25 November 2007


No study or discussion of codes and cryptography would be complete without an in-depth look at the major contributions made by the Navajo tribe to the fighting during world war 2, as well as the sacrifices made by these brave soldiers and their families.
To this day native Americans, especially the Navajo, are treated like second-class citizens throughout society. For decades, they were stripped of their culture, their language and their identity. They were locked away on reservations, forbidden to speak their language. Their children were forced to attend boarding schools where they were beaten and ridiculed if caught speaking their native
tongue. They were made to wear school uniforms, instead of their traditional clothing. They were taught that they were savages, and that the only way they could become "civilized" was to forget all things Navajo, and embrace the so-called American way of life and the English language.

Yet, when the US was in trouble in the war with Japan, the Navajos couldn't wait to join the marines, and offer their very special language as an unbreakable code; the very same language that the (our) government had tried so hard to eradicate.

In the march towards Iwo Jima, and ultimately the bombing campaign for Japan, virtually all of the American codes had been broken by the Japanese cryptography department. Without secure communications, US forces stood almost no chance of defeating the enemy. A search was on for a secure, accurate and quick method of relaying messages on the battle front.

During WW1, other native American languages had been used as codes, and with some success. These other languages had, however been learned by foreign students from Germany, Japan and other countries. No one, however, that hadn't been raised in the Navajo tongue could speak it with any efficiency. Phillip Johnston,(1) who had been raised on the Navajo reservation by his missionary parents, spoke the language. What's more, he knew that probably no one outside of the United States could understand it. When Phillip got word of the communication dilemma facing the armed forces, he recalled hearing of the WW1 codes, and spoke with communications officers at the San Diego Marine base, suggesting using Navajo for a completely secure code.

Although not immediately convinced, the military agreed to view a demonstration from the Navajos to see if it was feasible. In 1942, a pilot unit of 29 young Navajos started the Navajo code talkers.

There were quite a few obstacles. The Navajo language had no words for bomb, or submarine, or dive bomber. Code words were designated for over 400 specific military terms.(2) These all had to be committed to memory. There also had to be a way to spell out words for which no code word had been assigned. And they had to avoid the enemy of all encryption; repetition. These young warriors, used to overcoming many difficult obstacles and, most importantly, to memorizing lenghty stories verbatim (Navajo has no written language) made quick work of devising a code that would work in the heat of battle, and ensure that the vital messages were only understood by their intended recipients.

These soldiers and the code that they developed saved many lives, and hundreds of battles large and small were won due in no small part to the deep patriotism and bravery of the Navajo people, and their willingness to serve the country that, quite frankly, treated them like garbage.(3) Not until over 50 years after the war, and after many of these young men had died, were their contributions recognized by the military. They still have no VA services available close to home. They have struggled with payment, health care, housing and many other things the rest of the country takes for granted.

I, for one, salute them. For your commitment and bravery, and from the bottom of my heart; THANK YOU!

(1) For a short, but thorough history of the Navajo language code, get the booklet "PHILLIP JOHNSTON and the NAVAJO CODE TALKERS" by Syble Lagerquist

(2) A good representation of the code, as well as another view of it's history and development can be found in Simon Singh's "The Code Book"

(3) For a wonderful visual introduction of the code talkers, as well as the chance to see some of the men involved and actually hear the code being spoken, PBS.org has the video "TRUE WHISPERS" available. The cost is about $30.00. I highly recommend this video to any student of the history of military codes, or of Native American culture.

10 November 2007

And a reader writes:

AMEN to all of it brother! Minimum wage should go back down to 5.50 or less. It irritates me that people complain about it. If you don't like it, do something about it! Get a better job, study to better yourself, not force the government to pay you more because you don't have ambition.

05 November 2007


I've been asked a few times to explain my political and personal beliefs (I believe the exact words were along the lines of "What kind of nut case ARE you?). For my readers who want to know, here's my personal statement.
I'm a died-in-the-wool hillbilly. I have lived most of my life in the mountains. Flapjacks for breakfast, trout for lunch and venison for supper sound like a balanced diet to me.
My ideal life is cutting wood, hunting for food and living in a log cabin; the last house on a long dirt road.
I'm an NRA member, own 5 guns, 16 hunting knives and a crossbow. I'm a fervent defender of the constitution. I think the second amendment is there in case the police/military/congress/courts forget about the rest of them.
I hunt, fish, eat lots of red meat, and believe that God put animals on earth to feed and serve mankind.
I'm a conservative Christian; albeit a little back sliding. I keep a Bible by my easy chair and another by my bed. I believe that the Bible is the complete word of God, and the only one.
I'm anti abortion, anti cloning and anti embryonic stem cell research.
I'm a passionate Republican! I voted for Reagan and The Bushes twice; each. I believe Clinton should have been impeached for lying.
I don't believe in term limits. There is a mandatory term limit imposed by God; everyone dies eventually! If people like a politician, they should be able to keep him or her in office as long as possible. If you don't like them, don't vote for them.
I believe eminent domain is a license to steal.
I believe that the CIA should be listening to every call that goes in or out of the United States, but don't believe that anyone has the right to listen to domestic calls or read domestic mail; e or otherwise.
I don't believe in welfare unless some one absolutely can't (not won't) work. Then the public should support them with dignity, and not make them feel like beggars. Unless they're an illegal alien. Then they should be deported. The drunks and junkies can support themselves or starve.
I think the minimum wage should be $5.50. Everywhere.
I think the labor unions have destroyed the ability of the US to effectively compete in the world market.
I believe that English is our national language. If you want to live here, learn it.
That's what I believe. Agree? Disagree? Think I should be elected to office? Locked up in a padded cell? Let me know.