Are we engaged in a clash of civilizations? The answer is hardly simple: cultures interact daily, often to everyone’s benefit, free of deadly conflagration, and American culture is in the ascendancy. But if the end of the Cold War led many to believe that “globalization” would be accompanied by greater toleration and harmony, 9/11 abruptly ended that delusion.
We soon realized that we must understand the effect of tradition, history, and ideas, especially in areas where Islamist radicals find fertile breeding ground. Superior military power may temporarily prevail against them, but we have learned, at considerable cost, that other militants all too soon take their place, skillfully taking advantage of vulnerable populations. To win the war against our tenacious and unrelenting enemies in the long run, we must take into account the cultural “human terrain” where they operate.
The essays in the new anthology, Cultural Intelligence for Winning the Peace, edited by Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon, address this challenge. They include: the military utility of understanding adversary culture; factoring in culture as we tackle the challenges of asymmetric conflict; the importance of avoiding a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to disparate societies; the need to address the constantly changing nature of culture; the phenomenon of female suicide bombers; as well as on-the-job learning for information officers finding themselves ill-trained and under-prepared in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, finally, the need to incorporate cultural considerations in strategic communication, the critically important ingredient of the next – some have called it the fifth – generation of warfare, whose ultimate success is measured by an enduring rather than illusory peace.