Information Warfare: June 19, 2002


Army and marine drill instructors, who must turn civilians into competent infantry (or, as the marines prefer to put it, "riflemen") are wincing at the latest war movie to hit theaters. "Windtalkers" tells the story of Navaho marines in World War II who used their unique language to encode radio communications during combat in the Pacific. Among the misconceptions the movie portrays are; a marine shooting at three moving Japanese soldiers 20 meters away with a pistol. Three shots, three Japanese drop. Pistols are not that accurate, and thinking they are can get a soldier killed. In another scene, three aircraft come in, drop three bombs on Japanese artillery positions and score three direct hits. That might work today with GPS bombs, but a lot of dumb bombs are still used and you're not going to see that kind of accuracy with dumb bombs. Most of the explosions were unrealistic. Hollywood prefers lots of flames when grenades or artillery shells go off. You only get the flames if you hit a fuel dump with shells. Grenades are pretty low key in the explosion department. And the myth that marines were told to kill Navaho "codetalkers", if the Japanese seemed about to capture one of the Navaho marines alive, is given new life in the movie. There was never any such order, although many of the Navaho marines themselves believed there was. Aside from the practical matter that the Navaho language is so complex that even if the Japanese knew it, they would need months to train their radio intercept people to even understand it, there is also the problem of getting one or two captured Navaho off an island surrounded by the U.S. Navy. The movie promotion also makes a few other errors. This was not the first use of American Indians as codetalkers. Six Choctaws did the same thing in World War I. Moreover, the Navaho language code was not "the only American code the Japanese didn't break." The Japanese broke very few American codes, and generally low level ones at that. 


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