The marines have brought the whole encyclopaedia of military technology with them to Iraq. From aircraft to x-ray machines, they have a myriad ways to kill, heal wounded, survey, spy, reconnoitre, communicate with each other, shell, defend, attack, enfilade. They have brought all the machines and all the skilled people trained to use them.
The equipment necessary to talk to Iraqis, understand their problems and respond to their needs, however, seems to have been left on the quayside in California.
But they do have the Phrasealator!
Cooper, a major in the military’s civil affairs department, didn’t have an interpreter, exactly. He had a handheld black plastic device the size of an eggbox called a Phrasealator.
Users run a stylus down a series of menus on a screen, pick a phrase in English, touch the line, and the Phrasealator squawks the equivalent in Arabic. The machine lacks elementary social skills. It only covers a handful of situations, such as crowd control, law and order and emergencies. If you want to tell someone to get out of their car slowly or not to be frightened, it’s great.
And how about Iraqi hand gestures? Does a thumbs-up mean what it does in the US?