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Steven Pressfield

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-Steven Pressfield

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Video Blog

Episode 4: “Fighting a Tribal Enemy”

Lessons from Alexander, the Brits, the Russians. What qualities make tribal fighters such formidable opponents—and how can they be beaten?

View the credits and transcript for Episode 4.


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20 Responses to “Episode 4: “Fighting a Tribal Enemy””

  1. skeptic doc
    June 12, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Mr Pressfield is correct about tribes and tribalism. But I find little good about tribalism . He very correctly pointed out the near perfect symbiosis of Islam and tribalism. They are one in the same. So let’s look at the tribal muslim world. Is the muslim/tribal world prosperous? Generally no they are poor with the exception of the oil states who won the “geologic lottery” . Are the tribal/muslim countries free? No they are almost ALL totalitarian dictatorships. Do they tribal /muslim countries invent or create things? No. The number of patents coming from the muslim world is less than those coming from California. Jews alone account for something like 25 % of all nobel winners. I beleive there has not been a muslim Nobel laureate in this last century. How do tribal /muslim countries treat women/gays and minorities?? Generally awful. Women are property. Gays are killed. Honor killings and stonings. In summary : tribalism is bad. It is throwback system . Anti-modern. The west is best. We are the model not them. I just wish folks here in the USA would fight as hard for our way of life, our traditions, THIS country.

  2. DaShui
    June 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Non-western “tribal” people have a tendency toward polygamy and first cousin marriage,( my son is also my cousin) creating a strong genetic commonality that gives them staying power over manufactured tribes such as the marines, or modern western nation states that worship diversity. Also the inbred extended family is a way of preserving wealth within the family in a austere environment.

  3. Sean
    June 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    I’d like to respond to skeptic doc if I may.

    Whether or not the tribal way is best is pretty subjective, now isn’t it? According to the videos we’ve seen tribesman thinks it’s just great. That you seek to refute its value using Western standards as a yardstick proves my point. We here in the West view our way as best naturally because we’ve grown up in it and in turn pass it on to our children.

    And then there is your point that you wish us to fight just as hard for our way of life as tribesman do for theirs. What makes anyone think we’re capable of that? Our entire way of life holds the notion of the individual to be of more value than any other social unit (meanwhile ironically pushing ever more conformity to societal norms… but that’s another argument) rendering us virtually incapable of such efforts.

    I too was a Marine as a young man and a Soldier after that. I have to agree totally with M. Pressfields summation of tribes. I’ve lived our military version for several years and I still feel the sense of identity, belonging, pride and all that goes with it. I suspect I’ll never lose it nor do I wish to. But I’m certainly not naive enough to think that we’ll win against or tribal foes because we possess a more advanced society. Nor will all our technological might win the battle for us. The likely scenario is that, like so many others before us, one day we’ll decide to cut our losses in Afghanistan and just go home.

  4. June 13, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    From Luke Larsen, Marine infantry lieutenant, 2XIraq vet, in Ramadi during the Awakening:

    Steve,

    I just watched the videos and they are phenomenal. I especially like your three points in the last video:

    1)Can’t change afghanistan to beverly hills
    2) limited goals – just deny the area for an terrorist breeding ground (Mission accomplished signs on aircraft carriers should be kept at bay)
    3) WORK WITH TRIBABLISM

    This last point is dead on. One of the common phrases one would hear from junior military officers would be I don’t need another “F’ing peice of gear- give me language training.” The guys on the ground living out in the ville get it. Gen P- sums it up nicely with, “The people are the prize.”

    I think in relation to tribalism the point is that you don’t focus on the enemy focus on the people. If you win over the people the enemy will quickly fade away.

  5. June 13, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    From Capt. Tony Atler, like Luke Larsen above, a Marine infantry officer, two-time Iraq veteran, also in Ramadi during the Awakening … and an Annapolis grad.

    Luke will probably agree with me in saying that you are definitely in the black with these concepts. It’s unfortunate that this level of analysis and discussion didnt play a major role in our preparation for either Ramadi deployment (at least not mine and Luke you’re a jerk if kept it to yourself), but it definitely doesn’t need to be that way for the current and future generations. So thank you for putting the effort into this. Instead, we really got a crash course or on the job training in tribalism and followed suit in opposing it all together in 2005/06 and then changed gears in 2007 and tried to use it to our adantage as much as possible.

