Good Anthropology, Bad History: America’s Cultural Turn in the War on Terror

  • Patrick PorterEmail author


A core element of western intelligence analysis is discerning the intentions of the enemy. This chapter explores that utility of culture as a driver of conflict and a means to understand the adversary. Whilst not tackling the means by which these cultural messages are transmitted, this chapter suggests the ways in which cultural and historical lessons inform the many conflicts of our time. The problems surrounding ‘culture’ are brought to the fore and lessons are drawn for strategists and analysts to consider.

…we’re an army of strangers in the midst of strangers.1

To wage war, become an anthropologist. Lose the fetish for Clausewitz, and embrace culture as the way to understand conflict. Or so argue strategists, intelligence analysts, historians, and officers on both sides of the Atlantic. From academia to the Pentagon, fresh attention is being focussed on the value of knowing the enemy. Those who take this view assume that different ways of life produce different ways of war. They see the differences between civilisations reflected in the profound contrast between the opposing sides in today’s ‘war on terror’, between American-led forces on one hand, and jihadist warriors or tribal warlords on the other. To make sense of recent military failures in exotic places, they have turned back to cultural knowledge of the adversary. This also often influences their reading of history. They project the same themes back into the distant past. Today’s military and counter-terrorism confrontations of ‘the west vs. the rest’, they argue, replays ancient differences between strategic cultures.

This new anthropology has good intentions. It aims to foster greater cultural awareness and sophistication amongst military officers, intelligence officers and governments. And cultural agility is surely important. It matters at every level—strategic, operational, and tactical. It matters particularly in a time of volatile occupations of foreign soil, when soldiers are also being asked to act as policemen, nation-builders, and peace brokers and similarly in a time of home grown radicalisation. And today’s Iraq war demonstrates the strategic costs of misunderstanding the enemy at the grand strategic level. Both President Bush and Saddam Hussein were victims of their own misperceptions. Declaring ‘mission accomplished’ in May 2003, the Bush administration was misguided by its narrow conception of war. It assumed that its opponents shared its view that hostilities were terminated by the defeat of Iraq’s field army. It neglected post-invasion strategy as a second-order administrative task separate to war. And it refused for too long to admit the existence of an insurgency. For his part, Saddam Hussein wrongly calculated that America would never risk a full-scale ground invasion of Iraq, as the rich enemy was too casualty averse and timid. He saw this strategic worldview confirmed in America’s retreat from Mogadishu in 1993, and distributed the film Black Hawk Down to his generals.2 Overthrown, tried and executed, he had underestimated American political will, the same error that misled the ideologues of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.3 Both Bush and Hussein failed, in Clausewitz’s words, to grasp ‘the kind of war on which they are embarking.’4

But when it comes to writing history and interpreting today’s crises, the ‘cultural turn’ also has a down side. It comes often with an overly determinist view of the tangled relationship between war and culture. Paradoxically, while it aims to encourage greater sensitivity to the nuances that differentiate cultures, it actually encourages a crude view of ancient and fixed ‘ways of war.’ It risks replacing strategy with stereotypes. The theory of strategic culture in its many forms has much to offer, but particularly at critical moments in wartime, it becomes unsatisfactory as an interpretation. Instead of arguing that we need to abandon culture as an analytical tool, it is hoped this chapter will show how a more circumscribed approach, tempered by sober political awareness and a little creative scepticism, can enable us to refine it, and grasp the relationship between war and culture more effectively.

The Argument

This chapter makes five key arguments that are relevant to the way that western powers are conducting the war on terror. Firstly, it shows that there has been a ‘cultural turn’ towards an anthropological approach to war—in all its guises—and that this often entails a particular view of both strategic texts and historical behaviour. Secondly, it argues that this drive to discover the cultural essence of the enemy, or to find intrinsic differences in the core texts of the ‘east’ and ‘west’, is mistaken. It rests on a flawed concept of culture, and in its ‘metacultural form, oversimplifies the ‘western’ strategic tradition and overstates its differences with ‘eastern’ conceptions of war. Thirdly, when it comes to understanding the actual behaviour of cultures at war, it is empirically unviable. There are too many exceptions and qualifications that must be made to the supposed picture of two conflicting eastern and western ‘ways of war.’ Fourth, by depicting culture as the driver of military history, it risks being politically naïve, overlooking the many moments where strategic cultures do not control actors, but where actors control and instrumentalise their cultures, and where the differences between conflicting approaches to war are dictated less by traditions and more by the hard realities of power, weakness, and pragmatism. Finally, the chapter argues for a rethinking of the definition of culture in the strategic context and its relationship with war.

‘Culture’ in the strategic context can be defined as ‘a distinct and lasting set of beliefs [and] values’ and preferences regarding the use of force, its role and effectiveness in political affairs.5 This includes an array of factors, such as prevailing attitudes, habits, and values of the military and in their parent societies, geopolitical position, historical experience and collective memory of war, and the professional ethos of the military and security agencies. But this definition itself is problematic. As we shall see, culture in its relationship to war turns out to be contested, highly politicised, and malleable.

The latest ‘culturalism’, like its former versions, is a moving target. It has been articulated at different levels of magnitude and with varying sophistication. It has been given many alternative meanings. It varies from more nuanced attempts to isolate and define cultural traits and their impact on strategy, to overarching views of exotic warfare placed into ‘metacultural’ categories of east versus west, to cruder approaches, which treat culture in a deterministic manner. The argument should be met at its most sophisticated, but also in its most widespread and dogmatic form. To question crude culturalism is not to attack a convenient ‘straw man.’ In the UK and US, a zealous form of culturalism has taken hold within and outside security circles.

Any discussion of culture therefore risks degenerating into a sterile ‘definition debate.’ To avoid this, here I question the core assumptions that these different culturalist approaches share. This is the simple but powerful idea that people fight as they do mainly because of the assumptions, memories, and values they have inherited, and that national strategies are primarily shaped or determined by geography, ethnicity, political development, and a heritage of received wisdom and historical narrative. Or in more crude versions, they fight as they do because they are Orientals, Muslims, or Americans.

