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The Altruism of the Navajo
By Christina Tsosie
Sanders, AZ


Every country has its own genocide: Hitler has the Jews, Mussolini butchered his people; Russia has its soldiers; Japan slaughtered the Chinese; and the United States, murdered Native Americans. The U.S. government has tortured and brutally slaughtered millions of Native Americans throughout the centuries following the establishment of the United States Government. They have forced many Native Americans from their homelands and have relocated them to dry, desolate areas unwanted by the government, lands viewed as useless and unproductive.

We, the Navajo have experienced this. Most of the reservation reserved for us is dry and empty, and there are hardly any rivers, no lakes and little grass. Were it not for wells and the monsoon seasons, we would have all died of thirst.

Many Navajos died during the Long Walk. The elders suffered greatly and they died slow, painful deaths. With them, died the knowledge of traditions and customs that they possessed, knowledge that had not been passed on to younger generations. The Navajos were forced to walk long distances in extreme weather conditions. Some that were straggling behind, were left behind to die alone. The soldiers watching over the Navajos were cruel and heartless.
Navajos who had been forced to march to Bosque Redondo have said that the soldiers executed anyone who posed a threat or even unknowingly displayed any indication of disagreement. They were taken behind a hill or in the distance to be shot or slaughtered. (Dinetah: An Early History of the Navajo People)

About a quarter of the marchers died from starvation, dysentery and illnesses. They died without burial, their bodies left above the surface of earth to be ravaged by vultures and coyotes. Upon arrival in Bosque Redondo, the surviving Navajo were forced to build the fort and they were given meager rations. The Navajos did not complain though, they endured through this imprisonment with strength and dignity.

After they left Bosque Redondo, they were supposed to head toward Oklahoma, where the government had planned to relocate all indigenous people. However, plans were changed because the Navajo people were just too many, and the soldiers feared an uprising should the Long Walk continue. The government ordered the people back to their homes and told them to live within the Navajo reservation that was reserved for them.

Things were not the same after the Long Walk. Stories of the cruelty of the U.S. soldiers haunted and spread among the Navajos. Soon, a strong and wide hatred and bitterness toward the government was embedded into the minds of the survivors of the Long Walk. Little did they know, their descendants were to save the very nation that their ancestors hated.

In 1942, Phillip Johnston, a Caucasian who was fluent in the Navajo Language, proposed a plan to the U.S. Marines who were in dire need of a language they could use to transmit codes during World War II. Phillip Johnston convinced the U.S. Marines that Navajo was very unique and could never be broken by the Japanese. The Japanese would find it impossible to decipher it because of its tonal qualities, intricate syntax and idioms. No more than 30 non-Navajos could speak and understand the language.

This was the language that would be used to transmit codes that would win, and end the war, and would save millions of soldiers’ lives; it changed the entire outcome of the war. The Japanese cryptographers, who were extremely clever in deciphering codes, were dumbfounded by the language.

Being a Code Talker was a tremendously risky profession. The Navajo Code Talkers were often mistaken for Japanese and were killed by their own comrades. Should a Navajo Code talker become at risk of being captured by the Japanese, they were to be executed by their own side to prevent the chances of the Japanese from getting information on attacks. The Navajo Code Talkers were aware of this, yet they were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect the code and to help win the war.

Although the United States government had committed unforgivable atrocities against the Navajos, we still defended this nation. The Navajo Code Talkers became the sole saviors of this nation. They fought in the first Marine attack on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 where they first landed. The Navajo Code Talkers served in all six Marine divisions. The Code Talkers were apart of every battle that the Marines fought.

“Were it not for the Navajo, the Marines would have never taken Iwo Jima.” (Navajo Code, paragraph 5) Declared Major Howard Connor a 5th Marine Division signals officer. During World War II, many did not know about the involvement of the Navajo language. It was not until 1968 that the role of the Navajo Code Talkers was revealed. The government wanted to keep it a secret until then because they wanted to use the code again should the need ever arise. They may have also wanted to keep it a secret because during World War II Navajo children in reservation schools were constantly being reprimanded for speaking Navajo, and may not have wanted Americans to think that their government was hypocritical during a time of war.

The Navajo Code Talkers had served their country with bravery, courage and selflessness. Despite the fact that the United States had murdered and ravaged indigenous tribes all over North America, we have proudly served and protected this nation that has caused many deaths and suffering to our people for centuries. Perhaps it is our warrior impulse to fight, or our willingness to sacrifice our lives for our families and loved ones before anyone else. Whatever the reason we fight for, we are exceptionally good at it.

Native Americans have served this country with distinction for more than 200 years. Throughout history, we have served this great nation more than any other ethnic group. This is a part of our tradition. Strength, honor, pride, wisdom, dedication and loyalty are distinctive values that we as Native Americans are born with. The Navajo Code Talkers are living proof of that fact.

“The real secret which makes the Indian such an outstanding soldier is his enthusiasm for the fight. --U.S. Army Major, 1912” (Native Americans in the U.S. Military, paragraph 13)

The bravery, courage, wisdom strength, and honor that the Native Americans have served this country with so dutifully will carry on in the years to come. As a Native American, it is my duty to carry on the tradition, which I am honored to execute.

I am fascinated by history. However writing is my first love, I want to become a journalist and cover stories. I firmly believe that through journalism, I can expose the many trials and tribulations of Native Americans, as well as their victories and accomplishments. For instance, the Navajo Code Talkers have been ignored for so long and they have not been given the praise that their contributions in World War II deserves. Perhaps my accomplishments as a journalist will inspire others to achieve wondrous goals and I can be there to cover their stories and expose their accomplishments so that others will be encouraged achieve their goals.


Works Cited

Native Americans and the U.S. Military. Online. 14 April 2008

Navajo Code. Online. 14 April 2008

Navajo Code Talkers Association. Online. 14 April 2008

Navajo Code Talkers. Online. April 14, 2008

Sundberg, Lawrence. Dinetah: An Early History of the Navajo People. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1995



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