Maladies of Interpreters

by Joshua Foust on 9/21/2009 · 38 comments

I have an op-ed out in today’s New York Times discussing the mistreatment of the Army’s interpreters in Afghanistan.

IN counterinsurgency, the most important thing is winning over the local population. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander in charge of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, was right to warn that a “crisis of confidence among Afghans” imperils the effort to rebuild the country. For most American troops, however, the only connection they have to the locals — whether soldiers in the Afghan army or villagers they’re trying to secure — is through their interpreters.

United States Army doctrine describes interpreters as “vital,” which is fairly obvious given the bevy of languages spoken in Afghanistan: Dari, Pashto, Tajik, Uzbek and others. Yet the way the military uses translators is too often haphazard and sometimes dangerously negligent. Many units consider interpreters to be necessary evils, and even those who are Americans of Afghan descent are often scorned or mistreated for being too obviously “different.”

Comments, as always, are welcomed.

(Just so we’re clear: I’m not really an “independent military analyst”—I have an employer. But this kind of writing is stuff I do on my own time, for my own reasons. Also, in case there was any confusion, I was never a member of any PRT, I just traveled with them a lot.)


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 38 comments }

Matt September 22, 2009 at 12:28 am

Congrats on making it into the Times!

Pratap Chatterjee September 22, 2009 at 2:42 am

Thanks for mentioning my story on Mission Essential Personnel. For those who are interested my investigation on how Afghan translators are treated, see http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15423. Feel free to contact me at “pchatterjee@igc.org”

Rachel September 22, 2009 at 10:16 am

This was so shocking to hear about. I honestly had no idea that the people supposed to be representing our country, who we are spending billions of dollars on, who are supposed to be the very image of freedom, equality and justice, the true American, could treat people that cruelly. Taliban yes I can understand I would do the same thing obviously, no one can forget 9/11 but the people who are trying to help them rebuild a nation? That’s ridiculous. I’m sorry to say that these soldiers disapoint me. My brother is a member of the Navy and he has respect for this culture that he is trying to help, why wouldn’t the army have the same? It’s a disgrace.

Phil Rousculp September 22, 2009 at 10:47 am

I would hope that information like this gets to the people in charge of the military.
In my opinion Americans in general have a very low respect for people who speak languages other than English. This story helps support my opinion. I think we all have a hidden prejudice about people who speak broken English. I have a special respect for anybody who has learned English as a second language. I would think that translators like those cited in this story would be treated as special people. I am note military but it seems to me that if I had access to a translator in battle I would carry him/her in my back pocket at all times.

Murad Khan September 22, 2009 at 11:26 am

Great article, I get called and emailed from a lot of contractors, I was born in dc
From pashtun descent. I speak the language and know the culture very well and yet
I don’t get a call from the government, I would work for free but only for the government ..

These contractors hold that clearance over your head, saying the government wants to see your commitment.

If anyone has any ideas, please let me know..

Brian September 22, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Murad,

We can’t pay you yet, but if you’ve got time to volunteer(all of us are volunteers too) we’d be happy to have your help over at http://aliveinafghanistan.org .

We are working to support local Afghan journalists and media makers to improve the understanding of the international community about the situation in Afghanistan, particularly in the south which has virtually no news coverage-i don’t count embedded reports.

Thomas Markey September 22, 2009 at 11:33 am

The Afghanistan that Lindsey Graham, Joseph Liberman, John McCain and seemingly countless other politicians have been visiting at taxpayer expense recently might as well be on Mars, so different is it, apparently, from the Afghanistan that Jean-Claude Muller, special councilor for international cultural matters to Luxemburg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, and I visited just this past month.

As professional linguists, we were doing linguistic field work in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor (we are researching a book provisionally entitled “The Tongues of the Taliban: How They Get Their Intelligence”). We funded the expenditure ourselves, and as linguistic researchers have no particular political axes to grind.

The Wakhan Corridor is that strange-looking panhandle in far northeastern Afghanistan that is strategically sandwiched between Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan’s awesomely snow-bound Hindu Kush to the south and that also abuts briefly and precariously on China. It is a DMZ creation of the 19th century Great Game that was viciously played out between Imperial Russia and the British Empire. It is an arbitrary creation and therefore geographically reflects the roots of many of modern Afghanistan’s current ills.

