as much a sacred sacrifice as it was a loss.

Likewise, the fate of a martyr is describes in teachings, training, and recruitment in the creed of the terrorist. Young men generally see death as am abstraction and give up life to obligate God into admission into the choicer regions of heaven. Qualified love by Allah was a major incentive used to control the killers of Mumbai constantly coaching these killers to kill here and there and to take their own life in order to ensure Allah’s approval.

Face and Fate are closely entwined. Insulting the head of a Afghan family by placing boot to neck is generally balanced only with the bloods of one or more Americans. Kicking down doors is a loss of face to the head of a family, and insulting of the family and even in Texas requires a vigorous response.

FAME: Fame is the opprobrium (or blame) in the context of the group, even outside groups. Fame is not always welcome. The collective value culture in Japan has a tendency to hammer down the nail that sticks up. Like public recognition of a snitch.

The Fame accrued to the victor in a struggle has the purpose of attracting members of the opposite sex, as such victory is usually transcribed (right or wrongly) into a mating value of a successful protector or nurturer of a budding family.

FORTUNE: Fortune in F4F has more to do with the human factor in economics as in what do these folks do for a living, Different strokes for different trades. It matters whether they are doctors, lawyers, candlestick makers, hookers, or truck drivers. Each profession or trade has its own system of ethics, rewards, and punishments.

Having a fortune has mating values which makes the fortunate more useful in providing for a future family. The knowledge of one sex of the cultures significant symbols of success for the other sex includes the right car, the right apartment, a quantity of cattle or goats, in addition to being strong and/or comely.

F4F: Physical (Time, Distance, Ground & Body):

TIME: The very concept of time may be consecutive, repetitive, circular, mutually exclusive or overlapping. The relative importance of past, present and future varies. Some cultures are stuck in a long lost past, some want to forget it.

If a meeting is called for eight PM, in Japan the attendees will be there early. In parts of Africa, it is the time one leaves for the meeting. In certain parts of Latin America, the hosts aren’t dressed yet. In other parts, it is of no significance.

The timeliness of military forces is a mark of high discipline, but some cultures have considered other values as of greater importance. Should an attack be launched when it is time to do so, or should it wait for the arrival of someone of high status? The time of an attack may be adjusted until the attacker is ready, or that the defender isn’t.

DISTANCE: Distance issues attests to how close and distant individuals and their works should be. Americans like arms length, while Arabs prefer elbow distance. Elbow distance to an American is “in your face” and subject to fisticuff. Urban crowding and rural separation set different values as comfortable or not.

GROUND: Ground issues are neglected in most of our maps for it is only the shape (maybe the image) of the roof tops that one sees. It matters to a rifleman how thick the walls of the buildings and fences are. A stone wall at the base of Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, VA and a wooden fence at the foot of Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg, PA made the Blue, then the Grey die in numbers.
Mountainous regions restrict access and the amount of arable land making the control of passes and valleys a high social value. Mountain people tend to be touchy and contentious, something that folks living in the Alleghenies, Alps and mountains of Afghanistan in common. The schism between the Highlanders and the Lowlanders of Scotland are in the same vein.

BODY: Body issues include body language, but also include the whole manual of arms, legs, stomach, chest, mouth, eyes and other parts south. How one sits, stands, walks, and looks about is important. One does not stare at a woman in a number of cultures without consequence, sometime lethal. In South East Asia, squatting, not sitting is a very common posture when meeting.

Taken together, F4F is not a check-list, it is not a matrix, or a mesh. F4F is designed for specific focus on a specific mission without wading into the weeds of the myriad details of an entire culture. F4F is designed for on the spot use as a part of the Military Decision Making Process from tactical to operational to the national.

F4F as Narrative:

F4F is used by asking or observing one of the F’s and extrapolating into mission relevant conclusions. Most often it winds up as a narrative, or story showing how the parts work. Americans can be described as placing a high value on individual responsibility, which shows up in timeliness, in individual space, and credit for individual progress. In this Americans are at one end of a spectrum with the rest of the world valuing groups higher than the individual, particularly family, village, tribe, or sect. Once under pressure, however, Americans can reverse polarity for an emergency, and can do so without much risk as once the emergency is resolved, a critical mass of Americans revert to looking out after Number One.

