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The Navajo Language as The Key to Victory During World War I

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During World War I, Native American tribal language was used to send messages between the deployed troops. The United States Military learned the native American Indian language provide a secure mode of communicating between the troops on the ground. During World War II the native Indian language chosen was the language of the Navajo tribe. Again during the war, a different native American language was used to send messages between the military troops and United States leaders. Due to the complex language and the fact that the language was taught orally to the next generation, and not a written language, the military was successful in translating messages between the troops. This research paper will explain how the Navajo Talking code entered into existence, the reason the Navajo enlisted, the war experience of the Navajo Indians, the contribution of the code talkers, the assimilation of the Native Americans into the White American society, and the recognition of the Navajo Code Talkers soldiers.

The Navajo language is a complex language; it is similar to the Eastern Asia languages which are tonal. “Tonal means the same word has another meaning based on the tone.” For example the word “really’ in current times has two meanings when you use it in a sentence, such as “the article was really informative for my research paper.” Or by using modern-day English slang, the one-word response of “really” can be used as a question. Tonal languages are extremely difficult for adults to learn since the tone defines the meaning. The white Americans faced challenges to communicate with the Navajo tribe members. The missionaries and their families continuously learned the language to witness to the tribe members about christianity and to live within their community.

The founding of the Navajo Code Talkers program was credited by Philip Johnston. According to Zachary Spalding, author of “Experiences of the Navajo Code talkers in World War II,” a publication, written by gathering the stories, of Navajo Code Talkers or a member of their immediate family, that is a compilation of personal experiences of the soldiers. He provides a historical picture of how the code talker program began. “Philip Johnston came up with the idea of using the Navajo language instead of the military code ciphering system. ” As a young child, Johnston, and his family were missionaries on the Navajo reservation. During his encounters with the tribe members on the reservation, he learned the Navajo language. While working at the “Bureau of Engineering in Los Angles,” he came up with the idea. The idea was presented to the Navy and Marine branches of the military. According to Adam Jevec, Philip Johnston explained in detail his general knowledge of the Navajo language he learned while living on the Navajo reservation as a child. He explained that the Navajo language remained mostly “unwritten”. “Major James Jones, of the Marine branch of the military” was interested in the idea. Philip Johnston gathered a group of Navajo people to learn and demonstrate the ability to translate messages. “The Navajo people were given six messages to decode,” the translation demonstration was a great success and the project was approved to proceed. Johnston along with Native American people from the Navajo tribe, created the code for the program. The first part of the code had twenty-six terms. Due to the complexity of the messages and the Navajo language, during the war, the code alphabet increased from twenty-six to forty-four terms. The terms were used as two options, it either represented a word or to represent a letter in the English alphabet. 

The Navajo Code Talkers had a positive effect on World War II since, according to Spaulding, “Germany had no knowledge of the Navajo language.” Prior to the war German Anthropologists visited the United States and studied the native American tribe’s culture and language. Fortunately for the United States, the anthropologist did not study the Navajo language. Due to people of Germany and Japan not knowing the Navajo language, the Navajo code talkers deciphering program had a profoundly positive affect on the United States’ success in the war.

According to Spalding, “the Navajo code talkers, served in the military for many reasons.” First they could speak their native language without fear of punishment or retaliation. Many native American people abandoned their native language due to the cruel punishment the school children endured when attending the public school system. The mistreatment of the children had a negative effect on the Navajo people’s freedom to speak their native tongue The ability to speak your native language while supporting your nation during the war can give the soldier a dual purpose to serve in the military and fight for your country. Secondly, their strong loyalty to the land provided motivation to serve during the war. The native American people generally took pride in their lands, even though many Native Americans were forced from their land, they still took pride in fighting for their land. Many Navajo people served to gain access to the military benefits they would receive as members in the military. The military members were able to gain access to advanced higher education options once they returned from war. This was an attractive benefit since the people on the reservations were faced with limited access to and financial resources for higher education oppertunties.