We entered Afghanistan from Tajikistan by walking unescorted across the no-man’s land at the Oxus River border station at Eshkashem. We were dressed as civilians and carried our own packs: no vehicles, no flak jackets, no body guards, just plain folks. We were, however, accompanied by our impressive guide and translator, whom we shall simply call Mr. T., a Tajik native of Khorug and a speaker of Tajik and Russian (he spent four years studying film at the academy in Moscow and, like all other Tajiks in his age group, served in the Russian army), as well as Dard; but his native language is Shugni, which is also widely spoken across the Oxus from Khorug in Afghanistan, as is Tajik: there are as many Tajiks (four and a half million) in Afghanistan as in Tajikistan. Then, too, Mr. T. had spent eleven years in Afghanistan working for Focus.

We were following the same route through the corridor that Marco Polo took just over seven centuries ago. We stayed with locals (so-called ‘homestays’); sometimes with major landholders, once with a highly respected local “pasha” and once in a hostel supported by the Aga Khan Foundation, but also often enough with people of very, very modest circumstances (the country’s per capita GDP is currently about $60.00). In every situation, the boundless hospitality and cordiality were overwhelming. Just as you initially begin to think the US ought to have left this godforsaken place yesterday, it’s finally the people that bind your heartstrings to it.

Clearly, we had all the advantages over “official” visitors pointed out by Joseph Kearns Goodwin in his “Afghanistan’s Other Front” (The New York Times, Op-Ed, Wednesday, September 16th) and then some: not only could we move about freely as civilians in an ordinary van with an Afghan driver and thus be far less “likely to intimidate and more likely to elicit candor” than highly marked official visitors, the very advantages Goodwin stresses, but we also had one-on-one conversational access and abilities, something our military and politicians have woefully lacked for decades.

The Wakhan Corridor is a heady ethnic and linguistic mix coupled with profound religious differences: Ismailis fervently loyal to the Aga Khan, the 49th imam, who saved them from certain starvation during the civil war in Tajikistan; Shiites; covert Buddhists; remnants of pre-Islamic paganism reminiscent of that in Ladakh and Nepal; and even vestiges of Zoroastrianism. And this corridor is what all of Afghanistan might have been and might still hope to be: safe and pleasant, even if initially dirt poor, with no evidence of a Taliban or El Qaeda and devoid of the corruption and rampant system of bribes that plagues the rest of the country. Then, too, we saw no poppies in the Wakhan Corridor, and we walked many fields.

Despite such diversity in the Wakhan Corridor, there was a unanimous belief that the Afghan government is simply an outrageous band of crooks on the take and that Hamid Karzai is chief among them. This disgust cut across all linguistic, age and belief groups. It was barely below the surface of any discussion, as was the question of when the “foreigners” would leave. There was no blaming the Russians, nor even our guide, Mr. T., who, as a Tajik, was clearly from the “wrong” side when talk turned to the Soviet era. The wreckage of that period is plain to see: discarded tank turrets decorate many of Eshkashem’s street corners. Most significantly, while there was a firm awareness of local pride of place, there was no patriotic fervor for an Afghanistan, seemingly a very alien concept for many.

The answer to the the questions of what to do about the rampant corruption on the one hand and the Taliban / El Qaeda on the other hand that plague Afghanistan … and the answer to these questions is clearly not more boots on the ground (just ask the Russians about that one … with an estimated cost of some 82 billion dollars and the loss of their empire; though you can’t very well ask the 16,500 British troops slaughtered at the Khyber pass in just one engagement in 1842, and the Brits didn’t get the message until the disastrous Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919) or elaborate training programs (Anti-bribing 101?) or monitoring all those police checkpoints where palms are greased, lies within the Wakhan Corridor itself and just across the Oxus River in Tajikistan’s Autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan Region, still known by its Soviet abbreviation GBAO.

