The Navajo Code Talkers
During the Pacific portion of World War II, increasingly frequent instances of broken codes plagued the United States Marine Corps. Because the Japanese had become adept code breakers, at one point a code based on a mathematical algorithm could not be considered secure for more than 24 hours. Desperate for an answer to the apparent problem, the Marines decided to implement a non-mathematical code; they turned to Philip Johnston's concept of using a coded Navajo language for transmissions.
Although this idea had been successfully implemented during World War I using the Choctaw Indian's language, history generally credits Philip Johnston for the idea to use Navajos to transmit code across enemy lines. Philip recognized that people brought up without hearing Navajo spoken had no chance at all to decipher this unwritten, strangely syntactical, and guttural language (Navajo). Fortunately, Johnston was capable of developing this idea because his missionary father had raised him on the Navajo reservation. As a child, Johnston learned the Navajo language as he grew up along side his many Navajo friends (Lagerquist 19). With this knowledge of the language, Johnston was able to expand upon the idea of Native Americans transmitting messages in their own language in order to fool enemies who were monitoring transmissions. Not only did the Code Talkers transmit messages in Navajo, but the messages were also spoken in a code that Navajos themselves could not understand (Paul 7).
This code actually proved vital to the success of the Allied efforts in World War II. Because the Code Talkers performed their duty expertly and efficiently, the Marines could count on both the validity and the timely transmission of their messages. Also, since the Japanese could not break the Navajo's code, the Marines were able to radio actual troop positions, ask for air support or supplies, and call for reinforcements without the fear of jeopardizing the safety of their men. Additionally, the Japanese could not imitate the code. Consequently, there was never fear that the Marines might receive fake communications. The services these Code Talkers provided not only saved many lives, but, according to some, actually had a huge effect on the outcome of many battles. Maj. Gen. Robert Magnus, commander of Marine Corps Air Bases, claimed "there was a dramatic reduction in Marine casualties" due to the usage of the Code Talkers (qtd. in Bond 3). In fact, Sharon Bond, a writer for the St. Petersburg Times, recently declared that, "On Iwa Jima… the Marines could not have taken the island without [the Code Talkers]" (Bond 3).
Sadly enough, the Navajos returned home after these successes unable to tell their stories or receive recognition for their efforts because the government had classified the work Top Secret. It was not until 1969 that the Code Talkers received some public recognition for their...