The Cultural Turn

Do ‘non-westerners’ approach war and conflict in fundamentally different ways? The question is more than academic. According to traditional wisdom both ancient and modern, one must know the enemy to succeed in war. Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu advised strategists to ‘Know your enemy and know yourself.’6 Mastering war would require self-knowledge and an accurate reading of the enemy, a dialectical exercise that would reward the strategist with victory upon victory. And cultural illiteracy, the ‘anthropology deficit’ within the national-security establishment, is being blamed for current failures. America and its allies are confronted with the difficulties of negotiating cultural differences in alien environments. They face the implosion of Iraq, where a bloody insurgency mutates into a civil war, while NATO struggles to navigate the tribal world of Afghanistan and a resurgent Taliban.

American military—and indeed intelligence—strategy of the 1990s was marked by the technology-driven quest for a ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA). The RMA envisaged a future in which the American colossus would prevail against armies in the field by exploiting its strengths, such as information and knowledge of the battlespace, precision munitions, rapid mobility, and decision-making.7 But the world’s dominant superpower now faces a very different world. Neither the doctrine, training and tools designed to counter the Soviet threat, nor the revolution of the 1990s seemed capable of dealing with ‘low-intensity’ counterinsurgency. America’s advantages have been offset by the indirect methods its enemies employ, who refuse to play to these strengths and fight as America would like them to; by the complex terrain and gangland of urban warfare, in which industrial might or superior firepower do not guarantee success; and by their enemies’ different organisation, more a shadowy network than a traditional command structure. Prepared for conventional battles, surgical invasion and withdrawal, and swift, overwhelming strikes, America’s military was unprepared for the post-invasion disorder in Iraq, and for the intimacy of prolonged contact with a complex foreign society.

Given the shortcomings of the revolution in military technology, strategists argue now for a cultural counter-revolution.8 They claim that we should cultivate understanding of the intricacies of tribes, clans, customs, and traditions. We need a better grasp of the relationship between how people fight and their traditions, identities, religion, collective memory, preconceptions, and sheer force of habit. A return to an anthropological approach to war, it is hoped, ‘will shed light on the grammar and logic of tribal warfare’, and create the ‘conceptual weapons necessary to return fire.’9 To some, culture now seems the essence of strategy, even the key to strategic salvation.

This ‘cultural turn’ is driven by a number of forces. As well as a reaction to the failures of recent American military interventions, it is also part of a larger debate about whether the nature of war is fundamentally changing, in ways that make it obsolete to talk about universal principles of strategy. And it is inspired by a wider backlash against the universalism of Bush administration, its attempt to remake the world in America’s image, a vision which some argue has caused all the trouble.

There are many signs of this cultural turn. Within the military, cultural competence is a central value in America’s new Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3–24), which mentions ‘culture’ 88 times and ‘cultural’ 90 times in 282 pages. It calls for ‘agile, well-informed, culturally astute leaders.’10 Likewise, soldiers distressed by the failures they have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawn to culture as the missing answer. Senior leaders such as retired Major General Robert H. Scales call for ‘culture-centric warfare’, arguing that the Iraq crisis requires ‘an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and their motivation.’11 Returning from Afghanistan, British ex-soldier Leo Docherty claimed that a large conventional force should be replaced by small numbers of ‘Afghan experts’, immersed in the country with a ‘profound knowledge of local culture, language and politics.’12 Donald Rumsfeld in 2004 noted the military’s need for ‘foreign language skill and regional and cultural expertise.’13 The US State Department’s new Chief Strategist for counter-terrorism has a doctorate in political anthropology.14 Deterministic culturalism is preached by Montgomery McFate, influential cultural anthropologist working with the Pentagon. She argues that the Iraqi insurgents’ and al Qaeda’s ‘form of warfare, organizational structure, and motivations are determined by the society and the culture from which they come.’15 McFate defends the use of Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind, a work that cast Arabs from Algeria to Saudi Arabia as a monolithic people, loveable but infantile, drawn to fantasy and aggression by their language and music, and acting out a role scripted by their Bedouin origins and climate.16 The most recent edition of this book is approvingly introduced by Colonel Norvelle Atkine, who used to prescribe the text to the American military personnel he briefed.

Culturalism has also found appeal outside of the core military and security services. Campaigning for President, Senator John McCain claims that ‘understanding foreign cultures is not a luxury but a strategic necessity.’ As president, he would create an ‘Office of Strategic Services’ and launch a new acculturation programme of language training and anthropological study.17 In Britain, sales have surged of T.E. Lawrence’s classic account of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which has also been commended by counter-insurgency experts in Iraq.18 The Economist asserts an essentialist view of the timeless cultural flaw of Iraqi national character, quoting a retired British diplomat to show that Iraqis are bright but disputatious people and only governable by strong men.19 Robert Kaplan, veteran chronicler of American military expeditions, argues that Herodotus’ ethnographic stories about foreign cultures is a better guide to the present than Thucydides’ attempts to discover the norms of war, statecraft or human nature.20

The ‘cultural turn’ has also left its mark on history. Several recent military histories and prescriptive guides to counter-insurgency are drawn to culture as an explanatory device. They are premised upon an idea that there has long existed a culture-bound ‘eastern’ way of war, a set of concepts and behaviour that differentiate east from west. At its most ambitious, it is treated as an unbroken strategic and military tradition, uniting cultures as dispersed as ancient China, medieval Arabia, and modern Turkey, stretching from the writings of Sun Tzu through to the Arab and Islamic insurgencies of today.

This concept is a moving target, as different historians give it different inflections. John Keegan argued that war is culture by other means, and that Oriental warfare is ‘different and apart from European warfare’, its peculiarities including ‘evasion, delay and indirectness.’21 After 9/11, Keegan turned this analysis into a sweeping and crass judgment about the non-westerners. The war launched on 9/11 between deceitful easterners and direct westerners was only the latest round in an ‘older conflict between settled, creative productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals.’22 Cultures in this view are hermetically sealed boxes, separate and distinct. This view was based on fictitious contrasts between nomadic and sedentary peoples. What is China to make of this, for centuries a productive, settled, and creative culture? But Keegan was articulating cultural war to find a vision of future victory, reducing military history to a morality play, where war showcased the unchanging merits and failures of whole cultures. Keegan deployed this reading of history to embolden the west in its new conflict.