The GBAO is just as culturally and linguistically heterogeneous as the Wakhan Corridor, if not more so. But once you leave the bribe-free GBAO, for which a separate visa is required in addition to that for entering Tajikistan, the police checkpoints and corruption start all over again: drivers from the GBAO are routinely racially profiled by Dushanbe’s traffic cops and required to hand over bribes. Once I convinced our Kyrgyz driver to trade his skull cap for my baseball cap, we started being waved past Dushanbe’s checkpoints.

In the end, it was Tajikistan’s disastrous civil war that raged for five years from 1992 until 1997 and that claimed more than 60,000 lives and uprooted more than a million refugees that left the GBAO independent, proud, united and with a clear and collective vision for a future, a vision that finally sees prosperity within its grasp from increased tourism and from providing a trade corridor for neighboring China; the Pamirs are set to become the hub of a new Silk Road, and, get this, it is the Chinese who are building the road system (lamentably with their prisoners, of which they have millions, who receive only food and lodging for their efforts).

For us as a nation, it should be abundantly clear that once people gain their independence and couple that independence with a sense of collective purpose and goals, then peace and (bribeless) prosperity usually follow.

Afghanistan per se is a fictitious socio-political unit that, by and large, was engendered in the wake of the 19th century’s Great Game; any resemblance to Iraq is real. As we see it, given the successes of the Wakhan Corridor and the GBAO, an effective solution to current woes would be to convert Afghanistan into a federation of largely autonomous “cantons” divided along ethno-linguistic lines (and even those of religious persuasion) and then encourage cross-border communication and cooperation between and among related groups; so, for example, between Tajiks on both sides of the Oxus River divide, between Belochis on both sides of the Afghan-Iran border, and so on.

We should also look for creative and novel non-military solutions such as replacing poppy cultivation with saffron cultivation (virtually economically equivalent crops), encouraging local handicraft co-operatives, whether operated by women or not (as has been successfully done in the GBAO), building rural schools along the lines of Greg Mortenson, engaging a variety of non-military players such as His Highness the Aga Khan in socio-political decision making, and so on. And we should largely absent ourselves to let Afghan diversity flourish once again. Going blindly down the same paths of militant aggression as did the Russians and British will surely once again end in ever greater disasters, even more so when we have so clearly failed at cultural understanding and linguistic communication.

Sincerely,

Dr. Thomas L. Markey, Tucson, Arizona (2466 North Camino Valle Verde), 85715
520-733-1194
Dr. Jean-Claude Muller, Institut archéologique du Luxembourg

IntelTrooper September 22, 2009 at 2:16 pm

The answer to the the questions of what to do about the rampant corruption on the one hand and the Taliban / El Qaeda on the other hand that plague Afghanistan … and the answer to these questions is clearly not more boots on the ground (just ask the Russians about that one …

I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more than such naivete from a PhD in Tucson, but considering the area you visited is geographically and ethnically isolated from the Taliban issues to the south, do you think there might be some conclusions you could draw other than the one you stated above? 😉

Joshua Foust September 22, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I appreciate the comments. I’d like to visit the Wakkhan someday.

iws September 22, 2009 at 12:25 pm

How realistic is it to expect soldiers at war to embrace differences and to be exemplars of sensitivity? A soldier in a volunteer army whose daily task is to hunt down and kill people is unlikely to spend much of his spare time meditating on the universal brotherhood of humanity. He probably would not be very effective as a fighter if he did. It is a major accomplishment when senior officers can limit the amount of looting, raping and murdering of civilians that goes on in a war zone – especially when enemy combatants are attempting to disguise themselves as civilians.

Joshua Foust September 22, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I don’t think it’s about embracing differences as much as showing basic respect to your only connection to the locals you’re supposed to be helping.

PAO Who Shall Not Be Named September 22, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Joshua, I find you’re one of the best bloggers on this part of the world. But you sounded like a neophyte when you mislabeled Bagram Airfield as “Bagram Air Force Base” in the NYT. Regardless of how many USAF planes use BAF, it is run by the Army and as such is properly referred to as an airfield, not an air base.

Attention to details lends credibility. See you on your next embed!

Joshua Foust September 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Fair enough. I think I’ve always called it “Bagram Air Base,” which is quite obviously meaningless and detracts not at all from someone knowing what I’m talking about. Though that explains where the “BAF” comes from.

