Code Talkers: Serving With Their Native Language


Navajo Code Talkers; June 1944
Public Domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

During World War II, a few groups of people used their own language to communicate secret messages, and they were never discovered. Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland tell about these groups and their impact.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It is 1943. Many nations are fighting in World War II. In the South Pacific, soldiers from the United States land on a beach. There are loud noises of shouting and guns. There is a lot of smoke and blood. Many soldiers are dying and injured. In the middle of this, two men are crouched down, near the ground. One of them is wearing a headset and talking into a microphone. Another one is turning the handle of a radio. They talk into the radio. But these American soldiers are not speaking English. The soldiers are Native Americans. They are talking in a special code. This code is made from their native language. Today’s Spotlight is on the Code Talkers of World War II.

Voice 2 

In a code system, different symbols and words replace other letters or words. It is almost like making a new language. For example, instead of saying the letter ‘D’ someone could say the English word ‘dog.’ When two people know the same code they can communicate with each other. Anyone else who is listening cannot understand!

Voice 1 

In times of war, people often use special codes so that their enemies cannot understand them. Other countries work hard to decipher, or understand, the code. If you understand the code that your enemy is using, you can learn their plans. But the United States used one code that no one ever deciphered. This was a code based on the Native American languages of North America.

Voice 2 

Native American code talkers first served in the US army in World War One. David Hatch is a historian with the United States National Security Agency. He tells the Al Jazeera news organization about how the idea for this special code began:

Voice 3 

“One of the officers heard some of his men talking in a language he did not recognize. He found they had one military group that had soldiers who were from the Choctow tribe. And he got the brilliant idea of using the Choctaws as communicators. They did that and completely fooled the Germans. Eventually it became an official program in the Army.”

Voice 1 

In World War II, over 600 Code talkers served in the US Army. The Code talkers came from 33 different Native American tribes. Each of these tribes has a different language. But more than half of the Code talkers were Navajo. Outside of a small area in the United States, very few people know the Navajo language. And Navajo is a very complex language. Often, one Navajo word can mean many different things, depending on how it is said. These things made Navajo perfect to use as code. Chester Nez was one of the first Navajo code talkers. He told about the beginnings of the Navajo code in a video:

Voice 4 

“My group was the original 29 Navajo Code talkers. We developed our own code. It had to do with a lot of army activities. We were told to use the ABC’s all the way down to Z. We used common names of animals and fish.”

Voice 2 

The Navajo Code talkers trained as soldiers with the rest of the army. But they also had another job to do. The first 29 made the code for using over the radio. After them, all the new Navajo Code talkers had to memorize this code, to remember it completely. They would use it to send secret messages over the radio. The Code talkers then went to fight for the US army in the Pacific islands. Chester Nez explains their work:

Voice 4 

“We had a small box radio. One Code talker would make the battery work. The other Code talker would use the microphone and send the message. I spent four years overseas. It is a very difficult situation to be in the battle field.”

Voice 1 

Fighting for the United States was a particularly difficult situation for the Code talkers. The US government had treated their people badly. Kevin Gover is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian. He tells how the US government put Native American children in special schools. At these schools the children were not permitted to speak in their native languages. They were separated from their families, their communities and their cultures. They lost their ability to speak their own languages. The government’s goal was to end these native cultures. And yet, during the war, the US government wanted to use these languages to fight other countries. Gover told Al Jazeera:

Voice 5 

“The whole idea of Native Americans serving the United States in the military is full of complexity. The United States kept pushing down Native culture in many ways. And yet Native Americans found reason to go to war for the United States. When we fight for the United States we are fighting for our Native American nation as well.”

Voice 2 

When the war was over, the Code talkers came home. But they could not tell anyone about their service to the US Army. The Navajo code was an army secret. However, in 1963, the US government released information about the brave work of the Code talkers. In 2001, the US government gave the Code talkers the congressional gold medal. Many of the Code talkers had died by this time. But Chester Nez travelled to receive this high honour. Nez told CNN:

Voice 4 

”Our Navajo code was one of the most important military secrets of World War II. The army did not tell us Navajo men how to develop that code. They trusted in us and in our abilities. For that I am thankful.”

Voice 1 

Since that time, Chester Nez has also died. But he knew that his country was also thankful for him. Along with the other code talkers, Nez is an important part of world history. The Navajo code talkers also showed the importance of the Navajo language. The Code talkers helped to show the value of different peoples’ cultures in the US. As Chester Nez says:

Voice 4 

“My wartime experiences developing a code that used the Navajo language taught how important our Navajo culture is to our country. For me that is the central lesson: that many different cultures can make a country richer and stronger.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Code Talkers: Serving With Their Native Language’.

Voice 1  

Tell us what you think about today’s program. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. And find us on Facebook - just search for Spotlight Radio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you think that many different cultures can make a country richer and stronger? Why or why not?

Comments


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Myway.kaan
said on March 03, 2015

It is totally true to tell that to have different cultures in a country will also bring more rich and a great mosaic in a society. Sure that this could be only achieved by the peace. The peace is really important part to get more benefir from different cultures. Otherwise, this richness will be sensitive to break down…

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Cheer
said on March 04, 2015

Greeting to moderators.
This site is very helpful to improve hearing skill in English.
Thanks in advance for helpful materials to hear.

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PakaAnka
said on March 04, 2015

In my country Ecuador there are many native lenguages. Our people are proud of keep our cultural and traditions.

Thanks friends

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dungn9926@gmail.com
said on March 05, 2015

Code talking is important and secret communication for soldier in the war.It protects enemy fight plan safety.Enemy don’t discover secret.

ebalu's avatar
ebalu
said on April 05, 2015

Nice sentence and it is true too.
“For me that is the central lesson: that many different cultures can make a country richer and stronger.”

This site is a real help for learners of English.

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Merry Xmas
said on January 28, 2016

I am impressed by Native American people. Although being treated unfair and discriminated in the country by the government, when the country needs, they put down the judgements, contributed all their talents with loyalty and courage. Let down the small I for mutual benefits with trust and smart. Really interesting lesson. Thank you Spotlight!

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God is Love
said on January 29, 2016

I often get angry when I know something about this. also how the government treated native americans and as a native speaker of an indigenous language is so sad to me that. to me I would like to be respected and all those natives indians we are same. in this article i can see how the government is unfair. we are one and God´s children :)

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Stácio
said on September 06, 2016

Yes. In my country there are many cultures, there are many accent, so this is very rich, very important in my culture.