Others have argued for the same east/west duality. The concept of a western way of war is the organising principle behind the recent Cambridge History of Warfare.23 Political scientist Paul Bracken claims Eastern war was ‘embodied by the stealthy archer’, unlike the archetypal western swordsman ‘charging forward, seeking a decisive showdown, eager to administer the blow that will obliterate the enemy.’24 Victor Davis Hanson makes perhaps the most eloquent and sustained case for this grand narrative. Hanson judges the western tradition superior, crediting its military dominance to its culture’s strengths. Western culture from the Greek city states onwards spawns shock infantry that seeks decisive battle, and draws its lethality from its political freedom, capitalism, self-criticism, scientific inquiry, and civic militarism.25 In these works, western culture is the ultimate ‘force multiplier.’

But in light of recent difficulties encountered by the American model of war making, another version of similar ideas is gathering strength. Military officers such as John Poole have used concepts of ‘Asian’ or ‘Islamic’ ways of war didactically to highlight the defects of their own nations’ strategic cultures. Poole identifies an ‘Eastern thought process’ stretching from ancient China to modern Turkey, which generates effective light infantry, and fights indirectly with loose encirclements, probes, dispersal, and trickery.26 This has been endorsed by William Lind himself, the prophet of ‘fourth generation warfare’ who urged the military planners and intelligence agencies to re-imagine the nature of future conflict and recognise its own deficiencies:

The Oriental way of war is far more sophisticated. It plays across the full spectrum of conflict—the moral and mental levels as well as the physical. Even at the physical level, it relies on the indirect approach, on stratagem and deception, far more than on simple bombardment. Seldom do Asians fall into mindless Materialschlacht or ‘body counts’; and while Oriental armies often can (and have) taken many casualties, their tactics at the small-unit infantry level are often cleverly designed to spare their own men’s lives in the face of massive Western firepower.27

Others share Lind’s assumption that different ‘ways of war’ are fixed. Robert Cassidy, another officer, argues that the ‘Eastern way of war’ is rooted in the philosophies of Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-Tung. It is marked by ‘reliance on indirectness, perfidy, attrition and protraction’, and is ‘inherently more irregular, unorthodox, and asymmetric than our traditional conception of war.’28 ‘Inherently’ is a very strong word. How helpful is this view of an almost hereditary tradition spanning millennia?

What’s Wrong with Culturalism?

Before questioning it, the hypothesis of the cultural turn should be credited with some important insights. Culture is an influential variable amongst a range of negotiated interests. It can shape war aims, incentivise a population’s will to fight, define victory and conflict termination, rank preferences and create geostrategic priorities, which are all important elements in intelligence estimates or assessments.

To some extent, the new culturalism represents a healthy corrective to the overconfidence and technological determinism that marked aspects of recent strategic thinking, even if it threatens to replace one determinism with another. Technology cannot ultimately replace human judgement, as the anthropological approach cautions. And geography, custom, collective memory, institutions, and traditions are undoubtedly influential variables in shaping mentalities and behaviour. In terms of the present, the ability to map out the labyrinth of power structures, networks, and confessional or ethnic perspectives in a foreign society is a vital part of intelligence activity. And it also promotes the healthy practice of overcoming ethnocentrism to imagine others’ perspectives.

That said, the ‘culturalist’ interpretation has a number of weaknesses. Firstly, there is in some of its versions an implicit self-contradiction. It asserts that there are enduring and ancient patterns in the way cultures approach war. Yet its exponents also often argue that western military and security structures must adapt to deal better with their adversaries, even to become more like them. Against a historical model of continuity in which strategy is rooted in timeless traditions, it assumes that its own institutions and doctrines are open to transformation. It is unclear how we can have it both ways. It might rest on an unspoken assumption that non-western peoples, tribes or warring communities are primarily cultural actors while westerners are primarily rational actors. Where ‘we’ have rationality, politics, and calculated strategy, ‘they’ have custom, tradition, and warrior culture.29 Non-westerners, in other words, are astrategic.

Much of this Atlantic ‘culture talk’ revolves around the legacy of British colonial wisdom. America’s debate hovers around Britain’s record of counterinsurgency, particularly its success in Malaya, set against its own failures in Vietnam. Some argue that in policing its new frontiers, Britain’s example should play sophisticated Greece to America’s mighty but uncouth Rome. In his testimony before Congress, Major General Robert Scales urged the US military to follow the footsteps of British soldier-adventurers such as ‘China’ Gordon and T.E. Lawrence, and that Britain’s relative success in Basra was due considerably ‘to the self-assurance and comfort with foreign culture derived from centuries of practicing the art of soldier diplomacy and liaison.’30

But these are not necessarily desirable examples of successful cross-cultural statecraft. Gordon was a gifted diplomat and soldier, but was unable to quell a prolonged uprising in the Sudan and allowed himself to be besieged and defeated. T.E. Lawrence developed contempt for Arabs, judging them ‘a limited, narrow-minded people, whose inert intellect lay fallow in incurious resignation.’31 This is a reminder of the closeness of cultural awareness and colonial condescension. Lawrence’s role in the Arab revolt, like the role of modern-day occupiers, was as a strategic actor rather than a disinterested observer. This is a power relationship as well as a cultural exchange. Where ‘the people are the prize’, the goal is not just to ‘know’ the culture but to persuade it or coerce it into identifying its interests with the occupier.32 So the culturally aware military figure can grow quickly disillusioned when the same host population does not behave as desired. Because the relationship happens in this context, it is a fine line between knowing a culture and despising it.

And this colonial mindset often leaves chaos in its wake. It is doubtful whether Basra province demonstrates the occupier’s cultural expertise. Confident in one’s capacity to master local knowledge can lead to error, leaving chaos in its wake. Since entering southern Iraq, British narratives of the account praised their own role in making Basra peaceful and stable with a lighter footprint, wearing berets not helmets, upholding their urban peacekeeping ‘as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks.’33 Scales’ testimony echoed this theme. But now that UK forces have withdrawn, the new Iraqi police chief reports the legacy he inherits under British ‘overwatch’: ‘They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world.’34 Scales was wrong about Basra partly because he was wrong about the colonial past. Because it rests on a foundation of bad history, the new culturalism is a poor guide to the present and helps to account for some of the military and intelligence failures in the war on terror.

