December 05, 2004 U.S. Senator Jack Reed (RI) addressed a joint Watson Institute and Pell Center workshop on Monday, December 6, 2004, at the Center's headquarters at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. Reed, who had just returned from meetings in Afghanistan and Iraq, gave the keynote for the workshop, titled "Prepared for Peace?: The Use and Abuse of 'Culture' in Military Simulations, Training, and Education." It is second event of a multi-institutional collaboration on cultural awareness training in the military. Reed spoke on
Reed has made four separate trips to Iraq since the outbreak of hostilities. During his speech, he offered his observations of the military and political situation in that country on the eve of its first free elections in decades. "Emerging from all these impressions is the conviction that the struggle in Iraq will take many years and the outcome is still uncertain," he commented.
"A major reason for this lengthy duration and this uncertainty rests on the topic of this conference, the use and abuse of culture," Reed continued. In Iraq, we are operating in an unfamiliar culture and we are trying to dramatically change that culture....Even before we initiated military operations, our planning and preparations were hobbled by cultural misperceptions."
U.S. media gave extensive coverage in early 2004 to "cultural sensitivity training" (CST) offered to U.S. troops rotating into Iraq. CST ostensibly equips military personnel in postconflict situations with the skills to avoid antagonizing civilian populations and to avert potentially lethal confrontations, while not jeopardizing force protection and combat readiness. Long embraced by U.S. special forces, the introduction of CST into mainstream training is part of a wider shift in U.S. military thinking about the contrasting demands of warfighting, peacekeeping, and all the operations that fall between the two.
In April 2004, Keith Brown, the acting director of the Politics, Culture, and Identity Program and a Watson assistant professor (research), and the U.S. Naval War College faculty invited their colleagues who have a stake in CST—active military personnel and scholars, anthropologists, and other social scientists—to a two-day Watson workshop to discuss the training process as it plays out in Iraq, as well as its broader implications.
The first workshop opened on the very day the story of torture at Abu Ghraib prison broke in the New York Times. Commenting initially on these latest developments, the participants remained focused on pushing the CST debate beyond pervasive models of "cultures" as static, bounded units. During the four sessions, their deliberations highlighted the multiple levels of culture that demand investigation:
· strategic culture (how national regimes think about defense and security issues);
· organizational culture (how constraints and incentives set by social and economic structures shape behavior);
· tactical/operational culture (how culturally-inflected ideas about strategy affects the control of violence on-the-ground for soldiers placed in the role of peacekeepers); and
· the politics of culture (how power struggles within militaries and their larger contexts are played out through cultural practices or ideas).
Keith Brown and Peter Liotta of the Pell Center organized the December 2004 conference, which included military officers, and scholars and practitioners from the Watson Institute and the NWC, U.S. Naval and Military Academies, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. The workshop sought to draw lessons from participants experiences in diverse cultural milieus, especially in the Balkans and Iraq, concentrating on themes of training, education, and the use of simulations in operational environments.
During two days, the participants discussed how culture is used, appropriated, and incorporated in operational environments. They began a process to document how knowledge of culture is and has been transformed into action; to debate the benefits and limitations of current approaches; and to explore critical problems and cutting-edge methods in cultural intelligence, awareness, and sensitivity training. Ultimately, conference members sought to examine how changing conceptions of conflict and stability operations, and new blurrings of the distinction between war and peace, necessitate new, broader understandings of culture and its work in the world.
To read the full text of Senator Reed's speech, visit his Senate website.
Photo: U.S. Senator Jack Reed (RI) [standing right] takes questions after his keynote address at the Pell Center, Salve Regina University. The Watson Insitute's James Der Derian, Keith Brown, and Catherine Lutz [l–r: front row] participated in the workshop. The Pell Center's Peter Liotta [standing center] hosted the workshop.