Thursday, March 30, 2006

A small thought in line at the DMV 

My driver's license was to expire tomorrow, so I went this fine spring morning to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the one next to the Quakerbridge Mall on Route 1, for Garden State DMV afficionados. You cannot determine the hours of operation from the web site, so I guessed that it opened at 7:30, as I remember that it always has. Guessed wrong, as did lots of other people who waited in line until the doors opened at 8 a.m. No matter -- I had in hand Loretta Napoleoni's book, Insurgent Iraq : Al-Zarqawi and the New Generation, which led to a conversation with the guy behind me, who had a friend who had just gotten back from a stint as an interrogator in Iraq. The returned soldier was only 22 years old, and had been through one of the military's language schools for an intensive course in Arabic, which after a year in Iraq he could claim fluency in. Because of a shortage of such people, he will be going back in a few months.

All of this reminded me of a thought I have had before: the Iraq experience, for better or for worse, is creating a huge pool of Americans with a much deeper and more subtle understanding of Arab and Muslim culture. Many of these returning soldiers are going to leave the military and go to graduate school, or into the private sector, or into a civilian agency in the government. Eventually, a few of them will go in to politics. Aside from the direct and indirect geopolitical consequences, what will be the long-term impact on our society, culture, economy and public policy of running hundreds of thousands of our best young people through Iraq?

Comments are more than welcome.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 30, 01:31:00 PM:

If we are now somewhat less isolationist as a country, sure that's a good thing, but is a war really necessary to bring that about? What about increasing funding for the Peace Corps, or having a national service requirement that encourages overseas service?


By Blogger Astro, at Thu Mar 30, 07:49:00 PM:

I believe the benefit is more of an unintended side effect rather than a reason for going to war. There are plenty of other ways to expand people's cultural awareness, but this one just so happens to coincide with our nation's long term security.

Plus, soldiers can go places that Peace Corps can't for safety reasons. I don't know which would be the most immersive, but it seems to me that the soldier's perspective would be more well-rounded. They not only work with our allies, but also fight our enemies. I think both those lessons will be valuable to Americans.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Mar 31, 08:33:00 PM:

FYI, participation in the Peace Corps is grounds for denial of a security clearance. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

I don't think there will be particularly large impacts on our society. Did large numbers of people learning Korean or Vietnamese culture drastically alter our national identity? No. Truthfully, most of us are just happy to get back to the US where things are "normal" and eat at Outback Steakhouse.

What it might mean is that our interactions with the Middle East could become somewhat less awkward, since to many Americans their societies are not totally alien anymore. I don't expect a big change, though.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 19, 10:54:00 AM:

And yet, because of the international ant-Arab sentiment, maybe it won't hurt that a wide number of Americans (more than just soldiers) are learning about these different and more often than not oppressed cultures. Of course, Muslim culture is just one of many ways of life, and considering how open America is to interpretation, I don't really know what kind of impact is possible.

In any case, I'm also not sure a war is totally necessary to bring around a small amount of enlightenment to a chosen few.  

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