K. Casey September 22, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Wow. I am humbled by my lack of knowledge and understanding of this part if the world. Thanks for your article on the interpreters. I never would have known. What is the matter with all of us that we pay so little attention to others, myself included? I will follow your blog from now on. Again, thanks.

Patton September 22, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Yes, congrats on getting into the Times, with such a good op-ed.

anan September 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Thomas Markey, the only reason the area you visited is somewhat successful is that the ANA, ANP and ISAF are fighting the Taliban and her allies to keep them away.

How would the people you visited like to see tens of thousands of their Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police killed; and to be ruled by Haqqani and the Quetta Shura Taliban? This is almost certainly what would happen if the international community cut off training, funding, support and equipping for the ANSF as many in the West and international community now advocate.

Kunduz was a lot like the places you visited only 18 months ago. But the Taliban, Haqqani and their foreign fighters moved in and the situation changed.

Another point you should remember is that GIRoA revenue is only equal to about 10% of annual steady state expenditure. Virtually the entire Afghan education, health, transportation and infrastructure system is funded by foreign grants. Trying to imagine the consequences of this aid being shut off (as an increasing number of westerners and non westerners want to do) is scary to say the least.

Imagine Afghanistan going from 4.4 million boys and 2.6 million girls in school to just over 1 million boys and no girls in school (the situation in 2001.) Imagine Afghanistan going from 45,000 freshman in college, many of them woman, to only 1,000 Freshman males (the situation in 2001.) Imagine the Afghan health care system shutting down.

How familiar are you with Central Asian and South Asian history? Your area has generally not been ruled by South Asia or Persia in recent centuries, but by Mongols, Seljik Turks or central asian empires. I believe that your area use to be called Kekaya (part of South Asia’s civilization) for millenia, and became an autonomous region under the Persian empire/Hellenistic empire for a couple centuries.

anan September 22, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Thomas Markey, did the locals you interacted with support violent attacks against the GIRoA? How about against the ANP and ANA? What was their opinion of the ANP? ANA?

Michael Hancock September 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

I’m on the coattails of greatness.

Diego September 22, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Excellent article in the Times. However, interpreters work in an oral medium; translators work in a written medium. These are very different skills, despite both requiring a knowledge of more than one language and attempting to bridge between the languages for communication purposes. This is an error made by most people who do not have professional training in the fields. One can be an excellent interpreter and a mediocre translator, or conversely.

My wife has been in Iraq for 3 years and the treatment of all locals and 3rd country nationals is abominable, despite their being on “our side”. The latest in Iraq is that civilian contractors who do not hold a US Passport, no matter what their professional status, can no longer hold a CEC (civilian employee) card. This is so bad that a Canadian engineer, retired from the USMC with more than 30 years (2 tours in Nam, 1 in Bosina & also Somalia) and with several years in Iraq, will now have to use the back door to the dining facility and be searched before eating. Think about his treatment if he were a Nepali laundry worker.

Rick September 22, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Joshua,
I don’t think I’ve ever read your work before. Very good piece. My unit in Iraq treated some ‘terps like vermin. I befriended my ‘terp and he proved to be a vital asset to the platoon. He had lived in Detroit for 20+ years and had spent the last 8 in Iraq. He’d seen more combat when we arrived than anyone in the battalion. He had “old timer syndrome” where he could sense things out of place. He was a remarkable individual and I can assuredly say he saved lives.

Joshua Foust September 22, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Rick,

From the other soldiers I’ve spoken to about this, at least the ones who get outside the wire, it’s almost unanimous: their terps are crucial members of the team, and they save lives on a regular basis. Sadly, there’s also near unanimity: the system (and some jerk officers) exclude and mistreat them on a regular basis.

Abdul Haq September 22, 2009 at 4:35 pm

As an interpreter in Iraq and the US for the past 5 years, I can say with confidence that you have your story backwards. I was never treated poorly by the military men and women with whom I worked. At best, they were professionals who appreciated my input. At worst, they were kids who just didn’t give a damn about much. However, I have received very bad treatment from the companies that have employed me. Mission Essential Personnel is one of the worse. L-3 Communications is up there as well. SM Consulting is a close second. These leeches on the fat ass of American government contract dollars are the real criminals and they treat linguists, their bread and butter, like cattle. You should write about them, how they cover up the number of interpreters they’ve lost in war zones, defraud families out of the insurance money that is promised to them, how they routinely strong arm their employees, have them sign all kinds of bogus paperwork to protect their own legal interests but when it comes to standing up for their employees, well they have no spine to speak of.

