What Can Intercultural Communication Do?: King Philip’s War, Norman Borlaug and AAI
Asia-America Initiative’s approach may be considered a direct descendant of traditional American experiences in cooperating with native populations at home and overseas during periods of development and war. This is a uniquely American tradition which can be traced, in part, to the relationship between early settlers in the New England colonies and native peoples. The nature and civility of these relationships varied from colony to colony, and had a significant role in their mutual survival during natural and man-made survival threats and disasters. In the early days, cross-cultural communication was led by the native peoples who mentored Europeans to survive in an unfamiliar land. During more recent generations, descendants of American colonists and pioneers have shared bio-technology and improved food growing techniques with indigenous peoples on a number of continents and with neighbors such as Mexico and India where population growth had outpaced food supplies. AAI works to modernize this tradition of development through personal and intercultural relationships with an emphasis on education and self-reliance.
American Intercultural Tradition – King Philip’s War
One of the first examples of the American intercultural tradition is derived from the experience of the Connecticut colony in 1675-76 Great Narragansett or King Phillip’s War. There, a courageous and relatively moderate leadership helped the colony endure one of the bloodiest Indian wars in early American history. This was due to their cooperative relationship with the Mohegan and Pequot tribes. U.S. Army War College historian Major Jason W. Warren, author of Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narraganset War, 1675-1676, considers this relationship the decisive factor in the colony’s survival. Major Warren notes that “[Mohegan sachem] Chief Uncas formed close personal bonds with the colonists during the Pequot War [of 1636-8, while]…Connecticut’s leadership formulated the policies that drove the colony’s friendly relationship with the Indians thus laid the foundation for eventual military success.” Without that alliance, it is unlikely that Connecticut would have withstood repeated attacks by the Narragansett. Whatever the Connecticut colonists did not understand about inter-tribal relations, they delegated to those who did: the Pequot and Mohegans. “Allied Indian forces,” notes Warren, “nullified the [Narragansett] coalition’s advantage in “suspitious places,” difficult terrain, and anywhere the enemy could ambush the less-experienced English.”
As a result, Connecticut was never ambushed once during the war; even Benjamin Church, forerunner of the Army Rangers, could not make such a claim. Public faith in intercultural communication as a technique would rise and fall as American history progressed. Everywhere it was tried it brought significant accomplishments for those willing to engage.
American 20th Century Intercultural Engagement – Dr. Norman Borlaug
One significant accomplishment was the invention of contemporary farming. Following World War II, the scientist-pioneer Norman Borlaug, known as the Father of Modern Agriculture, helped to prevent civil war and the spread of communism in the Third World by promoting his revolutionary farming practices in order to alleviate hunger. Dr. Borlaug, who was born in a cabin on the Minnesota prairie, created standards to which anyone working in development should aspire. His methods, which combined technology, interpersonal skills, discipline, and most importantly, education, have ensured that his contributions will last forever.
Dr. Borlaug had been a farmer all his life, but was the first in his immediate family to go to an agricultural college. After graduating, he began work at DuPont until 1944, when one of his professors, Elvin Charles Stakman, invited him to a project to stop the spread of wheat rust disease in Mexico; a major hindrance of the country’s food supply and development. Borlaug attacked this problem using the first major plank of what would become his signature development approach: trust in technological innovation. His ingenuity led him to first develop a rust-resistant wheat strain by crossbreeding thousands of types of wheat in a painstaking, months-long process. Secondly, he sped along this crossbreeding by growing two crops simultaneously in different fields, a practice called “shuttle breeding.” Finally, not content just to stop wheat rust disease, Borlaug also crossbred regular wheat with Japanese dwarf wheat to create a new breed that yielded twice as much offspring and almost never fell over. These innovations in agricultural technology would come to make Dr. Borlaug the ‘Father of the Green Revolution.’
