More culture, language skills necessary in modern warfare, KU professors say

? Poor understanding of foreign cultures is at the heart of failings in modern warfare, two Kansas academics told a conference of military historians and officials Tuesday in Britain.

Felix Moos and Bart Dean, anthropology professors at Kansas University, addressed England’s prestigious Oxford University, urging military and intelligence leaders to place a new emphasis on skills in languages and culture.

“If you fight a war in a completely unknown territory and unknown culture, you are at a great disadvantage,” Moos said in an interview ahead of a lecture Tuesday. “We’re trying to bring in a more evolutionary dimension to the nature of war.”

With Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Moos established a scholarship program for U.S. intelligence agency recruits – funding a year’s training overseas to study foreign languages and cultures.

Their aim is to produce more U.S. agents with an understanding of foreign languages and cultures, particularly in the Middle East.

The scholarship is “a more culturally agile response to the challenges that we face today,” Moos said, urging European agencies to take up similar programs.

Britain’s intelligence community has added hundreds of new staff over the last six years, heavily recruiting those with skills in Middle Eastern and Asian languages.

Moos said he believed the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States would have been more effective had current agents developed a better cultural awareness.

“An anthropological understanding of the cultural terrain really saves lives rather than costs lives,” Moos said, suggesting those deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq should have been better equipped to interact with local populations.

Greater understanding may also help troops and agents dispel myths about the United States or Westerners, aiding harmony between the Islamic world and the West, he said.

The scholarship is his “contribution to 9/11,” Moos said. “It may prevent future 9/11s.”