1.2. CRYPTOGRAPHY DURING THE TWO WORLD WARS 9 ping and listening to conversations whenever and wherever possible. It thus became critically important for the Americans to send coded messages. As the Choctaws were overheard in conversation in the command posts, officers thought about using the Choctaw native tongue to send coded mes- sages. They tried successfully using the Choctaw language with two bat- talions and found no surprise attacks. The officials now knew that this linguistic system could work. For the most part these messages were sent as natural communications without additional coding. There were some issues, as some words were not in the Chocktaw vocabulary. This led to codewords being substituted, such as “big gun” for artillery, “stone” for grenade, and “little gun shoot fast” for machine gun. Telephone and radio were the most efficient means of communication, yet were highly susceptible to penetration however, the use of the Choctaw language baffled the Ger- mans, who were unable to decipher the language or the coded vocabulary. Some coded written messages in Choctaw were given to runners to protect their secrecy from the Germans, who often captured Americans to steal the valuable information. The most famous group of code talkers were the Navajos, who were used in the Pacific during World War II (see Figure 1.3). It all began with an older gentleman, a WWI veteran himself, reading a paper on the mas- sive death tolls encountered by the Americans and their efforts to create a safe encryption code. Philip Johnston was a missionary’s son who grew up playing with Navajo children and learned their language as a boy. He was perhaps one of merely 30 non-Navajos who could understand their language. He knew that the U.S. had befuddled the Germans in World War I by us- ing Choctaws to transmit messages in their own language on field phones. Thus, in combination with his war experience and with his intricate knowl- edge of the Navajo language, he realized that this could be the key to an unbreakable code. The Navajo marines and the few others who understood the language trained like all other marines their desert and rough lifestyle actually benefited them during rigorous training. But in addition they were trained for radio communications and were tasked to create a unique code that would soon be used on the battlefield. Their language was very com- plex, which helped the security of their encrypted messages. For example, the Navajo language has at least ten different verbs for different kinds of carrying, depending on the shape and physical properties of the thing being carried. Also, depending on the tone or pitch of the speaker’s voice, the same word could have a multitude of meanings. Even prefixes can be added to a verb, as many as ten different ones, to the point where one word in Navajo can take the place of a whole sentence in English. Although their language seemed quite uninterpretable in its natural form, they took it a step further. To further encrypt the messages, they created the code that would be utilized on the front lines. The Navajo code initially consisted of a 234-word vocabulary, which over the course of WWII grew to some 450 words. Some military terms not found in the Navajo
Previous Page Next Page