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People Like Gifts...or Why I Like the 100th of the 442nd

(To read the rest of "Over-Reacting to COIN (Again): On Cultural Empathy and 'Gratitude Theory'", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

In 2006, a few weeks from graduation, the Bruin Battalion ROTC program held its annual scholarship ceremony. Various fraternal organizations and not-for-profits handed out scholarships to the cadets in amounts ranging from a hundred to several hundred dollars.

One organization, the Association of the 100th of the 442nd, gave their award to a cadet commissioning into the infantry. Unlike many of the other scholarships, the 100th/442nd didn’t just give money. They gave me a book about the history of the 100th/442nd--the most decorated unit in World War II nee the history of the U.S. Army.

I love the 100th of the 442nd. You see, the 100th was made up of Asian Americans who could not join other units. These soldiers fought while many of their parents, grandparents and siblings lived in internment camps. And while their relatives were in internment camps, they received more medals for valor and bravery than any other unit fighting in World War II, including 21 Medals of Honor. In short, the 100th of the 442nd is objectively amazing, but I am subjectively biased towards them.

Because they also gave me a coin with the 100th of the 442nd logo.

Last week, I mentioned the idea of “gratitude theory” which, as David Kilcullen writes it, means that you cannot buy people (read: Afghans or Iraqis) enough stuff to make them love you. His statement is true. However, like population-centric counter-insurgency in general, it has been oversimplified. In this case, to “Afghans and Iraqis don’t like getting gifts.” This is why some theorists despise the entire role of civil affairs in a war-torn nation; they confuse repairing a broken society with trying to bribe a society to support us/counter-insurgents/the host nation.

Today I have a simple point: people like getting gifts. More importantly for our efforts, people like people who give them gifts.

My experience with the 100th of the 442nd proves this point. I still really like the 100th of the 442nd simply because they gave me a coin and a book to read. In fact, I have an affinity for all the people who gave scholarships to the cadets in the Army ROTC program. Often the amounts are small, but considering that an ROTC stipend does not provide enough money to pay rent in west Los Angeles, it goes a long way.

My 100th of the 442nd coin is still one of my most treasured coins, prominently displayed in the front of my coin holder on my desk in my office. In short, getting a gift engendered plenty of positive emotions, not negative ones.

This doesn’t just apply to scholarship organizations. Think about the good that the Make-A-Wish foundation does. Do you think in follow up surveys parents and recipients say they hate the Make-A-Wish foundation for giving their kids that experience?

Here’s an even better, more apt analogy. Do wounded veterans hate organizations, like Home for Heroes and others, that try to help them? They don’t. That is why they are so popular. Giving gifts, time or money or help or aid, is vital to our veterans who come back wounded from combat.

Last week I said people cared if people like them. I also mentioned that, as an added benefit, people who like you tend to be easier to work with and tend to give you things back. Well, giving gifts is a good way to get people to like you. Giving gifts alone cannot win the war, but to dismiss it outright is ludicrous. Especially considering the cultures we have dealt with the last ten years, which I will get to tomorrow.