How the Navajo Made Winning in the Pacific Easy

Have you heard of the “Code Talkers” of World War II? Awesome story, actually…

As the U.S. advanced into ground combat in the Pacific mid-1942, there was a real need for the troops to have a secure means to coordinate advances via radio in a way that the Japanese couldn’t intercept and foil. The communication needed to be encrypted and unbreakable.

While they could have spent precious months or years (as the Germans had) developing a complicated enigma-like coding system, they needed the results NOW. Lives were on the line. Allied soldiers attempted to use American slang as a way to confuse Japanese radio operators, but to no avail. The Japanese enlisted radio operators who’d grown up in the U.S. and were fluent in English.

The solution to secure radio transmissions was simple if you were willing to make it simple.

The break came when a Civil Engineer in L.A. named Philip Johnson learned of the problem. Johnson grew up on a reservation in the Navajo Nation and was convinced that the Navajo language was the answer to the military’s quandary.

He knew the tonal intricacies of the Navajo language made it almost impossible to learn, interpret or understand. To the untrained ear the sound “likened to the rumble of a moving freight train, the gurgling noises of a partially blocked sink drain, or, jokingly, the resonant thunder of an old-fashioned commode being flushed.” (source

His idea of using Native American men as radio operators using Navajo was at first scoffed at by the military. They weren’t convinced that something so simple could work. Their experience only told them that a complicated constantly-shifting cipher was the solution (like the German Enigma machine). However, Johnson persisted.

The rest is history. The military started recruiting young Navajo men who distinguished themselves, demonstrating both bravery in combat and brilliance in developing their own Navajo Code. They became indispensable in the U.S. victories on Iwo Jima and in other Pacific campaigns. The Navajo code developed by the Code Talkers was never broken.

Why am I sharing this historical tidbit with you? Well, other than a stirring story of bravery and ingenuity, it gives us a window into how we often feel like we have to work ALL ALONE and HARD to get the results we want. The idea that it could be easy by doing it together often doesn’t even occur to us.

I guarantee that you have people around you right now that have experience or insight about whatever roadblock you’re facing. By simply asking, your connections:

  • Can share insights and experiences that are outside of your experience and thus invisible to you now,
  • May know of or have experience with a ready-made solution or, 
  • Will introduce you to people they know that would provide insight or value.

“Humans are wired for connection” (Brene Brown), and people love to give and contribute to others as much as they like to receive. And they’re out there waiting for you.

Post on your social media of choice, reach out to friends near and far via email. Or get super-specific. Ask yourself: “What 10 people do I know that may have some insight for me about this issue?” Then, call them on the phone, go knock on their door and ask them out for a coffee.

The time for waiting has passed, the ready-made solution is as close as looking outside of what you already know. 

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