02 July 2015

Going Ballistic - a new history of aggression

Here is some serious food for thought for technical journalists and translators specialising in matters military in the form of a thought-provoking radio talk broadcast by Australia's ABC on Thursday 25 June 2015 under the Big Ideas banner.

The Big Ideas page summarised Going Ballistic - a new history of aggression by Joanna Bourke Professor of History in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck College as follows:
Our understanding of the role of aggression in human behaviour has changed dramatically over the last two centuries – from a celebrated part of masculinity, to something more dark and pathological.
And the notion of whether aggression is an innate part of human behaviour is still contested.
Historian Joanna Burke has written a ‘new’ history of aggression, which examines the growth of sciences like ballistics, wound ballistics, weapon design – all aimed at creating the perfect killing machine.
In this chilling talk, she examines the men who she says went ballistic – the scientists behind the development of modern mass warfare.
Professor Bourke's talk includes a detailed review of the evolution of the meaning of and connotations associated with the word 'aggression' in English.
This will be of interest to any into-English translator working on military history or a diachronic translation (i.e. a version in language emulating the English of the same period as the original) of military documents of a given date.
(Aside: In the early 1970s when I first became interested in learning how to translate, I acted as a 'sounding board' for a certain Werner Kowarsch, a German-mother-tongue translator who sometimes had to translate or commission translations into English. I learnt a great deal working with Werner. One day, a museum in Germany asked him to produce a diachronic translation of some historical documents in French concerning the battle of Watterloo. Indeed, the request specifically stipulated that the translation should emulate the language of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the Prussian Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) who most notably led his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, in alliance with the Duke of WellingtonAll of which I add simply to demonstrate that working translators do indeed sometimes receive requests to produce diachronic translations.)
Joanna Bourke is also the author of Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invade our Lives.


Full circle

After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...