Discuss how the Navajo language was used as the United States code language and discuss how it was learned.
The Navajo Language and Code Breaking
Wind talkers was a code name that had been given to the Navajo talkers of the Indian origin, who were employed by the United States Military Intelligence at the time when communication became a problem in the World War II. The agents, who had been given the responsibility to develop a method of communication for the US soldiers, developed various encryption methods, as well as coding systems that would enable a unique form of communication against the Japanese soldiers (Stay 14). However, a coding system that was based on the Navajo language became the most successful, having remained unbreakable to the opponent Japanese throughout the course of the World War II (Láng, 124). It is worth noting that in the process of the World Wars, there had been other attempts to use other Native American languages to form codes for communication by the soldiers. However, with the introduction and adoption of a coding system based on the Navajo language, the US military communication enhanced beyond the enemy, a factor that enhanced their military prowess during the war.
The Context of Use of the Navajo Coded Language
Choctaw Indians became the pioneer code talkers during World War I. The Choctaw language had been rendered obsolete at this time. However, it is believed that it played a significant role in bringing to an end the first war, owing to the complexity of the language. For example, historians have hinted to the fact that German Intelligence Officers experienced a complete confusion by the language since they had failed to learn it. Most of the German officers had no experience in researching on the Native American languages, a situation that denied them the ability to neither translate nor comprehend any form of communication done in Choctaw language (Lanigan 48).
Furthermore, the American soldiers also took adequate precautionary measures, including their decision to avoid using codes based on languages previously employed in World War I. The main idea behind the decision to avoid such languages was based on the fear that the enemies, including the Japanese soldiers, would crack the code, and learn possible tactics against themselves. It was imperative, therefore, to come up with a new system of communication, which would remain unbreakable by the enemy throughout the war (Connole 21).
The course and effects of World War I had formed a fertile ground for various nations to learn, as well as make adequate preparations for futures wars. One of the greatest lessons learnt by many countries such as Germany and Japan was the fact that Indian languages had played a significant role in the course of World War I (Sterling 5). As a response and an effort to prepare for future wars, it the two nations, Germany and Japan sent groups of their students to the United States with the mission of studying their native languages and cultures. America, being an enemy in a potential future war by the end of World War I, Germany and Japan were preplanning on the possible means of learning and breaking their tactics. However, the two countries failed to pay significant attention to the Choctaw language, which would later be used in developing a communication code to remain unbreakable throughout the course of the World War II (Lanigan 48).
Application in the World War II
During a war, one of the most fundamental tools for both sides is the ability to develop and sustain a unique and prompt means of communication. The general aim of the process of formulating such communication mechanism is to disguise the enemy, in such a way that they may not understand any form of tactics plotted against them. In the wake of 1942, the states of events were turning the heat of the World War II against the American soldiers as well as their allies.
There were various military operations that the Japanese soldiers had been employing against the American troops, most of which needed a stronger counter attack from the American soldiers to sustain the war (Lanigan 52). For example, the Japanese had carrier-borne bombers and fighters, which had crippled the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet in 1941 at the Pearl Harbor. The carrier-borne bombers and fighters had also carried out major attacks on the US military bases in the Philippines as well as Guam, with additional attacks planned with the aim of seizing the islands occupied by the American soldiers in both the south and central Pacific. Moreover, in Europe reports had indicated that France had also surrendered to the Germany’s blitzkrieg while the stalwart Britain continued to stagger the Nazi’s nightmare bombing that had occurred the previous year (Hurst, 258).
Code talkers had a significant influence on the course of the World War II. Among the leading points in the course of the war when the code talkers rendered a major impact was the decision and action by the US Government to recruit Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, Chippewa-Oneida as well as the Navajo tribal members for the work of forming a coded language for the American soldiers (Connole 21). Having been recruited and facilitated by the US Government, the recruited members developed one of the most complex codes in the history of code talking. Some of the reasons why the developed system remained difficult were the fact that despite it not being written anywhere, the team managed to create more than 600 terms (Hurst, 259). The team developed such terms for use by the soldiers in the Pacific Theater, as compared to the less than 20 terms that had previously been established in Choctaw during the World War I.
In addition to the difficulty experienced by the soldiers who have to learn how to use the codes in their communication, it also indicated that even native Navajo people who had remained could not understand the coded language (Sterling 8). The difficulty in both understanding and using the coded language left many unable to use it, with a few such as Sac and Fox, Hopi, Chippewa as well as Navajo members during the World War II. Having discovered that there was an urgent need for Germany to understand the Native American Indian languages, Adolf Hitler began to pursue the available experts in such dialects as a way of preparing for the Word War II.
