Friday, May 06, 2005

Marine Corps Cultural Training is Worse than Useless

The Marine Corps has decided to provide cultural training to all Marines to develop a baseline of knowledge about cultures and nations in which the Marine Corps will be called to fight. In a vacuum, cultural training sounds like a good idea. Who could be against it? Learn about the foreigners, and through understanding, link up with the good guys and defeat the bad guys. Col Bearor, the Chief of Staff of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, makes the case to the UPI "If we go in early we preclude having al-Qaida get their foot in the door, by helping the (indigenous people) understand what they need, and not stepping on their toes."

I will get to the vacuity of this argument that cultural understanding will forestall conflict in a moment. I would first like to focus on the cost of this. The Marines want to train a cadre of 40,000 Marines with these cultural skills. The training vision includes college level anthropology course and language training: "I would liken it to the first four to six courses a cultural anthropologist would get (in undergraduate studies)," Bearor said. "They'll get that initial plug of training sitting in a school seat. Follow-on courses will be done through distance learning." These students would also receive 160 hours of language training. The vision is a full semester of college for 4500 Marines a year to improve cultural awareness. Do the math; assuming 8 semesters equals a college education, we are going to pay for 560 BS's in Anthropology with a concentration in Foreign Language per year without any real justification that by doing so, we will make the Marine Corps a more formidable fighting organization.

How will the Marines know what languages and cultures we should train to? Here is where this idea goes from infuriating to hilarious. The Marine Corps Intelligence Activity will look 10 years into the future and assign a percentage to the likihood the US will be involved in conflicts in various places. I have made the point earlier that these "way aheads" are pointless and beyond worthless. Yet here we go, trying to justify this huge waste of resources and vast bureaucracy that is Marine Corps strategic intelligence and by extension, Defense Intelligence. Do a thought experiment. In 1995, what would the prediction have been about Marine Corps conflicts in the next 10 years? Where would we have focused our training dollars? My guess? Some place on the littoral, and someplace we had just been. Somalia, Eritrea, Haiti, some one bold may have dusted off the reports which talked of the looming expansionistic threat of Japan, maybe the West Bank or Gaza. Would we have spent money on Pashtu, Farsi, Urdu or anything else they speak in Afghanistan? Would we have taught about the threat of nihilistic Islamacists? The answer is of course, no. So why do we think that the pie -in-the-sky'ers at MCIA would NOW come up with anything relevant? Anyone can draw a straight line from now into the distant future and say "That is where we will be." However, if there is one thing I know (and I admittedly don't know much) it is this: the future is never a straight line from the now. To assume otherwise is folly.
Here is an analogous situation, for while, the National Football League would endeavor to highlight what they considered their best teams on Monday Night Football. As we know, the schedule was set the year before, so the poobahs in the NFL and at ABC would put their big brains to a little bit of predictive analysis. The predicted "best" teams would get three games on Monday night, the next tier would get 2 games, the third tier would get 1 game and the worst teams would be left out of the rarified Monday night air. The tastefully named Gregg Easterbrook analyzed the value of these predictions and concluded that for three years running, if you wanted to know who was going to be in the Super Bowl, pick from the group of teams that was not going to be televised on Monday night. In other words, pick AGAINST the predictions. Now, if people with a financial stake in picking macro-results for sports teams correctly using reams of relevent and accurate statistical data would inevitably get their predictions wrong, why should we have any faith in the geopolitical predictions of intelligence officers made with data that is little better than guesses? The answer? We should not.

How much will this new emphasis on cultural learning cost the taxpayer? Let's conservatively estimate $2400 a semester per student, or $19000 for each BS. Now multiply that times 560. We are looking at $10 million a year! How much force protection can we buy for this $10 million? What other training will suffer because of the time wasted on this? How many Marines will die because some vital lifesaving training was slighted to assauge the vanity of the General who dreamed this up. THAT is the real cost of this GOBI (General Officer Bright Idea)

However, if we are convinced that cultural sensitivity training is the way to go in the Marine Corps to increase our effectiveness, then I have a proposal. Every place I have ever been with a Marine unit, every time I have trained with other nation’s armed services, I have noticed a phenomenon. In every case, there is a Marine, or a Navy Corpsman or a group of Marines who develop an almost immediate rapport with the locals. Whether because of innate cultural sensitivity, or because they already speak the language or the just want to go native, every unit I have ever been in has an organic “cadre” who is just good at the cross-cultural stuff. Instead of training every NCO to be “mini-FAO’s (Foreign Area Officers) we should instead challenge our small unit leaders to recognize their natural FAO’s imbedded in their units. These Marines should be offered the specialized, additional anthropological and language training that is likely to “take” and to actually be of some value to the unit and the Marine Corps. However, I think that even anthropologists would question the wisdom of spending the limited resources turning every Marine NCO into anthropology major. These anthropologist might even see the potential for studying why leaders feel compelled to force everyone they lead to study obscure subjects in which the leader is interested. But I digress. There is value in studying culture, but such an opportunity should be offered in a fashion much more targeted than in the bloated, expensive, scattershot way that is contemplated by the Marine bureaucracy.

I find it interesting that Col Bearor rightly observes that “we [the Marine Corps] forgot some of the lessons hard learned over history...” then prescribes the wrong cure. Instead of going back to what worked in World War II and Korea, he decides that cultural awareness is what Marines need more of. I would submit that what we have actually forgotten is the fact that the victor in combat by definition has the dominant culture to which the vanquished must adapt. The Marines on Okinawa did not endeavor to use minimum force to keep the Japanese at bay while they restored electric power, instead, we incinerated those losers in their fighting holes. We obliterated their cities, we forced their emperor to renounce his theology and we forced Japan to accept parliamentary democracy. We strutted around like we owned the place, because we did, and as a consequence, the Japanese people accepted our culture.

Instead of cultural training, I would submit that the Marine Corps should pursue another concept. One of the current buzzwords at the Pentagon is “_______ dominance.” The Air Force pursues “air dominance.” The Army looks for “battlespace dominance.” The Navy has something called “The Center for Information Dominance.” Therefore, to stay with the theme, I propose that the Marine Corps should strive for “Cultural dominance!” The thing is, American already has cultural dominance in the world. Marines, just by pushing their Oakley sunglasses on top of their heads, with their Colt M16s slung across their back while typing emails on Windows based computers connected to the internet about the bootlegged copy of Triple X State of the Union they just watched, are advancing that culture. The rest of the hungers for the culture we take for granted, and would gladly throw off whatever backwards cultural trappings with which they are saddled to operate in our culture as easily as these young Marines do. Think I am wrong? The dominant restaurants in Japan are MacDonalds and MOS Burger, a McDonalds knock off, down to the appearance of the restaurants, and the shape of the logo. There are more Starbucks Shops in Taipei than in Chicago. Korean pop music sounds, except for the language, indistinguishable from anything produced in the States. Kids from Shanghai to the Sunni Triangle are dressing and gesticulating like Allen Iverson. And virtually everyone with any gumption anywhere in the world longs to come to America.

Col Bearor’s boss, LtGen Mattis had a saying for the Iraqis, “No better friend, no worse enemy” than the US Marines. We do ourselves a disservice if we think that we would be better off learning about the enemy cultures and doing what we can to adapt to them so as not to offend them. That is not being a friend, that is patronizing. On the contrary, we are safer as a Corps, a country and the world when we use maximum violence to destroy those who think their ideology makes them superior and justifies their killing and enslaving us then living proudly as Americans where ever we are, comfortably enjoying the fruits of the culture to which others aspire, and worshipping our God where we want, without shame.