It also rests on other suspect assumptions. The primal scene of the ‘cultural turn’ is the interpretation of the classic texts on strategy, such as Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. Whereas Clausewitz was fashionable in the circles of military intellectuals around the time of the 1991 Gulf War, the Chinese sage is now in the ascendancy. But just how peculiar to eastern traditions are Sun Tzu’s ideas? Sun Tzu may have stressed the value of intelligence and deception, praised the ideal of the bloodless victory, and stressed the economic logic of finding non-military ways to prevail. However, so did the Florentine diplomat and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, whose Art of War was one of the most prominent authorities on strategy before Clausewitz.35 Like Sun Tzu in the ‘Warring States’ period, Machiavelli lived in a fragile, multi-polar, and predatory political environment, of competing city-states, ever-shifting alliances and meddling foreign powers. Costly mercenary armies and multiple fronts of conflict made war a particularly risky and expensive business. His environment, more than cultural stereotypes, may explain why he asserted that ‘He who overcomes the enemy by fraud is as much to be praised as he who does so by force.’36 Moreover, Machiavelli argued for a synthesis of the ‘sledgehammer’ power of Roman citizen-armies and the ‘sneaky’ gambits of manoeuvre, surprise and deception, practised by the Parthian horsemen of antiquity, an antecedent of the asymmetric military actor, so in vogue in contemporary security commentaries.37 He resolved the opposition between eastern and western modes of warfare pragmatically: depending on the circumstances and the terrain, sometimes the caution and indirectness of the Parthians worked better, at other times the bold Roman approach made sense. Machiavelli bridged principles often thought to be opposite, and saw past the limitations of narrow traditions.

So Sun Tzu’s concepts were not so culturally-specific. What of the Prussian general Clausewitz? Proponents of a new generation of war, such as Martin van Creveld, claim he is losing his relevance in an age of post-modern ‘non-trinitarian’ war, with a shift of initiative to non-state actors (from terrorist networks to organised crime), the rise of ‘low-intensity’ war and the blurring of boundaries between citizen and soldiers, war and peace, which reframes and upsets the received view.38 Clausewitz may have lived in an era of intense wars and decisive battles between great powers. But he cannot be totally confined to the horizons of his generation. He recognised the phenomena of ‘people’s armies’ and ‘small wars.’ Stateless forces were part of his world too, from Spain’s guerrillas to Russia’s Tartars, just as international piracy prefigured today’s global black market.39 He also stated that war is rarely final, and that popular uprisings may arise after the defeat of state militaries. Echoing his critics, Clausewitz also argued that such uprisings were a symptom of the ‘breaking down of barriers’, which had been ‘swept away in our lifetime by the elemental violence of war.’40

As well as emptying strategic texts of their richness, the cultural turn might be slightly naïve when it comes to the issue of reception, or understanding how those texts are read and used. Like sacred texts, the great strategic works have been invoked in very different ways to justify different and conflicting policies. And this is not just a problem of interpretation. Rather than just being influenced by these texts, military commanders and rulers at times have selected the parts that fitted their own interests, in other words, have used these texts instrumentally, in common parlance fixing around a policy end. The Clausewitz of the nineteenth century was invoked by Prussian generals to justify the pursuit of decisive battles to destroy the enemy’s forces, to preach the inevitability of heavy casualties and the central value of morale, even to urge civilian government to stand aside as they prosecuted the war. By contrast, decision-makers in the twentieth century appealed to Clausewitz to argue different and even opposite principles, such as the assertion that the military should be subordinate to political direction and political ends. Such concepts inspired the US Weinberger-Powell doctrine, which codified the principles of prudent statecraft, the controlled application of force for achievable goals, concrete national interests and clear exit strategy.41 Clausewitz as an authority has been ransacked to justify conflicting outlooks and policies.

A similar pattern of opportunism in the relationship between actors and texts can be found in medieval Chinese history. As Alistair Johnston has shown in his study of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Chinese rulers over centuries were happy to appeal to their supposed strategic culture selectively when it suited them.42 As Alistair Johnson showed, China’s official version of its own strategic culture claims that historically, it was inspired by the Confucian-Mencian disparagement of the utility of force, and that it was non-expansionist, non-aggressive, and preoccupied with internal anarchy. Chinese rulers often appealed to this supposed tradition of prudent conciliation and compromise, claiming that they were in tune with ancestral wisdom. But this they happily abandoned when they saw opportunities to go on the offensive. Ming rulers did so with great frequency, externally against Vietnamese, Koreans, Uighers, Mongols, and Tibetans.

To justify a more aggressive posture, they could appeal to an alternative tradition which was also to be found in their strategic texts—a philosophy of watchful aggressiveness. In this tradition, offensive force was desirable and preferred, to be mediated by sensitivity to the enemy’s relative capabilities. Force could be used when the time was ripe. Supposed strategic traditions did matter, but often only so far as they accorded with the hard-headed calculations of elites. Culture may exist as an influential factor in decision-making, but culture does not always drive decision-makers—decision-makers often exploit culture, which poses an enormous challenge to analysts trying to make sense of their enemies’ intentions.

Strength and Weakness

So much for the use, and abuse, of strategic texts. The cultural turn is also arguably a dubious account of actual historical behaviour. Too often, it falls prey to a crude and false polarity. In one corner, there are the children of Clausewitz, blundering and guileless Western forces obsessed with decisive combat and wielding the blunt instrument of overwhelming force. In the other corner, there are Sun Tzu’s oriental acolytes, weaker but more sophisticated foes, who prefer deception and the ‘indirect approach,’ and who avoid the excessive slaughters on display at Verdun and Stalingrad.

At least as it has been articulated so far, the hypothesis of culturally determined ‘ways of war’ ignores too many awkward contrary cases that cut across its neat frontiers. The longest conventional war of the twentieth century was fought between Arabs and Persians, the Iraq-Iran war of 1980–1988. It featured ruinous economic and human costs, and the fighting was reminiscent of the western front: positional combat over entrenched positions and the use of poison gas, and continual waves of young men charging to their deaths, driven by ideologies of martyrdom. Conversely, one of the most elaborate pieces of deception in history, using key intelligence assets, was executed by a western alliance in 1944, ‘Operation Bodyguard’ to mask the D-Day Normandy Landings. The Allies misled German spies, built dummies, false radio transmissions and newspaper reports, used double bluff, to such effect that the Germans continued to believe the Normandy landings were a feint. This illustrated also that deception and overwhelming force are not mutually exclusive absolutes, but relative parts of a spectrum.