Many a Villain has made the mistake of assuming that American individualism was a weakness that could be exploited with threats of fear.

The other half of F4F (aka Cultural Weed Whacker) is what happens when one or more of the other “Fs” are pushed or pulled. What happens is drama. Or, when needed, the lack of it. A cup of tea is sometimes, just a cup of tea. At others, as in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, three cups of tea are a contract.

Karpmann’s Drama Triangle:

The Drama Triangle aka Karpmann’s Drama Triangle is drawn from the field of Psychology called “Transactional Analysis (TA)”. Developed for individual therapy, the triangle consists of three roles “Victim, Rescuer, and Prosecutor”. In TA, transactions are grouped into Games which involve switching between these three roles sequentially and repetitively. For collective application, however, these role switches can be done simultaneously.

The Real Drama Triangle:

Of equal importance is to bring the drama trilogy into synch with that of the Family and its survival. The role of victim is that of helplessness, as in helpless infant. An infant requires the protection and nurturing of parents. In order to have a victim, one must have Villains, and Villains are best dealt with by Heroes. Mothers and Fathers are heroes to children. Or, al least they should be.

There is a fuzzy line between real threats and threats blown out of proportion for the purposes of making a trip around the Drama Triangle. Being a Hero can be intoxicating and desirous of emulations. That is why we have baseball, video games, jihads, crusades, and global thermonuclear warfare. That’s why we have rooting sections, political parties, and cheerleaders to cheer the heroes on, and villains to boo at.

Dysfunctional Drama Triangle:

This leads to the Dysfunctional Drama Triangle of which there are two types: the Heroic and the Villainous. As portrayed in legend, and lore, there are the Heroic: Knight, Nurse, and Infant. And likewise, the Villainous Vicious, Vindictive, and Voracious take the place of father, mother, and child.

Unlike drama that goes with survival, the purpose of the Dysfunctional Drama is the collection of emotional “payoffs” or “justifications” Most of us know people who go through life as victims, putting themselves in one predicament after another, in order to sucker in a rescuer whose efforts seem never to work. One way to gain victim status, under law, is the frequent jail house flyer who victimizes others in order to become a victim needing the services of a rescuing attorney. Thus, the daily grind in the court house has all the players of both sides of the Dysfunctional Drama Triangle.

The Law of Inverse Relevance:

The Dysfunctional Drama Triangle has some very sharp edges as the two triangles don’t move in concert, and take some analysis to separate the Survival (True) Drama Triangle in which there are real victims, real villains which require ordinary heroes. The Drama Decoder works on the Law of Inverse Relevance in which states:

1. Brag with weakest virtue.
2. Blame with strongest vice..

Common day examples are found in popular advertising. Ads for paper towels brag about their strength when cost is their strongest virtue, and comparison testing clearly shows the best buy is the one being blamed. Used car dealers brag about the price, which covers a number of defects expensive to fix.

The Vast Conspiracy:

Another key to decoding is the simple fact that the parental roles of protection and nurturing present the presence of a vast foreboding villainous presence aka vast conspiracy. Historical examples include the Yellow Peril, Fascism, Communism, Fundamentalism (of all sorts), Capitalism and the Special Interests. To a child, things adult seem vast, uncontrollable and untrustworthy and/or trust worthy. He/She who cries that the big bad wolf is loose, is a child looking for parental attention, more than reporting a threat

Politics is the grand theater of the Dysfunctional Drama Triangle. It is in this arena, that warriors need a wary tread, wary of the Passionate State of Mind as Eric Hoffer stated in his book of the same name, for True Believers (another of his books) play the Dysfunctional Drama Triangle for keeps.

Don’t Believe Your Own Cluster

F4F and the Drama Triangle are bread and butter stuff for Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs, but it is essential in the application of force and violence.. Before we fire a time on target on a suspected villainous position, one must ask what sort of reaction those targeted will make once shot at.

In Vietnam we used to calculate the number of casualties the VC must have taken given the number of rounds fired. Even if remotely accurate, it did not take into account that casualties were a price the VC would take, even if they chose to leave. Our current operations against “terrorists” have been based on how much terror we can unleash before the suicidal terrorists give up.

