Figure 1.3. Newton’s Photograph from the Smithso-
nian Exhibit on American Indian Code Talkers. http://
language were given specific code names, while others were spelled out. For
example, “dive bomber” became “gini” (the Navajo word for chicken hawk).
Even when they would spell words out, the word remained complex. Each
English letter was assigned a corresponding English word to represent it and
then that word was translated into Navajo. For example, z became “zinc”
which then became “besh-do-gliz”, and those letters that were frequently
used were given three word variations so that a pattern, if decrypted by
the enemy, could not easily be found. As an indication of its complexity,
consider the code in a message sent in 1944: “A-woh Tkin Ts-a Yeh-hes
Wola-chee A-chen Al-tah-je-jay Khut”, which translated means, “Tooth Ice
Needle Itch Ant Nose Attack Ready or now” corresponding to the decrypted
message, TINIAN Attack Ready.
The Navajo code talkers could take a three-line English message and
encode, transmit, and decode it in twenty seconds. A machine would take
thirty minutes. Their unique skills were an important asset in the victories
in WWII. Some Japanese thought it could be a tribal language, and there
were cases where Navajo soldiers in POW camps were tortured and forced
to listen to these encrypted messages. But all they could tell was that
it was just incoherent jumbled words in Navajo. In order to decode the
transmission, one had to be fluent in English, Navajo, and know the secret
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