Category Archives: language

Persian Nader Shah vs. Moghul Empire

From A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, by Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 2997-3027:

Crowned shah, with his western frontiers secure and in undisputed control of the central lands of Persia, Nader set off eastward to conquer Kandahar. The exactions to pay for this new campaign caused great suffering and in many parts of the country brought the economy almost to a standstill. Nader took Kandahar after a long siege, but he did not stop there. Using the excuse that the Moghul authorities had given refuge to Afghan fugitives, Nader crossed the old frontier between the Persian and Moghul empires, took Kabul, and marched on toward Delhi. North of Delhi, at Karnal, the Persian army encountered the army of the Moghul emperor, Mohammad Shah. The Persians were much inferior in number to the Moghul forces, yet thanks to the better training and firepower of his soldiers, and rivalry and disunity among the Moghul commanders, Nader defeated them. He was helped by the fact that the Moghul commanders were mounted on elephants, which besides proving vulnerable to firearms were liable to run wild—to the dismay of their distinguished riders and anyone who happened to be in their path.

From the battlefield of Karnal, Nader went on to Delhi, where he arrived in March 1739. Shortly after his arrival there, rioting broke out and some Persian soldiers were killed. So far from home, and with the wealth of the Moghul Empire at stake, Nader could not afford to lose control. He ordered a ruthless massacre in which an estimated thirty thousand people died, mostly innocent civilians. Prior to this point, Nader had generally (at least away from the battlefield) achieved his ends without excessive bloodshed. But after Delhi, he may have decided that his previous scruples had become redundant.

With a characteristic blend of threat and diplomacy, Nader stripped the Moghul emperor of a vast treasure of jewels, gold, and silver, and accepted the gift of all the Moghul territories west of the Indus River. The treasure was worth as much as perhaps 700 million rupees. To put this sum in some kind of context, it has been calculated that the total cost to the French government of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), including subsidies paid to the Austrian government as well as all the costs of the fighting on land and sea, was about 1.8 billion livres tournois (the standard unit of account in prerevolutionary France). This was equivalent to about £90 million sterling at the time—close to the rough estimate of £87.5 million sterling for the value of Nader’s haul from Delhi. Some of the jewels he took away—the largest, most impressive ones, like the Kuh-e Nur, the Darya-ye Nur, and the Taj-e Mah—had a complex and often bloody history of their own in the following decades.

Nader did not attempt to annex the Moghul Empire outright. His purpose in conquering Delhi had been to secure the cash necessary to continue his wars of conquest in the west, for which the wealth of Persia alone had, by the time of his coronation, begun to prove inadequate.

Nader’s campaigns are a reminder of the centrality of Persia to events in the region, in ways that have parallels today. A list of some of Nader’s sieges—Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Mosul, Kandahar, Herat, Kabul—has a familiar ring to it after the events of the first years of the twenty-first century. It is worth recalling that Persians were not strangers in any of the lands in which Nader campaigned. Although he and his Safavid predecessors were of Turkic origin and spoke a Turkic language at court, the cultural influence of Persian was such that the language of the court and administration in Delhi and across northern India was Persian, and diplomatic correspondence from the Ottoman court in Istanbul was normally in Persian, too. Persian hegemony from Delhi to Istanbul would, in some ways, have seemed natural to many of the inhabitants of the region, echoing as it did the Persian character of earlier empires and the pervasive influence of Persian literary, religious, and artistic culture.


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Filed under Afghanistan, economics, India, Iran, language, military, Pakistan, war

Persian Poets Favored in the West

From A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, by Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 2305-16:

Every hundred years or so, the reading public in the West discovers another of these Persian poets. In 1800 it was Hafez, in 1900 Omar Khayyam, in 2000 it is Rumi. The choice depends not so much on the merits or true nature of the poets or their poetry, but more on their capacity to be interpreted in accordance with passing Western literary and cultural fashions. So Hafez was interpreted to fit with the mood of Romanticism, Omar Khayyam with the aesthetic movement, and it has been Rumi’s misfortune to be befriended by numb-brained New Agery. Of course, an attentive and imaginative reader can avoid the solipsistic trap, especially if he or she can read even a little Persian. But the mirror of language and translation means that the reader may see only a hazy but consoling reflection of himself and his times, rather than looking into the true depths of the poetry—which might be more unsettling.

