Beer, Bacon, and Bullets: Culture in Coalition Warfare from Gallipoli to Iraq

  • Published

Beer, Bacon, and Bullets: Culture in Coalition Warfare from Gallipoli to Iraq by Gal Luft. BookSurge Publishing, 2010, 326 pp.

War fighting and peacemaking in the twenty-first century are much more complex than in centuries past, yet the pivotal role of coalitions of nations, as well as their inherent cultures, in the success or failure of military operations has not changed. With Beer, Bacon, and Bullets, Dr. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and a former member of the Israel Defense Forces, offers a compelling and readable piece of scholarship important to all students of military culture. He presents his argument through the prism of five case studies (chapters 2–6) bookended by an exceptionally clear introductory chapter and an analytical treatise (chapter 7). The sixth chapter draws from his personal experience working with the South Lebanon Army for a number of years. Dr. Luft’s thesis deals with the way soldiers of dissimilar cultures “live and work together in a combat environment and how they overcome their cultural dissimilarities” (p. x). The cultural lenses he uses to convey his argument include “language barriers, religion, customs, philosophy, values, stereotypes, heritage, gender roles, education, mentality, ethnic background, [and] economic and social outlook” (p. xii). Not content to present a one-dimensional view of these factors, he ventures deeper, exploring the underlying question “does culture matter?” (p. xii) .

According to Luft, culture creates many difficulties for the scholar in terms of the interpretation and presentation of cases for study. Biases, stereotypes, and generalizations often lead to misinterpretation, which often causes military failure if the cultures that enter coalitions do not understand one another. The introductory chapter delineates the boundaries of the term culture, providing a brief review of the literature on the integration of cultural studies and military affairs as well as offering plausible explanations of the origin of tensions in coalition operations. The book intentionally veers from “good cases of military cooperation between countries of similar cultures” (p. xix) since these do not represent useful points of departure for the purposes of this book.

Chapter 2 examines relations between the Ottoman Empire and Germany during World War I, particularly in the context of the Gallipoli campaign. Luft enlightens the reader with what appeared on the surface to be a functioning partnership but actually proved culturally incompatible and laced with mutual hostility.

Delving into the relationship between Great Britain and Japan in 1914 during World War I, the third chapter focuses on the Battle of Tsingtau. Though obscure, this battle demonstrated the beneficial cross-cultural dealings of these different societies.

Chapter 4 addresses the relationship between Western—mostly American—armed forces and China during World War II, primarily in the China-Burma-India theater, one of the war’s less visible fronts. American interest in keeping China free from Japan’s imperialistic influences led to this otherwise unlikely coalition. The Americans’ preconceived notions of Chinese culture prompted their superior attitudes and disdain for their Chinese hosts. In some instances, these notions were reinforced by prolific graft, corruption, and lapses in integrity seemingly acceptable to Chinese society writ large during this era.

Switching gears, chapter 5 discusses another improbable but rather successful coalition—the one between the United States and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War of 1990–91. Although military victory (and an overwhelming one at that) defined the success of this coalition, it also allowed many of the senior personnel who fought in Southeast Asia to state with confidence, “We’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!” (p. xxi).

Chapter 6 describes the unique relationship between the Israel Defense Forces and the South Lebanon Army from 1985 until Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Though technically not a coalition as defined by the previous case studies, this relationship owed its long existence to the countries’ mutual interest in keeping peace in their border area. Political expediency and a campaign platform led to Israel’s withdrawal from the coalition after successful, long-standing relations had kept it together for so many years.

Beer, Bacon, and Bullets is a valuable resource for military personnel, scholars, historians, and policy makers who seek a better understanding of the influence of culture on planning and executing coalition operations. Such knowledge will become increasingly important as coalition operations become the norm, as evidenced by the ongoing work of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Here, we have seen over three dozen nations come together for a common purpose, successfully coexisting in a cross-cultural melting pot of mutual interest. The lessons gleaned from this and other recent operations like those in Libya during 2011 build upon each other while enhancing security cooperation in an era of tight constraints on defense budgets.

Col Chad T. Manske, USAF

New York, New York

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."