"All they understand is force": Debating culture in Operation Iraqi Freedom

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41 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-453
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008


  • Acultural
  • Culture
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom
  • U.S. military
  • Weaponization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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