Kanji & Codes: Learning Japanese for World War II

Kanji & Codes: Learning Japanese for World War II

September, 2012
Slesnick, Irwin L.
Publication Information: 
Bellingham, WA: I. L. Slesnick & C. E. Slesnick, 2006
Special Collections--The Western Collection
Call Number: 
Slesnick, I.L.

"Don't shoot! I am your interpreter!"Kanji

Long before commencing his illustrious career as a professor of biology and science education at Western, Irwin Slesnick (1926-2012) served his country as a Marine during World War II, in the surprising capacity as Japanese language interpreter. This fascinating, eminently readable book, written with his wife Carole, chronicles not only his personal, sometimes dramatic experiences on Okinawa following the U.S. invasion of the island in mid-1945, but also the history of the Military Intelligence Service efforts to train Japanese language interpreters.

A little known story today, the program began as early as 1908 in anticipation of future military conflicts with Japan, during which the ability to successfully interrogate prisoners, translate captured documents, gain information from civilians, and decipher secret codes would be essential to success. In the waning days of the the conflict with Japan during World War II, the interpreter assignment was a dangerous one, rife with the risk of death or injury from both friendly and enemy fire. Slesnick relates wonderfully well the history of this unique, once highly secret military endeavor, writing modestly of his own contributions which were recognized as outstanding by the Marine Corps. In addition to Japanese language proficiency, the experience, Slesnick wrote, gave his post-war life "new purpose,"inspiring a lifelong desire to play an active and ongoing role in building a global community."

Irwin L. Slesnick joined the faculty in 1963, retiring as Professor Emeritus of Biology in 1998. He died September 5, 2012.

For more information read related article in Bellingham Herald November 11, 2011: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/11/11/2261184/knowledge-of-japanese-language.html

and Dr. Slesnick's obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bellinghamherald/obituary.aspx?pid=159698625#fbLoggedOut

Marian Alexander
Head of Special Collections Emeritus