Characteristics of Culture and How they Influence Military Operation


Culture refers to the relatively specialized life-style o a group of people – consisting of their values, beliefs, artifacts, ways of behaving, and ways of communicating. Also included in a culture are all that members of asocial group have produced and developed – their language, modes of thinking, art, laws, and religion. Culture is passed on from one generation to the next through communication and so it is different for every society but it the very element that may bridge the gap between the different cultures. The gap that comes to exist between societies causes conflicts and leads to military operations and drastic consequences. But the world of today is about globalization and embracing diversity which calls for understanding and accepting different cultures and their heritage and values. To emphasis on the importance of understanding the concept of culture and the need to understand different cultures, the paper discuses the definition of culture, its characteristics that define it and how it may influence the military operation upon any society with consideration to these characteristics. The society in focus is that of Afghanistan, where owing to an invasion by Soviet Union led to the destruction of its culture.

Culture Defined

Before we begin with the vast scope of culture, it is wise to begin with the definition of culture. but then defining culture means understanding a lot of things are its interdependent components. Culture is the root of any society which gives it a flavor and a wholesome environment for an individual to form beliefs, views, perceptions and attitudes. Culture is thus, a complex entity with several interdependent components. Two such components that play a major role in culture are beliefs and values.

Culture presents a comprehensive outlook whereby all rules, norms, customs, traditions, beliefs, knowledge, and standards match well and coincide with each other and not contradict each other on any ground. That is all the elements are present in a logical pattern and are more or less similar to each other (Bagby 143).

Culture is the environment that a person lives in throughout his life, and the beliefs, attitudes, values, etc are all taught to him through this environment. Culture is man made and a person is not born with the values and beliefs vested in a culture, they are in fact learned as the child grows. This learning is in three forms: Formal, whereby the parents and elders siblings teach behavioral patterns and lessons, informal, whereby the child learns certain things on his own through observation and imitation and technical, whereby a specialized and controlled environment of the school teaches a child a more comprehensive and advanced education to the child for his later years.

Cultures can be dynamic and static. Being dynamic means they are open to change and adapt with the demands of changing times. Being static means the culture does not change any of its beliefs, values or customs. An example of such dynamism would be the change in family structure in Singapore, where now more American culture is prevailing and youngsters are residing independently and not with parents after the age of 18. For cultures that are dynamic, the employees adjust well in culturally different environment that they face in the work place, something which is very different for the members of the static cultures to do, as it leaves less room for adaptations.

The best part about culture is that it exists among a group and lives through interactions and relationships. Culture prevails in a society through one generation’s passing on of values and beliefs to another, through communication and relationships. Culture links its members and promotes socialization. (Bagby 150).

Different societies around the world are found to have different cultures. Why is that so? Researches have found out that there are several dimensions of culture cause such a difference. These dimensions include, the individual or collective orientations of a culture, whether the culture is high text or low text, the power distances that exist in the culture, gender norms, standards and values, and uncertainty avoidance. Each of these is discussed now in detail.

Individual and Collective Orientation

Cultures differ in the extent to which they promote individual values, (for example, power, achievement, hedonism, and stimulation) versus collectivist values (for example, benevolence, tradition, and conformity). One of the major differences between these two orientations is the extent to which an individual’s goals or the group’s goals are given precedence. This difference is reflected in advertisements. For example, in the United States magazine advertisements appeal to individual beliefs and preferences, personal success, and independence. In Korea, a more collectivist culture, advertisements rely on appeals that emphasize benefits to the group, harmony and family integrity (Devito 90).

High and Low Context Cultures

A high context culture is one in which much of the information in communication is in the context of the person – for example information that was shared through previous communications, through assumptions about each other and through shared experiences. A low context culture is one in which most of the information is explicitly stated in the verbal message. High text cultures are also collectivist cultures. These cultures (Japanese, Arabic, Latin American, Thai, Korean, Apache, and Mexican) place great emphasis on personal relationships and oral agreements. Low text cultures, then, are also individualistic cultures. Members of the high context cultures spend lots of time getting to know each other interpersonally and socially before any important transactions take place. On the other hand, in low context cultures, the members spend a great deal less time getting to know each other and hence do not have that shared knowledge. As a result, to the member of the high-context culture, every detail omitted or assumed is vital for communication whereas, for the member of the low-context, what is omitted creates ambiguity (Devito 94). Afghanistan has the high context culture.

