Peacekeeping: How Bad Cultures Kill Good People


December11, 2006: Culture kills. That's what many peacekeepers are learning, out there. But it's not considered politically correct to repeat this observation on returning home. But people have to know. So listen up.

Peacekeeping, as we know it, is a rather recent phenomenon. In the past, when there was unruliness somewhere, and outsiders felt compelled to do something about it, the usual procedure was to go in and burn, kill, rape and take hostages until the locals agreed to behave. That sort of behavior is no longer acceptable, although a number of Islamic leaders plead religious or cultural grounds as they attempt to preserve this ancient tradition. But Western peacekeepers have to behave, and while they have been able to bring peace to many hotspots, they have noted a disturbing sameness to the places they are called on to help. All of these places have a culture that encourages mayhem and misrule, and discourages what more peaceful folk call "civil society." And it all comes down to the local customs, the things that are considered acceptable, or at least tolerable, behavior.

It works like this. If you compare those cultures that have been successful (high standard of living and general attitude of accomplishment and contentment), with those that have not (anarchy, unhappiness and a high death rate), you find a number of key cultural values missing in the unlivable places.

First, there's corruption and a lack of rule of law. It's generally rule by bully. And the peacekeepers have to deal with the bullies.

Then there is a lack of optimism and belief in the ability to improve one's life. This is typical in cultures that rely heavily on "tradition," and punish those who don't toe the line. Most Americans are descended from people who fled such hopeless situations.

Low levels of educations, especially for women (who, after all, raise the children), and not a lot of respect for education in general.

Hostility towards new ideas. While everyone has some favorite "traditions," some cultures fail to differentiate between tradition and law. There are places where you can be killed or injured for offending a local tradition. This tends to create a general hostility towards outsiders, and many innovations.

There are several more common features found in unhappy places, but they all spring from cultural customs and habits. Things we just do, because that's the way it's done. Bringing peace will only be temporary, unless you can change the culture. That is not only difficult, but is generally frowned upon as being "culturally insensitive." Well meaning people everywhere are working hard to find a way out of this conundrum. It's going to take a while.


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