Human Quicksand for the U.S. Army, a crash course in cultural studies

By Steve Featherstone

Harper’s Magazine, September 2008

In July of last year I was stranded for a week at a military base in Kuwait, waiting for a flight to Kabul. I was traveling with four members of a new U.S. Army unit called the Human Terrain Team (HTT). One morning the team sat at a long table in the mess hall. It was already 120 degrees outside, and there was no compelling reason to leave the air-conditioning. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until that night.

As the team picked over the remains of breakfast, the members debated what their unit insignia, which they would wear on their uniform sleeve, should look like. Someone suggested a Pegasus. Symbolically, the Pegasus had resonance in the West but not in the East, replied Steve Fondacaro, the team’s program manager. He nominated a spider, since spiders were more evocative of the HTT’s mission: helping the Army negotiate the complex web of social and cultural networks in which it has been entangled for the past six years. Plus, spiders had positive connotations in the Arab world, he said. Then someone pointed out that spiders didn’t play well to a Western audience. They were creepy. People were afraid of spiders….MORE AT:

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