On -isms: Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers Review

By | Thursday, November 30, 2017 Leave a Comment
As it happens, I picked up a copy of Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers from Native Realities Publishing over the past weekend, and it seems to be a good time to review it.

The book is an anthology, largely pulled together by editor Arigon Starr. It consists of nine short stories centered around the code talkers program. It should be noted that these are all fictional stories; however, really only with regard to the specific names and places. The tales, while not historically accurate, do paint an emotionally honest portrait of Native Americans who served during World War II. And while there are contributions from a variety of creators, Starr's hand is pretty plainly evident throughout, so there's a thematic consistency and voice, even if they specific art style or tone of the writing changes.

I recall hearing about the code talkers some years ago. (I think I read about it in the early 1980s in some kids book of unusual facts.) I recall wondering how that really worked, since even then I knew each tribe had their own language. How would speaking Cherokee make sense to a Navajo? How did the military even come up with this idea? How/why were there "Indians" even in the military -- were they drafted?

These questions are all addressed here. They're all fairly simple stories, and focus on a single code talker, but there's enough there to infer how things worked at a larger scale. And a few themes show up throughout the stories, regardless of whether they're set during WWI, WWII, or the Korean War. First, most of it came about almost accidentally, when a distressed soldier reflexively calls out in their native tongue, only to have someone else nearby understand it. Second, that they were able to use this language to their advantage was almost surprising, given the harsh (often physical) reprisals they received as children for speaking anything other than English. Third, under a veil of being CLASSIFIED, they were discarded like so much used toilet paper after they left the service.

While none of the protagonists in any of the stories are killed during battles, there's an air of tragedy about them. They served their country, even after having received terrible treatment from its government, and they received almost no thanks at all for their ingenious and inventive efforts that helped win the wars, and yet they harbored no (noticeable) resentment. None of the stories are really presented as tragedies, but the nature of the whole business puts that patina on for me.

I did mention that the stories were simple earlier, but I should clarify that I don't mean they're simplistic. The plots are what aren't complex; the characters, though, very much are. While they're not based on specific individuals, they do have a fair amount of depth to them over the course of a handful of pages. Its a strong book, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in learning a little more about the code talkers program.

In the afterward, publisher Lee Francis IV quotes Corporal Chester Nez: "For me that is the central lesson: that diverse cultures can make a country richer and stronger." A powerful message indeed, and one that more than a few people could stand to learn.

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers can be ordered for $20 directly through the Native Realities website.
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