8 April 2008

The Butter-Cutter on Cultural & Language Training

Since 2003, Marines deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan have received training in the local culture and language. For some time, I've wondered how this training impacted the proverbial “pointy-end-of-the-spear.” For the answer, I decided to visit the virtual mess hall and tap into The Butter-Cutter's experience.(1)

“Have you had a tour of duty in Iraq?” I asked The Butter-Cutter. 

I caught him unaware as he was poking at the pats of butter in a bowl of ice water. “Duty where?” he asked.

“Duty in Iraq,” I repeated.

“Oh, sure,” he answered.

“Well. Before deploying, did you receive training on the country's culture and language?”

“Yeah, we were told: be nice; hand out soccer balls; don't talk to women; respect their religious sites; and shit like that,” he said with marked sarcasm.

“ '. . . and shit like that?' What do you mean by that? Weren't you taught that winning the hearts and minds of the people was essential for success in this kind of war? And that understanding the cultural and language were weapons for winning that aspect of this war?” I asked.

“Oh, BULL SHIT! If that were true, why was I sent there? Every day I'm told that I'm a 'WARRIOR.' Warriors fight 'n' 99.9% o' my trainin' was warrior stuff. One-tenth o' one percent was winnin' hearts 'n' minds shit. HELLO OFFICER-TYPE, what am I best trained ta do? If winnin' the hearts 'n' minds o' these Hajis is such a big deal in this Iraq war, then send in the Peace Corps 'n' take out the Marine Corps! We blow up things 'n' kick ass. They build things 'n' KISS ASS! Now, you tell me: Who is best fer--waddaya call this Iraq shit . . . 'nation building?'” (2)

I was losing control of this conversation and getting far away from what I came here to learn. So, I tried to get the Butter-Cutter back on track by asking, “OK. But how useful was that 'one percent' of culture training you received? Did it help you at all in accomplishing your mission there?”

“Hell NO! MAAN, it got some of our guys killed. Like that CRAP that we had ta respect their religious sites. In them musks [mosques], they stored ammo 'n' went there when they were gettin' their asses kicked knowin' we couldn't go there. They even put snipers on top o' them musk towers [minarets] 'n' shot at us. They took us fer suckers! Hell, when was it that them Soonies blew up the Shitheight's Gold Musk? (3) These guys don't respect each other's stuff 'n' they're BOTH Mooselems. On top of it, they're killing Iraqi Christians cuz they're Christians! A few weeks ago they even blew away a Catholic Archbishop. (4) Respect them 'n' their religious stuff? Get real!” 

“You meant to say 'Sunnis' and 'Shi'ites,' didn't you?” I tried to subtly correct The Butter-Cutter.

“Hell, no!” he barked back. “I said what I meant ta say.” 

I was beginning to get frustrated, but continued. “In terms of the Arabic language training you received. How useful was it?”

“Oh, yeah, useful. We liked usin' that all-purpose hello: 'Uh Salami? I like 'em!,' ” The Butter-Cutter explained.

“No. No. The phrase is, 'ah salaam alaikum.'”

“There ya go again,” he shot back. “Who the f*** d'ya think I am? I barely graduated from high school; was given a handful of hours of language trainin'--much of it I slept through; 'n' now, ya want me to talk like a HAJI. Well, I don't!" 

“By not paying attention to the pronunciation,” I interjected, “you are defeating the whole purpose of language training: It's about communicating, speaking the language correctly is necessary for the people of that country to understand you.”

“Understand me? Well I'll tell YOU somethin'. When this Snuffy warrior with his Marine buddies knocked down a door of an Iraqi house; charged in with our rifle muzzles searchin' out targets 'n' shouted, 'UH SALAMI? I LIKE 'EM MOTHER F****ERS!'; every man, woman, and snotty-nose kid in that room hit the deck! YOU MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND ME, BUT THEM RAGHEADS SURE AS SHIT DID!” 

I had enough and left thinking . . . 

Semper lots o' cultural luck,

Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.) 

Script embedded in HTML

Script embedded in HTML

Script embedded in HTML