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Ethics of accepting armaments translations
Thread poster: Anthony Green

Anthony Green  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 18:54
Italian to English
Oct 8, 2003

I'd be interested to know what translators feel about this issue.
There are at least two ethical points involved with accepting or refusing to do armaments translations.
The first is clearly one of conscientious objection, and perhaps it's not of great use to have a poll about who is for or against war.

However, I think the ethics question goes beyond objection or otherwise.
When I see ProZ questions asking about the function of anti-tank artillery or machine gun parts, I wonder really whether most of us are not risking the lives of military personnel by sticking our necks out and doing such translations. Or more to the point, what on earth are incredibly rich arms manufacturers (I know I'm basing this on the premise that none are simply struggling to get by) doing contacting translations agencies to get a freelance translator to translate these texts for the lowest price available? Is it not yet another example of poor understanding of the vital importance of professional translation? How many people will die because of this?


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Nigel Skipper
Local time: 18:54
Swedish to English
Defence work Oct 8, 2003

I have two comments to make about this subject:
1) the first is a straight quotation from the Swedish defence administration's advertising campaign (!) which we all know is too true:

"Every country has an army - either it's own or somebody elses - "

2) The second comment concerns the accuracy of translations for armaments. In this case I was working as a technical author for a well known Swedish armaments company. Apart from authoring new texts, I was asked to check and translate some Swedish text. This text described the arming process for a particular weapon. Despite my 25 years of living in Sweden and working with all sorts of technical products, the instructions were totally incomprehensible. I naturally mentioned this fact to my customer who immediately went off scalp hunting. So - don't always assume that the information you are presented with is correct, factual and accurate.
The biggest mistake manufactures make when they produce technical information is to assume that the user understands how the product works - they don't, otherwise they wouldn't be reading the manual!

//Nigel


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xxxIanW
Local time: 18:54
German to English
+ ...
Only one ethical point here Oct 8, 2003

Hi Anthony,

Excellent posting! As far as I am concerned, the only ethical point here is whether to accept the translation or not. I have turned the offer of a similar translation down on one occasion (the only occasion I was offered one) along with a couple of other nasties I didn’t want to be involved with, no matter what the financial rewards might be. (Then again, I'd probably do it rather than let my family go hungry.)

I think most of us would refuse to translate for marketers of killing machines, but how about material for pornographic websites, racist organisations or terrorists masquerading as political parties. And there must be people who translate websites carrying child pornography, for example, or DIY terrorist kits – but who are they?

As far as your other point is concerned, I don’t think this is any more irresponsible than ill-qualified translators taking on medical work which might lead to misuse of medication, overdoses or mass poisoning. In both cases, of course, this is extremely irresponsible, but I don’t think that there is a connection between this and the ethical aspect.

Looking forward to hearing other opinions on this.

All the best


Ian


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Geir Vikan  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 18:54
German to Norwegian
+ ...
A field of expertise, as others... Oct 8, 2003

This questions has two sides:
1) Ethics: if you are a pacifist, of course you have to decide to take this kind of work or not ...
2) In some countries, to serve for a part of your life to defend your homeland is still a part of your resposibilites of beeing a citizen. If, in addition, as myself, you are an active reserve officer, weapons collektor,shooter and/or hunter - there is no reason you should not be as qualified to do this kind of translations as any formally educated clerk in a multinational firm.


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giogi
Local time: 17:54
if you Oct 8, 2003

had asked both Kant and Stuart Mill the same question, you would have got two conflicting answers.
So what? The point is that I think it depends on your ethical beliefs and nothing else.
Anyway this is a very interesting issue (as any ethical ones) even if I 'm almost sure you won't get any answer!
Human life is made of questions, isn't it?


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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 13:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Agree with Ian Oct 8, 2003

Ian, I had started writing my comment, but you said everything much better.

A bad translation for the manual of a plane, the engine of a machine or medical instruments or advice can have the same consequence.

And I'll decide if I accept such a translation with the same criterion than an other one related to sex, religion, or politics.

The only ethics problem here concerns the translator.


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 12:54
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
pornographers and terrorists Oct 8, 2003

Ian Winick wrote:

there must be people who translate websites carrying child pornography, for example, or DIY terrorist kits


You don\'t think that\'s true, do you ? Don\'t you think the quality of the language in such sites would be of little concern to their authors ? Somehow I can\'t see a child pornography site being posted on Proz. The source document is likely to be of poor linguistic quality too.

I think the quality issue concerns our legitimate defence departments. Indeed, in a bilingual country like Canada, we need reliable and accurate translation of all government-related documents. But I don\'t really believe those jobs are found on the job board either.

The story behind the terms being questioned may milder than you think.

