the navaho code talkers Essay

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A peaceable agricultural Native American people related to the Apache, population

about 200,000. They were attacked by Kit Carson and US troops 1864, and were rounded

up and exiled. Their reservation, created 1868, is the largest in the US 65,000 sq km/25,000

sq mi , and is mainly in NE Arizona but extends into NW New Mexico and SE Utah. Many

Navajo now herd sheep and earn an income from tourism, making and selling rugs,

blankets, and silver and turquoise jewelry. Like the Apache, they speak a Southern

Athabaskan language. Navajo speakers served the United States well during WWII. Groups

of young Navajo men were enlisted under a TOP SECRET project to train them as Marine

Corps radiomen. They are
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knew that Native American languages, notably Choctaw, had been used in World War I to

encode messages. Johnston believed 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.
Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding

general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and his staff to convince them of the Navajo

language's value as code. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions,

demonstrating that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English

message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job.

Convinced, Vogel recommended to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the Marines

recruit 200 Navajos. In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at

Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California, this first group created the Navajo code. They

developed a

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