Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Week 48: Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

This book was written from the perspective of Ned Begay, who was taken from his parents at an early age and enrolled in a white school to learn English and to forget the Navajo language. Still fluent as a teenager (despite his teachers' best efforts to beat Navajo out of him), Ned was recruited by the Marines to create and use wartime Navajo code. He becomes a "code talker", the Marines' best kept secret communication weapon.

The Navajo language is filled with tones and inflections and complex sounds which couldn't be deciphered by Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese soldiers. Navajos were selected to produce a code that could be used to communicate during battles when other messages might be intercepted. The story of the Navajo code talkers could not be told for a long time. The story was declassified thirty years after WWII ended, too late for many of the code talkers to be publicly recognized and rewarded.

Since Nicholas Cage did the movie "Codetalkers" in the 1990's, I always wanted to know more about this part of American history. This book contained a lot of what the movie missed: the real history of the battles in which the Navajo code talkers participated. Although the main character was fictional, the author used historically accurate facts to create the background. (The author mentions Cage's film - and notes that it focuses on the non-Indian character more than the story of the code talkers - I hear a remake in the works!)

This book was relatively easy to read and yet it was poignant in its simplicity. The author continually reminds his readers of the irony of the code talkers' plight - their language was so abhorred by the U.S. that teachers beat it out of Navajo children - and then the same language saved thousands of lives during WWII. I wonder how many of us would so selflessly sacrifice our own pride to save those who tried to crush us. The Navajos' story is an amazing lesson in humility and gentleness.

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