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Military Cultural Awareness: From Anthropology to Application

November 7, 2006

In the mid-1990s, Marine General Anthony Zinni began making the case for the necessity of military cultural awareness as a “force multiplier.” General Zinni was then reacting to the challenge of resolving tribal conflict in Somalia and considering the potential eruption of other such conflicts. Since that time U.S. forces have had to react to the subversive activity of Albanian clans (the European version of tribes) in Kosovo and Macedonia, the largely ethnicbased Taliban resistance in Afghanistan and the ethnic divisiveness of Iraq. In recent years, the attention to those challenges has generated a raft of opinion editorials, numerous staff college papers and a few scholarly articles on the importance of cultural awareness for the U.S. military. These essays collectively present general truths and broad recommendations that seem quite valid. Yes, cultural awareness could facilitate pacification efforts and “enlistment” of allies and prevent unnecessary clashes and misunderstandings and so forth; however, several practical aspects of cultural awareness training remain to be seriously addressed—in consideration of time, money and human-resource constraints. What is really relevant? How much is needed and for which specialties, functions and career levels? And who vets the required products and projects?