The ‘cultural turn’ might also neglect the dynamism of culture, of how strategic cultures can change in the course of wars, so that in order to find tactics and strategies that work, cultural norms are violated and remade to fit utility. There is evidence that insurgents and other stateless actors, rather than being determined and constrained by culture, actually violate norms and remake their culture for reasons of pragmatic calculation. Islamist insurgent groups, from Hamas to Al Qaeda, have recently broken with patriarchal values by employing women in increasing numbers as suicide bombers. And this despite religious taboos amongst male-dominated movements about employing women in war.43 Women offer a range of benefits as jihadists. Their profile defies stereotypes and is below the radar; they are stealthier and harder to detect they are overlooked by governments and officials thinking in terms of the typical male ‘profile’ of suicide bomber; they inflict greater psychological impact because of perceptions that they are atypical; and even shame men into participation.44 Recall the changing attitude of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, who initially ‘categorically renounced the use of women as suicide bombers’ in January 2002. Two years later, after Hamas struck with its first female suicide attack, he justified it on grounds of utility. ‘The male fighters face many obstacles, so women can more easily reach the targets…Women are like the reserve army—when there is a necessity, we use them.’45 Female suicide bombing, once abhorrent, became a compelling method. Hamas and others doubly violated tradition in strongly felt forms—attitudes to suicide and to women—and remade it to fit strategic circumstances.

To justify this switch, those in favour went back to the Qur’an. If cultures are repertoires with diverse and clashing ideas, what better instance than sacred texts, where messages, guides to action and symbols can be found to justify almost any act? Within Islam, there was a heritage of women fighting in jihad. The Qur’an recognized women’s participation in jihad, and contains passages that recognize women’s equal status. Women as fighters appear in the early precedents of the prophet’s own wife and granddaughter fighting in battles, to the legendary Nusayba bint K’ab, who fought in the Battle of Uhud in 625, as well as other women who supported jihad through nursing the wounded, donating jewellery, and encouraging their male family members. The heroism of these women, icons for modern-day imitators, is celebrated in the Muslim world.46 Islamic traditions, like all cultural traditions, can be instrumentalised. The suicide bomber, stereotyped as a young man in a state of religious exaltation, turns out to be an overlooked woman. Here is a case where assumptions about the culturally static profile of the enemy could prove not only misguided but deadly.

‘Know thyself’ is also one of Sun Tzu’s commands, yet the cultural turn also offers a misleading portrayal of the west. It overlooks patterns of behaviour that upset the clean narrative of a ‘western’ tradition. Metacultural analysis draws stark contrasts. It uses the polarizing notions of Orient and Occident, eastern and western strategic traditions. It often springs from a desire to distinguish not only the warfare and conflict of east and west, but their cultural life. War becomes a commentary on the worth and value of different civilizations. Combat in particular becomes a kind of value judgement on the societies that wage it. Hence the portrayal of ‘Oriental cunning’, evasion or subtlety, against western ‘openness’, or naivety.

As a matter of self-definition, westerners have often thought of their desire for pitched battle as a reflection of their integrity. As Col. Harry Summers said to Col. Tu in Hanoi as North Vietnam’s guerrilla strategy was paying dividends in 1975, ‘you never defeated us on the battlefield.’47 If war is the ultimate political act, it is also tempting to see it as the ultimate expression of one’s political values. And it may be that because they have relied for evidence partly on westerners’ statements about themselves, culturalists have reproduced this self-image. We might also have a nostalgia for set-piece battles in open fields, in a world when such battles with such clarity are denied to conventional forces, and where war is dominated by a ‘dismal globalised continuum’ of urban terror, long-range bombing and massacres of unarmed civilians. Americans, Israelis or Britons might yearn for a time when their enemies shared their preference for a fair fight.48

But if we examine the record of actual behaviour, a more mixed picture emerges. In fact, strategies of avoidance and indirection have a rich pedigree in western military practice. The more formidable the enemy and the more undesirable a decisive showdown, the more acceptable indirect methods seem, whether against a determined Japan in the Burma jungles, a Hannibal emerging from the slaughter at Cannae, or the northern Union with its industrial might, during the American civil war. Duplicitous moves including pretending to be friendly, pretending to be done for the day, sending false information, or making a misleading agreement are timeless lessons of warfare. The ‘Odysseus’ stratagem of ancient Greece competed with the ‘Achilles’ ethos with its thirst for battle, and what might be derided as the enemy’s dishonesty could be reconfigured as one’s own artfulness.49

The western fixation with a ‘fair and open’ fight—as opposed to the sneakiness of terrorists—should not overshadow a frequent practice in European medieval war, also presumably part of the western tradition: of battle avoidance. Regardless of their elite warrior cultures, medieval commanders were often wary of the dangers of pitched battle, and were constrained by problems of supply, hygiene, and of survival itself in expeditionary wars. Defenders also had an advantage. Defensive strongholds enabled one side to refuse battle. Between 1071 and 1328 in Flanders, often invaded, there were only eleven battles of note.50 And the weak did not have to be reared in eastern traditions to find alternative ways to combat the strong. When they calculated that they could not resist English invasion through direct combat, Welsh and Scots defenders chose defensive strategies that eastern guerrillas would be proud of, such as scorched earth retreats, cutting off supply lines, punitive raids and the exploitation of terrain.

In terms of norms and codes of honour, the western tradition has in fact not always bound itself to the ‘hoplite’ ideal of upright, direct warfare of stand-up battles on level terms within strict protocols. Western forces, like any others with the same means, have indiscriminately bombed civilians, launched surprise attacks, used chemical and nuclear weapons, and today embrace risk-aversion through unmanned aerial vehicles, taking their individuals out of the battlespace, but which contributes to the paucity of available human intelligence.