Drama, The Jihadi Jackpot

The Drama Triangle is exemplified by the rationale the suicide bomber uses to justify and glorify killing others by self destruction. The requisite Villain status against infidels, unbelievers, crusaders, and apostates is assigned, and the bomber become a heroic knight, and nurturer of the purity of Islam as well as a passport to heaven. The bomber hits the six pot, all six roles both heroic and villainous at the push of a button.

Training for Cultural De-Obfuscation

F4F is designed to fit into existing military doctrine, particularly the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). It only requires a pair of hands as training aids, as it can be illustrated by point at head, upwards, wave hand(s) and thumb rub (as in counting money) to represent Face, Fate, Fame and Fortune. The physical environment takes two hands to point at watch for Time, spread hands apart for distance, and point at the ground and one’s body.

The Drama Triangle can be illustrated on the back on an envelope, business card, or some creative artwork.

Cultural task analysis should be done for all parties to a fire fight, good guys, bad guys, and those in between, including all major variants. As in task analysis of Condition, Action, Standard cultural V’BBN impact on action, conditions, and standard. The initial analysis is to determine which societal Fs (face, fate, fame, fortune) and physical (time, distance, ground and body) are relevant to your operations.

Setting up a road block involves issues of whose road the locals think this is. It includes the arm and hand signals that both sides must understand. Many an Iraqi has been shot for mistaking the MP hand sign of palm up and towards the target that means “stop”, “whoa”, and/or “hold up” as the Iraqi sign for “hi” or “hello”. The Iraqi smiles, waves back and drives into a hail of bullets.

Searching a village would be made easier if the design of walls, halls, corridors, and roads were known, as well as the proper etiquette for entrance. Door kicking is often counter production.

The cultural objective to train for in these cases would require a demonstration of adverse or positive feedback in accordance to the likely outcomes in a given culture. Of signal importance is the accurate drama that occurs in accordance with F’ing the Fs or not.

It is vital to not that Cultural Awareness is not necessarily about being nice. It might be the best course of action to enrage the other guy to do something stupid. Doolittle’s raid was a slap in the face that invited Yamamoto to bring his carriers in range of ours.

Ask the Right Questions

F4F is about asking the right questions to avoid making assumptions that get the wrong people killed. In the absence of the right people to give the answers you need, start checking out the Fs and the Drama in the AO.


1. The primary source of motivation and inspiration in this endeavor is the field of psychology, Transactional Analysis. For details, Google the phrases and terms used in the above text. Of special interest are the works of Stephen Karpman MD, and Dr Eric Berne who started it all with “Games People Play?
2. The TRADOC (Army Training and Doctrine Command), Culture Center’s superb “Subject Matter Experts” including David Tannenbaum whose fine works become limited by inadequate doctrine to plug their knowledge into effective military action.
3. Full Spectrum Drama as spelled out by the publications from Ft Leavenworth’s Combined Arms Center aka C&GSC which calls for an effective doctrinal link between the Logical Lines of Operation and the Cultures of the folks in the Area of Operations.
4. The F4F typology is directly inspired by Michel LeBaron’s work on Cross-Cultural Communications and the associated work found on Beyond Intractability website:
5. Eric Hoffer (July 25, 1902 – May 21, 1983) Longshoreman and Lecturer at the University of California. Author of: 1951 The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements ISBN 0-06-050591-5 1955 The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms ISBN 1-933435-09-7 1963 The Ordeal Of Change ISBN 1-933435-10-0 1967 The Temper Of Our Time …..
6. C. Northecote Parkinson: Parkinson’s Law and other books that proclaim the work expands to fill the time available, expenditures will rise to meet income, and organizations grow regardless of work load
7. William James Haga: Haga’s Law, why nothing works and nothing anybody can do will fix it. Basic premise is that Anxiety begets organizing, and organizing begets anxiety.\.
8. Charles H Titus, Professor of Political Science, UCLA whose unorthodox views on political processes made his course on Politics a favorite for students (including myself in 1961) with a view of life after graduation.
9. Dilbert by Scott Adams. The Dilbert Principle The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams, HarperBusiness 1996 ISBN 0-88730-858-9 . Incompetent employees are promoted to prevent harm or pass it on to others who need it.