Culture is a composite of a society’s accepted way of doing things; the way they dress, how they treat each other, how they make decisions, what they value and what they dismiss. All of these kinds of things combined are what defines a culture. Cultures generally evolve over the course of hundreds of years. As a result, changing a culture is incredibly difficult.
In our latest wars in the Middle East, our objective was to change a couple of societies (Iraq and Afghanistan) into functioning democracies. Iraq, which had something of a functioning middle class, was supposed to become a “Beacon of Hope” to the region. They were supposed to embrace democracy just like Germany and Japan embraced it after the end of World War Two.
The problem for us was that Iraqis didn’t embrace democracy. Their culture didn’t change the way the Germans and the Japanese did. Instead, once we had quickly conquered the county, Iraq devolved into anarchy and a long term insurrection. In Iraq, culture is based on clan/tribe loyalty. Eventually we figured out enough about how to leverage their tribal culture to reduce the insurgency. We paid the tribal leaders to employ their young men in the “Sons of Iraq” program. This stabilized the situation enough that we could get out while claiming success. But the country never embraced true democracy. Iraq’s culture didn’t change.
The situation in Afghanistan is similar. But we haven’t been able to tamp down the insurgency by bribing the tribal leaders, as most of the problem is coming from tribes and Madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan. Afghan society isn’t embracing democracy, nor are the areas of Pakistan bordering it. The ancient tribal structure isn’t changing. And they certainly aren’t viewing outsiders and non-muslims as people there to help them.
So why did Germany and Japan change while Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t? We need to understand why the Germans and Japanese cultures changed after World War Two in order to understand why it is so difficult to change other cultures. This is crucial because culture change in the Middle East must happen before we can end the current problem of radical Islamic terrorism that plagues us.
Germany and Japan both had militaristic cultures with fanatical devotion to their supreme and dictatorial leaders. Both of these cultures evolved over a significant period of time in response to their country’s particular situation. Both societies were very willing to expend every ounce of their national will and strength to maintain their cultures. But by the end of World War Two it was readily apparent to every single citizen of Germany and Japan that their enemies were ready, willing, and able to kill every single last one of them, if that is what it was going to take to make them surrender. Every city in both countries was bombed to oblivion. Both suffered millions of casualties, both military AND civilian, and their entire populations were economically ruined and starving.
This is what it takes for a culture to be open to short term radical change. The society has to recognize that its culture has brought upon itself death, destruction and ruin. Even then, it might still take a generation or two. Germany, after all, had to go through not one, but TWO world wars for it to finally abandon its militaristic culture. The American South’s culture of racial supremacy didn’t totally disappear after the American Civil War, even though that war brought their society to almost the same point as the Germans and Japanese in WW2. But this is what it takes for rapid culture change to happen. And it has not yet happened to radical Islam.
What to Do
Terrorism is going to be with us for quite a while. We do not yet view Radical Islam as the same threat to us as we did Nazi (or Kaiser) Germany or the Empire of Japan. But their objectives are really the same. They want to enslave the rest of the world because they view themselves as racially and religiously superior to the rest of us.
Unfortunately, we have to deal with them the same way. How would we treat areas under Nazi control? How would we view people espousing Nazi doctrine during wartime? How would we handle them? Until we do the same thing with radical Islam, terrorism is going to remain with us.