One does not have to be ‘eastern’ to practise indirect methods. At the risk of stating the obvious, weaker sides of any culture, whether secular or religious, nationalist or Marxist, Arab or Asian, have had to find effective ways to get around their enemies’ strengths and exploit their vulnerabilities. When on the wrong end of a disparity in ‘hard’ power, weaker sides have historically faced the grim arithmetic, that they must be resourceful and flexible and avoid or postpone massed confrontation. No culture enjoys a monopoly over this logic. Being Vietnamese, Islamic, eastern or ‘oriental’ was probably not the main driving force behind the ‘asymmetric’ strategies of the Viet Cong or Al Qaeda, any more than being Spanish or American was the main driving force behind the indirect methods of those who took on Napoleon or the British Empire.51

Because it is so tied to a quest for western cultural identity, it is no accident that the overarching thesis of a ‘western way of war’ is often selective and historically problematic. The desire to contrast one’s own form of war with Orientals, and to think of the world as a set of homogenous cultural traditions, creates a pre-existing bias. Advocates of a western way of war bypass the history of western strategies of deception, evasion, and indirectness, in their desire to present combat and strategic cultures as symptomatic of core societal values. Treating war as the manifestation of a society’s pathologies rather than a shifting response to changing circumstances, culturalism divorces war from external political context. It is also dangerously permissive. As Jonathan Mirsky argues, ‘If we have ‘curious rules of honour’ on one side, and deceit, ambush, treachery and surprise on the other, we give ourselves permission to do horrible things.’52 A prescient warning for practices such as rendition and ‘special interrogation techniques’.

The cultural turn misses out the pragmatism and wiliness of both states and non-state actors at war. To cut it to its proper size without dismissing it altogether, it should be tempered by a less fashionable concept: power and weakness. The size, wealth, resources and technology of the adversary is a major driver of behaviour in war. Rather than being necessarily determinative, a war culture can be an epiphenomenal adaptation to a material environment. Codes of morality and honour can also be reactions to the distribution of power. Unable to compete in pitched battle, the French Resistance and Hezbollah were scorned by their opponents for hiding amongst the civilian population, while the frustrations of the powerful were summarised by an American military observer in Southeast Asia in 1964: ‘If only the little bastards would come out of the jungle and fight like men, we’d cream them.’53

Furthermore, the claim that ‘easterners’ are distinctive for avoiding ‘excess’ or mindless loss of life misunderstands the strategic vision of weaker ‘non-western’ opponents. From Ho Chi Minh to Osama Bin Laden, weaker sides have announced their will to make sacrifice without limit. It is precisely this which they reckon advantages them against the stronger enemy, with its nervous politicians reluctant to spend endless blood and treasure. As demonstrated by more than a million dead communists in the North’s ultimate victory in Vietnam, or in the wave after wave of attacks made by Vietnamese or Chinese armies at Dien Bien Phu or throughout the Korean War. Bloodless methods and being economical with casualties was emphatically not always their war-winning strategy.

As well as oversimplifying the nature of different traditions, the assumptions of the ‘culturalists’ also paint a misleading picture of moments where ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ cultures clash. Consider John Poole’s account of the failed amphibious Gallipoli campaign of 1915, when the British and French empires tried and failed to storm the Dardanelles straits against Ottoman mobile artillery, on a boundary between Europe and Asia. Poole shows, with some force, that Turkish light infantry lured the British 1/5th Norfolk battalion into a trap, by withdrawing into the interior and surrounding and ambushing terrified Tommies. This trap, he argues, was an example of the military heritage of Asia Minor.

Apart from the problem that the Turks were being advised by the Germans, Poole’s account does not tell the whole story about the nature of the western invaders. The most striking exercise of deception was carried out not by the Turks, but by the British four months later, who pulled off one of the most difficult tasks in war: a large-scale retreat. British estimates reckoned that the withdrawal from Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove would cost casualties of forty thousand. But Sir Charles Monro devised ruses, such as the appearance of routine, fires left burning and rifles rigged to fire themselves. Eighty thousand men with their vehicles, guns and animals were evacuated. Only five men were wounded.54

The dogma of cultural determinism, then, often fails to deal with many of the complexities of militarised performance. And its empirical and conceptual shortcomings reflect a more fundamental problem. It sees what it wants to see in history, making facts fit a theory to confirm its urgent contemporary agenda, which is to alert today’s military and security decision-makers to the profound differences between cultural traditions. But however seductive and well-intentioned the theory, competing ‘ways of war’ are hammered out in a matrix in which culture was one element that interact with others, such as material circumstances, power imbalances, and individuals. It would be ironic if the many war cultures of the past were forced into simplistic categories in order to encourage cultural sensitivity in the present.

Culture: Rethinking the Definition

There are different versions of what culture is, and how it relates to war and conflict. These vary in sophistication. Here I have argued that we should abandon any idea of culture as a central or even determining force, or a clear ‘script’ of traditions and meanings that drives behaviour. With the help of more insightful anthropological models, we can develop a better definition. In a recent report of November 2007, the American Anthropological Association cautioned against simplistic structural-functionalist models of culture being employed within the military, and by inference in the intelligence community. Culture, it argues, is the encoding of meaning. But it is not so much a system of eternal values as a process and phenomenon constantly remade and changing. There is the ‘idea of culture as an historically contingent, power-laden, dynamic and emerging property of human relations, and the theoretical and methodological entanglements that such a view implies’, as opposed to the idea of culture as ‘a set of discrete and static elements that can be neatly catalogued, captured, stored, and pulled out to support decision making.’55 As argued here, the pressures of war are particularly potent when they force strategic imperatives to clash with ideas of cultural tradition.

We are concerned here with the relationship between cultural context and action. Even if culture is an inescapable context, it is only part of the context in which strategic decisions are made, but one variable in a matrix of negotiated interests.56 Culture is part of the process of decision-making and behaviour, but not exhaustive of it. In times of pressure and the quest for survival, actors can behave despite their culture.

Rather than seeing culture as a clear script for action, a better view is that culture is more a loose repertoire. It supplies a set of memories, values, symbols, metaphors, interpreted experience, principles and ‘lessons.’ Crucially, culture can be an ambiguous heritage, with contradictory ideas that are open to conflicting interpretations. And rather than viewing states, tribes or insurgents as passive bi-products of their cultures, we should also see them as strategic users of culture. People invoke culture, instrumentalise it, and recast it in order to support policy choices and options. Thus the war/culture relationship is highly politicised.

In our own time, we have seen this process at work. Consider the debate within Hamas or al Qaeda over two taboos, the adoption of suicide bombing and recruiting female jihadists. This shows movements internally debating their norms of war, and changing their mind in order to find a method that would be effective against the overwhelming military force of its enemies, and then justifying it by reworking interpretations of a sacred text.

