Troops, profs explore ‘cultural agility’

Discussion to focus on saving lives through social sciences

Military officers and university professors will put their heads together next week to see how the application of social sciences might save lives – on both sides – of battle.

“An informed military and a well-educated military will kill fewer people rather than more people,” Kansas University anthropology professor Felix Moos said.

Moos will be one of several professors who will take part in a two-day military-social science roundtable discussion Nov. 15 and 16 at the Dole Institute of Politics on the KU campus.

The event will start at 9 a.m. Thursday with an opening speech by Fort Leavenworth Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Caldwell.

The first day of discussions will focus on subjects researched by teams of two – a professor along with a military officer who has been deployed to a world trouble spot. During a period of several weeks prior to the roundtable, the officer wrote about experiences interacting with indigenous people and their culture during that deployment. The professor then studies those experiences.

“The professor asks a lot of probing questions about things that will help him make some observations from their (academic) discipline,” said Rob Kurz, a civilian analyst with the Army and a major in the Army Reserves.

That research will eventually become a paper co-authored by the soldier and the professor to be published and disseminated throughout the Army, said Kurz, who is also a KU graduate student.

Soldiers are at a disadvantage if they are sent to war in a country where they don’t know the language or the culture, Moos said. Their tendency is to be continually afraid somebody is coming after them, he said.

“The more culturally agile U.S. soldiers are, the more effective they can do a job in helping to build a country like Afghanistan or Iraq to better standards,” Moos said.

The military needs to better adapt to counter-insurgency warfare, Moos said. If academics can better communicate with the military, it can help bring a greater understanding about other countries, he said.

“War is changing. Today you have no uniforms, and no front lines,” Moos said. “It’s not like World War II.”

Kurz agreed. Troops are going places and doing things they were not trained conventionally to do in terms of interacting with the populace, he said. The Army’s Counter-Insurgency Manual published in 2006 was a step in the right direction, Kurz said.

“That captures the essence of what we are looking for, but it doesn’t get down to the weeds,” he said. “You can’t just use the manual by itself.”

The second day of the roundtable will include presentations by foreign liaison officers at Fort Leavenworth, who will discuss their experiences with the American military.