Professor Anna Simons on 'Inflicting Pain'
As most readers know, I belong to several elists and receive regular emails from numerous others -- not even counting the spam from Nigerians! One of my favorite sources of resources is the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which sends out occasional E-Notes, and only three days ago, I received one with a link to a paper, "Soft War = Smart War? Think Again" (April 2012) by Anna Simons, an anthropologist who teaches in the Defense Analysis Department of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. She writes clearly and knows how to catch her reader's attention from the outset with a provocative remark:
We Americans do not yet live in a post-American world. We have not yet become the Greeks to someone else's Rome. We retain unprecedented hard power. We have more lethal conventional force at our disposal than any country in history. One of the things that should thus increasingly puzzle taxpayers is why Washington would want to retool our military to minimize these capabilities, and instead build capabilities that won't advantage us at all.Professor Simons notes that the assumption behind the concept of "Soft War" -- the battle for hearts and minds -- seems grounded in a basic assumption of a "marketing" worldview:
[I]f marketers without PhDs can successfully manipulate today's sophisticated global consumers, then surely smart diplomats and defense intellectuals (along with members of the military) can do the same when it comes to influencing foreign populations and countering our adversaries' narratives.Professor Simons finds three problems with this assumption:
First, in a true cross-cultural contest, no one is interested in buying what the other side is selling.The first two problems presented by Professor Simons as challenges to "Soft War" might seem to contradict since the first insists that no one is buying the other side's 'culture,' while the second might imply that we are buying the other side's 'culture.' What the other side 'sells' to us, however, is a reflection of what we want to believe about them, namely, that they want the same things that we do, e.g., that the Islamists who benefit from the Arab Spring are sincere in their abrupt approval of democracy, albeit a slightly modified democracy, reshaped to fit their culture, which is not much different from ours, supposedly, and we should remember our commitment to multiculturalism anyway, even if their culture does differ from ours in a few salient ways hardly worth mentioning, details about rule of law and human rights that we can talk about later after they've gained office through democracy if possible or decisive armed force if necessary (i.e., problem number three).
[Second,] it is not just we who have grown increasingly sophisticated about others' sensibilities, but other people have grown increasingly sophisticated and sensible about us.
[Third, f]or those who believe it can secure them an edge, decisive armed force will always trump finesse, and will always tempt those who don't expect to be deterred by greater counter-force.
But I've gotten deep into my own musing, riffing from the views of Professor Simons. The major point that she makes in the rest of her paper is that cultures differ radically in their fundamental assumptions and that different peoples want different things, that there are few universals among people but that among these is a significant one having to do with our respect for those who can endure pain, which means that pain itself is also a universal, the implication being that a military therefore still needs to be able to inflict pain if a nation wants to change the behavior of its enemies.
In short, the hearts and minds might never be won, but pain can change behavior.