Before the first war , the white Americans had many doubts about the American-Indians living among them. Their doubts traversed from the loyalty of the Indians to the us , their viability as citizens to their right to carry lands and reservations. However, few of the Americans could doubt the proficiency of the Indians as warriors. Since the colonial times, the Indians were known to guard their communities and lands. They proved capable of warfare having served in various wars like the U.S. incursion into Mexico. Hence, when the US entered the primary war , the Indians proved crucial in providing human resources in the war (Winkler 24). Having served well in the First World War, they were recalled once again to deliver services during the Second World War. Their role emanated from the need to maintain secrecy during wartime through the use of secure communication to avoid enemy interception (Dahl 11). It led to the emergence of an unbreakable code; Navajo, whose talkers had a remarkable impact on the world’s history (Gorman 39). The events surrounding the world wars evaluated the different norms and values of American societies besides illuminating on the various aspects of human beings in their past cultures. Besides, the role of language in shaping social lives was unraveled.
Code talkers were people who made use of obscure languages to communicate secretly during wartime (Gilbert 33). The term is almost invariably used to refer to the Native American Marines who served in the US Marine Corps during the World War II taking part in all assaults conducted by the US Marines in the Pacific (Gilbert 33). The term had a strong association with the bilingual Navajo speakers who were communication specialists. Their primary role was the dissemination of secret calculated messages using developed codes that were formulated from their native languages (Gorman 40). Their messages included critical information such as enemy positions, troop movements and other pertinent issues regarding the battlefield. The use of coded language, however, was pioneered by Choctaw and Cherokee Indians during the First World War (Gilbert 33). They made use of their tribal languages to transmit battle messages via telephone which was a significant milestone into the use of coded language in battlefields. Although not used extensively, it proved crucial in helping the Allies to outmaneuver the German forces (Gilbert 32). The Navajo code, however, is remarkable for having been the only oral military code that was never deciphered by enemies (Gorman 41). Besides, it is credited in that some terms coined during its formation are used in the modern day military corps language to refer to objects (Gorman 41).
The use of Navajo code demonstrated the critical use of language as a secret weapon. It was the brainchild of Philip Johnston, a non-Navajo who grew up on the Navajo Indian Reservation and spoke the language frequently (Gorman 43). He was a veteran who had served with the US forces during the First World War, and as such, knew the military’s need for a code that could not be deciphered whatsoever (Gorman 43). Besides, he had prior knowledge of the usage of Native American languages in coding messages during the war, notably Choctaw (Gorman 43). After staging tests in simulated combat conditions and establishing that Navajo men could encode, relay and decode information in shorter times than that achieved by machines, the idea was accepted by the then commanding general (Winkler 25). The Navajo language has the advantage of having complex grammar besides being unintelligible to people who had not been trained extensively or exposed to the tongue (Winkler 25). Its unintelligibility was tagged on its dialects and the complex syntax and tonal qualities. The original code talkers were 29 Navajo tribal members who helped to design the first Navajo code (Dahl 11). The system comprised of a phonetic alphabet of 26 letters in addition to an English vocabulary which had its Navajo equivalents. This system was much more time-saving as compared to conventional codes used by the Marine Corps (Dahl 11).
The code made use of poetic circumlocution was difficult for even a Navajo speaker to comprehend the commands (Gilbert 34). Most letters were represented by more than one Navajo word. The complexity of the code necessitated training to new recruits who upon successful completion were sent to different marine divisions (Gilbert 34). Training involved teaching concepts and relevant words to newly recruited members using a codebook. The codebook was reserved for classroom situations and could not be taken out to the field (Gorman 46). It reasserted on the need for secrecy in a war so as to gain victory over the enemy. Navajos were frequently exchanged across divisions to ensure that they spoke a standard code in a bid to combat the development of different dialects which would otherwise prove problematic (Gilbert 36). Navajos were famed for their provision of secure and error-free communication. Also, they were outstanding general-duty Marines who were crucial in various operations (Gorman 46). They continued to be deployed in different wars such as the Korean War up to until the war in Vietnam when their deployment ended (Gorman 47).
The aftermaths of the Second World War, in part, served to bring the Indians closer to mainstream culture in addition to propagating the mainstream media into the reservation life (Dahl 11). After the war, most Native American soldiers did not return to the reservations, and instead, they choose to stay in the cities. By 1950s, Close to 21 percent of the Native Americans were living in the cities as compared to a meager 2.5 percent who were residing in the towns as of 1940s (Gilbert 51). The exposure to white culture made the Native Americans to realize the disparities between them and the whites (Dahl 11). The privileges that they had been accustomed to in their service drove their quest for education and better remuneration. It marked a new era in the lives of the Indians and an uprising of activism by Native Americans (Dahl 11). For instance, political activism was propagated through lobbying for equal voting rights in addition to seeking for amendment of laws that made alcohol unavailable to Indians. It also served to make them more familiar to the non-Indian Americans in both social and political realms (Winkler 41).
In conclusion, American-Indians played a crucial role in America’s victory during World War II. It was through concerted efforts using language as a tool to conquer your enemies. The war ensured Indian citizenship which was crucial in enhancing pluralism among American societies and in the reservations. The role of the Indians in the war, therefore, proved vital in reshaping the American society and its tribal life. It reaffirms on the critical role of anthropology in defining the roles of language in our communities, evaluating the different norms and values of societies besides illuminating on the various aspects of human beings in their past cultures.
Dahl, Amanda. “The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II: The Long Journey Towards Recognition.” Historical Perspectives: Santa Clara University Undergraduate Journal of History, Series II 21.1 (2017): 11.
Gilbert, Ed. Native American Code Talker in World War II. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.
Gorman, Zonnie. The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II: The First Twenty-Nine. Diss. 2016.
Winkler, Allan M. Home Front USA: America during World War II. John Wiley & Sons, 2014.