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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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Abstract

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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Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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).

  4. 4.

    Richard Fotheringham (2009), ‘Speaking a New World: Language in Early Australian Plays’, Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association, 111, pp. 1–20, here p. 5.

  5. 5.

    Nathan Mullins (2011), Keep Your Head Down: One Commando’s Brutally Honest Account of Fighting in Afghanistan (Sydney: Allen and Unwin), pp. 80–81.

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly (eds) (2012), Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace Building (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan).

  8. 8.

    Rachel Woodward and K. Neil Jenkings (2012), ‘“This Place Isn’t Worth the Left Boot of One of Our Boys”: Geopolitics, Militarism and Memoirs of the Afghanistan War’, Political Geography, 31:8, pp. 495–508.

  9. 9.

    Synne L. Dyvik (2016), ‘“Valhalla rising”: Gender, Embodiment and Experience in Military Memoirs’, Security Dialogue, 47:2, pp. 133–150; Lamberta Hendrika Esmeralda Kleinreesink (2017), On Military Memoirs: A Quantitative Comparison of International Afghanistan War Autobiographies (Boston, MA: Brill); Julien Pomarède (2018), ‘Normalizing Violence through Front-line Stories: The Case of American Sniper’, Critical Military Studies, 4:1, pp. 52–71.

  10. 10.

    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.

  11. 11.

    Richard Gehrmann (2017), ‘Enemies of the State(s): Cultural Memory, Cinema, and the Iraq War’, in Jessica Gildersleeve and Richard Gehrmann (eds), Memory and the Wars on Terror (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 69–89.

  12. 12.

    Jim Molan (2008), Running the War in Iraq (Sydney: HarperCollins), pp. 23–24; 40.

  13. 13.

    James Prascevic (2014), Returned Soldier: My Battles: Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Melbourne: Melbourne Books), p. 92.

  14. 14.

    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.

  15. 15.

    Hugh Smith (1995), ‘The Dynamics of Social Change and the Australian Defence Force’, Armed Forces & Society, 21:4, pp. 531–51, here p. 12.

  16. 16.

    See Issares Surachestpong (2016), ‘A Needs Assessment of Intensive Language Teaching at the ADF School of Languages’, PhD thesis, Victoria University.

  17. 17.

    Paul de Gelder (2011), No Time for Fear (Camberwell: Penguin), p. 93.

  18. 18.

    Ben Gooley, Matt Lines, and Tom Larter (2012), ‘OMLT – in contact’, in Dave Allen (ed), War in the Valleys: 7th Battalion Battle Group (MRTF-1), Afghanistan, October 2008 to June 2009 (Wilsonton: Ryter Publishing), p. 36.

  19. 19.

    Molan, Running the War in Iraq, p. 310.

  20. 20.

    Paul Field (2017), Gimme Shelter: Stories of Courage, Endurance and Survival from the Frontline and Back Home (Richmond: Echo), pp. 6–7.

  21. 21.

    Graeme Dobell (2014), ‘The Alliance Echoes and Portents of Australia’s Longest War’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 68:4, pp. 386–96, here pp. 288–89.

  22. 22.

    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.

  23. 23.

    Jim Hammett (2008), ‘We Were Soldiers Once: The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps?’, Australian Army Journal, 5:1, pp. 39–50.

  24. 24.

    On occasions in Iraq, the British actually thought Australians were reluctant to become engaged in combat. John Blaxland (2014), The Australian Army from Whitlam to Howard (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press), pp. 241–42, pp. 246–47. For a comparison of the Canadian and Australian deployments, see Kim Nossal (2009), ‘Making Sense of Afghanistan: The Domestic Politics of International Stabilization Missions in Australia and Canada’, International Journal, 64:3, pp. 825–42.

  25. 25.

    Bryant, War Dogs, pp. 62–3.

  26. 26.

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

  27. 27.

    For examples of this, see Evan Wright (2005), Generation Kill (London: Corgi), and Chris Kyle (2012), American Sniper (New York: Harper).

  28. 28.

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

  29. 29.

    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.

  30. 30.

    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).

  31. 31.

    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.

