Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters



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Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters

War operations
By way of example, I can mention the case of the International Brigades that combated in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Volunteers on the side of the forces that remained loyal to the democratic government of the 2
nd
Republic came from many countries and spoke many languages. The same applies, by the way, to the rebels armed forces, which also received a number of volunteers, apart from the regular troops sent by Germany and Italy to help Franco in his campaigns. They all needed liaison personnel including interpreters to carryout their duties As for the help sent to the Republican Government by the Soviet Union, it is clear that Soviet military advisers, trainers, political commissars, etc. did not command the Spanish language to interact with their counterparts in Spain. Kowalski (2004) devotes a section of his book to the linguistic unit (translators and interpreters. He says Interpreters represented an even larger group of Soviet support staff in Spain. With few notable exceptions, the bulk of advisors and military specialists dispatched by Section X for service in Spain had no familiarity with the Spanish language. A large number of translators and interpreters were therefore essential for effective collaboration between Soviets and Spaniards. Gorev quite sensibly recommended that each advisor be given his own interpreter, but nothing remotely close to this goal was ever achieved. A total of
204 interpreters, most of whom were women, eventually served in Spain. Two of the interpreters were killed, and another was reported missing inaction. In general, interpreters saw longer tours than pilots, tankers, and advisors indeed, many served for an entire year. By all accounts, the group played a critical role in Operation X, but they were too few in number, and too insufficiently trained, to provide the level of coverage needed by the Soviet men on the ground.
(
http://www.gutenberg- e.org/kod01/frames/fkod08.html
) Most of the experts, including the interpreters, carried out a variety of activities, including frontline fighting. Moved by security and intelligence concerns, they usually adopted different names to mask, to the extent possible, their original personalities 14
Spalcke (1958) gives testimony of the experience as Red Army interpreter in military exercises with the
Reichswehr between 1920 and 1933. See Berezhkov (1994), who acted as interpreter in the negotiations of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
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Daoud Hari (2008) narrates his various metamorphoses, including that of his name, in his book of memoirs on his interpreting duties in the Darfur conflict.

An attempt to open a language school in the Republic to cover linguistic needs ended in failure While the opening of a language school in the Republic might have seemed to some a solution to the critical shortage of translators, the general opinion expressed in confidential reports to Moscow was one of disappointment. One letter, written in late September 1937, offered the following withering progress report The problem of the translators is still not resolved. The organizational school here has not justified itself. Recruitment was unsuccessful, people were not vetted, the leaders of this school (Olga Nikolaeva and others) were not suited for their appointment. Now the school has been let out and enrollment has started again anew leadership is being appointed.
(RGVA, fop, del. 961, ll. 207-220, in Radosh et al. 2001: 288) The same authors reproduce documents that attest to the communication barrier due to the Babel of languages I also pointed out that the formation of new brigades in Albacete based on the arrival of people from outside leads to the creation of a Tower of Babel in each of the brigades and battalions, where dozens of different languages are represented. It is almost impossible to command such brigades. One cannot rely on the objectivity of the translators in combat. The headquarters cannot issue orders in several languages. The Spanish language should be the common one for everyone, fora number of reasons, if only because everyone can learn the language easily. (Document 60, RGASPI, f. 495, d.
206, ll. 91-146. An account by M. Fred on work in Spain, 14 December 1937, Top Secret, reproduced by Radosh et al. (2001: 312)
Kowalsky also refers to the same communication difficulties A communications crisis was doubtlessly part of the problem of the first naval advisors assigned to Spain, none knew any Spanish, and only one was given a translator. Despite the critical importance of organizing marine defenses at Cartagena, the Soviets delayed at least one month in sending a translator to work with the advisors. (Kowalsky 2004) http://www.gutenberg-e.org/kod01/frames/fkod26.html
In fact, to avoid misunderstandings at best and total inefficiency at worst, there was a time in which the International Brigades had to be reorganised according to linguistic/cultural lines, By an order of April 20, 1937, the International Brigades became units of the regular army, and henceforth an ever-increasing number of their replacements were Spanish. Apart from that, the confusion resulting from the transmission of orders in several languages required the reorganization of the Internationals intro brigades of the same or similar nationalities or linguistic groups. (Johnston 1967: 82-83) While Soviet experts were arriving in Spain in 1937 in order to lend their support to the Republican legitimate government in many fields, including intelligence, the training of pilots, tank drivers, etc, several thousand Spanish children were evacuated from the

