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Cultural Awareness or Cultural Apperception: Is There a Difference?

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Cultural Awareness or Cultural Apperception

Is There a Difference?

by Colonel Victor M. Rosello

Cultural Awareness or Cultural Apperception (Full PDF Article)

One of the more favorable byproducts of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom is the US Army's rediscovered interest in the importance of foreign cultures. Of course this statement goes above and beyond the traditional elements of the US Army that have been educated and trained in foreign cultures and languages, such as Foreign Area Officers and Special Forces soldiers. It speaks to the heart of a matter that has created initiatives such as the TRADOC Culture Center at Ft. Huachuca, AZ or the mandatory Arab language training and enculturation of US Army majors at the US Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS. It is ironic to note that the efforts to immerse soldiers in a foreign culture came only as a result of the bogging down of conventional US Army armor and mechanized units in Baghdad following the invasion in 2003. If the Abrams' and Bradley's had been met by cheering and American flag waving Iraqis in downtown Baghdad, this interest in Arab culture may have never surfaced; anymore than it surfaced following Operation Desert Storm in 1991. But this is a moot point and should be left for historians to ponder. What is important is that the enculturation has occurred and has given the US Army a more multidimensional quality, leading to an enhancement and effectiveness of its efforts in theater. But has it really?

Cultural Awareness or Cultural Apperception (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)


Ron Holt (not verified)

Wed, 09/09/2009 - 12:04pm

While learning Dari is nice, much of the fighting is in the east and south where Pashto is the language. Dari Speakers are often seen as outsiders, Kabulis or "farsibans" by the Pashtuns. Even men who understand Dari often will NOT respond to Dari if there is a crowd around. WE really need more of an emphasis on Pashto because the Taliban, HIG and Haqqani groups are mostly Pushtuns. Dealing with Pushtunistan should be part of an integrated strategy.

Kelvin Garvanne (not verified)

Tue, 09/08/2009 - 9:34pm

This conversation is impressive. I learned Iraqi Arabic in order to train Marines. I am learning Pashto to do the same.
Language and culture has to be delivered in a way to get personnel to realize it is another weapon in their arsenal. It is a way to find the enemy you have to kill sooner. It is not about kissing anyone's ass.
Teaching "tactical language" to someone who hated high school Spanish is challenging.
It is compounded by a native speaker who is not easily understood and does not really understand the cultural mindset of his students.
The approach should be to have Americans become SME's and let them work with natives in small groups during the POI, NOT 100 Marines in a dimly lit room shouting phrases off a PowerPoint. It is conceivable that every boot on the ground can have some language capability if properly introduced and motivated to the language. I WILL CHALLENGE ANYONE THAT I CAN MAKE THAT HAPPEN.

Scott Shaw

Sat, 08/29/2009 - 11:13am

Sorry for the anonymous user, but alas no ability to login due to DOIM.

I wanted to address the article.

The article does have one factual mistake - Arabic language training is not mandatory at Leavenworth UNLESS you are deploying to Iraq within six months of graduation. If you are going to Afghanistan then you must take Dari. They are electives in the last two months of the course. If youre not going someplace else or are more than a year, you dont have to take it and there is no formal language training (or you can take Rosetta Stone for other languages).

In response to the article, theres a difference between training and education. It takes education to get apperception. Youre just not going to get apperception out of training in a FORSCOM unit or at the junior Soldier, NCO, or officer leader in a TRADOC school. The dollars arent there, the attitude of the Soldiers (be they junior enlisted, NCO, or officer) isnt going to be there if you do it wholesale, and the instructors arent and will never be there in the number that we would need. Apperception can only come out an interest in something be it forced through necessity in a combat zone or actually liking what you are doing. So junior enlisted, junior NCOs, and junior officers arent going to get anything more than training for cultural understanding as their training period is simply too short. Captains and senior NCOs are little better as their time in a TRADOC school isnt much longer. Its only at the CGSC and USASMA (US Army Sergeants Major Academy) that this can be educated. It takes that amount of time.

What you can hope to train in a FORSCOM unit is something that you can do and teach in a classroom going over slides with a "trained by the trainer" kind of guy or even a contracted culture instructor. This might enable us to avoid some of the OIF I and II mistakes that we made (and I am definitely one of the "we" that made some dumb ones). You could do it as part of a foot march like we did stress fires or "Emplace a M-18A1 Claymore Mine" spur ride type events and make it something that is more than Powerpoint snoozing and trying to keep Soldiers (and officers) awake. It should be specific AO and mission focused. Again, not apperception - may lead to some - but simply keeping Soldiers and thus their leaders (who may have some apperception) out of trouble (and maybe enabling those leaders to get some maneuver room rather than reaction room). So maybe a class on social dos and donts and a class on "What is culture - and how to use it to your advantage (and how they use it to your disadvantage)" might be in order for those who are in rifle and tank companies, cavalry troops, and artillery batteries. Or maybe a platoon discussion on an article such as one that I have seen on "How others see Americans." I dont remember the exact title, but its a piece on how other cultures see us.

Yes, there is a difference in cultural apperception and cultural awareness and I think that what we can hope for is what COL Gentile and Jim Harris advocate - cultural awareness in our junior Soldiers, junior NCOs, and junior officers and cultural apperception in SOME of our seniors NCOs and officers.

