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It was only relatively recently that the role of Navajo code-talkers in the war against Imperial Japan has been public and, as importantly, celebrated. Desperate to develop a means of communicating via radio that would be secure from Japanese efforts at intercepting those communications, the United States Marine Corps, which played a dominant role in the brutal battles against the Japanese, exploited the one truly unique attribute of American society relative to that of Japan: our ethnic diversity. The United States had a history of repressing and outright massacring North America's indigenous population. More than that, the United States sought to eliminate the native populations through forced assimilation, including abandonment of languages and cultures unique to the myriad Native American tribes. Native Americans were prohibited from using their languages, until the military determined that wartime exigencies required an exception to that rule. There was no way for the Japanese to be able to translate those languages without the capture of Native soldiers and Marines.
This, then, is the context in which Joseph Bruchac wrote his novel Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II. Narrated by a now-elderly former Navajo Code Talker who fought in the Pacific as a Marine, Bruchac's novel is a retelling of the experiences of these individuals who fought for a nation that had marginalized them and that had attempted to eliminate their culture. Ned Begay is a grandfather now, and Bruchac uses Ned's life to tell the story of the Code Talkers, including their experiences as youths forced into boarding schools where taskmasters sought to remove 'the Indian' from these children and transform them into 'Americans.' Ned's narrative, related to his grandchildren, takes the reader through his upbringing and through his wartime experiences where his ethnicity was transformed back into a national attribute. Bruchac's novel illuminates the injustices inflicted on these people, and the sacrifices they made in return on behalf of the country that had spurned them.
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