Chester Nez, the last of the Navaho Code-Talkers, died yesterday, bringing to an end one of the more curious uses of linguistics in warfare. For those of you who might not know, in WWII the US military recruited around 400 Navaho to be Marines. Nez was one of the first group of 200. Using Navaho language and new terms coined to describe military topics, these Marines were able to speak in a code that stymied Axis code-breakers. They were so valuable that most of the Navajo serving in the war served as Code-Talkers.
In WWI, the US Army used 19 Choctaw Code -Talkers in a much more limited capacity. Wanting to expand on that idea, Philip Johnston, who was the son of missionaries to the Navajo (and could speak it fluently himself), suggested using Navajo because it “is the only tribe in the United States that has not been infested with German students during the past twenty years.”
Perhaps one of the more compelling arguments for funding linguistics and study abroad — because if you don’t, your enemies will say bad things about you and beat you up.