I think that you can "train" some generic culture in a combat unit. It doesnt take long and can be round robin while doing some individual training - while still focusing on blocking and tackling. While I dont think that it needs to be a replacement for rifle ranges as posited in the article, I do think that it needs to be incorporated in the pre-deployment period. It is needed, but I think that we have taken it to the extreme in a lot of cases in TRADOC focusing on specific Iraq and Afghanistan aspects rather than (to use COL Rosellos word) creating "apperception" within our officer and senior NCO corps. Again, I dont think that you can create apperception in a unit environment. I do think that you can short term train for an operation - which is what I think that you are saying as well.

Scott Shaw

Jim Harris (not verified)

Thu, 08/27/2009 - 2:32am

It's late and I'm not writing this as well as I'd like.

My "central point" with all the above is:

It is too easy for all of us, especially when politicized, to jump on a philosophical band-wagon.

Those who over emphasize the soft parts of COIN are just as short-sighted as those who think that mechanized armored thrusts are the only way. We NEVER know what kind of conflict we will have. We can make some intelligent guesses; and with luck be partially right. But Murphy will always have his way.

The best model is the one they used to teach at the Naval War College. This was that we had to be ready for the full range of conflict, whether just showing the flag at a Port Call, a military training mission, some "Low Intensity Conflict" (including, I presume, insurgencies), conventional war, or thermonuclear war. There are skill-sets needed that apply to all of those. This model is as valid today as it ever was.

Jim Harris (not verified)

Thu, 08/27/2009 - 2:11am

I meant to add to the above -- our connections with national governments and our concern over world opinion, etc. restrains us from what would otherwise be some straightforward kinetic solutions to some problems.

Jim Harris (not verified)

Thu, 08/27/2009 - 2:06am

I have to agree with the comment by Gian Gentile. While I try to keep an open mind on these things, I've had issues for almost two decades with the 3rd generation and 4th generation warfare pundits (who are usually the same people -- e.g., William Lind, et al). These people have much in common with the "hearts and minds" crowd, cited above.

I'm not saying that hearts and minds aren't important, just as I'm not saying that SOME of the prescriptions of 3rd/4th generation warfare aren't true. Any fool understands at some level that 1) popular support matters, 2)maneuver inside the enemy's OODA loop is important, and 3) non-state actors have regained some of their former political and military significance.

But I object to the notion that these things somehow trump events on the ground, to include who is dead, what is destroyed, and who owns the real-estate that the hearts and minds live on. 1)Security (or not) influences hearts and minds. 2) It really is ok to attrit (kill) the enemy while out maneuvering him*. And 3) states are still very powerful and they still matter**.

* Maneuverists in their writings would imply that proper maneuver was to run around the enemy so fast he got dizzy and gave up; and that even if you won, if you had to really kill someone or break anything, that you had somehow done it wrong!

** The non-state actors in the current conflicts, like the Viet Cong and others before them, are very much empowered by national governments. Our conundrum is that we are trying to be/maybe have to be a little bit pregnant. The Saudis are the principal enablers of AQ, but they also have a lot of the oil -- for example.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 08/25/2009 - 8:29am

Understanding of culture when our Army occupies and does nation building in foreign lands is of course a necessary competency.

But we should not kid ourselves into thinking that we can "weaponize" cultural knowledge and turn it into a competency that becomes so all consuming in our army that we convince ourselves that mastering it will be the decisive element in war and conflict.

This sort of thinking, though, is present in our Army today. It was most fully developed in the extended essay, "The Defense of Jissr al-Doreaa," where the authors posited that better cultural knowledge of Iraqi Arabs led to the pacification of a fictional village in Iraq. Better cultural understanding might help in this regard, but it might not make any difference at all either. Yet the former assertion seems to be an immutable rule among some folks.

In combat formations (I am speaking of armor, infantry, artillery, and cavalry battalions as an example), culture should be seen as an educational imperative for leaders. It should not be seen as a training imperative for the majority of soldiers who make up these combat battalions. This is not to say that combat soldiers should not be given some instruction on language and culture when the battalion is set to deploy to a foreign land because they should. But this idea of "training" cultural understanding can be taken too far in our Army and especially in tactical combat formations. An infantryman or cavalry scout, for example, when readying for deployment to Afghanistan need to be training on the basic combat competencies. If they do that, if their leaders know how to do the basics of synchronizing fire and maneuver at the tactical level, and if their leaders have received a reasonable amount of cultural education they can do whatever task assigned. Viscount Slim after the Burma Campaign in World War II said the key to his turning defeat into victory was well trained infantry battalions.

I agree with the author of this piece that a gap needs to be bridged. But in my mind it is not a gap of cultural deficiency within the American Army but actually the other way around. That is to say that the Armys almost complete focus and consumption with population centric counterinsurgency has produced a more dangerous gap of us losing our core fighting competencies at the expense of being taught how to win hearts and minds through better understanding of foreign cultures. I heard a story of a combat battalion commander recently at one of the Armys training centers had as his battalion logo "have you made a friend today." That kind of mindset tells me that we have a much more dangerous gap than "cultural understanding" operating in our Army.

After all it was Vegitius who said that "if you want peace, prepare for war." And to "Coinize" that classic maxim if you want to do nation building or win hearts and mind and you are an occupying army doing it, you better be able to do the basics of fighting first. The problem with the American Army over the last three years is that the Counterinsurgency Experts has made us feel guilty about maintaining fighting as a core competency. They have constructed the permeating notion that when armies that are trained primarily to fight do Coin, they screw it up. I am here to tell you that history does not support that assertion. In fact Clio says the opposite.