Power Distances

In some cultures power is concentrated in the hands of a few and there is a great difference in the power held by these people and by the ordinary citizens. These are called high power distance cultures. Examples of such cultures are Mexico, Brazil, India and Philippines. In low power distance cultures (examples include Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and to a lesser extent the United States), power is more evenly distributed throughout the citizenry. These differences impact on consumer behavior in s number of ways. In the workplace of low power distance cultures a member is expected to confront a friend, partner, or supervisor. In high power distance cultures, direct confrontation and assertiveness may be viewed negatively, especially if directed at a superior (Badolato 133). In Afghanistan, there is high power distance.

Masculinity Vs Femininity

In some culture, males are held superiors than females and are deemed the role of the sole bread winner of the family, whereas the females’ job is limited to the care of the family of the household chores. This is so because of the gender characteristics associated with each. Such as for males, the gender traits of boldness, aggressiveness and command, are considered important to support the inferior ones, such as females and infants. On the other hand, females are humble, emotional and articulate, so they are given the household responsibly. This is not the case in all cultures. Some cultures give women equal opportunities as men, and they too function as the breadwinners of the family. This drift is mainly caused by the cultural adaptations to changing times (Badolato 138). Afghanistan is a country where men are considered superior and are deemed the role of the breadwinners of the family.

Uncertainly Avoidance

Cultures tend to live under either a structured or an unstructured environment regarding consequences and situations, relating to various situations. The more structured the culture prefers to keep the situations, the more certainty it prefers and avoids ambiguity and is able to tolerate risk. Thus, for such culture a high level of uncertainty avoidance means high tolerance and preparation for risk suppression. On the other hand, the cultures that live by in uncertain situations, and not clarify ambiguity, they are left in haphazard consequences, and risks when take up ugly results, they are faced with challenges and panic to the end (Badolato 141).

Influence of Cultural Characteristics Upon Military Action

Now that we have clearly understood the various characteristics that define culture, we can answer to question as to what influence the cultural characteristics have upon military actions. First of all, why does a war occur? One biggest reason is the cultural difference owing to one or many characteristics. There are various examples from all over the world where one country invaded another simply because its culture and traditions seemed outdated and not suitable by another. Is that reason a justifiable reason? It is interesting to note that the very element that becomes the cause of conflict between countries also is the solution. Understanding the cultural characteristics and the context that they exist in can resolve all issues. Such as why do the people have such big power distances and what are their implications? Surely, every culture has justifications for its beliefs and values and generalizing based on stereotypical views, which has been a common basis of many of past military operations in other countries, is not ideal in the face of globalization where the advantages of working in a diverse environment are immense (Trahan). Every culture has some fruitfulness to offer in terms of some of its characteristics, which yearns for the understanding of political leaders and military heads to be allowed to survive. Had military understood how people having different cultures had lives revolving around firm beliefs just like their own, their operations would have been directed towards preserving and not destroying them. In Afghanistan, there is much emphasis on the fact that it has rooted Taliban and Al Qaeda and that it is a terrorist nation. However, when we reflect back on its culture, we understand that its people and its beliefs are centered on the good of the members, just like every other culture. The difference is of power, and the gender roles. A nation that stands on strong cultural values of love and heritage should not be forced into a stereotypical view of a terrorist nation. Thus understanding the cultural differences and removing conflicting elements through communication and healthy dialogue, military proceedings to destroy the nation to diminish terrorism, can be halted, realizing that a strong culture exists whose foundation is not terrorism.


Culture is a broad concept with firm roots set in the society. Every society has its own culture which tends to differ from others based on its characteristics. Where these characteristics are unique for each culture, they also become the cause of conflict among different cultures. Communication done to bridge the gap between cultural differences is the key to resolving all conflicts, even military operations during wars. This only suggests the idea of understanding the characteristics of culture in context that they exist and knowing that every culture has something different to offer about life and living which should be embraced and not removed altogether. If some characteristic is offending, it could be ignored knowing that it is justified in that cultural context, but what is agreeable should be noted and put forth before completely exterminating a peaceful cultural environment.