The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Navajo Codetalkers

By: Katie Getting

            The first thing you notice when looking at this picture is the radio that the man is talking into.  Without further knowledge, you may have no idea that the radio is actually used to communicate orders between different army units during World War II.  You also may notice the army uniform that tells us that the man is perhaps actually participating in war.  But again, this doesn’t tell us the real significance behind the image.  His facial expression shows great concentration like he’s trying very hard not to mess up and to keep his concentration.  What is he focusing on with so much effort?  Finally, you might notice his skin color and that it’s darker than the usual American soldier’s skin tone.  This is when the question of what his racial background is may come into play.  That is in fact the most important observation one should make about this image.
The person in this photo is a Native American from the Navajo tribe, and he is giving orders into a radio during World War II.  He is an individual aggregate of the Native American population and specifically of the Navajo Nation; he is being a representative for all the Navajo codetalkers that chose to help the American army in the war.  Navajos were one of the United States’ secret weapons during the war because they had a language that was virtually impossible to break.  Just because the language used was their native language does not mean that they didn’t need to concentrate and work very hard to decipher it.  Their job was by no means an easy task and that further illustrates how hard they worked to help the Americans succeed in the war.  This fact made it possible for different American units to communicate their locations and their orders without the enemies ever finding anything out.  The fact that Indian groups were accepted into the army and that they were willing to fight for our country was a giant step because of our ill treatment towards them upon arriving in the Americas.  I think their ability to play a significant part in our winning a world war shows their greatness and the gratitude that we owe them.
            The main concept, in my opinion, we should think of when we see this picture is the ability to overcome past disputes for the greater good.  The Navajo could have chosen not to help the Americans in the war with the use of their language, but they didn’t.  Even though these Indians were not always treated with respect, they still knew when their country needed them, and they were ready and willing to respond in any way they could help.  Would we as Americans have been as willing to come to the rescue of the nations that had caused us so many problems?  Or would we have left them to fend for themselves?  Personally, I think we would have held grievances against the wrong doers and wouldn’t have come to their rescue or that we would’ve come to their rescue but not in as willing of a manor.
            There were many issues with the Navajo involvement in WWII most of which centered on the fact that they were commonly mistaken for Japanese soldiers and killed off.  Even though many of their own died, they continued to translate for the United States and even returned to help the United States again during the Korean War.  It was not until early in the Vietnam War that they were finally retired and returned to their reservations after having fulfilled their duty to their country.  This just reiterates the fact that they put the past behind them.  Men fighting on their same side killed them, but they still fought for the United States and never abandoned us.  They truly are the essence of a people of a greater good.

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