Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. His books include
Targeting Translation: Counterinsurgency and the Weaponization of Language
In recent years much has been written about the revival of counterinsurgency as the preferred strategy of the U.S.-led forces in the “global war on terror.” Such a strategy necessarily requires knowledge of the local languages and cultures. This chapter focuses on the U.S. military’s attempts to use language as a weapon of war through the strategic deployment of translation practices in consolidating military occupation. It looks into such tactics as the training of soldiers in foreign languages, the development of automatic translation systems, and the protocols for expropriating the mediating power of native interpreters. It also inquires into the limits and contradictions of such tactics and their implications for the success or failure of counterinsurgency. Finally it asks whether there are other ways in which translation works in war time that tend to evade the militarization of speech.