On the other side of the hill, Britain and America also have an ambiguous heritage of strategic ideas, as shown in academic and public argument. Debating military choices, they have disagreed over whether to apply the analogies of World War One, World War Two or Vietnam. Supporters of the Iraq war in 2003 often invoked Chamberlain, Hitler and Munich in 1938, arguing that against dangerous tyrants, an aggressive strategy was a winning strategy. Those against it raised Vietnam or even the July Crisis of 1914, warning that an uncompromising stance would lead to disastrous war with unanticipated consequences.57 Where some warned against appeasement, others spoke of quagmire. Culture did not supply a clear grid for action, but threw up clashing lessons and analogies.


So what? Why does the history of war and culture matter beyond fireside conversation? As I have argued, those advocating the ‘cultural turn’ often appeal to a reading of history that is in some respects flawed. By falling prey to cultural determinism, or ‘national character’ analysis, or lumping disparate ‘non-western’ cultures together, this misreading of history may also have strategic costs.

The United States and Israel, are paying the price for misreading history through misconceived metacultural analysis. After the rout of Saddam’s forces, Sunni Arabs did not behave as people easily cowed by the ‘Shock and Awe’ of a stronger force, but proved to be resilient guerrillas.58 Once the insurgency was underway, the United States also treated the Iraqi insurgency through the lens of Vietnam. The classic Maoist insurgencies in Vietnam, Malaya, and the Philippines during the 1960s were homogenous, top-down, and unified. Thus they were differently structured from the fragmented and networked insurgency of disparate groups in today’s Iraq, and the wider battlefront against Al Qaeda.59 Though there are certain dynamics that unite insurgencies and ‘non-western’ war down the ages, it is misleading to infer giant ‘non-western’ paradigms. And today, Iraq illustrates the problems of culture-centric approaches that are divorced from the dynamic political context of war. Although some argue that Iraq can be trisected into three permanent parts, like Caesar’s Gaul its internal divisions are proving more manifold, more subtle and more unstable. Sunni insurgents, for example, have realigned against their former allies Al Qaeda in Iraq, for the moment cooperating with the US in the ‘Anbar awakening.’ Misreading history has also cost the Israeli Defence Force. It is still reeling from its discovery that fighting guerrillas in the West Bank made it overconfident in combating the small-unit, agile, media-savvy fighters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the July war of 2006.60 By misconceiving the past and overlooking this kind of fluidity, the ‘cultural turn’ runs the risk of mischaracterising the nature of conflict and the enemies of the west.

If the technology-driven revolution of the 1990s failed to deliver on all of its promises, we should also be cautious about the culture-driven revolution. A more careful reading of history will help to guard against seeing culture as the new magic bullet. Today’s strategists and intelligence analysts cannot afford to presume that East is always East.


  1. 1.

    ‘Army Transformation, Implications for the Future.’ Statement of Major General Robert Scales, House Armed Services Committee, 15 July, 2004.

  2. 2.

    Saddam’s pre-war decision-making has been reconstructed from new intelligence by Kevin Woods, James Lacey and Williamson Murray, ‘Saddam’s delusions: The View From the Inside’ Foreign Affairs 85:3 (May/June 2006), pp.2–28; Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: the Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (New York, 2006), esp. pp.55–75.

  3. 3.

    See Gerhard L. Weinberg, ‘Hitler’s Image of the United States’ American Historical Review 69:4 (July 1964), pp.1001–21. On how aggressors can draw false confidence from their sense of cultural supremacy, see Michael P. Fischerkeller, ‘David versus Goliath: Cultural Judgments in Asymmetric Wars,’ Security Studies, 7:4 (Summer 1998), pp.1–43.

  4. 4.

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1:1, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, rev. ed. (Princeton, 1984), p.88.

  5. 5.

    This definition is derived from A. Macmillan, K. Booth and R. Trood, ‘Strategic Culture’ in K. Booth and R. Trood (eds.) Strategic Cultures in the Asia-Pacific Region (Basingstoke, 1999), pp.3–26, p.8 and Alistair Johnston, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton, 1997), pp.ix–x, p.36: Jack Snyder, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations (Santa Monica, 1977), p.8; Kerry Longhurst, Germany and the Use of Force (Manchester, 2004), pp.17–18.

  6. 6.

    Sun Tzu, The Art of War III.18.

  7. 7.

    See Tim Benbow, The Magic Bullet? Understanding the Revolution in Military Affairs (London, 2004), p.80.

  8. 8.

    Ralph Peters, Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? (Mechanicsburg, 1999), p.30.

  9. 9.

    Tony Corn, ‘Clausewitz in Wonderland’ Policy Review (September 2006), at (accessed 2 October 2006); see also Montgomery McFate, ‘Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship’ Military Review 85 (March–April 2005), pp.24–38.

  10. 10.

    FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency (December 2006), foreword, David H. Petraeus & James F. Amos.

  11. 11.

    Robert H. Scales, ‘Culture-centric Warfare’ Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 130:10 (October 2004), pp.32–36.

  12. 12.

    Leo Docherty, Desert of Death: A Soldier’s Journey from Iraq to Afghanistan (London, 2007), pp.191–2.

  13. 13.

    Secretary of Defense Memo, ‘Defence Capabilities to Transition to and from Hostilities’ 8 October 2004, cited in Steven C. Boraz, ‘Behind the Curve in Culture-centric skills’ Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 131:6 (June 2005), pp.41–45.

  14. 14.

    ‘Knowing the Enemy: Can Social Scientists redefine the ‘war on terror’? New Yorker (December 2006), pp.40–69.

  15. 15.

    M. McFate, ‘The military utility of understanding adversary culture’ Joint Force Quarterly (July 2005) 38: pp.42–48, p.43.

  16. 16.

    Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind (New York, 1971, 2002 edn); Matthew B. Stannard, ‘Montgomery McFate’s Mission: Can one Anthropologist possibly steer the course in Iraq?’ San Francisco Chronicle 29 April, 2007.

  17. 17.

    John McCain, ‘An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom’ Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec 2007), pp.19–34.

  18. 18.

    Ryan Dilley, ‘Lessons from Lawrence of Arabia’ BBC News 9 April 2004 at (accessed 19 January, 2007).

  19. 19.

    ‘Can a lull be turned into a real Peace?’ Economist 15 December 2007, p.30.

  20. 20.

    Robert D. Kaplan, ‘A Historian for Our Time’ Atlantic Monthly (Jan/Feb 2007), pp.78–84.

  21. 21.

    John Keegan, A History of Warfare (London, 1993), p.387.