    I think one of the most arrogant mistakes I made was getting real excited about peeling back the tribal onions in Ramadi to a point at which I believed it would be possible to manipulate them. And within the half a year we had with them, ha! At that time I obviously didn’t understand what we were working with at all. I agree that outright change based on a westernized, logical cost-benefit analysis isn’t a realistic option. At best we can make very suddle suggestions that could prime psychological changes over very long periods. Or at least the best when your hands are tied from making some major ‘deals’. Like I said, I’m interested to see how some folks respond.

    When Iraqis would ask about the difference between the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army I would often explain it in terms of tribes in that the Army in Ramadi wasn’t much of a tribe at all. I think they understood that and it explained a lot of the jack-assery that Marines and Iraqis had to put up with from the Army units in the area. I still get emails from some of the civilians in Ramadi and one of their biggest concerns (6 months ago at least) was that the Marines were either leaving or being replaced by U.S. Army units. That’s another topic though perhaps.

    I’m currently a student at USD’s business school pursuing a degree in Global Leadership and had an interesting class last semester on the global society. For a guy with no sociology background the movement from gemeinschafts to gesellschafts or the evolution from horticultural societies to the post-industrial western ones it really tied a lot loose ends together. Your video blogs are aligned very well with part of the course material and I plan on sending a link to those instructors as well as the program director (retired Navy SEAL CAPT and previous head of ethics dept at USNA). On that note, a class in sociology probably would have been more valuable to me than one in how to navigate a ship back in Anapolis as well.

    • Roger
      June 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm

      “the difference between the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army ”

      The Marine Corps is smaller than the Army. Therefore the Marine Corps can be pickier in recruiting than the Army can. So it is easier for high school dropouts and convicted felons to get into the Army than into the Marine Corps. This makes a big difference. Someone who was an undisciplined troublemaker in civilian life is going to continue to be an undisciplined troublemaker in the Army. Unfortunately, with the nation tied down in two wars with no draft, there is little or nothing the Army can do about this.

  6. June 14, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    From Shahzad Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan. Originally sent to me via YouTube:

    Hi Sir,

    I have just seen all the four videos about the tribes. I really appreciate your research and study. Most of the people of the world doesn’t know about the values and cultures of the tribal people and you have given them a very very clear picture of the tribal people. Though I am a computer science student; yet I love history, archaeology and anthropology.

    I am going to share your videos with all my friends.

    My introduction:

    My name is Shahzad Khan. My ancesters belonged to Orakzai tribe in Pakistan, near the Pak-Afghan border. Few of the Orakzai tribesmen left the agency some 125 years ago and moved to Peshawar during the British rule and served the British government in Peshawar. I am a descendant of this particular branch who left then completely became citizens. I have done Bachelors in Computer Sciences and now longing for Masters.

    Thank you very much for sharing your views and uploading your videos on YouTube. Your joining date shows that you have joined youtube just a week ago. Nice to see people of your age joining this mostly watched video website; most of the members are young guys like me. I am sure its really encouraging for other people of your age as well.

    We are waiting for some more videos from you Sir.

    Regards.
    Shahzad Khan
    Peshawar (City of Gardens)
    Pakistan.

  7. June 14, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    From Shahzah Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan. Originally sent to me via YouTube:

    Hi Sir,

    I have just seen all the four videos about the tribes. I really appreciate your research and study. Most of the people of the world doesn’t know about the values and cultures of the tribal people and you have given them a very very clear picture of the tribal people. Though I am a computer science student; yet I love history, archaeology and anthropology.

    I am going to share your videos with all my friends.

    My introduction:

    My name is Shahzad Khan. My ancesters belonged to Orakzai tribe in Pakistan, near the Pak-Afghan border. Few of the Orakzai tribesmen left the agency some 125 years ago and moved to Peshawar during the British rule and served the British government in Peshawar. I am a descendant of this particular branch who left then completely became citizens. I have done Bachelors in Computer Sciences and now longing for Masters.

    Thank you very much for sharing your views and uploading your videos on YouTube. Your joining date shows that you have joined youtube just a week ago. Nice to see people of your age joining this mostly watched video website; most of the members are young guys like me. I am sure its really encouraging for other people of your age as well.

    We are waiting for some more videos from you Sir.

    Regards.
    Shahzad Khan
    Peshawar (City of Gardens)
    Pakistan.

