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Navajo Code Talkers
After the United States joined World War II, figuring out how to communicate with far flung troops stationed throughout the world from central command posts became a necessity. There were multiple means of communication, but all were subject to enemy interception, and if the enemy were able to understand what American troops were planning, they would have an advantage. The U.S. Army and Navy had previously developed a machine called “SIGABA” to turn communications into codes that could only be translated back using another SIGABA machine at the other end. But machines like SIGABA were not practical for the everyday transmission of orders that would need to happen between ships, from ship to shore, and from ground to air, so other secure communication codes needed to be developed—codes that were easy to use but not easy to break.
Philip Johnston, a former service member, developed a potential solution to this problem: to develop a secret code based on the language of the Navajo, the most populous extant Native American tribe. Johnston, whose parents were missionaries, had grown up on Navajo land, where he’d made friends with the other children and become fluent in their language. In time, he even acted as a translator between the Navajo and the American government. Given his knowledge, Johnston felt that the complexities of the language, especially its unique sounds, would make it a strong code. In fact, those sounds, in addition to its unusual grammar, are what make Navajo nearly impenetrable to non-speakers.
Johnston brought his idea to James E. Jones, a Marine signals officer, who was wary of the idea at first. One of his main objections was that Native American languages, Navajo included, didn’t have their own words for the military equipment of the time. Words such as “machine gun” had actually been adopted into the language. As a result, key elements would easily be understood by the enemy. However, Johnston countered that other indigenous words could be substituted, such as “rapid fire gun” for “machine gun.” Eventually, Jones was convinced that there might be merit to the idea.
Jones and Johnston arranged to make a combat simulation test for Clayton B. Vogel, Jones’ commanding officer. Johnston found four Navajo men in Los Angeles and brought them to the Marine base for a demonstration involving two of the Navajo situated at one end of the building and the others placed at the far end. When messages were translated back into English, there was no loss of meaning. Vogel was so impressed with the demonstration that he requested permission from his superiors to recruit two hundred Navajo for a pilot program. However, military leaders only authorized thirty recruits.
◙ (A) Many of the recruits had never been off the Navajo reservation, let alone seen an ocean. ◙ (B) Some were too young to join the military, and some were too old, but given a lack of official birth records, they permitted to join. ◙ (C) Of the original thirty, twenty-nine continued through the program. ◙ (D) These initial recruits were able to develop a code dictionary and guide of two parts: an alphabet that primarily used animals as substitutes for each letter, and a set of Navajo substitutions for two-hundred eleven English vocabulary words. Once learned, this code was a quick and easy way to transmit messages. Additionally, Navajo receiving messages could tell if the person on the other side was a native speaker or not given the intricacies of the language, as no one who’d learned Navajo as a second language would be able to speak it with the proper fluency.
Eventually, over four hundred twenty Navajo were recruited to the program. Navajo code talkers, as they became known, were placed within all six divisions of Marines in the Pacific, and their service proved instrumental to the United States’ war effort. The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the turning points in the conflict with the Japanese, and according to Major Howard Conner, the Navajo code talkers played a key role: “The entire operation was directed by Navajo code… During the two days that followed the initial landings I had six Navajo radio nets working around the clock… They sent and received over 800 messages without an error. Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines never would have taken Iwo Jima.”
What was important in the development of a new communication method according to paragraph 1?
The word “impenetrable” in paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to
It can be inferred from paragraph 2 that Philip Johnston
The phrase “wary of” in paragraph 3 is closest in meaning to
The phrase “adopted into” in paragraph 3 is closest in meaning to
It can be inferred from the fourth paragraph that the heads of the U.S. military
According to paragraph 5, what can be understood about the initial Navajo trainees?
Why does the author quote Major Howard Conner?
Look at the four squares [◙] that indicate where the following sentence can be added to the passage.
Marine recruiters went to the Navajo reservation and were easily able to enlist the thirty young men.
Where would the sentence best fit?
An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentence do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor ideas in the passage.
This question is worth two points.
During World War II, the United States military needed secure ways to communicate with troops.