Perhaps these military terms whose translations are being sought refer to museum exhbitis or some other more innocuous destination, such as essays and homework.

All the best,
Nancy Lynn


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Anthony Green  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 18:54
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
If only ! Oct 8, 2003

I'm afraid the translation which I received was for armaments destined to be used in the Middle East conflict.

NancyLynn wrote:

Perhaps these military terms whose translations are being sought refer to museum exhbitis or some other more innocuous destination, such as essays and homework.

All the best,
Nancy Lynn


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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:54
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
one perspective Oct 8, 2003

[quote]Anthony Green wrote:

Or more to the point, what on earth are incredibly rich arms manufacturers (I know I'm basing this on the premise that none are simply struggling to get by) doing contacting translations agencies to get a freelance translator to translate these texts for the lowest price available?

In my case, Anthony, I was contacted by a Parisian agency for De-En work. The agency was started by a former military man who obviously still maintains close contact with his former colleagues and hence gets the plum deals and prize contracts. I translated a long article comparing the advantages of unmanned missile robot-carriers to manned jets. It was fascinating, if taken from the technial point of view. I had no ethical problems translating it.

M
Marcus


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xxxIanW
Local time: 18:54
German to English
+ ...
Pornographers and terrorists revisited ... Oct 8, 2003

"You don't think that's true, do you ? Don't you think the quality of the language in such sites would be of little concern to their authors ? Somehow I can't see a child pornography site being posted on Proz. The source document is likely to be of poor linguistic quality too."


Just to clear up a few points which came up in Nancy's posting:

Yes, Nancy, I do think it's true that such unsavoury sites are translated - unless the people who create them are capable of multilingual translation themselves. And yes, the quality probably isn't all that important for porn sites, although for example Nazi organisations would be as anxious to get their message across as any marketing department. Makes you wonder.

I can't "see a child pornography site being posted on ProZ.com" either, and I'm quite pleased about it! In fact, I wasn't talking about ProZ, just about translation jobs in general.

Sunny Irish greetings from rainy Cologne


Ian


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Edwal Rospigliosi  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:54
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Porn site translation Oct 8, 2003

I remember having seen a request from a pornsite here in proz last week. It had a lot of bids.

[quote]NancyLynn wrote:

Ian Winick wrote:

You don't think that's true, do you ? Don't you think the quality of the language in such sites would be of little concern to their authors ? Somehow I can't see a child pornography site being posted on Proz. The source document is likely to be of poor linguistic quality too.


Nancy Lynn


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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 13:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
The difference Oct 8, 2003

between child pornography and pornography is that one of them is illegal.

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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 12:54
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Exactly, Claudia Oct 8, 2003

And that's why I said what I said : I can't imagine illegal, shadowy firms hiring a professional translator for this type of work. A legitimate pornsite, yes. I too have seen the job postings for these racy items. But child pornography, clandestine terrorist groups, etc., no. And for the first, photos don't need translation ; and stories, how-tos, etc., may well be (perhaps) poorly translated by a bilingual member of the group. Maybe they can post questions on KudoZ as anonymous users, who knows ?

Slainte from sunny Indian summer land - Ontario

Nancy


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Stephen Boyd
Brazil
Local time: 13:54
French to English
+ ...
My experiences Oct 8, 2003

Thanks for bringing this up - I think it is a very interesting topic.
I find translating defence-related material leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth.
When I was a freelance translator I once accepted a financial report and discovered it was about a defence company with descriptions of the various missiles and other weapons it produced. I asked never to have any other defence report again after that.
I now work in-house for a bank which makes it quite hard to opt out of work - but not necessarily impossible. I prefer the quietly subversive approach, letting slip comments like "you know it's actually pretty disgusting what this company is up to...", "you know I was actually arrested at a demonstration at this company's factory once...", etc.
I discovered that one of my employer's clients has the charming slogan "we own the kill chain"!
Fortunately, the French defence analyst has left and defence stocks are now covered by analysts in London so this no longer directly impinges on my work. But I think it is important always to be prepared to draw the line somewhere.
Stephen


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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 13:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
There are other things that leave a nasty taste in the mouth Oct 8, 2003

Your sentence, Steven, reminded me a translation project in which I worked during two weeks, with a fellow translator.

It was the most difficult legal text I've ever done. Very interesting. There was a clause that stipulated that in case of litigation about terms of the translations (into French and Spanish), the English original would be the reference. This case concerning a local society was going to be judged in the USA and the EU. It was such a responsability to know that each word would be analized by the lawyers. We did it, and I think it was a great job.

Do you want to know why the nasty taste? In fact I even felt dirty.
Because of the rate it was paid. I discovered where was my line. For rates at least.

[Edited at 2003-10-08 23:34]


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