  8. June 14, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    From “Mojib,” originally posted via YouTube:

    hello sir!
    If we look at the tribalism in the world . The Afghan(Pashtoons) tribes are more different exclusive in their structure and forms and way of life. one of Afghan intellectual said once that if our afghan tribes are left to determine their own future , they will certainly choose to overcome the fundamental changes and laws and will choose to step up with the world’s other citizens, gradually towards the 21st century. the main reason why these Afghan(pashtoons) tribes didnt change yet is because no body in the world have continuiesly worked to give them chance, and no body have understood yet their social life and about their past 6000 years history . They have been the most and in forefront the freedom fighters not only for the sake of their own people but also for their nighbourhood, even for the outside people of Asia . they have struggeled for to attain peace and stability for the other nations in the world, but unfortunately made to tolarate the injustice which were going on over them. The only way to change the tribalism and submitt the total law instead the sective law we have to focus on their social forms and give the chance to the people to make their own fate and change their own life from their own hands , if others intervene this will always make the scenario harder and not just worse for the world but also will bring the disasters innside the home country where the tribes are situated. nothing changes by force, or dectatorship, obviously the ego attitude and force will never bow any tribe s individual person but stricktly their own people who belongs to the main tribe can only bring changes and make the people to believe in positive change. The democracy that the American and Nato are offering them is by force and dectatorship and mostly injustice by killing them will never work . our Afghan tribes have the democratic laws which they have been resolving their problems on and on, and if we look at the History of Americans we can see that they have always been intervening in the lives of different tribes, nations and societies and oppressing them towards their type rules and regulations, the old example is Red Indians who were the native of America and the Hispanians have named them red-indians and brought mesries. In the same way they are now intervening in the lives of diferent asian tribes, although the scenario , history, culture and times were different but the Americans still want to repeat the history and make the people to keep on with the war and americans have kept on their egos . everytime Americans say change , and always demand for the democracy but people who watch them and have studied about them can easily analyse and say that American society itself needs changes and they are not democratic as others but can be named american democracy which is not respected in Europe , Asia , Australia, and Africa.

  9. June 15, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Stretch,

    Great summation. Can’t argue with anything. However, rather than depend on the moderate voices to come forward, I would argue that “moderate viewpoints” will come forward from the young, due to (as you said) satellites, the internet, the rise in women power. I’ve always said the Berlin Wall fell thanks to Levis and Rock and Roll.
    For 40 years, the Russians could tell their kids that the west was bad and the west was evil and the west would do them in, so they were prepared hate us and resist us.
    Well, after all those WWII guys got old and died, the kids couldn’t figure it out. What was so bad about the West? We hadn’t hurt them (during their lifetime) and the West had good stuff like Levis, music and lots of sex. Each new generation wants more of that the the one preceeding it had. ‘Twas always thus–everywhere.
    So, if we can keep the lid on and (which as you mentioned is their greatest fear) let western ideas slowly percolate in, things will change and the tribes will lose out to “drugs”, sex and rock and Roll. (Of course, I don’t mean “drugs” in the literal sense. I men western style liveral democracy and freedom–which is the ultimate drug.
    Great series. Well shot and well articulated.
    Best,
    Jeffrey

  10. June 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Some primates establish territories around food sources, like a grove of banana trees, and defend them with small bands of males patrolling the perimeter. Generally, two or three primates will hunt for intruders from other bands at their border. If they can find a single intruder, they’ll ambush and kill him. If more than one, they’ll disengage.

    It’s very likely that early humans organized themselves the same way. The pattern is recognizeable in human history. The ancient Greek city-states often went to war because of border disputes over farmland taken over by one city or the other. The Apaches drove off other tribes from New Mexico hills they claimed for their game.

    Islam is a religion all about borders. It divides the world into the dar al-Islam (House of Islam) and dar al-Harb (House of War). Those borders are bloody. Islam also believes that any land conquered by Islam is forever Islamic. Muslims still pine for their lost empire in Spain, Andalusia. They also object to the Jews carving Israel out of the Middle East which the Muslims conquered from the Christians. Still, none of this would matter were it not for Saudi petrodollars which fuel the worst of Islam and amplify its belligerence.

  11. June 28, 2009 at 4:14 am

    Very interesting, see this still a lot.. venturing into Iraq a lot… live in the Middle East since 2002′ as an Expat..keep up the good documentaries.

