Can you have a politically correct war? Or is such a phrase as oxymoronic as military intelligence? As my stay here in the sandy place progresses, as I flex my muscle that allows me to function in 120 plus degree heat, as America tries its best to implement democracy in this country of hot Arab tempers, as we try to convince soldiers to be a kinder and gentler Army, I think the best reflection of the change in mentality from hawk to dove is reflected in the signs, plaquards and billboards we as Americans are prone to post across every available inch of desert. I started pondering this question the other day, when forced to direct some folks to my office building here at Camp Tuitty Fruity, I told them to follow the road until they saw the big Legal Center sign. Unfortunately they were two hours late as, unbeknownst to me, someone had run into our precious signage the day prior with a 5 ton and plowed that sucker right over. How one can manage to hit the only sign within half a mile of open desert is beyond me, and yet the board is now propped forlornly up against the side of the building, unlikely to ever proclaim the self important legal mecca of our office again.
When we started here our convoy signs proclaimed such dire warnings as Stay back or we will use all deadly force necessary to destroy you, your dog and your favorite ice cream. As political correctness and the reality of stability operations slowly seized the Army, the signs gradually toned it down to Please stay back or we may or may not shoot you. The latest iteration noted Please donâ€™t come to close to our trucks or we will spank you. I am not sure whether this is effective in keeping people back or just ends up attracting the odd Arab gent into S&M.
In addition to provoking thought on the conundrum brought when war and politics try to get into bed together, mistakes in translation also make for some head scratching moments. While the Army endeavors to have the best and brightest linguists in the world, perhaps a better characterization would be that the Army has the best linguists the private sector could bother to spare and that were available at the time. For example, a sign to a secure building reads in the sternest Kingâ€™s English Do not enter without permission, deadly force authorized. However, I am told the Arabic translation actually reads, Enter with all permission and please use deadly force.
Not only do we mangle the English to Arabic translation, but natives have been known to mangle Arabic to English. Of the three local shops on my old camp, none of them had correctly spelled billboards. One read in hand lettered red paint on a discarded wooden slab Shop â€“ Manes and Womens Cloths. I donâ€™t think they were selling equine gear, but so long as you get the general idea about the wares, the sign worked.
My favorite signs to date reflect the entrepreneurial spirit that runs in all humans, regardless of nationality. On one of our outlying camps, not yet big enough for an official Army exchange, a local national has taken over commerce on the camp with a vengeance. He sells everything from thousands of bootleg DVDs, cigarettes, computers, haircuts, kabobs and pay phones. Rumor has it he has already made quite a tidy sum of money. He bears such a striking physical resemblance to Bob Villa of Home Again tv fame, that the prior cavalry soldiers started calling him Bob Villa to his face. Rather than take his moniker as an insult (after all, the real Bob Villa was ignominiously fired from This Old House in a scandal that rocked the televised home repair community to its very asbestos free core) he capitalized on it, renaming all of his stores in bold red and black signs Bob Villa CafÃ©, Bob Villa Phonebank and my personal favorite Bob Villaâ€™s Blockbuster. Remember, copyright and trademark laws mean nothing in a country that sold the latest Star Wars movie on DVD even before it came out in regular theatre release.