Kate Duncan review July 2003:
The scene: Earth. Fort Puller penitentiary. Concertina wire slashes the beauty of the nighttime sky.
The time: 11:59 p.m. A clock ticks toward midnight, in a duet with the steady beat of a human heart.
The condemned: James Dark Moon (Pato Hoffmann), sentenced to die by lethal injection for the murder of a Marine officer. No one has come to mourn him – except, perhaps, the general who stands witness.
The prisoner’s last words: “I wish I could’ve added to this life instead of taken away -…
This particular episode touches upon capital punishment, usage of UAVs (this series was made in ’95-’96), and Navajo Code Talkers:
they were young Navajo men who transmitted secret communications on the battlefields of WWII. At a time when America’s best cryptographers were falling short, these modest sheepherders and farmers were able to fashion the most ingenious and successful code in military history. They drew upon their proud warrior tradition to brave the dense jungles of Guadalcanal and the exposed beachheads of Iwo Jima. Serving with distinction in every major engagement of the Pacific theater from 1942-1945, their unbreakable code played a pivotal role in saving countless lives and hastening the war’s end.
The Definitive McQueen plot synopsis:
In the dead of night, an ISSAPC carrying several mysterious passengers, comes aboard the Saratoga. Not even McQueen has been let in on their top secret mission, even though his squad has been selected to take part.
Taking another page from World War II history, falsified information is planted on the body of a recently executed soldier to deceive the enemy in preparation for Operation Roundhammer. Can the Wildcards successfully pull off the deception, ensuring that the important cargo reaches its assigned target? Can the dead redeem themselves?
As is common with this series, this episode draws reference and inspiration from military history:
“In World War II, prior to D-Day,” McQueen goes on, “the British placed false information about the European invasion on the body of a man who’d just died of pneumonia. They dressed him as a high-ranking officer and put him in the English Channel via submarine. The Germans discovered the body and redeployed several Panzer divisions away from the area. It was a crucial deception that aided the Allied victory . . . the passengers in the APC are dead.”
“If I knew, I couldn’t confirm,” responds Ross shortly, attempting to stop this line of questioning.
“While looking into the 2nd World War, I found something else,” McQueen continues undaunted. “Operation Naye’i. Naye’i is a Navajo word for “alien gods”. During the war, we used Native Americans as radio operators. Navajo was the only native language the enemy couldn’t crack. I assume any disinformation regarding the location of Operation Roundhammer would be written in code to make it appear to the enemy to be top secret information.”
“We are not at liberty to discuss this,” says Ross exasperatedly.
“I have no problem with the mission,” McQueen tells him, “if that’s what it is, but there’s something that bothers me Commodore. For disinformation to be effective, we would want the Chigs to crack the code.”
McQueen has Ross’ attention now and he nods slowly.
“Why would the code be written in a language that even other people on Earth couldn’t crack?” asks McQueen conspiratorially. “Unless . . . we knew the enemy was familiar with the language.” Ross looks thunderstruck by what McQueen is telling him.
“Naye’i,” McQueen says knowingly. “Alien gods.”
Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima: the Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language a code that the Japanese never broke.
The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently. Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I veteran who knew of the military’s search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages notably Choctaw had been used in World War I to encode messages.
Johnston believed Navajo answered the military requirement for an undecipherable code because Navajo is an unwritten language of extreme complexity. Its syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. It has no alphabet or symbols, and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest. One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II.
Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and his staff to convince them of the Navajo language’s value as code. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions, demonstrating that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. Convinced, Vogel recommended to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the Marines recruit 200 Navajos.
In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California, this first group created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training.
Once a Navajo code talker completed his training, he was sent to a Marine unit deployed in the Pacific theater. The code talkers’ primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios. They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties.
Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.
The Japanese, who were skilled code breakers, remained baffled by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to decipher the codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the code used by the Marines. The Navajo code talkers even stymied a Navajo soldier taken prisoner at Bataan. (About 20 Navajos served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines.) The Navajo soldier, forced to listen to the jumbled words of talker transmissions, said to a code talker after the war, “I never figured out what you guys who got me into all that trouble were saying.”
In 1942, there were about 50,000 Navajo tribe members. As of 1945, about 540 Navajos served as Marines. From 375 to 420 of those trained as code talkers; the rest served in other capacities.
Navajo remained potentially valuable as code even after the war. For that reason, the code talkers, whose skill and courage saved both American lives and military engagements, only recently earned recognition from the Government and the public.