Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Code Talker" by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

In the 1920's and 1930's, as the country struggled through the Great Depression, the government waged an all out war to abolish Native American traditions, including their languaugue. This misguided effort would later prove to be a case of true irony as the government sought to find a code that would be unbreakable to the Japanese. Navajo, which had never been written down, became that code.

In this all encompassing memoir, Chester Nez, born "Betoli", which means "light complexion" in Navajo, takes the reader on his journey through both the pre-war years, first as a youngster in the government schools designed to erase his culture, and then through the war years, when that very culture, which the government worked so hard to destroy, was used to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific.

Mr. Nez begins his remarkeable journey on the reservation during the 1920's. He also includes a brief history of the Navajo tribe, and some of their belief systems and traditions in a very reader friendly manner, which serves to heighten the experiences the author would later endure while serving in the Pacific. Drawing on the folklore, and wisdom, of his own people, helped him to survive the war mentally, in much the same way that his military basic training enabled him to survive the war physically.

It is hard to believe, but this is the first, and only, book to have been written by one of the original "Codetalkers". As I said, theirs is an oral culture. Much has been written about them, and films have grossed tremendous amounts of money from their story, but this is the first, authentic account of how the code came to be, and how it was used, to defeat a common enemy.

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