The Importance of Native American code talkers

Many different war codes were used during WWI, but most of them all had the same downfall—the German forces were generally able to figure them out. That all changed when Choctaws fighting for the Americans thought to start using their own language, with which Germany was not familiar. This led to a great new era of Native American war codes, which helped the Americans and their allies to maintain the secrecy they desired.

Germany was using more tactics than simple deduction and deciphering. They were also using wire taps and capturing spies. Any method of communication was therefore compromised, as the Germans were able to receive just about any message sent out, even when war codes were used. This necessitated the birth of the Choctaw Telephone Squad. Since Germany was not used to communications with Native Americans, their wire taps were useless when soldiers were speaking in Native American languages. These so-called “code talkers” gave troops from the United States a new advantage, and one which was previously unheard of.

Not only were the Native American languages rare, but they were seldom ever recorded in written form. This meant that the Germans were unlikely to figure out any sort of codex for the messages they were overhearing. Aside from the added security, these new war codes had the benefit of not really being encrypted at all, meaning Choctaw soldiers could decrypt the messages immediately upon receiving them.

There was some tragic irony in the use of the Choctaw language for military applications. The days of the “savage” were apparently not long behind some Americans, and schools still considered them to be uncivilized. This meant that the same languages used as war codes meant beatings and punishment for Native American schoolchildren who spoke their native tongues rather than English at any point. Despite the adversity their people faced in the time of their need, the Choctaw soldiers were never proud nor spiteful; they did their duty to the war without question., the BBC News reports.

The Choctaw war codes were not the last of their kind, with other Native American tribes used for the same purpose in later conflicts such was WWII. These include the Comanche tribe and, among the most famous, the Navajo. The use of such languages was especially difficult for the Germans to comprehend since, even if they had some sort of codex, they would have found that Native Americans did not have a lot of military terms in their languages. This meant that they had to improvise new meanings for words that already existed, making the war codes even more difficult for the enemy to decrypt.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE