Cultural Awareness Thesis

Pages: 7 (1915 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Anthropology

Culture and the Military

Cultural Awareness and Military Operations

Culture is a universal human phenomenon; it is impossible for an individual growing up in a given community not to be indoctrinated into that particular culture's attitudes and beliefs, even if they consciously resist such indoctrination. This stems form the fact that human beings are essentially social creatures that cannot help receiving and analyzing information about the world and other people around them. Doing this causes individuals to draw certain subconscious conclusions about the way people are supposed to behave, look, and even think. When this happens collectively, as indeed it must whenever there is a collection of people, the development and progression of a culture inevitably occurs, as each person's attitudes and behaviors necessarily influence others' perceptions, and thus their attitudes and behaviors, which can be seen to have a cyclical effect.

This is a very simplistic explanation of the way culture general works, but understanding the true complexities of culture requires a deeper examination of some of its essential characteristics. This understanding can then be applied to certain practical applications, including adjustment of military operations based both on the culture of the military unit and the culture of the area in which the unit is operating. Cultural awareness allows for the effective deployment of troops, and for the setting of objectives that will be deemed relevant by both those carrying out the orders and the others that it will effect, positively or negatively. Without cultural awareness, it is also more difficult to predict a military opponent's likely movements and reactions to certain operations, making such awareness key to victory.

Culture is Learned

One of the most essential aspects of culture that applies to both the basic and unconscious development of culture and the conscious utilization of cultural awareness in practical applications such as military operations is the fact that culture is learned. This means that there is no biological basis for a specific culture, but rather that the learning environment in which one develops is responsible for the creation of cultural attitudes and beliefs in the individual (Harrison et al. 2008). This is also what allows culture to develop and progress form generation to generation rather than simply stagnating through the perpetuation of the exact same principles and belief (O'Neil 2007). As each generation adds to the cultural body of knowledge and practices, cultures evolve and take on different forms. Often, these forms are more efficient at dealing with the world, but they may be at odds with other cultural values -- this is there the conscious learning of culture takes place.

From a military perspective, the fact that culture is learned is very important for creating a cohesive unit. Military institutions and units often develop their own cultures or sub-cultures, and in order for this to have a beneficial effect it is important to understand the cultural backgrounds of the various members of the unit, as well as the effects of cultural changes within the unit as a whole (Hoskins 2007). In addition, the learned nature of culture can have huge effects during foreign operations, such as those currently underway in the Middle East, as radical changes to the power structure create differences in civilian and military culture (DiMarco 2003).

Cultures Change

This leads directly into another of the most essential elements of culture, namely that it is not fixed, but rather is in a constant state of change, especially in the modern era of multiculturalism. Change means that as new beliefs, attitudes, and artifacts are added to a culture, others are dropped, which can be interpreted in different ways by different members of the culture (O'Neil 2007). All cultures are constantly changing, but different factors can influence the rate of change that a particular culture is changing, and massive changes in technological development, economic opportunity, and political structure are two of the biggest factors that can speed up the rate of change of a specific given culture (O'Neil 2007).

This has enormous implications for military operations being conducted in countries that are still developing a first world infrastructure, and/or that have experienced sever social and political repression. Again, the current United States operations in the Middle East serve as prime examples of this fact. Even the details of city life, planning, and utilization by fighting forces has changed drastically since United States operations began in the cities of Iraq (DiMarco 2003). There is no question that drastic changes have been wrought to both the infrastructure and political freedoms of the country, and this has triggered massive cultural changes that necessarily influence military strategy.

Culture is Symbolic

Another essential characteristic that is universal to all cultures is the fact that culture is built on symbols. This does not mean that culture is ultimately empty due to the fact that it is symbolic; in fact, the exact opposite is true. Meaning in a given culture can only be expressed through that culture's symbols, which includes language, gestures, and often other visual representations of culturally meaningful concepts (Harrison et al. 2008). The symbols that are used and have meaning for a given culture both help to unite that culture and draw its constituents closer together through symbols with shared meanings and importance. They also help to denote cultural outsiders, who use different symbols (e.g. languages and gestures) (Harrison et al. 2008). This means that members of different cultures must find common symbols by which they can make themselves understood, or invent new symbols that will help to achieve the same purpose. Such interactions can be another major cause of cultural change, and the more exposure thee is to a different culture's symbols and attendant meanings, the more melding of cultures will occur (O'Neil 2007).

This has rather obvious and enormous implications to military operations in any multicultural situation, and especially in operations where the cultures of a military force and the native inhabitants of the region of operations are highly dissimilar. A tendency for non-native forces to expect and often enforce conformity with their own cultural values often leads to greater inefficiencies both for the military unit and for the civilian population of the area (Hoskins 2007). In situations where a military unit is attempting to instill order and establish infrastructure, this problem of a lack of cultural negotiation becomes more pronounced, and an even greater hindrance; an understanding of another culture's symbols can help ease transitions (Hoskins 2007).

Culture is Integrated

Culture is not simply one large over-arching system by which a society operates, though it can be viewed and discussed as such for simplicity's sake. A more detailed view of culture, however, reveals that it is actually an integration of several smaller interconnected and interdependent systems. There is an infrastructure, by which the necessities of everyday life are provided, a social structure that determines how people interact in different situations, and a superstructure that provides a basic worldview and system of beliefs to the culture (Harrison et al. 2008). All of these can be seen to be dependent on each other; without the infrastructure, a culture collapses, and without a superstructure there can be no cohesion to the culture. The social structure of a given culture can be seen as the interaction of the realities of the cultural infrastructure when seen through the lens of the superstructure, and thus social structure might be the most volatile sub-system of a culture at large as it is highly affected by changes to either other system (Harrison et al. 208).

The military implications here are also obvious. When changes are made to an area's infrastructure, for better or for worse, there will necessarily be social changes in the culture, both among the members of that culture and between the culture and the military unit. Understanding the specific use of certain elements of infrastructure by a given culture can allow a military unit to plan its operations and the effects thereof with much greater accuracy, leading to a more efficient accomplishment of goals (DiMarco 2003).

Culture is Unseen

Though never actually invisible, and in fact inescapable to anyone who is looking for it, culture almost always goes unnoticed by the members of a given culture living in a society of the same culture (Harrison et al. 2008; O'Neil 2007). Culture is such a pervasive and ever-present part of life in society that it can often seem as though cultural beliefs and attitudes are somehow "naturally" correct, and it is assumed that any deviation from these cultural norms implies come sort of immorality or other "badness" on the part of a different culture (O'Neil 2007). This sort of attitude is known as ethnocentrism, and oddly the level of pluralism or multiculturalism in a society does not really seem to influence levels of ethnocentrism to a large degree -- people in large and diverse societies as well as those living in small, isolated, and culturally homogenous communities both exhibit ethnocentric tendencies when they encounter people form other cultures (O'Neil 2007). People from more diverse… [END OF PREVIEW]

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