    Australians had served briefly under Dutch command in Java in 1942. See Andrew Faulkner (2008), Arthur Blackburn, VC: An Australian Hero, His Men, and Their Two World Wars (Kent Town: Wakefield Press), pp. 340–47; and Tom Gilling (2018), The Lost Battalions (Sydney: Allen and Unwin).

  34. 34.

    Chris Masters (2012), Uncommon Soldier (Sydney: Allen & Unwin), p. 119.

  35. 35.

    René Moelker, Joseph Soeters, and Ulrich vom Hagen (2007), ‘Sympathy, the Cement of Interoperability: Findings on Ten Years of German-Netherlands Military Cooperation’, Armed Forces and Society 33:4, pp. 496–517, here p. 513.

  36. 36.

    Jimmy Thompson and Sandy MacGregor (2015), Tunnel Rats vs the Taliban (Sydney: Allen and Unwin), p. 138.

  37. 37.

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

  38. 38.

    James Brown (2013), ‘Fifty Shades of Grey: Officer Culture in the Australian Army’, Australian Army Journal, 10:3, pp. 244–54, here pp. 248–49.

  39. 39.

    Thijs Brocades Zaalberg (2013), ‘The Use and Abuse of the “Dutch Approach” to Counter-Insurgency’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 36:6, pp. 867–97, here p. 891.

  40. 40.

    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.

  41. 41.

    Matthijs Kuipers (2017), ‘“Makanlah Nasi! (Eat Rice!)”: Colonial Cuisine and Popular Imperialism in The Netherlands During the Twentieth Century’, Global Food History, 3:1, pp. 4–23.

  42. 42.

    Seth Robson (2010), ‘At Tirin Kot, U.S., Dutch and Australians Serve Together, Observe Cultural Quirks’, Stars and Stripes, August 20 2010, https://www.stripes.com/news/at-tirin-kot-u-s-dutch-and-australians-serve-together-observe-cultural-quirks-1.115410

  43. 43.

    Rob Taylor (2009), ‘Australia’s Troops Aghast at Dutch Food’, Reuters 4 June 2009, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-food/australias-troops-aghast-at-dutch-food-idUSTRE5523ZE20090603

  44. 44.

    Terry Ledgard (2016), Bad Medicine: A No Holds Barred Account of Life as an Australian SAS Medic During The War in Afghanistan (Melbourne: Viking Penguin), pp. 122–23.

  45. 45.

    Nathan Mullins (2011), Keep Your Head Down: One Commando’s Brutally Honest Account of Fighting in Afghanistan (Sydney: Allen and Unwin), p. 81.

  46. 46.

    Field, Gimme Shelter, p. 117.

  47. 47.

    Zaalberg, ‘The Use and Abuse of the “Dutch Approach” to Counter-Insurgency’.

  48. 48.

    Nathan Mullins (2011), Keep Your Head Down, p. 90.

  49. 49.

    Masters, Uncommon Soldier, p. 119.

  50. 50.

    Ian McPhedran (2010), ‘Dutch Left Australian Soldiers for Dead in Afghanistan’, Perth Now 22 October 2010. https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/dutch-left-australian-soldiers-for-dead-in-afghanistan-ng-662402792fd7f286c5bd6042990ac985

  51. 51.

    Tom Hyland (2008), ‘Diggers “Let down” Dutch Allies in Deadly Battle with Taliban’, The Age, 20 January 2008, https://www.theage.com.au/world/diggers-let-down-dutch-allies-in-deadly-battle-with-taliban-20080120-ge6mj6.html

  52. 52.

    Jim Molan (2017), ‘Australia in Iraq 2002–2010: Inconsequential, Confused and Timid’, The Interpreter, 10 March 2017, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australia-iraq-2002-2010-inconsequential-confused-and-timid

  53. 53.

    Brian Selmeski (2007), Military Cross-cultural Competence: Core Concepts and Individual Development. (Centre for Security, Armed Forces & Society, Royal Military College of Canada).

  54. 54.

    Efrat Elron, Boas Shamir, and Ben-Ari (1999), ‘Why Don’t They Fight Each Other? Cultural Diversity and Operational Unity in Multinational Forces’, Armed Forces & Society, 26:1, pp. 73–97.

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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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27037-7_3

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