May 1, 2010

Mobilizing women in multicultural warfare

Colonel Tom Kolditz, the Professor and Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point, stated in an interview that “the future of warfare is in a multicultural dimension”.

West Point is offering more multicultural training, realizing that traditional tactics don’t always work in the kinds of wars we are fighting now. If a recent The New York Times article is anything to go by, he knows what he’s talking about.

In “Letting Women Reach Women in Afghan War”, Elisabeth Bumiller reports on a novel initiative the United States Marine Corps is launching in order to reach the female population in Afghanistan.

They are receiving cultural awareness training in order to make contact with the women in Afghanistan who are otherwise off-limits to American male soldiers. It is the Afghan women who often have a lot of influence within a family and know and share important information among each other. Gaining access to that information can be crucial not only in terms of gathering intelligence, but in order to gain goodwill. After all, “you cannot gain the trust of the Afghan population if you only talk to half of it”.

An excerpt: “40 young women are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in one of the more forward-leaning experiments of the American military… Rural Afghan women, who meet at wells and pass news about the village, are often repositories of information about a district’s social fabric, power brokers and militants, all crucial data for American forces. On some occasions, Captain Pottinger said in an e-mail message, women have provided information about specific insurgents and the makers of bombs.”

This is a brilliant move in the right direction. Women in the USMC will finally be directly engaged in the efforts in Afghanistan. It may not work, but it’s well worth a try. If the US is to remain in Afghanistan, let’s not leave out a valuable resource – women – from the equation. And it’s about time that the civilians were approached with respect and as humans, providing valuable information, rather than as enemies. I applaud the USMC for an important experiment, and for preparing for it with a focus on cultural awareness.

April 5, 2010

The Thais they are a’ changin’

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , , , , , , — admin @ 2:18 pm

Having lived in Thailand for five years, I’ve been following the recent uprising and protests of the “Red Shirts” with bated breath. Having some familiarity with the Thai character (generally speaking), it shocks me to see such an impassioned and drawn-out conflict. I know the Thais as a non-confrontational people. For this to be happening, they have to be really angry and fed up.

One of the most attractive traits of the Thai people is their easy smile and unfailing friendliness and politeness. Whenever I think of Thailand, I equate it with those characteristics. But it seems the times they are a’ changin’, to quote Bob Dylan.

A recent The New York Times article by Thomas Fuller describes a changing culture brought on by discontent. “Thai Protesters Shed Culture of Restraint” describes how modern technology is playing a part in changing the Thai culture. Those traits that I hold so dear are being eroded, but perhaps for a good cause – class equality.

In an ironic twist, mobile phones made accessible to the poor by the former Prime Minister Thaksin, are facilitating the movement of the “Red Shirts”, who are protesting the removal of Thaksin from power. Combining access to information and grass roots organization, the “Prai”, or lower class citizens are standing up for their rights.

An excerpt: “The once deeply ingrained cultural mores that discouraged displays of anger, that prized politeness and justified the entitlements of the royalty and the elite have been eroded by technology and mobility.

The traditional restraints on aggressive and argumentative behavior — the Buddhist clergy and a once deeply held fear of bad karma, among other factors — have been weakened, says William J. Klausner, an expert on Thai culture and Buddhism who has studied village life since he moved to Thailand in the 1950s.

Thailand appears to be losing a small part of what has long attracted millions of tourists to its shores: a culture of unflappable, bend-over-backwards politeness.”

Not only is a culture changing, but a historical and religious foundation is being questioned. The opinion has been that the Thai are as accommodating as they are for two reasons: because they were not subjected to imperialism or colonialism, and because they have such a strong Buddhist faith. That is why this new wave of change concerns me. Change is good, especially if it means increasing equality between the rich and poor. But if that change threatens long-held truths and basic values, where will it end? How far will it go? Are we looking at a revolution in the making?