by Stephen Slater

In the spring of 2006, I was unemployed, not very happy about it and actively looking for work online in the field I had been working in as a part-time freelancer since 2000, when I passed the 3-hour test administered by the American Translators Association (a professional guild that creates and oversees the test of competence for accreditation in translation and interpretation and which was then and subsequently utterly useless to me for anything else). After leaving academia in 1999 due to lack of work opportunites (last job: Reed College in Portland, Oregon) and lack of basic human decency on the part of my prospective employers, I decided to try my luck as a German-English translator. (Of what? Of anything that came my way except advertising and propaganda meant to be used as propaganda.)
A job was posted on a website for freelance translators, interpreters and others who provide linguistic services. It was for a full-time, regular job at a translation agency in Auckland, New Zealand and, unlike other such jobs that involve submission of work via e-mail, required the translator to be physically present at the office in Auckland. It was a long shot, but the prospect of living in New Zealand (a country I was unfamiliar with) was appealing, since I hadn’t travelled abroad since 1992. The company that posted the job opportunity, PAEN Language Services, had its main office in Auckland with a subsidiary in Berlin. The company required that I pass a translation test of its own via e-mail, which I took not knowing what to expect.
After not hearing from PAEN for several weeks, I assumed that I hadn’t passed the translation test and began looking for other jobs. Early one morning I got a phone call from PAEN’s co-owner saying he had been trying to reach me for several weeks via e-mail but hadn’t received a reply. He told me I had passed the test and that he wanted to take the next step in the hiring process. I had no idea why I had not received the half a dozen or so e-mails he and other colleagues had sent, but I was happy to be hired and began making preparations to move to New Zealand.
And then something interesting happened. All the e-mails that Andreas, PAEN’s co-owner who had called me, had sent arrived simultaneously in my inbox, supposedly unopened. It was almost immediately evident to me what had happened. It was 2006, a little over three years since the United States had launched its invasion of Iraq after the Iraqi leader, Osaddama bin Hussein, had been found to be developing weapons of mass destruction. I was, of course, a sleeper cell with a whole case of box-cutters waiting to strike. It was the National Security Agency or a similar entity that had intercepted the e-mails, headed by an Allen Dulles-like creep with an unlimited budget and a unquenchable desire to inflict maximum damage on America’s enemies. Since there had been e-mail traffic between Auckland, Berlin and Eugene (where I had been living), a possible 9/11-like plot had first been discovered and then, after the creeps couldn’t find anything incriminating about me, abandoned without a word of explanation. After all, the e-mails arrived “unopened.”
I was able to take the job in Auckland and remained there for nearly two years. But I almost lost the job, which was very important to me, because of the paranoid anti-Muslim, anti-Arab hysteria whipped up by that despicable little shit George W. Bush and his enablers behind the scene, enlisting Colin Powell to do their bidding in front of the UN General Assembly by presenting the new Gulf of Tonkin incident in the form of slam-dunk WMDs. Yet another genocidal American rampage against yet another slant-eyed anti-Christian country in the name of Freedom. (Genocide? You mean the invasion of Iraq, like the invasion of Vietnam and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wasn’t genocide?) I have often wished that W. would face the reckoning faced by the main character in Costa-Gavras’ 1972 film State of Siege, minus the execution: he should be “put on trial,” i.e., confronted with all the evidence against him, but then released, Barabbas-like, to live with the knowledge of what virtually everyone knows he is responsible for. (In German, the noun Gewissen, “conscience,” comes from the verb wissen, “to know”; similarly in French the word conscience means both “conscience” and “consciousness” in English.)