Dynamist Blog: We Need More Feature Reporting from Iraq

A Suggestion for West Point:

This is a great article on honor and hospitality in Iraq, and how a US Army officer made use of them to achieve his goals. After having two vehicles looted, his training said that he should tear the village apart with search teams:

Instead, Capt. Ayers, 29 years old, took a risk. He went to the village sheik's house. As a sign of respect, he said, he wouldn't search the village. But he gave the local leader 48 hours to find and return the equipment. "If we don't get the equipment back, I am going to come back with my men and tear apart every house in this village," he recalls saying. If the gear was returned, he promised to reduce patrols in the area.

The gamble ran counter to Capt. Ayers's training, which states that the longer troops wait to search an area, the less chance they'll find what they are looking for. His bosses told him he had made a huge blunder. Two days later, though, the sheik returned every scrap of looted equipment to the Army....

Earlier this summer, the same team, led by retired Lt. Col. Leonard Wong, concluded: "Junior officers have become the experts on the situation in Iraq, not higher headquarters." The fast-moving insurgency is forcing lower-ranking officers, who spend more time in the field, to take a more prominent role.
It turns out that the Army knows a good thing when it sees it, even if it takes a few days to sort it out. They've appointed our Captain to West Point:
Capt. Ayers, who was recently selected by the Army to teach at West Point, has begun to think about how a young soldier could prepare for what he's been through. Before deploying to Iraq, he and his soldiers fought a giant mock tank battle at the National Training Center. It wasn't helpful.

Instead, he says, "I guess I'd drop soldiers in a foreign high school and give them two days to figure out all the cliques. Who are the cool kids? Who are the geeks?" he says. That would be pretty close to what he has been doing in Iraq, he says, with one big exception: There would also have to be people in the high school trying to kill the soldiers.
One of the best ways to teach these kinds of skills is to introduce young American soldiers to the heroic literature of the West. An eighteen year old arriving at West Point already knows nothing but High School. What he needs to learn is how to be a hero.

If you want to know how to deal with an Iraqi sheikh, you need to learn to think of yourself as Menelaeus, Lord of the Warcry: a study of the Iliad (and I do recommend the Fitzgerald translation) will teach you a great deal about honor, shame, the great violence they can spawn, and how to make amends.

Or read the Saga of Burnt Njal. It has a great deal to teach about vengeance and violence, and the way that friendships can stand the tests of both. It teaches, also, quite a bit about wisdom amid violence, as it shows both how to make things worse, and how to make them better.

Read the Beowulf, where the horrors of war and the need for strong kings and gift-giving are explored. Being aware of our own heritage makes us able to speak the same language that the Iraqis speak -- the heroic language.

Read the Havamal, and it will teach you everything a hero needs to know, from how to enter a room to how to behave in company, from how to make and keep friends to how to be respected among great men. It is in its way a complete education.

This will teach our soldiers what they need to know to relate to the sheikhs, and indeed many other cultures abroad. But it also does the soldier a great kindness, as it makes him an educated man. These are exactly the things you need to know to comprehend the Western tradition. With these as your base, nothing in America's history is forbidding. Both Plato and Aristotle are far simpler if you know Homer first. Should you choose to become a lawyer, the writings of the Norse and Anglo-Saxons are a window into the origins of our laws. Should you choose to study literature, the great works all reference these. Should you choose to study business, the same lessons about honor and shame, how to enter a room and look like a hero, these lessons will stand you well.

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