On the surface, the religion of love of these Sufi poets from eight hundred years ago might seem rather distant and archaic. That is belied less by the burgeoning popularity of Rumi and Attar than by the deeper message of these poets. Darwinists who, like Richard Dawkins, believe Darwinism ineluctably entails atheism might be upset by the idea, but what could be more appropriate to an intellectual world that has abandoned creationism for evolution theory than a religion of love? Darwinism and evolutionary theory have demonstrated the intense focus of all life on the act of reproduction, the act of love. The spirit of that act and the drive behind it are the spirit of life itself.

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Filed under Europe, Iran, language, literature, migration, North America, philosophy, publishing, religion, scholarship

Who Were the Macedonians?

From A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, by Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 662-70:

Who were the Macedonians? Some have speculated that they were not really Greeks, but more closely related to the Thracians. Or perhaps they descended from some other Balkan people influenced by the arrival of Indo-European Greeks. They had come under heavy Greek influence by the time of Philip and Alexander—but even at that late stage the Macedonians made a strong distinction between themselves and the Greek hangers-on who accompanied Alexander’s eastern adventure. In the fifth century BC, Macedonians were normally, like other non-Greeks, excluded from the Olympic games. But the Persians seem to have referred to them as “Greeks with hats” (they were known for their wide-brimmed hats), and Herodotus too seems to have accepted them as of Greek origin. Like the Medes and Persians in the time of Cyrus, as well as many other militant peoples from mountainous or marginal areas, the Macedonians had a strong sense of their collective superiority—but they also sustained many private feuds among themselves. They were notoriously difficult to manage.

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Languages of Persia, 500 B.C.

From A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, by Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 574-94:

Although Darius established a standard gold coinage, and some payments were made in silver, much of the system operated by payments in kind. These were assessed, allocated, and receipted from the center. State officials and servants were paid in fixed quantities of wine, grain, or animals; but even members of the royal family received payments in the same way. Officials in Persepolis gave orders for the levying of taxes in kind in other locations, and then gave orders for payments in kind to be made from the proceeds in the same locations. Couriers were given tablets to produce at post stations along the royal highways, so they could get food and lodging for themselves and their animals. These tablets recording payments in kind cover only a relatively limited period, from 509 to 494 BC. There are several thousand of them, and it has been estimated that they cover supplies to more than fifteen thousand different people in more than one hundred different places.

It is significant that the tablets were written mainly in Elamite, not in Persian. We know from other sources that the main language of administration in the empire was neither Persian nor Elamite, but Aramaic, the Semitic lingua franca of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. The Bisitun inscription states directly that the form of written Persian used there was new, developed at Darius’s own orders for that specific purpose. It is possible that he and the other Achaemenid kings discouraged any record of events other than their own monumental inscriptions, but these are all strong echoes of the Iranian distaste for writing that we encountered earlier in Mazdaism, and it may go some way to explain an apparent anomaly—the lack of Persian historical writing for the Achaemenid period. It is possible that histories were recorded, that poems were written down, and that all sorts of other literature once existed and have since been simply lost. But later Persian literary culture was strongly associated with a class of scribes, and the fact that the scribes in the Achaemenid system wrote their accounts and official records in other languages suggests that the literature was not there, either. There was no Persian history of the Achaemenid Empire because the Persian ruling classes either (the Magi) regarded writing as wicked or (the kings and nobles) associated writing with inferior peoples—or both. To ride, to shoot the bow, to tell the truth—but not to write it.

That said, no histories as such have survived from the Egyptian, Hittite, or Assyrian empires, either. It is more correct, in the context of the fifth century BC, to call the innovation of history writing by the Greeks an anomaly.

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‘TheBus’ in Translation

The public bus system in Honolulu is not the only one in the U.S. whose official name is TheBus. (There’s also Rutland County, VT, Prince George’s County, MD, and Hernando County, FL. It’s not even the only one that also calls itself DaBus (as Honolulu’s DaBus mobile app does). But I daresay it’s the only bus system that posts its obligatory Title VI notices in English, Tagalog, Ilokano, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Marshallese, Chuukese, and Vietnamese. How is the company name “TheBus” handled in each of these languages?

The English version of the notice begins “TheBus shall not discriminate …”  (from the 1964 Civil Rights Act).

