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Codetalkers

Codetalkers were Native Americans used during wars to transmit secret messages using codes based on their native languages. Originally Choctaws, Comanches, and other tribes were used; later the military concentrated on Navajos.

Contary to popular conception, the code did not consist of simply speaking in Navajo. The code talkers, together with U.S. military advisors, developed an alphabet code in which each letter of an English message was converted to an English word starting with that letter, and then the Navajo translation of that word would be transmitted. See the link at the end of the article to see the now-declassified codebook.

The Japanese never cracked the spoken code, and high military officers have stated that the United States would never have won the battle of Iwo Jima without the secrecy afforded by the code talkers.

Native American languages were chosen for several reasons. Most importantly, of course, Native Americans are easy to recruit inside the United States, while very few would be available to the German and Japanese forces. Almost as importantly, the languages chosen were purely oral languages, with no written form, making it much more difficult for non-speakers to deal with. In addition, non-native speakers would find it extremely difficult to hear accurately the complex phonology of these languages. Finally, the additional layer of an alphabet code was intended to prevent casual interception by native speakers, in the event of their capture by the Japanese.

Ironically, the Navajo spoken code is not very complex by cryptographic standards of the time, and might have been broken if a native speaker and trained cryptographers worked together effectively. The Japanese had an opportunity to do so when they captured Joe Kieyoomia[?] in the Philippines in 1942. Kieyoomia, a Navajo Seargeant in the U.S. Army, was ordered to interpret the radio messages. They made no sense to him, and when he reported that he could not understand the messages, his captors tortured him, according to his own account. If instead his captors had brought skilled cryptographers to work with Kieyoomia, it is more than possible that they could have broken the code.

External link: [Navajo Code Talkers' Dictionary (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-4.htm)] This is a white man's attempt to write the language, e.g. "tkoh" should be "tó". Could some Diné transliterate it into proper spelling?



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