Making money out of war has long been a controversial issue, so much so that terms like “war profiteer” have been coined to refer to individuals or companies getting rich from selling weapons and goods for the troops. And, if you are a linguist, you will surely agree with me in that, if the situation got lexicalised into the language, then it must be real and worth looking into.
I recently came across an article published on The Daily Beast about a company “getting rich off the ISIS war”, as the title puts it. The article dealt with a company called SOS International (SOSi), which has just been awarded contracts for a total of over $400 million in exchange for providing “life support, sustainment and logistics services in support of thousands of U.S. and Coalition troops in Iraq”, as the company’s website indicates.
Reading its story, I found out that SOSi was started by an interpreter, Sosi Setian, who moved to the United States as a child, went to university and ended up offering interpreting services to American government agencies such as the DEA and the FBI.
Originally, SOSi stood for SOS Interpreting, and it focused on providing linguistic services. Today, however, SOSi’s role goes beyond linguistic support. Far, far beyond that.
Reading about this got me thinking about the role of linguists during warfare. Are interpreters profiting from war? Surely not. What about the huge companies hiring these interpreters? Is there a difference between supplying equipment and supplying interpreting services? How are we supposed to feel about a company which started offering interpreters and ended up offering all sorts of services that help support an ongoing war?
The importance of linguists during warfare can’t be emphasised enough. They not only permit communication between soldiers and civilians, while fomenting cultural understanding and acting as a link between two generally opposing or very different worldviews, but they also offer emotional support for everyone involved in times of crisis. Linguists can now choose to specialise in interpreting in zones of crisis and war, as more and more institutions realise how important it is to train linguists and avoid hiring people who are simply bilingual to do the job.
Having said that, to what extent can I justify the money-making business behind it? Companies are getting rich (we are talking about millions of dollars here) out of the pain and struggle inflicted upon both sides. I would rather there were interpreters and other linguists involved in warfare because I trust this would help solve the conflicts that caused them, but to what extent is the business behind it justifying war itself?
The ISIS War is expected to be a long one, and contractors are a huge part of it. I am just unsure as to how I am supposed to feel about it. What about you?