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Unfamiliar Allies: Australian Cross-Cultural Communication in Afghanistan and Iraq During the War on Terror

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Communication, Interpreting and Language in Wartime

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Languages at War ((PASLW))

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Australian troops were primarily engaged in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as subordinate elements of larger coalition formations. Communication challenges were a feature of their wartime experience. Despite surface commonalities, Australians found US and Dutch troops they worked with had noticeably different military cultures. In Iraq, the American commitment to a whole-of-nation struggle engaging large numbers of troops was significantly different to the low-level Australian deployments, and challenges emerged from everyday Australian interactions in an ultra-patriotic American military culture. Conversely, Australians in Afghanistan worked with the Dutch, an unfamiliar western ally whose liberal social values and consensus/discussion-based military culture differed from Australian military expectations. This chapter explores the social history of Australian military communication, focusing on cross-cultural communication and language.

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    Shane Bryant with Tony Park (2010), War Dogs: An Australian and His Dog Go to War in Afghanistan (Sydney: Macmillan), p. 51.

  2. 2.

    I use the term military to refer to troops or soldiers, as in members of the Army, Navy, or Air Force.

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    For a detailed exploration of a range of these terms, see Amanda Laugesen (2005), Diggerspeak: The Language of Australians at War (Melbourne: Oxford University Press).

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    The term MEAO encompassed Australian military activities in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in bases and on ships throughout the Arabian Gulf, but the focus of this chapter is on Iraq and Afghanistan.

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    While uniformed members of the military dominate this study, defence civilians and former members of the military also form part of this group of Australians attempting to communicate with allies during war.

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    This is despite specific targeting of this group. See Anthony John (2013), ‘From Institution to Occupation: Australian Army Culture in Transition’, Australian Army Journal 10:3, pp. 187–202, here p. 191.

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    Molan, Running the War in Iraq, pp. 23–4. See also Gary McKay (1998), Delta Four: Australian Riflemen in Vietnam (Sydney: Allen & Unwin), pp. 215–23.

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    Prascevic, Returned Soldier: My Battles, p. 83.

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    Tom Gleeson (2008), Playing Poker with the SAS: A Comedy Tour of Iraq and Afghanistan (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press).

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    There have been significant changes in the Australian Defence Force since a highly publicised sex scandal in 2011. See Jessica Carniel (2017), ‘Death and the Maiden: Memorialisation, Scandal, and the Gendered Mediation of Australian Soldiers’, in Jessica Gildersleeve and Richard Gehrmann (eds), Memory and the Wars on Terror (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 237–62, here pp. 251–55.

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    See, for example, the memoir of Kayla Williams (2005), Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army (London: W. W. Norton & Company).

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    Paul Field (2017), Gimme Shelter, p. 228.

  32. 32.

    This was to become the American-led Combined Team Uruzgan following Dutch withdrawal and transfer of command in 2010.

  33. 33.

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    See Dave Allen (ed), War in the Valleys, p. 14.

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    Chris Masters (2012), Uncommon Soldier (Sydney: Allen & Unwin), p. 269. For an understanding of Dutch approaches, see Martijn Kitzen (2012), ‘Close Encounters of the Tribal Kind: The Implementation of Co-option as a Tool for De-escalation of Conflict – The Case of the Netherlands in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 35:5, pp. 713–34.

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  49. 49.

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Gehrmann, R. (2020). Unfamiliar Allies: Australian Cross-Cultural Communication in Afghanistan and Iraq During the War on Terror. In: Laugesen, A., Gehrmann, R. (eds) Communication, Interpreting and Language in Wartime. Palgrave Studies in Languages at War. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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