  22. 22.

    John Keegan, ‘In this war of civilisations, the West will prevail’ Telegraph 8 October, 2001.

  23. 23.

    Geoffrey Parker, The Cambridge History of Warfare (Cambridge, 2005), esp. pp.1–15.

  24. 24.

    Paul Bracken, Fire in the East: The Rise of Asian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age (New York, 1999), p.130.

  25. 25.

    Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (New York, 2001), esp. pp.1–27.

  26. 26.

    John Poole, Tactics of the Crescent Moon (Emerald Isle, NC: Posterity Press, 2001), xxviii, p.5.

  27. 27.

    William Lind, foreword to J. Poole, Phantom Soldier: The Enemy’s Answer to U.S. Firepower (2001).

  28. 28.

    Robert M. Cassidy, Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War (London, 2006), p.3.

  29. 29.

    This oversimplified view appears in Richard H. Shultz Jr. & Andrea J. Dew, Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat (New York, 2006), pp.5–6.

  30. 30.

    ‘Army Transformation, Implications for the Future.’ Statement of Major General Robert Scales, House Armed Services Committee, 15 July, 2004.

  31. 31.

    T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (New York, 1935), p.38.

  32. 32.

    Statement by Thomas E. Ricks paraphrasing French counterinsurgency expert David Galula, ‘In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam: Early Missteps by U.S. Left Troops Unprepared for Guerrilla Warfare’ Washington Post 23 July 2006, A01.

  33. 33.

    Patrick Devenny, Robert McLean, ‘The Battle for Basra’ The American Spectator 1 November 2005.

  34. 34.

    Mona Mahmoud, Maggie O’Kane and Ian Black, ‘UK has left behind murder and chaos, says Basra police chief.’ Guardian 17 December 2007.

  35. 35.

    See Felix Gilbert, ‘Machiavelli: The Renaissance of the Art of War’ Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, 1986), pp.11–31.

  36. 36.

    Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, 7:XL.

  37. 37.

    As Christopher Lynch suggests, ‘Interpretive Essay’, in his translation of Niccolo Machiavelli, Art of War (Chicago, 20,030, pp.179–226, esp.195–200.

  38. 38.

    Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York, 1991); for similar arguments, see Ralph Peters, ‘The New Strategic Trinity’ Parameters 28:4 (1998–9), pp.73–9.

  39. 39.

    Stuart Kinross, ‘Clausewitz and Low-Intensity Conflict’, 27:1 Journal of Strategic Studies (March 2004), pp.35–58; M.L.R. Smith, ‘Strategy in an Age of ‘Low-Intensity’ Warfare’ in Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Jan Angstrom (eds.) Rethinking the Nature of War (London, 2005), pp.28–64.

  40. 40.

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 6:26, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, rev. ed. (Princeton, 1984), p.479.

  41. 41.

    For the influence of Clausewitz and appeals to his philosophy, see Michael I. Handel, Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought (London, 1992, 1996 edn), esp.1–17.

  42. 42.

    Alistair Johnston, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton, 1995), esp. pp.175–242.

  43. 43.

    Jack Kelly, ‘Al-Qaeda fragmented, smaller, but still deadly’, USA Today 9 September 2002.

  44. 44.

    See Jessica Stern, ‘When Bombers are Women’ Washington Post 18 December 2003; Debra D. Zedalis, ‘Female Suicide Bombers’ Strategic Studies Institute (June 2004); Diaa Hadid, ‘al Qaida uses women as suicide attackers’ Associated Press 4 January 2008.

  45. 45.

    Arnon Regular, ‘Mother of Two Becomes First Female Suicide Bomber for Hamas’ Haaretz 16 January 2004, also discussed in Debra Zedalis, ‘Female Suicide Bombers’, Strategic Studies Institute.

  46. 46.

    Farhana Ali, ‘Muslim Female Fighters: An Emerging Trend’ Terrorism Monitor: An In-Depth Analysis of the War on Terror 3:21 (3 November, 2005), pp.9–11, p.10.

  47. 47.

    Harry G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1982), 1.

  48. 48.

    Quote from Philip Sabin, Lost Battles: Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World (London, 2007), xi, also p.29.

  49. 49.

    Peter Krentz, ‘Deception in Archaic and Classical Greek Warfare’ in Hans van Wees (ed), War and Violence in Ancient Greece (London, 2000), pp.167–200.

  50. 50.

    J.F. Verbruggen, The Art of Warfare in Western Europe during the Middle Ages (1977), pp.327–335; Sean McGlynn, ‘The Myths of Medieval Warfare’ 44:1 History Today (1994), pp.28–34.

  51. 51.

    Peter Layton, ‘A new Arab Way of War’ US Naval Institute Proceedings 129:3 (March 2003), pp.62–65.

  52. 52.

    Jonathan Mirsky, ‘John Keegan tells us that westerners ‘fight face to face’ while Orientals prefer ‘ambush and deceit.’ Really?’ Guardian 10 October 2001.

  53. 53.

    Cited in P.H. Liotta ‘Chaos as Strategy’ Parameters (Summer, 2002), pp.47–56, 51.

  54. 54.

    John Poole, Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods (Emerald Isle, 2004), pp.3–19; Michael Dewar, The Art of Deception in Warfare (David and Charles, 1989), pp.38–39.

  55. 55.

    American Anthropological Association, Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities, Final Report, November 4 2007, p.22.

  56. 56.

    As Colin Gray argues, ‘Out of the Wilderness: Prime Time for Strategic Culture’ Comparative Strategy 26 (2007), pp.1–20, p.16.

  57. 57.

    See Jeffrey Record on this point, ‘The Use and Abuse of History: Munich, Vietnam and Iraq’ Survival 49:1 (Spring 2007), pp.163–180.

  58. 58.

    A point also made by Michael Desch, ‘Culture versus Structure in Post-9/11 Security Studies’ Strategic Insights IV:10 (October 2005),

  59. 59.

    Martin J. Muckian, ‘Structural Vulnerabilities of Networked Insurgencies: Adapting to the New Adversary’ Parameters (Winter 2006/7), pp.14–25; Stephen Biddle, ‘Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon’ Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006).

  60. 60.

    Alon Ben-David, ‘Debriefing Teams Brand IDF Doctrine ‘Completely Wrong,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 3 January 2007, p.7.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and International StudiesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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