This revolution might not have spread if he had not been able to build interpersonal relationships. Early on in his experiments in Mexico, Dr. Borlaug recalls an incident wherein he had to address the country’s business culture. As his biographer, Leon Hesser, describes it, “[in] the Mexican culture, scientists were above hand labor or getting dirty…a manager was designated as a “limpio saco,” or clean shirt, to distinguish him from his inferiors…” While Dr. Borlaug tried to be sensitive to cultural differences, he also knew when an inefficient practice needed to be stopped. He firmly told the project managers: “That’s why the farmers have no respect for you. If you don’t know how to do something properly yourself, how can you possibly advise them?” Hesser then relates that “from that day on, the Mexican scientists worked in the field with Borlaug.” Almost twenty years later, Borlaug faced a similar problem in Pakistan. There, a government official told him that farmers would prefer to grow white wheat over red wheat. Dr. Borlaug responded by testing whether he could tell the difference between the two. He could not. Nevertheless, Dr. Borlaug still reached out to a colleague to obtain more white wheat anyway as a favor.
This firm-but-fair approach manifested in another key aspect of Borlaug’s strategy: personal initiative. Everything Borlaug accomplished had been done either by himself or through his small but far-reaching network of colleagues in the private and public sectors. While repairing a wheat research facility in Mexico’s Yaqui Valley, Dr. Borlaug had to sleep on a bedroll inside the abandoned laboratory with only a can of beans to eat and surrounded by the rats that had overtaken the building. He was away from home for years at a time, but still kept at his crossbreeding efforts. Borlaug’s perseverance was crucial to seeing the wheat-breeding project and its international spread through to its end.
Dr. Borlaug also understood that his work could not truly last unless others understood it. For this reason, he set out to teach both experienced and novice farmers how to grow the rust-resistant wheat. In Mexico, Borlaug hired young boys from the local farms to help with wheat breeding for this very purpose. This apprenticeship-style training eventually yielded results. According to Hesser, Borlaug’s student Reyes Vega “on his own came up with a technique to increase by ten- to twenty-fold the efficiency of pollinating wheat plants.” Dr. Borlaug’s field education thus ensured that his indispensable work would last long after he was gone.
Contemporary development and aid workers still have much to learn from the American tradition of intercultural communication, and especially from Norman Borlaug’s contributions to the field. His openness to technology led him toward new problem-solving techniques. The relationships he cultivated gave him influence to implement badly-needed changes. His perseverance kept his innovative projects alive whenever others had lost faith and his dedication to educating others through experience made his discoveries applicable and sustainable for everyone. Dr. Borlaug’s work will always be worthy of emulation for anyone interested in saving and improving lives around the world.
American Intercultural Tradition – Asia America Initiative
Asia America Initiative was founded in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States by Albert Santoli, a military veteran of the Vietnam War experienced in conventional and unconventional counter-guerilla warfare including intercultural relationships. Director Santoli, now a Professor in the Master’s Degree Program for Peace and Development at the Institute of World Politics, was also was an expert on Afghanistan for the U.S. Congress from 1996-2002. His focus area included stopping recruitment methods of the Taliban and al-Qaeda; to develop intercultural methods for preventing the recruitment of youths by extremists. In addition, Mr. Santoli worked with human rights organizations such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights and Freedom House for twenty years, where he organized and coordinated programs in refugee protection and emergency humanitarian interventions in areas of armed conflict.
Coincidentally, among of the early advisers to Mr. Santoli in creating AAI was Dr. Hardt. Hardt, was a doctoral student under the mentorship of Dr. Norman Borlaug at Texas A&M University. Their early discussions focused with how to build sustainability in a start-up NGO like AAI. Similar to the human quality of Dr. Borlaug’s programs, although she was an African specialist, Dr. Hardt understood and acted as a sounding board for the universal methodologies required for successful developmental programs in any area of the world.
Hesser, Leon. The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger. Dallas: Durban House, 2006
Warren, Jason W. Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narraganset War, 1675-1676. Norman, O.K.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014
 Jason W. Warren, Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narraganset War, 1675-1676 (Norman, O.K.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 8-10
 Ibid., 153
 Leon Hesser, The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger (Dallas: Durban House, 2006), 43
 Ibid., 59