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“All They Understand Is Force”: Debating Culture in Operation Iraqi Freedom



ABSTRACT  Drawing entirely on public, open sources, in this article I trace the recent development of U.S. military understandings and uses of cultural knowledge. Military education, training, and operations reveal complexity and diversity that demands empirical study. In particular, I locate in Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003–present) an internal, critical theoretical disagreement between a model of culture as a static, or slow-moving, property of a constructed “other,” embraced by mainstream thought in the U.S. Army, and a competing sense of cultural process as dynamic, interactive, and emergent, emphasized by Special Forces and the Marine Corps. This disagreement feeds off of and into longer-running debates within U.S. military circles, demonstrating that the U.S. military's engagement with the concept of “culture” is far from monolithic: different services’ approaches are shaped by their own histories, driving rival emphases on weaponizing culture and culturalizing warriors.

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