Speaking in Tongue-Twisters

War isn’t only hell, it’s also layered with ironies. Take the tiny hunk of Japanese rock invaded by the U.S. during the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima, where an iconic image of WWII in the Pacific emerged: Joe Rosenthal’s photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. One of the clinchers for this ass-kicking victory was the linguistic contribution of a relative handful of Native American soldiers, many of whom had had their ancestral languages beaten out of them only a few years earlier in English-only boarding schools. But without the Code Talkers, military experts claim the States would have sustained a floor-mopping of their own, à la Notre Dame football circa 2007. The Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Native Words, Native Warriors” offers oral histories, videos, and photographs that provide both overdue recognition and top-secret insights into the experiences of these hermeneutic heroes. Also known as Windtalkers, the 29 Marines used Navajo and other native languages in combination with pre-existing military encryption to weave an impenetrable thicket of obscure phonemes. In fact, the U.S. military had used (literally) Native Americans from more than two dozen tribes to relay vital intelligence in code, but it wasn’t until 2001 that these cats finally received their much-deserved props when President Bush formally recognized four of the surviving original Code Talkers.
Oct. 26-Jan. 6, 2007
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Peter Breslin