Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Douglas G. Hartley
Returning to the political section, I was placed in charge of the Joint Translation Service whose origins were described by Lawrence Durrell in his hilarious collection of short stories called Sauve qui peut, all about his experiences as UK press attach� in Belgrade in the early 1950s. One of the short stories concerned a couple of eccentric English ladies that started a newspaper of some sort and I believe he was referring to what probably later became the JTS. It was at a time when we felt we should be informing - and keeping advised - all of our allies. So we were spending a lot of money and time to translate from Serbian - translations of the local press, local magazine articles and what have you. This was funded jointly by the Americans and the British, though we took a larger part of this. At the height we had about eight translators. This was my first glimpse of a reality of Yugoslavia, which is that it's very difficult for these various nationalities, ages, sexes, to work together. We were having to deal with two of the translators who hadn't spoken to each other for 10 years even though they were in the same offices. This person hated that person because that person's grandfather had been a Muslim. So you got into a microcosm. All of a sudden you weren't really in an American outfit. You were supervising a group of Yugoslavs, and that was an interesting experience. You were of course also responsible for getting out this JTS, which sometimes could be as much as 70 pages. So you get up early in the morning, you go over there, and all these people would be churning out these translations. You also have to select what was to be translated. I then would go off to the political section, give the political briefings based on what I had seen in the newspaper. Sometimes the translations were not very good, and this was not necessarily the fault of our translators. A couple of them were pretty weak, I'll have to say that. Because the journalists themselves wrote such poor Serbo-Croatian and there was such an overlay of Marxist jargon, it was difficult to make sense of some of these articles. Occasionally someone would request an article that I felt was meaningless, but I would have to put it in because it was requested. One day I was slaving away at the JTS, which was an annex of the embassy and I was told that the ambassador wanted to see me. I thought “Uh, Oh. George Kennan. This is probably not good.” So I went up the elevator to the executive floor, which was the third or fourth floor. The political officer was a guy called Alex Johnpoll. He was very nervous. I think, looking back on it, he was nervous because he was intimidated by George Kennan, probably not an easy task for him, nor for anybody for that matter. I'll never forget going into the ambassador's office, which I rarely entered as a junior officer. We had no DCM at that point, but in any event there was Kennan pacing around the floor. I saw a copy of my JTS with all these green and red lines all up and down. I thought “Oh, my God.” Johnpoll was highly nervous and Kennan said “Hartley, Will you please tell me what this means?” And it was one of those meaningless articles in which our translator had failed to come to any conclusion of its meaning and had basically tried to make it literal. So I had to try to explain to the great Kennan what it meant, which was very little. I survived and JTS turned out to be a good experience for me. I learned a lot about the way Yugoslavs interact with each other. I also learned the language and how to read Cyrillic better than most of my colleagues. I also learned how to write Cyrillic script, which I did sort of off my own bat, also, knowing what was going on; I had to review everything, I was reading everything. But again, I wasn't really centered into the Big Picture. I was spending most of my time looking at the daily press, doing my job.