Facts no longer matter, only feelings when creating a narrative.
|In 2007, Greg Mortensen published Three Cups of Tea, chronicling events leading to his promise to return to Pakistan to build schools. Mortensen's narrative, the educated Westerner rescued by simple but wise people strikes a chord of salvation that appeals to most of us. The crux of his story is that he became lost in rural Pakistan while trying to climb K2. Wandering alone into a village, Mortensen claims he was nursed back to health by simple but wise villagers. Mortensen vowed to return and build them a school. He described the process of building relationships and sharing tea. After the third cup of tea, a lasting bond of friendship endures.
The U.S. military, desperate to comprehend Afghan tribal culture, quickly latched onto Mortensen's book, making it the center piece of out counterinsurgency policy without having to understand the complexities of this society and its constant shifting alliances.
Jon Krakauer, an early supporter of Mortensen, noticed "disconnects" in Mortensen's story, publishing his findings in the book, Three Cups of Deceit, outlining Mortensen's fabrications. Not only did Krakauer expose Mortensen's fabrications, but uncovered inappropriate practices in Mortensen's Central Asia Foundation.
Even after Mortensen's outing, the U.S. military continued to adhere to his prescription for counterinsurgency operations. The results were a shallow strategy that places our mission and personnel at risk. The strategy encouraged rewarding "good" villages with special projects such as water wells and schools while withholding the same from villages viewed as uncooperative, with the unintended consequence of destabilizing the balance of power in the region and allowing some local tribal chiefs to consolidate their own personal power and wealth.
On my second tour to Afghanistan in 2011, Three Cups of Tea remained on the predeployment required reading list. During our mission, two of my team mates, embracing the concept of sharing tea and total trust, were murdered by an Afghan police officer with whom they were sharing their snacks and water. These attacks by members of the Afghan security forces are known as "green-on-blue" attacks.
To add insult to injury, the victims were blamed for their own deaths because of an alleged cultural faux pas when the Afghan police officer was an insurgent plant with the goal to kill coalition officers. The reality, however, did not fit the Three Cups of Tea narrative still in favor with the U.S. and coalition forces. Even going as far to use this event in scenario-based training for deploying forces to increase cultural awareness as the means to preventing green-on-blue attacks, further placing U.S. military personnel at risk by not acknowledging the complexity of Afghan culture and the motives of the various actors on the battlefield.
U.S. culture so often takes the "sound byte" approach to fact gathering and problem solving without digging deeper. PowerPoint reinforces the "surface approach" to problem solving where issues are addressed with a broad brush and an emphasis on graphics, not content. This is further reinforced through media programming. It is no longer about facts, just feelings.