Sentences in Philippine languages like Tagalog and Ilokano often begin with verbs, and nouns are always marked with a preceding article. So when each language starts its sentence with TheBus as topic, each requires its own article in front of the English noun, even though the English noun contains its own definite article. Thus, Tagalog Ang TheBus … and Ilokano Ti TheBus …. In each language, TheBus takes the article that marks singular common nouns, not the article used for singular personal names (Tagalog si, Ilokano ni).

Japanese nouns require no articles, and the Japanese version of the notice renders TheBus in katakana, as a foreign name, then follows it with the topic marker wa. Thus, the Japanese begins ザ・バスは … Za Basu wa …. (The raised dot is used to separate words in katakana.)

Neither Chinese nor Korean has the equivalent of katakana, so both languages begin their notices with the English name TheBus followed by their own term for ‘company’ (Chinese 公司 gongsi, Korean 회사 hoesa [= 會社]) to help clarify that TheBus is the name of a corporate entity. Thus, the Chinese begins TheBus 公司 … while the Korean begins TheBus 회사는 …. The Korean topic noun phrase ends in the topic marker 는 neun, equivalent to Japanese は wa.

Vietnamese nouns are not marked with articles or topic markers, so the Vietnamese notice simply begins with the English word TheBus, then continues with sẽ không … ‘shall not …’.

Marshallese nouns also lack articles or inflections, and so the Marshallese notice also begins with a direct borrowing of the English name and spelling of TheBus.

Chuukese is the only other language besides Japanese to parse TheBus into two words, translating English The- into Chuukese Ewe- ‘that, the’, a distal demonstrative that can be used to mark known referents (as I learned in a linguistic field methods course four decades ago), then combining it with borrowed Bus to yield EweBus.

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Filed under China, Japan, Korea, language, Micronesia, Philippines, U.S., Vietnam

Missionary Interrogators in the Pacific

From Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, by David A. Hollinger (Princeton U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 3201-35, 3284-3321:

[A]mong the first wave of US Marines to hit the beach at Guadalcanal on August 8, 1942, was a man who had been a Congregationalist missionary to Japan for twenty-six years.

Sherwood F. Moran (1885–1983) had been home on furlough on December 7, 1941. Immediately, he went to US Marine headquarters in Washington. Volunteering for service, he told the Marines there that his idiomatic Japanese was probably better than any other American’s. The Marines sent him to the South Pacific, and put him in charge of interrogating POWs. He had radical ideas about how this task should be carried out: “By the expression on your face, the glance of your eye, the tone of your voice” you must “get him to know” that you really do regard all men as “brothers,” he instructed other Marines. He proved to be so good at extracting intelligence from captured soldiers that he was told to write an instruction manual for others assigned to this job. The resulting document systematically rejected the beliefs of many Marines that Japanese prisoners should be shot, if not tortured. The American interviewer, Moran’s manual advised, should speak to the Japanese prisoner “as a human being to a human being,” treating him with respect.

On Guadalcanal, Moran was by far the oldest man around. He was soon being called “Pappy” by the young men working under his supervision. Language fluency was what got Moran to the South Pacific, but what he did with his Japanese is what made history. Moran may have been, as his family liked to say of him, “probably the only Marine of his era who never took a drink, never smoked a cigarette, and never cursed.” He was much more than that. He was, among other things, a classic ecumenical Protestant missionary.

Educated at Oberlin College and at Union Theological Seminary, and inspired more by Jane Addams’s social work than by any ideology of religious conversion, Moran was a devoted follower of the Student Volunteer Movement’s greatest orator, Sherwood Eddy. Moran and Eddy were sometimes called “the two Sherwoods” because Moran served for a year as Eddy’s personal secretary, traveling with him and absorbing his liberal views about the missionary project. Worldly enough to have become an accomplished tap dancer, and to have considered a career in vaudeville before a trusted female friend warned him against the unwholesome characters he would meet in the New York theater milieu, Moran was anything but retiring in his ways and was far from orthodox in his theology. Moran married his Oberlin sweetheart, Ursul, and settled down with her in Japan to raise a family and exemplify what the two understood to be a Christian life, and to help local Japanese in whatever way they could. Moran quickly took a serious interest in Buddhism and in Japanese art—on which he published several monographs late in life—and became an outspoken critic of the militarism of the Japanese ruling elite.

