Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters

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Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters

Centro Nacional de la Memoria Histórica, in Salamanca, which describes the case of a young French medical doctor, who volunteered for the Republican government. The document transcribes the deposition of the said doctor in an interrogation in which he is asked not about his practise of the medical profession but about his interpreting activity from Russian.

This process can be illustrated with the case of the United States before and during World War II (WWII).
Foreign language teaching had been neglected for many years in the United States
(Girouard In 1944, there was a clear awareness of the importance for the armed forces of learning foreign languages Foreign languages are playing an important part in helping to win the war, and will play an even greater part in helping to establish the peace. According to army reports, one million soldiers have learned, as part of their army experience, a little of one or more foreign languages. (Lindquist 1944: 289) And training programmes were established by the different branches of the US armed forces in a great number of academic institutions.
(…) the US Army Specialized (formerly Specialist) Training Program (ASTP) established approximately 500 intensive speaking courses in over 30 languages in fifty- five United States universities between April 1943 and April 1944, when the program was suddenly abandoned, owing to combat personnel needs.
(Velleman 2008: The saying Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer is attributed to Sun
Tzu in The Art of War. The example of internment camps for potential enemies in Britain, Canada or in the United States during WWII is a clear application of that principle. Some 600,000 Italians, 300,000 Germans and 100,000 Japanese were registered as enemy aliens in the United States in over fifty detention and internment facilities in the US.
Testimonies abound on the use made by the Allied armed forces Moves to cover language needs during the Second World War were also made by other countries. For instance, Cherednikova (2008) refers to the effort made by the Red Army, which found itself with a huge shortage of interpreters in its ranks, to train 4,500 military interpreters throughout WWII.
Withington (1942: 63) stated We have always felt faraway from nations which speak another tongue and have encouraged them (if they wish to communicate with us) to learn our language. We have never realized how much such isolationism handicaps us With the war effort new needs for bilingual or multilingual experts were felt everyone recognized that the idea was worthwhile, imperative, important for winning the war, for collaboration with the civilian population of occupied territories, of enemy countries, and our allies, and for the securing of a lasting peace. “ (Brandt 1944: 74-75). Hempel and Mueller (1959: 62) refer to the creation of the US Army Language School that in October 1941, just prior to Pearl Harbor, and was then known as the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Takeda (b 14) also mentions this US military intelligence training programme for personnel with Japanese language skills in preparation for an anticipated war with Japan Details of how courses were organised have been described, among others, by the Metropolitan Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of German (1942), Gordon (1943) and Clements
(1945). The Wartime Treatment Study Act is still pending of approval (2009) by the full United States Congress, due to the opposition of some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The bill addresses the World War II incarceration of thousands of German-Americans and Italian-Americans, many not released until several years after the conclusion of the war. (…) According to the findings

of the linguistic skills of many of those prisoners when the demand for those services grew. In the spring of 1941, a few alert Army intelligence officers realized that, if war came, the Army would need Japanese language interpreters and translators. After much delay, Lieut. Col. John Weckerling and Capt. Kai Rasmussen won approval to start a small school for training persons with some background in Japanese. On November l, 1941, the school opened at Crissy Field in San Francisco with four Nisei instructors and 60 students, 58 of whom were Japanese Americans. The attack on Pearl Harbor confirmed the value of the program. During the spring of 1942, while evacuation was proceeding, the school was enlarged and transferred to Camp Savage in Minnesota (…) The school, now renamed the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) and officially part of the War Department, began its first class at Camp Savage in June
1942 with 200 students. By the end of 1942, more than 100 Nisei had left for the Pacific. By Fall 1944, over 1,600 had graduated. When the school closed in 1946, after being moved once more to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, it had trained 6,000 men. Of these,
3,700 served in combat areas before the Japanese surrender. Ironically, the often- mistrusted Kibei Japanese Americans who had received formal education in Japan proved most qualified for the interpreter's task most Nisei had too little facility with Japanese to be useful. (Justice Denied 254) americans/justice-denied/
The last comment from the previous quotation shows how difficult it can be to find a compromise between the two loyalties (perceived) personal loyalty and loyalty to an accurate linguistic transfer in this case the level of actual interpreting skills. This idea coincides with the following comments Many were recruited or conscripted for military service from behind the barbed wire of internment camps where their families remained confined. Japanese Americans with outstanding command of Japanese, even those who had gone to school or university in Japan (a Nisei subset known as Kibei), generally served under Caucasian officers less gifted in the language yet more likely to earn officer commissions. On the other hand, many Nisei linguists suffered from such handicaps as a rudimentary grasp of their parents language, limited formal education, and poor proficiency in English. Beyond the sting of racism, Nisei linguists at the front often had bodyguards with them and ran the risk of friendly fire from fellow soldiers mistaking them for the enemy. (Mercado
2008: 25) Cooperation between different armies also requires interpreting services. Even ideologically opposed countries, such as the Soviet Union and the German Republic of
Weimar, cooperated in the s as away to emerge from the isolation imposed on over 600,000 Italian-born and 300,000 German-born resident aliens were branded as enemy aliens These Americans were forced to carry special Identification Certificates, their travel was limited, and some had their personal property seized. Much like the internment of the Japanese, many of these Italian and German resident aliens were forced to move, often leaving behind homes and businesses. See http://www.suite101.com/content/the-wartime-treatment-study-act-a107341

them by the West European countries.
The situation, as we know, changed dramatically a decade after these common military exercises, when the two powers became enemies after Hitlers skirmish of the short-lived agreement between Molotov and Ribbentrop.

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