I guarantee you that most, if not all, interpreters would tell you the same so long as you speak to them in confidence.

Peace

Abdul Haq September 22, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Ok, my experience was that some officers and warrant officers (especially) were rude. I shouldn’t have written “never.”

Reader September 22, 2009 at 6:17 pm

I believe the military is a cross section of American society. As a field Interpreter I have met some real ignorant a@@holes and some of the brightest and the best people ever! I have been subject of mistreatment and prejudice by some of these a-holes but no more or less than in a regular job. I think your point is anecdotal and not the result of some survey, so I think it is not rampant and a low priority issue. What I think would be nice is for the contractor companies to be more honest with Interpreters about the realities of a war zone, working conditions and terms of employment and benefits before sending them off into war.

TH September 23, 2009 at 1:37 am

I agree with “Reader” in their succinct comment above. The Foust piece on interpreters is anecdotal and of little value. Joshua reveals two facts with his focus on the single comment from the colonel. First, having never served in the military he knows nothing of the classification of material and its role. Second, his tender sensibilities are not suited for a combat zone. All participants in war are asked and expected to provide selfless service to the mission and the cause. Developing skin a bit thicker than Mr. Faust’s is required before making a contribution to something as difficult as warfare. Sadly, journalists tend to bring a selfish and weak perspective along with their predisposition to dislike warriors, as Mr. Faust has done. TH

BruceR September 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Oh, please. What part of “the interpreter had a Secret clearance” did you have trouble understanding? “Interpreter,” “secret,” or “clearance”?

If Foust’s description is accurate (and he was there and we were not) it is the colonel in question (and his defenders here) who know “nothing about the classification of material and its role.”

TH September 23, 2009 at 3:42 pm

With SECRET usually comes NOFORN (no foreign personnel). Having the SECRET clearance doesn’t say it all. The colonel wanted the briefing to be SECRET/NOFORN. That doesn’t make him an abuser of terps. The threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda infiltrators is high. The point is that the piece is anecdotal. One colonel barks and you cry for the abused interpreter? Everyone gets barked at and treated less than royal in the war zone. Kissing behinds isn’t part of the plan of the day. Ruck up and get in line. Journalists look for the opportunity to criticize any senior officer and find the mistake he makes daily. Ask the terp to run the briefing next time. What part of NOFORN, don’t you understand?

anan September 23, 2009 at 4:03 pm

TH, far too many documents and briefings are NOFORN and SECRET. Most of it needs to be declassified. This is one reason I prefer super embedding ISAF division, brigade and battalion headquarters directly into ANSF Army, Corp and Brigade HQs. Reasonable people could argue that the NDS has better OPSEC and intelligence than ISAF and OEF do. So why not improve sharing with NDS and ANA? {Understandably, you need to be cautious with some provincial uniformed ANP.}

For that matter, when countries refuse to share sensitive information within NATO, it greatly reduces the operational effectiveness of all ISAF contributors and the overall mission.

Leadership to change this needs to come from Gates, SACEUR, Petraues and McChrystal. Other ISAF contributors also need to do a better job sharing their intelligence information with ISAF.

Joshua Foust September 23, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Anan, that’s besides the point. Only a marking of “NOFORN” would stipulate the document be hidden from foreigners. Route clearance information is usually marked secret, but at the most its handling information includes NATO (at least in this province because of there being NATO countries present), ISAF, and/or GCTF.

However, and this is important because I was there, these handling instructions were not there.

TH, I was there as part of my work for an Army unit. I am not, and have never been, a journalist. Be careful with those assumptions.