In this case, even though the European Anthropologists had the ability to study many Native American languages, it was not only cumbersome but also impossible for them to study the Navajo language, since it had no written records (Connole 21). If the European anthropologists accessed any available written sources of information on the Navajo language, there would be more chances that they would have learnt to break the code for American enemies such as Germany. The choice of a native language without any published books for developing the secret code for the war helped the American troops in developing more potent strategies against their German and Japanese enemies (Láng, 119). Moreover, the Navajo language had remained secretive for many years, since only a few non-Indians understood it.
In 1939, with the beginning of the World War II in Europe, there was a renewed sense of hope among the American Army Signal Corps as well as the Naval Intelligence, who invested their efforts in developing more sophisticated communication methods (Lanigan 62). During this time, both the axis and allied powers in the war had relied on new cipher machines, as well as the complex mathematical tables for the process of encoding messages used among the troops. However, it was also a period during which both the axis and allied powers often struggled to break the communication codes developed by rivals (Connole 21).
The intelligence service cryptologists had been breaking many of the communication codes generated from each opposing side, including the German Enigma machine. Furthermore, there were cases where there was a major risk in developing, using and keeping code books after their development by the unique code makers (Hurst, 253). Among the most significant risks was the fact that rival sides could use their forces to recover the books. Consequently, it would be easier for the rival parties to break the secrets contained in the books, and understand the meanings of various forms of communication.
The state of rivalry and the ease with which one side could expose their secret codes to their enemies demanded a change of strategy to one that should offer adequate protection against potential exposure of the secret codes of communication. Some of the strategies that they had to use were a regular change of the communication systems, even though it would be as tedious as the initial process of developing such codes (Lanigan 57). The experts responsible for the development of the communication n codes sought to use simpler codes that would enhance the ability of the soldiers to communicate with the members of the troops for a given duration in the course of the war.
Engineer Philip Johnston, a veteran civil engineer from the World War I, had made a historical proposal to use the one of the Native American languages, alongside symbol in the form of a letter encryption system (Láng, 121). Having been born to a missionary, Johnston was raised as Navajo and had immense knowledge in speaking the language. As a result of his comprehensive ability in speaking the Navajo language, Johnston made the proposal to use the Navajo language for use in the development of the communication code.
The engineer had based his premise on the obscurity of the language according to the Johnston, based on his wealth of knowledge in the Navajo language, he advised that the language had never developed a system of writing, and possessed a great sense of flexibility in the basis of word combination. The fact that the language had never had a system of communication was an advantage the American troops to use the language for developing their communication code since it would be impossible for the rival forces to comprehend its use. In addition to the factors related to the nature of the language, the decision to use the Navajo language to code for the communication system was also based on the fact that there were Navajo men who had served with American troops in the World War I (Láng, 131).
The position of the Navajo men in the war occurred despite the prevailing tensions between the American Governments and the Indian nations (Hurst, 261). Having considered all the possible advantages of using the Navajo language for developing a code of communication among the American troops, the military intelligence accepted the adoption and use of the Navajo language. The American Government then recruited the relevant personnel and facilitated the development of the Navajo code talking system by the Marine Corps. By the end of 1941, the American Government delivered the first 29 Navajo code talkers, who worked as Marine Corps Radio Operators.
The above discussion shows that the success recorded by the American troops in the World War II would never have been without the immense contribution of the Navajo code talkers. It took a process of intensive thinking and strategy development to deliver the Navajo codes and terms that were used by the American soldiers in the World War II. Some factors facilitated the decision to adopt and use the Navajo language as the basis for code development, especially when the American soldiers needed a system that would remain unbreakable by their enemies from Japan (Sterling 12). The Navajo language remained the most appropriate for developing the secretive code of communication, owing to the inherent difficulty in the possibility of learning the language. For example, the language did not only lack a system of writing but also remained an unknown native language that the German students had not researched. The Navajo code talking was an indispensable tool in the course of the World War II for the American troops.
Lanigan, Richard L. “Familiar frustration: The Japanese encounter with Navajo (Diné) “Code talkers” in World War II.” Languages in contact (2011): 47-69.
Hurst, Alison. “Barber, Nicola: Who Broke The Wartime Codes? (Primary Source Detectives).” School Librarian 62.4 (2014): 250-252.
Connole, Joseph. “The Comanche Code Talkers of World War II.” Whispering Wind 40.5 (2012): 21.
Láng, Benedek. “Why Don’t We Decipher an Outdated Cipher System? The Codex of Rohonc.” Cryptologia 34.2 (2010): 115-144.
Sterling, Christopher H. “1. CBQ Review Essay: Studies of Codebreaking Since 2002.” Communication Booknotes Quarterly 44.1 (2013): 1-16.
Stay, Ronald J. “Cryptic Controversy: US Government Restrictions on Cryptography Exports and the Plight of Philip Zimmermann.” Georgia State University Law Review 13.2 (2012): 14.