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Friday, October 31, 2014
 

Columns and Commentary


World Savvy: The ugly American

John Freivalds

Former US President John F. Kennedy was so enamored with the book’s message that he and five other opinion leaders bought a large advertisement in The New York Times saying that they had sent copies to every US senator because its message was so important. This ugly American has reared its head once again in Afghanistan, where the United States is still engaged in a war that has lasted more than a decade. While the private sector has spent millions on localization of their products and services, and on training the Americans they send overseas, this conviction has not necessarily spread to the military. In all fairness, the soldiers who are sent over are there to kill the bad guys, but even their generals say that the war can’t be won militarily. But the military has to reinvent the wheel every time it goes into another conflict.

As far back as 1985, I remember watching a training video tailored for US companies on how to attune yourself to local customers. One film showed how an American could offend a Muslim businessman four ways in less than a minute. The American showed the soles of his shoes, turned down a cup of tea, asked about the man’s family and handed out his business card with his left hand.

The US military is spending a lot of money on translation, but it has seemingly made little impact involving cross-cultural issues. In 2012 alone, over 50 coalition troops were killed by their Afghan counterparts, and military officials say the majority of these stem from personal disputes.

Tensions are so high between the Americans and Afghan soldiers that American soldiers are not dying at the hands of insurgents, but the Afghan military — the so-called green on blue attacks. The Washington Post reported on September 28, 2012 that “In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has tried training sessions, embedded cultural advisers, recommended reading lists and even a video game designed to school the troops in local custom.” . . .

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Above excerpt taken from the January/February 2013 issue of MultiLingual published by MultiLingual Computing, Inc., 319 North First Avenue, Suite 2, Sandpoint, Idaho 83864-1495 USA, 208-263-8178, Fax: 208-263-6310. Subscribe

January/February, 2013