Cleopatra Birrenbach September 22, 2009 at 7:04 pm

“Malaises of Interpreters.” Thank you, Mr. Faust for this most important and enlightening article. My husband and I have had numerous incidents living in Tehran during the 1979 Revolution. One of the many incidents: During a gasoline rationing, my German husband and an Italian friend as driver stood in line to get to the pump. After hours of waiting – being a Persian/American – I overheard people angrily plotting to set our car on fire. Reason: my husband, a businessman with a personal interest in photography, was looking through his camera while sitting in the back of the Jeep. How we managed to get away and how I was able to subdue the oncoming threat is another story, but it all comes down to me having been able to understand and speak Farsi. Indeed, the war is won by the knowledge of cross-cultural nuances.
Cleo

Dan Melnick September 23, 2009 at 12:01 am

I read your article in the Times with great interest. Having lived and done research in India, I know the importance of learning languages.
I think that the key lesson from your article is clear: It shows the limit of our capacity to influence events. We should not be looking for translators—rather we should be sure that the people representing America who are responsible for the mission know the languages of the areas in which they are operating. Even with good translators–who are vital–a lot is missed. The point is that learning languages also is an important step in understanding the people. This is vital to success. As the President considers what to do next in the region, he must weigh our power and capacity to effect events in light of our comprehension of how events are unfolding. The limited ability of our forces to operate in the context of local conditions is highlighted by their reliance on translators. It shows what we are up against in trying to effect events in a remote and forbidding region of the world. A lot is at stake, but an unrealistic view of our capacity will only make things worse not better.

anan September 23, 2009 at 12:10 am

Dan Melnick, GIs and other representing the US should try to learn some broken version of local languages. Their comprehension does not need to be perfect.

I believe that tens of thousands of GIs and others representing the US government should get one to two years of immersion language training before or between deployments. (Increasing the time between deployments to allow for such immersion language training would I think be worth it.)

dennis September 23, 2009 at 12:15 am

was it not “old blue” who pen a story about this once.? i have heard much, about this same thing in Iraq. my source told me there terp,has had a hard time, nco’s and officers,would seem to go out of there way.( to jump a terp)

Joshua Foust September 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm

He wrote a similar story, about his interpreters being denied access to the DFAC and the MILAIR transport back to Kabul. I asked if I could use his anecdote, his CO requested I no, so I respected his wishes.

Laurence Jarvik September 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

Well done, Josh! An op-ed in the NY Times! AMAZING!

Reader September 23, 2009 at 4:54 pm

A little insight into Interpreterland might be useful in qualitatively understanding the situation at hand. So I hope we all agree Interpreter abuse is not rampant and when it happens it happens due to these factors, I think: 1. Majority of Interpreters and military personnel are often not buddy-buddies due to all the differences you can think about – regional, cultural, occupational…, 2. Certain military personnel with personal and prejudice issues find themselves in charge of a person who resembles the enemy, so they give in to the dark-side of their brains, 3. Certain military personnel are doing their job as trained, e.g. “no one other than the unit can hear this,” and those instructions don’t include the phrase with the exception of Interpreters with the right clearance, 4. the war zone environment flushes out all office etiquette, sometimes justifiably, 5. the Interpreters and military personnel don’t reach out to each other and get to know one another well enough so that they can build personal rapport and respect for one another as a person. I did this #5 a lot with the units I worked with and we had such a great relationship with most of the people who got to know me well.

Lane September 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Ineresting article, NYTimes coverage impressive.
As seen only from the ‘States, the policy of cantonment and nearly total lack of any cultural contac is criminally stupid. How can US soldiers begin to understand the people of Iraq and Afghanistan if any contact other than while on patrol is forbidden? A number of years ago all Service Members arriving in Germany were sent to “Headstart”, a very basic German language and cultural introduction. As I understand it, US troops are not even given the modern equivalent of the WWII cultural introduction booklet available through Amazon.
The cartoon of the US General stepping onto the plane, just beginning to wonder, “What if they don’t talk English over there?”, is far more truth than humor.

Gerda Young Ph.D. September 23, 2009 at 5:45 pm

i so appreciated your wisdom and sensitivity with respect to the often impossible situations interpreters find themselves in. My wish would be that at every level of our military and political system they would embrace what you communicated fully, and give these extraordinary resouce people the respect and protection they deserve.

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