According to Nathan Aaseng, the Navajo Marines had to gain the trust of the white American soldiers in their military troops. The Navajo soldiers were targets for discrimination and ridicule by the white soldiers. During World War II, the American Indians were not fully assimilated into the white American society, therefore, the white soldiers were suspicious of the native American soldiers. The white soldiers thought the Native American soldiers looked like the Japanese people. Due to their skin color and the lack of facial hair, the white soldiers put these two races in the same category. At one point, some soldiers overheard the Navajo Code Talkers speaking in the Navajo language message code and assumed the Japanese had overcome the Marines and gained control of the American radios. All the soldiers fighting in World War II had fears of dying, this was magnified for the Navajo soldiers, that were targeted by two groups of people during the war. The first is considered the enemy, Japanese and German soldiers, and the other is the United States soliders that fought side-by-side with each other. The additional pressure placed on the Navajo soldiers must have had a tremendous negative impact during the war on them physically and emotionally. There were two different enemies toward the Native American soldiers, they had to be on high alert for most of their time during the war.

The experiences of the Navajo code talkers during the war are described by both Zachary Spalding and Nathan Aaseng. The Navajo soldiers were under a magnitude of stress. Of course all soldiers were in constant fear of death, the Navajo soldiers, especially the code talkers, had an additional fear of capture and torture by the enemy. According the Zachary Spalding, the Navajo soldiers we provided an additional gun to commit suicide in case of capture by the Japanese or German soldiers. The Japanese and German soliders were focusing efforts to capture the Navajo code talkers, since the code talkers were valuable in thier efforts to decipher the United States communication code. The Japanese and German soldiers were not the only concern the Navajo soliders faced. The Navajo soldiers had a constant worry wondering if the white soldiers would fight with or against them. The knowledge of both enemies put a tremendous amount of stress on the soldiers. As explained by Nathan Aaseng, many of the Navajo soldiers had a protection detail assigned to them during ground or hand-to-hand combat. Along with this same thought, Zachary Spalding explained that most Navajo soldiers were not aware of the protection detail until the war ended. It is unfortunate that the Navajo soldiers were not aware of the protection detail, this knowledge may have relieved some of their worries of the white soldiers retaliating against them.

World War II played another part in our history, other than defeating Japan and Germany. The war signified a major break from the past. The war was instrumental in expanding the Pan-Indian movement. According to Robert Thomas, The Pan-Indian movement “can be defined as the expression of a new identity and the institutions and symbols which are both an expression of that new identity.” Due to the Pan-Indian movement, Native Americans assimilated into white American society. This was especially noticed after the war. As we know American Indians served in the military, but during the war, American Indians joined the industrial industries provided by the war efforts. Still to this day, despite the Pan-Indian movement there are two very large concentrations of Indians who modified the tribal outlook. They are found in the Southwest and Eastern Oklahoma, but modern urban influences are pressing in on these tribes very fast, especially in the southwest. The people in Oklahoma are fortunate and are exposed to the Indian culture. The tribes of Oklahoma are a permanent fixture of Oklahoma history and landscape.

In the year 1945, the Navajo soldiers returned home without any fan fair or appreciation for the service they provided during World War II. The code talkers program was classified and unknown to the general public until 1968. Finally, the code talkers program was de-classified in 1968, the United States leaders, military members, and the Navajo soldiers were successful in keeping the code confidential all these years. It took fifty-five years for the Navajo soldiers and their families to be recognized for their brave service to the military during World War II. According to Adam Jevec, “The ‘Honoring the Code Talkers Act,’ introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico in April 2000 and signed into law December 21, 2000, called for recognition of the Navajo code talkers.” The act allowed the President of the United States to present the Congressional gold medal to the original code talkers. In 2001 the medals were given to the surviving Navajo soldiers or their immediate family members.

In conclusion, this research paper shows the Indian people in recent day history, still have the conviction to save their land. With the creation and use of the Navajo code, the United States shared great success with the other world nations, to defeat the Japanese and Germany invasion. The willingness of the Native Americans to serve and participate in the war efforts is the definition of the brave and honorable Native American spirit. The knowledge of the mistreatment of Native Americans by the white American people is a true testament of the Native Americans readiness to fight along with the white American people for this great land. I will suggest, that the white American people would probably not have the same viewpoint as the native Americans to stand and fight with the Native Americans, if the Native Americans controlled the politics in the United States.   

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The Navajo Language as the Key to Victory During World War I. (2022, August 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
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