Moran’s manual instructed the interrogators to speak to a Japanese prisoner not only as a brother, but almost as a seducer. In his very first paragraph Moran compared the “interviewer”—a label he preferred to “interrogator”—to a “lover.” Each interviewer must develop his own skills, so that each “will gradually work out a technique of his own, his very own, just as a man does in making love to a woman! The comparison is not merely a flip bon mot; the interviewer should be a real wooer!” Some Marines in their “hard-boiled” manner will “sneer that this is a sentimental attitude,” Moran predicted, but he urged resolution and persistence in the face of such banal scorn. The central theme of “Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field,” as the manual was entitled, was the need to establish rapport with the prisoner. Moran insisted that “the Japanese soldier is a person to be pitied rather than hated,” a man who has been misled, deceived, and manipulated by his government and his officers. Every prisoner actually had a story he wanted to tell, and the job of the interviewer was to create an atmosphere in which the prisoner would tell it. The interviewer should learn as much as he could about Japan and its history and culture. Those like himself who had lived in Japan had a great advantage, yes, but others should do all they could to inform themselves so as to do a better job.

Of course one must never forget the goal of extracting intelligence.

The missionary foundation for Moran’s work with POWs becomes all the more significant when we recognize two counterparts in the army and the navy who adopted virtually the same approach, and who were both missionary sons. The notorious service rivalries in the Pacific war prevented Moran from knowing about it, but Army Col. John Alfred Burden (1900–1999) and Navy Lt. Otis Carey [sic] (1921–2006) were operating on the basis of the same instincts. That the anti-torture policies and practices of all three services in the Pacific War were instituted by missionary-connected Americans has gone unnoticed until now. A sign of just how thoroughly this episode had been forgotten by the 1980s is the fact that none of these three men is mentioned in two books written in that decade by the leading students of the war in the Pacific: Akira Iriye’s Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941–1945 and John W. Dower’s War Without Mercy.

“Otis Cary’s name,” reports Ulrich Straus, “was the only one cited repeatedly” many years after the war, when Japanese veterans “wrote up their wartime experience in prison camps.” Cary, who was remembered with respect, even affection, “was determined,” writes Straus, “to treat prisoners not as enemies but as human beings, individuals who deserved to have a bright future aiding in the reconstruction of a new, democratic Japan.” The son and grandson of Congregationalist missionaries, Cary, who always considered Japanese his native language, had come “home” in 1936 to attend Deerfield Academy and then Amherst College, as did so many missionary sons. He enlisted in 1942 and by early 1943 was the navy’s primary officer for interrogation. He was stationed first in Hawaii and then in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where he led in the interrogation of POWs captured in the fighting there. Cary was first hampered by the army, which was in control of the American operation in the Aleutians and wanted nothing to do with the navy’s Japanese language specialists. Still, Cary managed to win acceptance when he had the astonishing luck of encountering, as his first POW, a soldier from his own hometown in Japan. Carey extracted information from this man that was deemed highly valuable by the top brass.

But Cary did not operate on a large scale until later in the war, in the Marianas, especially on Saipan in the summer of 1944. It was there that Cary, confronted with a flood of captives, made such a lasting impression on the soldiers he interrogated. “Following lengthy discussions,” notes Straus, many of the prisoners “eventually found persuasive Cary’s argument that [they] had given their all in the service of their country, had nothing to be ashamed of, and should look forward to contributing to the reconstruction of a post-war Japan.”

Cary’s successes in the Aleutians and the Marianas would be better known if he had written about his exploits in English instead of only in Japanese. As translated by Straus, Cary explained that the soldiers “were used to being coerced and knew how to take evasive measures,” but “if treated humanely, they lost the will to resist.” While there were rumors about high pressure methods used on the POWs, Cary insisted that nothing of the sort happened on his watch. The unanimous postwar testimony of the POWs in his charge vindicates the claim. Cary went back to Japan after the war and headed the American Studies program at Doshisha University, the close partner of his US alma mater, Amherst. Largely unknown in the United States, to which he returned ten years before his death in 2006, Cary was an important and widely celebrated figure in Japanese academia.

Cary apparently had no contact with his Army counterpart, John Alfred Burden, who was a medical doctor in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Burden immediately enlisted in the army, ready to use the language skills he acquired as a Tokyo-born son and the grandson of Seventh-day Adventist missionaries. He was able to speak the Tokyo dialect more fluently than most of the Nisei with whom he worked in the South Pacific. As a captain posted to Fiji in October 1942, Burden was frustrated that his superiors did not quickly send him into the combat zones where his language facility could be of immediate use. He finally persuaded them to send him to Guadalcanal in December, accompanied by two Japanese Americans who, Burden complained bitterly, had been stuck in a prejudice-filled atmosphere on Fiji driving trucks around the base. Burden went on to lead the first joint Caucasian-Nisei team of interrogators, eventually establishing an impressive record.

