Looks like you are using an old version of Internet Explorer - Please update your browser
How a Native American language helped win a war—and provided a subtle lesson for those who put their faith in evolution.
‘If not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.’ Iwo Jima is the famous site of one of the hardest-fought battles of WWII in the Pacific. One could thus be forgiven for thinking that the person making that comment must have flipped channels once too often between war films and westerns. Actually, the comment came from Major Howard Connor, signal officer for the 5th US Marine Division at Iwo Jima, and his opinion is now widely shared by military historians and tacticians.1
Connor was referring to the now-famous ‘code talkers’, Navajo Indians who were honoured in 1992 at the Pentagon for their unique and vital role in US victory in the Pacific.
A huge problem faced by the US military command in that theatre of war was that the Japanese were immensely skilled code breakers. The Japanese Chief of Intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that they managed to crack the codes used by the US Army and its Air Corps. But they never cracked the code used by the Marines.
This is because in 1942 a missionary’s son, Philip Johnston, persuaded the Marine hierarchy that the Navajo language, spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American South West, formed the ideal basis for an unbreakable code. Raised on a Navajo reservation, Johnston was one of the few non-Navajos to speak the language fluently.
Although it is an unwritten language with no alphabet or symbols, Navajo is as far from a ‘primitive, not-fully-evolved’ language as one could imagine. (Of course, knowing the true history of the world as given in the Bible, it is not surprising that there is actually no such thing as a ‘primitive language’.) It is in fact a language of immense complexity, whose structure and tonal qualities make it incomprehensible to anyone not very, very extensively exposed to and trained in it. At that time, probably only 30 non-Navajos in the world spoke the language, none of them Japanese.
The first 29 Navajo recruits to this task, in May 1942, created the ‘Navajo code’. The job of these ‘code talkers’ was to transmit information about vital battlefield issues over telephone and radio. Tests showed that they could encode, transmit and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds, about 90 times as fast as machines of that era.
The code worked like this: each letter of an English word would be transmitted as a Navajo word which, when translated into English, started with that letter. Thus, an ‘a’ could be represented by more than one Navajo word, e.g. those for ‘axe’, ‘ant’ or ‘apple’. For speed, some common military terms were assigned just one Navajo word. Besh-lo (iron fish) and dah-he-tih-hi (hummingbird) meant ‘submarine’ and ‘fighter plane’ respectively.
As the battle for Iwo Jima raged furiously around them, six Navajo code talkers, working round the clock, sent and received around 800 messages in the first two days, all without error. In all, around 400 Navajo trained and served as code talkers during the Pacific war, and their skill, speed and accuracy became legendary. From 1942 to 1945 they took part in every Marine assault in the Pacific. Their exploits would probably have been publicly recognized earlier, if not for the continuing value of Navajo as a military code long after WWII.
There is an interesting parallel in all of this to a fact of biology. Inside each one of us, inside every living thing, in fact, there is a code, written with chemical letters on the backbone of the molecule everyone knows something about—DNA. This code carries the instructions which enable the cell’s machinery to manufacture the physical ingredients that make up a particular creature. One of the huge mysteries which honest evolutionists wrestle with is how such a code could arise in their naturalistic (‘it-can’t-be-allowed-to-be-miraculous’) scenario of origins. Because within this belief system there is not just one impossible hurdle to jump, but two.
The first is the fact that true information does not arise from a natural process (i.e. unaided by the action of mind—or of a program, which itself must originate in mind). If anyone should tell you otherwise, ask them to provide an example, being careful to provide accurate definitions of information.2 Don’t accept ‘analogous reasoning’ or ‘just-so’ stories—only factual, documented examples. There is perhaps nothing more certain than that if such a thing were ever observed there would be a rush to present the observer with a Nobel prize!3
The second hurdle is the one which most closely ties in with our report on the Navajo wartime achievements, namely that a code is absolutely useless to the recipient without the knowledge of the language. In the same way, let us say that the imaginary ‘first protocell’ to develop on the evolutionist’s hypothetical ‘primitive Earth’ had indeed somehow, mysteriously, developed the information coding for the manufacture of just one functional protein. Remember that natural selection is no help until one first has a self-replicating organism. Thus, chance would have to arrange thousands of letters in a specific sequence, an astronomically preposterous achievement.4
Even granting this gigantic ‘head start’, having such a code would be absolutely useless unless there was already in place the complex machinery which recognized every one of the DNA molecule’s chemical ‘letters’ and simultaneously translated them into the right amino acids. The Japanese hierarchy had no trouble accessing the Navajo messages; but the message was useless to them. Without the ‘translation machinery’ (the knowledge of the language and the way it was being applied), it was only a sequence of meaningless sound symbols.5
Just so, the whole notion of molecules-to-man evolution is, by any stretch of logical reasoning, without foundation—unable to even get off the ground at that early hypothetical stage. Attempts to solve this evolutionary puzzle are doomed to frustration, just as surely as were the Axis6 efforts to break the now-famous Navajo code—and for intriguingly related reasons.
The main source used here is: Navajo Code Talkers: Word War II Fact Sheet, researched by Alexander Molnar Jr., prepared by the Navy & Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee. <www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-2.htm>
Gitt, W., In the Beginning was Information, Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung, Germany, 1997. Dr Gitt is one of the world’s leading information scientists. His academic challenge to evolutionists on this matter has been unanswered for years—see In the Beginning was Information, right.
This refers to the origin of biological information. Evolutionists also have the problem of existing information increasing—this should be happening frequently if particles-to-people evolution is a viable, ongoing process. While it is faintly possible that some freakishly rare occurrence of this will be detected one day, so far even this has never been documented. See Spetner, L.M., Not by Chance!, The Judaica Press, Inc., New York, 1996 (right).
The late Sir Fred Hoyle famously described the chance of arriving at one such molecule by randomness as being like having the solar system packed shoulder to shoulder with blind men, each shuffling a Rubik’s cube, and having them all arrive at the correct solution—simultaneously! (Wieland, C., Rubik’s cubes and blind men, Creation17(4):52, 1995.)
Using American Indian languages for encryption had been done before: eight members of the Choctaw tribe helped the US Army to encode messages in the First World War against Germany.
US President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 to be National Navajo Code Talkers Day.
So it could never be captured, no written book of the Navajo code existed; the 400+ words assigned special meanings so they would not have to be ‘spelt’ (e.g. ‘submarine’; see main text) were all committed to memory.
Communications security is of the utmost importance in warfare. High-ranking military officers believe that the Second World War, and with it the entire course of history, might have had a different outcome without the Navajo code-talkers. Imagine if Philip Johnston’s parents had not left everything to go and preach the Gospel to the Navajo people.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.