    O311 2nd BTN/2nd Marines 94-98′ -Semper Fi

  12. Mark Harrison
    July 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Okay, Video 4 answered some questions for me. However, I disagree on some of your analysis of Islam. I think the connection between Islam and tribalism is due to Islam’s lack of hierarchy, not because of it. Islam has not had hierarchy since the fall of the Rashidun Caliphate. Islam has no central authority, so it is as bendable as Gumby by individual Islamic tribes via the tribe’s Imam. Just look at the difference in female attire. The Koran says nothing about burqas,abayas, or headscarves. That is a local decision based on sect, country, or tribe. Imagine the effect on Islamic tribes if there was an Islamic pope making dictates on what the rules are.

    Also, many of the similarities between Islam and tribalism also apply to Judaism.

  13. XO 3116
    July 4, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Mr Pressfield,
    Enjoyed your short video series just as I have enjoyed your writing. Good to see my brothers. Agree with your comments and look forward to keeping up with this blog.

    Molon Labe

    -Chief

  14. Kenneth Johnston
    October 19, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I really appreciate your video essays. I found my empathy for the Iraqi Police through my experiences in my extended family in Alabama. Tribalism exists very heartily in various forms in the US.

  15. December 15, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I agree, Steven. You lost me on your analysis of Islam. You could say that (warrior religion, religion of the sword) about extreme Islam but not Islam in general.

  16. Catherine
    January 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Christianity and tribalism have exactly the same relationship as you pose for Islam and tribalism.

    For goodness sake, what country in the world is always at war with other tribes? Afghanistan? Yes, on a tiny scale similar to the gangs you see in other impoverished areas, where people fight to retain resources adequate to sustain the tribe. But this is nothing in relation to the scope of tribal aggression we see among Judeo-Christians groups, particularly in America.

    I am concerned that you don’t see the irony here.

  17. Ruv
    January 5, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    These are great videos, Steve — thank you.

    I think you may have drawn the wrong conclusions about tribe.

    It’s pretty clear that tribalism does not define an East vs. West or an Islam vs. Judaeochristian dichotomy. Rather it’s a dichotomy of affluent vs. poor; safe vs. unsafe; and where we get our sense of dignity. When we’re poor or threatened or feeling dislocated, tribalism is our comfort and security. When we’re affluent and safe and confident in our own worth, we have a choice of adhering to tribe or going alone.

    In the affluent West, tribalism can be found wherever poverty and fear is… Prisons, schools suffering bullying… The rise in the US of the Mano Nero — the forerunners of the US Mafia — occurred in part because of the dislocation of Italian immigrants. Likewise in Australia where I live, the rise of Vietnamese criminal gangs also arose from the social dislocation of children of refugees from the Vietnam War.

    But there’s also evidence that even in civilised societies, tribalism remains an end in itself. We have sporting tribes, religious, political tribes. Many retain a warrior’s ethos of supremacism through conflict (though the the conflict may be symbolic or social rather than physical), and a warrior’s mythology of being the oppressed or aggrieved (even in Christian-dominant US, Christian tribalists consider themselves oppressed by atheists and infidels).

    This is not simply a story of a clash of cultures; it’s a human story — a story of trying to find self among the faceless enormity of our own species, against the fears of our own inevitable death and insignificance. But it’s also a story of civilisation and evolutionary psychology — as our civilisation is enabled by affluence and growing safety, it’s also cemented by humans developing a sense of greater self beyond just self and tribe.

  18. Jon
    April 6, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Interesting, poking in the right direction in some parts in some of the other vids. There just seem too many generalizations and stereotypes- somewhat Orientalist.

    Islam doesn’t evangelize, i.e. try to convert the un-believer… that’s more a Christian thing. In fact Islam is more exclusive, similar to Judaism.

    Islam is not a ‘religion of the sword’ – again think of these statements and apply them to other religions, particularity Christianity.Islam is not expansionist. Say Islam is expansionist and you might as well say Christianity is expansionist because of every war waged for power-mongering desires but ‘in the name of God’.

    Islam is not repressive to women. Patriarchal societies are. Read the Quran- Muhammad empowered women in his community. His first wife, Khadijah, was an older, inflectional businesswoman. Under certain interpretations Islam has been used to repress women, but those interpretations are based off ones cultural perspective. You also have to hack away liberal western notions of what equality is. There always seems the assumption since the ‘sexual revolution’ in the west that if a woman isn’t burning her bra and heaven forbid is veiled then she is obviously repressed. Standards of social conduct and modesty, decorum, that we have lost somewhat in some aspects of western culture under the all encompassing banner of ‘progress’ are different.

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