Irak in Translation — De l ’art de perdre une guerre sans connaître la langue de son adversaire .
(Iraq in Translation: on the art of losing a war without knowing the language of the adversary)
By Mathieu Guidère
ISBN 978-2-84724- 211-9.

To order in Canada (French version; English not yet available)

Though this book focuses on the Iraq war, it definitely raises grave concerns about our troops in Afghanistan. If the Canadian military is giving this situation no more thought than the US military is, then our soldiers are definitely being put in the way of more harm than is necessary.

Below is a translation of the introduction to the book on Amazon France

‘In every war, there is an original error. The U.S. mistake in Iraq was to believe that we could democratize a country without even knowing its language. That technology could replace man, that manipulation could substitute persuasion. In short, that we could win the hearts and minds by ignoring culture. This book offers a journey into the heart of the chaos in Iraq by following the footsteps of those who know it best: the auxiliaries, translators and interpreters who have worked or are still working for the Americans, but are seen and treated as "traitors" and "collaborators" by their countrymen. Those whom the Americans call “linguists” have paid the heaviest price in this war that never ceases to create victims. But these cultural intermediaries who are essential to the pacification of the country have been accused of treason and felony on both sides, on the part of Americans as on the part of Iraqis. Who are these auxiliaries of the U.S. military? Where are they from and what do they do? How are they recruited and what becomes of them afterwards? An investigation into a real scandal, this book explores the root reasons for the American failure in Iraq. It explains, from unedited and detailed investigation, why the coalition forces have never reached their first objective in this war: to win the hearts and minds against extremism and barbarism.’

The author of this book is a Professor at the University of Geneva, a specialist in multilingual strategic security and on the Arab world, once research director at the Special Military College of Saint-Cyr (France). He has published many books, including three on Al-Qaida.

And here are a few other comments on the book translated from another article:

“At the end of 2006, of 130,000 active US soldiers in Iraq, only 130 knew Arabic, but only at a rudimentary level.”

“There was only one interpreter for every company (around 150 men). This fact can be explained in part by the phrase: ‘Quite evidently, languages did not enjoy much interest in the superpower which had made English the chief language worldwide, and tended to satisfy itself with that.’”

‘According to a high-level CIA official, learning Arabic is not so easy: ‘it is easier to teach a pilot to fly a fighter jet than to speak Arabic with precision.’”

‘Private companies hired interpreters in Iraq and other Arab countries for the US army. The chief motive of most of these language auxiliaries for doing this particularly risky work was the ability to make much money. Among these ‘interpreters’ we often found taxi drivers, pizza delivery men, without a true knowledge of English: “Interpreters babbled in broken English and essentially communicated by signs with the soldiers.”’

“Most of the many Arabic speakers who were accepted to work as interpreters spoke English poorly; and most of the Arabic-speaking American soldiers or interpreters spoke Arabic poorly and had no knowledge of Arab culture, let alone Iraqi, which led to many misinterpretations and errors. Not only did US military personnel depend on the competence and trustworthiness of these interpreters, but journalists, prison guards, and the tortured too, whose fate could depend on only one word being misinterpreted on purpose or by mistake.’

‘Profiteers have been many and on both sides and in the most varied ways. Instead of receiving 6,000 USD as per contract with Titan, the chief US language enterprise in Iraq, some interpreters received only 1,500. As an anecdote, an Iraqi interpreter had exploited the naivety of newly arrived US soldiers on their travels. For example, to buy an Iraqi flag as a souvenir, the seller would asked for 5 dollars; the interpreter interpreted it as 45 dollar, and pocketed the difference.’

Unfortunately, the book is not available in English yet, but it appears to be yet another valuable addition to the collection of books showing how our governments must take second-language teaching policies more seriously than they have been.. This also raises questions concerning the state of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Apr 9th, 2009 at 10:16 PM..Reason: Direct sales links = Spam.