This very long extract will have to be my last from this book. Burden and Cary deserve their own Wikipedia articles, as do a few other missionaries who once worked for the OSS.

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Filed under education, Japan, language, migration, military, nationalism, Pacific, religion, U.S., war

Missionaries and the Growth of Area Studies

From Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, by David A. Hollinger (Princeton U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 4678-4717:

THE MAN WHO came to be called the “viceroy” of South Asian Studies had a high position in government during World War II and used it to promote the academic study of India. Missionary son W. Norman Brown (1892–1975) got to know Kenneth Landon in the Washington headquarters of the Office of Strategic Services. But unlike Landon, who had heavy policy responsibilities, Brown was in the research division, where he headed the South Asian section. In 1943, Brown convened a “private IPR roundtable” at Princeton to talk about India. The main item on the agenda was Brown’s memorandum, “Suggested Program to Promote the Study of India in the United States.” The memorandum called for the creation of institutes, teaching programs, and public lectures designed to advance knowledge of India.

That an officer of the OSS could run a private event under the auspices of the Institute of Pacific Relations highlights the easy back-and-forth between IPR and government officialdom. The roundtable also shows how an OSS officer could promote an academic cause not immediately related to the war effort. The roundtable is revealing, further, for the individuals who participated in it. Brown knew how to light a fire under people located in potentially relevant networks. The recently elected congressman Walter Judd was there. So was the prominent Asian affairs writer T. A. Bisson, who was then serving on the wartime Board of Economic Welfare. Present, too, was Harry B. Price, the lobbyist who had been Executive Director of the “Price Committee”—the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression—and who by 1943 was coordinating the Lend-Lease program for China. Brown made sure that the Rockefeller Foundation sent representatives. The group also included journalist Varian Fry, already a legend in Washington circles because of his death-defying work for the Emergency Rescue Committee in Vichy France, smuggling more than two thousand anti-Nazi refugees out of Marseille. The presence of Judd, Bisson, and Price, all of whom were former missionaries to China, shows how Brown mobilized the missionary network for his own purposes, and how that network easily bridged different mission fields.

After the war the enterprising Brown established himself as one of the most successful empire builders in an academic generation legendary for its empire building. Whenever there was a committee related to his interests, Brown ended up chairing it. Whenever there was a center or an institute to be established, Brown was invited to serve as its director. Whenever there was an academic position to be filled, Brown’s advice was taken into account. Whenever there were funds to be distributed, Brown was part of the decision process. Whenever there was a major event concerning India, Brown’s views about it were quoted. Focused, efficient, and determined, Brown was the prototype of the academic operator.

Brown’s counterpart in postwar Japanese Studies was another missionary son, Edwin Reischauer. The Chinese Studies equivalent was John K. Fairbank, who was neither a missionary son nor a former missionary but whose formation as a scholar was heavily influenced by the missionary contingent. This chapter is devoted to the careers of these three men and the attendant growth of what came to be called Foreign Area Studies. By 1967, missionary son and Japan scholar John W. Hall was justified in claiming that the success of Area Studies in the previous twenty years had rendered obsolete the old charge that American academia was parochial. The universities of no other nation had achieved as wide a global range as those of the United States. This could happen as rapidly as it did because so many missionary-connected individuals were ready to make it work. In no other institutional setting was missionary cosmopolitanism more visible than in academia, and nowhere was its Asian center of gravity more consequential.

There were few American missionaries in Russia and Eastern Europe. Programs for that part of the world developed without significant missionary background. This was also true for programs focused on Western Europe and its sub-regions. Latin American Studies had no special need for missionary-connected individuals because Latin America was the subject of extensive academic study before the war and its major language—Spanish—was widely spoken in the United States. 3 There were plenty of missionaries in sub-Saharan Africa, but the Foreign Service and the OSS did little recruiting there because that region was not a major theater in World War II, and its strategic significance in the Cold War was not recognized until much later.

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Filed under China, Japan, language, migration, military, scholarship, South Asia, U.S., war