Stories like this
from the Associated Press drive me nuts. The Afghan army is "hard to train."
Why? Because the soldiers are illiterate. Pop quiz: How many of the Spartans at
Thermopalye were literate? One reason armies have had officers is to ensure
that for every 100 or so soldiers, there
is someone who can decipher a map and read orders.
U.S. Maj. Gen.
Richard Formica, who is in charge of training both soldiers and police, says
the high illiteracy rate is not a "show-stopper."
However, he added
that illiteracy "particularly becomes a challenge for those recruits that
we want to advance to become noncommissioned officers, because the higher you
get in rank and responsibility, the more expectation there is that you can read
and write at some basic level."
... To overcome the
problem for the Afghan army, a private company, Pulau Electronics of Orlando,
Fla., has been hired to run a program that aims to make 50 percent of the
troops "functionally literate," within the first year of the program.
"The target is
for them to be able to write their name and their weapon's serial number,"
said Joe Meglan, 39, of Savannah, Ga., who works for Pulau.
The average private soldier in Afghanistan does not need to
be literate. Nor does he need diversity training, by the way. (FWIW, he
probably has a lot more liberated attitude toward gays than does the average
He only needs the sort of literacy classes described in the
AP article if his American trainers lack the imagination and historical
knowledge to train him to be an Afghan, instead of an imitation American,
soldier. If we are going to make any progress in dealing with failed states,
we are going to have to learn to train
across cultures. I mean, Gurkhas became one of the most feared entities in the
British military establishment.
I suspect that Americans tend to think people who are
illiterate are stupid. They are not, especially in a country like
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images