Victor’s Vignettes: Military translation at my school


Victor’s Vignettes … stories about life in soviet and post-soviet Ukraine.

– by Victor Sergeyev
Mikolayev, Ukraine


All throughout my early years at school, I looked forward to studying American literature in 10th grade.

How I would enjoy reading the English language works of such authors as Theodor Drizer, Mark Twain, and Jack London! I just couldn’t wait to enjoy all the delicious things in store for me.

Of course, you know it — things turned out much differently.

When I entered 10th grade, I found to my surprise—and dismay—that the English Literature course had been replaced with “Military Translation.”

To make matters worse, there were no specially trained teachers, no manuals, no textbooks—only a room with walls covered in posters and placards!

Apparently this hastily prepared “course” was the result of some mysterious emergency.

But, we were 16 years old and viewed it with pragmatism as well as enthusiasm. It was English, after all.

And what young boy does not find the military fascinating?

Even the girls in our class were fascinated— somehow even “dry” technical and military details seemed interesting when presented in English.

During that course, boys and girls alike learned things like how to assemble and dismantle AK-47 machine guns, and how to put on gas filtration helmets dating back to WWI.

Sure, we learned the course material well. But, none of us considered it more than just a silly game and an easy credit.

Those of us who took this course like to joke now that we know the American army as well as we know the Soviet army — which is to say, not well at all!

We learned about how an army operates in theory, but as for practice, we would make poor soldiers in any army.

Although, we did get a taste of army “discipline;” our class facilitator constantly berated us for coming to class in jeans and for listening to rock music!

Looking back over the years, I could never see the sense in studying this material.

I can tell you the names and order of all the military ranks, how squads and platoons function, what the term “intercontinental ballistic missile” actually means, and lots of other absolutely useless information.

Sure it was fun, but we were just children playing some adult war game with tanks, bombs and mines. And oddly enough, somehow, we knew all along that the game had ended many years ago.

Many years have passed since that time, bringing along some rather unexpected events – the collapse of the USSR, the rise of an independent Ukraine … and most recently, our former Russian ‘elder brother’ (damn him to hell!) waging a very dirty war with Ukraine.

Never in our wildest dreams could my classmates and I have imagined such a thing actually happening in real life.

– Narrated by Sergiy Kaznady in Toronto, Canada.

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