For those of you who missed the memo the first three times, or who need a guide into the foreign land of "the Past," let me offer you a piece by a "man ahead of his time," USMC Major Sherwood F. Moran. Read it, take what is useful to you and pass it on.
SUGGESTIONS FOR JAPANESE INTERPRETERS BASED ON WORK IN THE FIELD
by Sherwood F. Moran, Major, USMC
Division Intelligence Section,
Headquarters, First Marine Division,
Fleet Marine Force,
C/O Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, Calif.
168/292 17 July, 1943.
SUGGESTIONS FOR JAPANESE INTERPRETERS BASED ON WORK IN THE FIELD
(Being selections from a letter to an interpreter just entering upon his work.)
First of all I wish to say that every interpreter (I like the word "interviewer" better, for any really efficient interpreter is first and last an interviewer) must be himself. He should not and cannot try to copy or imitate somebody else, or, in the words of the Japanese proverb, he will be like the crow trying to imitate the cormorant catching fish and drowning in the attempt ("U no mane suru karasu mizu ni oboreru"). But of course it goes without saying that the interpreter should be open to suggestions and should be a student of best methods. But his work will be based primarily upon his own character, his own experience, and his own temperament. These three things are of prime importance; strange as it may seem to say so, I think the first and the last are the most important of the three. Based on these three things, he will gradually work out a technique of his own, his very own, just as a man does in making love to a woman! The comparison is not merely a flip bon mot; the interviewer should be a real wooer!
What I have to say concretely is divided into two sections: (1) The attitude of the interpreter towards his prisoner; (2) His knowledge and use of the language.
Let us take the first one, his ATTITUDE. This is of prime importance, in many ways more important than his knowledge of the language. (Many people, I suppose, would on first thought think "attitude" had nothing to do with it; that all one needs is a knowledge of the language, then shoot out questions, and expect and demand a reply. Of course that is a very unthinking and naive point of view.)
I can simply tell you what my attitude is; I often tell a prisoner right at the start what my attitude is! I consider a prisoner (i.e. a man who has been captured and disarmed and in a perfectly safe place) as out of the war, out of the picture, and thus, in a way, not an enemy. (This is doubly so, psychologically and physically speaking, if he is wounded or starving.) Some self-appointed critics, self-styled "hard-boiled" people, will sneer that this is a sentimental attitude, and say, "Don't you know he will try to escape at first opportunity?" I reply, "Of course I do; wouldn't you?" But that is not the point. Notice that in the first part of this paragraph I used the word "safe". That is the point; get the prisoner to a safe place, where even he knows there is no hope of escape, that it is all over. Then forget, as it were, the "enemy" stuff, and the "prisoner" stuff. I tell them to forget it, telling them I am talking as a human being to a human being, (ningen to shite). And they respond to this.
When it comes to the wounded, the sick, the tired, the sleepy, the starving, I consider that since they are out of the combat for good, they are simply needy human beings, needing our help, physical and spiritual. This is the standpoint of one human being thinking of another human being. But in addition, it is hard business common sense, and yields rich dividends from the Intelligence standpoint.
I consider that the Japanese soldier is a person to be pitied rather than hated. I consider (and I often tell them so) that they have been led around by the nose by their leaders; that they do not know, and have not been allowed to know for over 10 years what has really been going on in the world, etc. etc. The proverb "Ido no naka no kawazu taikai o shirazu" (The frog in the bottom of the well is not acquainted with the ocean) is sometimes a telling phrase to emphasize your point. But one must be careful not to antagonize them by such statements, by giving them the idea that you have a "superiority" standpoint, etc. etc.
But in relation to all the above, this is where "character" comes in, that I mentioned on the preceding page. One must be absolutely sincere. I mean that one must not just assume the above attitudes in order to gain the prisoner's confidence and get him to talk. He will know the difference. You must get him to know by the expression on your face, the glance of your eye, the tone of your voice, that you do think that "the men of the four seas are brothers," to quote a Japanese (and Chinese) proverb. (Shikai keitei.) One Japanese prisoner remarked to me that he thought I was a fine gentleman ("rippana shinshi"). I think that what he was meaning to convey was that he instinctively sensed that I was sincere, was trying to be fair, did not have it in for the Japanese as such. (My general attitude has already been brought out in the article "The Psychology of the Japanese.")
In regard to all the above, a person who has lived in Japan for a number of years has a big advantage. One can tell the prisoner how pleasant his life in Japan was; how many fine Japanese he knew, even mentioning names and places, students and their schools, how he had Japanese in his home, and vice versa, etc. etc. That alone will make a Japanese homesick. This line has infinite possibilities. If you know anything about Japanese history, art, politics, athletics, famous places, department stores, eating places, etc. etc. a conversation may be relatively interminable. I could write two or three pages on this alone. (I personally have had to break off conversations with Japanese prisoners, so willing were they to talk on and on.) I remember how I had quite a talk with one of our prisoners whom I had asked what his hobbies (shumi) etc. were. He mentioned swimming. (He had swum four miles to shore before we captured him.) We talked about the crawl stroke and about the Olympics. Right here all this goes to prove that being an "interpreter" is not simply being a Cook's tourist type of interpreter. He should be a man of culture, insight, resourcefulness, and with real conversational ability. He must have "gags"; he must have a "line". He must be alive; he must be warm; he must be vivid. But above all he must have integrity, sympathy; yet he must be firm, wise ("Wise as serpents but harmless as doves".) He must have dignity and a proper sense of values, but withal friendly, open and frank. Two characteristics I have not specifically mentioned: patience and tact.
From the above, you will realize that most of these ideas are based on common sense. I might sum it all up by saying that a man should have sympathetic common sense. There may be some who read the above paragraphs (or rather just glance through them) who say it is just sentiment. But careful reading will show it is enlightened hard-boiled-ness.
Now in regard to the second point I have mentioned (on p 1), the knowledge and the use of the language. Notice that I say "knowledge" and "use". They are different. A man may have a perfect knowledge, as a linguist, of a language, and yet not be skillful and resourceful in its use. Questioning people, even in one's own language, is an art in itself, just as is selling goods. In fact, the good interpreter must, in essence, be a salesman, and a good one.
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