& Wwii) Essay, Research Paper
English Honours 2
April 1, 2001
Native American Code Talkers
For thirty-six years the Japanese government puzzled over the mysterious unbreakable code used by the American Armed Forces in World War II. Navajo Code Talkers are literally what was employed in WWII. Navajo men that spoke [a variation of] their language. Navajo answered the military requirement for an undecipherable code because Navajo is an unwritten language of extreme complexity. Its syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. It has no alphabet or symbols, and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest. One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II.
General Setzo Avisue, head of Japanese intelligence, when told after the war about the Code Talkers sighed, “Thank you, that is a puzzle I thought would never be solved.” The Navajo Code Talk may have been the only unbreakable code in the history of warfare.
Even today, after fifty years, many people have the wrong idea about the use of the Navajo language as a code. While the agility, endurance and courage of the Navajo soldier in the Pacific campaigns are legendary, only a passing notion of the use of Navajo as code is understood. The Navajo marines had literally created an alternative Navajo language. They changed around and substituted words. The result was mixed up Navajo. Not even native Navajo speakers tested with the new code talk knew what these Navajo marines were talking about. “That’s crazy Navajo,” one remarked. In addition, none of the Navajo code was ever written down, all of it being committed to memory. The Navajo Code Talk was born and became one of the most effective codes used by the United States in the Pacific campaign.
The idea to use the Native American language came about as a duplication of tactics used in World War I. The first person to suggest Navajo for secure communications was Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently. Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I veteran who knew of the military’s search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages–notably Choctaw–had been used in World War I to encode messages. Although not used as extensively as the Navajo Code, the language of the Choctaw Indians did play a successful role in WWI.
In the closing days of WWI, eight Choctaws were instrumental in helping the American Expeditionary Force to win several key battles in the Mousse-Argonne campaign, which proved to be the final big German push of the war, as “code talkers.”
All were serving in the same battalion, which was surrounded by the Germans. At this time, it was known that the Germans had solved the Americans’ radio codes and had tapped the telephone lines. They were also capturing about 25% of the messengers who served as runners between the various companies on the battle line.
Captain Lawrence, Commander of one of the companies, overheard two soldiers (Solomon Lewis and Mitchell Bobb) conversing in their native Choctaw language. After speaking with the men, he decided he would employ the language as a new code.
A message was worded and Private First Class Bobb used the field phone to deliver the first Choctaw code message to Choctaw Ben Carterby, who then transposed it back into English for the Battalion Commander.
Within a matter of hours, the eight men able to speak Choctaw had been shifted until there was at least one in each field company headquarters.
Not only were they handling field telephone calls, they were translating radio messages into the Choctaw and writing field orders to be carried by ‘runners’ between the various companies.
The Germans were completely taken by surprise. Within 24 hours after the Choctaw language was pressed into service, the tides of the battle had turned, and in less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were on full attack.
Since this occurrence was so near the end of the war, the Choctaw Code Talkers were apparently used in only this one campaign.
They were praised by the company commanders and battalion commander, who told the eight Choctaw men that he was “putting them in for medals.” The medals were never received.
The Navajo Code Talk was so top-secret that it was not declassified until 1968, 13 years after the conclusion of the war. This was, however, a time when the country’s attitude toward war thwarted any true public recognition to anything war related. Including the significance of the Code Talk as a major weapon in the defeat of the Japanese. The top-secret nature of the Code Talker system was a big reason as to why no Navajo Code Talker was awarded a Medal of Honour. No parades have since been held to recognize them and same for the Choctaw.
President Ronald Reagan in December of 1981 recognized the Navajo Code talkers for their “dedicated service, unique achievement, patriotism, resourcefulness and courage.” In 1983, through the efforts of then Senator Dennis Concini, August 14th was proclaimed National Navajo Code Talker Day.
It is believed by many that the use of the Navajo language as a code played a big part in the victory by the United States of WWII. Also, the Choctaw language was contributory to the victory of WWI. Without the help these Native American tribes, there is no telling what the world may be like, had the outcomes of the wars been different.
Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I. http://numa.niti.org/users/tushka/choctaw/code.htm. April 1, 2001.
Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary. http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-4.htm. April 1, 2001.
Passages West: Navajo Code Talkers. http://www.unink.com/passages/Monument- Valley/Ledgends/CodeTalkers.html. April 1, 2001.
Perry, Tenna. Who were the Choctaw Code Talkers? http://meme.essortment.com/choctawcodetal_riky.htm. ? 2001. April 1, 2001.
Profaca, Mario. Mario’s Cyberspace Station: All You Should Know About Navajo Code Talkers. http://mprofaca.cro.net/navajo.html. ? 1995-2001. April 2, 2001.
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