country, sent by their own parents to relieve them from the bombs and other horrors of the war. Some 3,000 ended up in the Soviet Union, where they grew up, suffered the atrocities of WWII and eventually became Hispano-Soviets, bilingual and bicultural citizens who many years later would become useful interpreters and translators for Soviet advisors in Cuba after Castro‟s revolution in 1959 (Baigorri 2003). Failing to prepare the linguistic liaison and intelligence in international military operations can, indeed, be disastrous, as Müller says, referring to the Korean War, which was fought under United Nations command by an international force made up of military personnel from 22 countries. Intelligence (...) is only one of several areas in which language competence can be crucial to the success of a military operation. Logistical support, civil-military relations, operational planning, psychological operations, even command and control can be heavily influenced by the ability to communicate across cultures. There is considerable information available on the language aspects of our involvement in 20
th
–century conflicts. A particularly fertile ground for research on language use is to be found among the chronicles of the Korean War, a conflict in which a United Nations command composed of elements from twenty nations sought to maneuver in an environment unfamiliar to all.
(Müller, 1984: 82-83) Despite the interest of studying military intelligence as an essential component of military operations, this area is usually overlooked by specialised research, as pointed out by Navarro Bonilla (2007: 179). Referring to the coalition that fought in the Korean War, Müller points out that a great number of casualties was registered among the Turkish contingent a brigade in the early stages of hostilities due to the lack of appropriate linguistic liaison services among various echelons at tactical level. In the UN command in Korea, problems of understanding differed greatly among units, from extensive difficulties in the Turkish brigade and the French battalion to minimal difficulty in the Colombian battalion. At the first major action in which the Turkish brigade took part, at Kunu-ri against the Chinese, the Turks suffered losses of twenty percent in killed, wounded, or missing inaction. Losses in communications and vehicles were first estimated at up to ninety percent (later revised slightly downward only six artillery pieces were salvaged. The blame for this debacle was placed on misunderstandings resulting from language differences. (Müller 1984: 91) Modern wars have been characterised by the growing involvement (and suffering) of civilians who, although not mobilised, participate willingly or unwillingly in the war operations. What has been called the home front played a very important role as a source of labour for war industries and all industries to a certain extent become war

industries at times of conflict, of support services to the military (from nursing to information to propaganda),
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and of a great array of supplies. There is an interesting announcement made by the United States Army into recruit personnel for the Women‟s Army Corps (WACs): Recently the Office of War Information released a special transcribed announcement for use by radio stations calling for WAC recruits. The script read as follows ANNOUNCER If you can say it in French. FEMININE VOICE 1 : Alors mon ami, comment a va? ANNOUNCER If you can say it in Spanish. FEMININE VOICE 2 : ¡Buenos días, mi amigo ¿Qué tal? ANNOUNCER Or, if you can say it in Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, German, Japanese, or Italian, you can say it for your country and for victory. Women who know these languages are needed by the Women's Army Corps as cryptographers, interpreters, and communication experts. These are vital assignments. You maybe called upon to translate documents from allied and enemy countries. You maybe the official interpreter between military men. Great responsibility is being given everyday to
WACs, not only in this, but in dozens of other types of work. There is real opportunity for women of courage and patriotism. If you want to do something that really counts, stop at your local United States Army Recruiting and Induction station and learn the complete story of the Women's Army Corps. This transcribed announcement is from the United States Army. (Lindquist 291) This broadcast shows the needs of the US armed forces in various types of assignments during WWII, and how they seek resources among groups that traditionally were spared from military actions. Although the message may have a gender biased connotation from our present-day perspective, it is indicative not only of the dire needs of the US Army but also of the fields in which women were expected to act.

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