SpyCast 11.14.23
Ep 611 | 11.14.23

“My Father the Navajo Code-Talker” – with Laura Tohe

Show Notes


Laura Tohe (Website) joins Andrew (TwitterLinkedIn) to discuss the stories of the WWII Navajo Code Talkers. Laura is a Diné author and the Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation.  

What You’ll Learn


  • How the Code Talking units were formed
  • How the Navajo people used their language as a weapon
  • Laura’s father, Benson Tohe’s story
  • Did the Japanese ever break the code? 


  • The relationship between language and the state
  • Storytelling and the power of oral history

And much, much more …

Episode Notes

Benson Tohe was a Navajo Code Talker. In this week’s episode, his daughter Laura speaks about her father, the Navajo Code Talkers, and the Navajo Nation, of which she is the Poet Laureate.  

This is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of cryptography, that of the Native American Code Talkers. In WWI Choctaw soldiers pioneered code-talking, using their own language to confuse and hide battlefield communication from the Germans. The Comanche Code Talkers followed the Choctaw onto the European battlefields in WWII, while this week’s episode looks at the Navajo Code Talkers who were deployed in the Pacific Theater. There were many other Code Talkers from more than a dozen Native Nations. 


The Navajo language is an example of one of many tonal languages around the world. Tonal languages are fascinating – Depending on the tone, or pitch, that the user places on the word, the meaning of that word can completely change. Navajo syllables can carry four different tones: high, low, rising, or falling. Other examples of tonal languages include Thai, Zulu, Punjabi, and Vietnamese!

Quotes of the Week

“When they got into the service they were told, ‘Now you're going to use your language to develop a code.’ They said, ‘But, back at home they told us not to speak Navajo, and now they want us to develop a code in Navajo?’ So, they were not only astounded, they were puzzled why they would be asked to do this when they were in a school where their identity was being erased.” – Laura Tohe.




*Beginner Resources*

*Featured Resource*



  • Code Talker: Memoir of a Navajo Code Talker, Chester Nez (Dutton Caliber, 2012) 
  • The First Code Talkers: Choctaw, William Meadows (OUP, 2022)
  • The Comanche Code Talkers of WWII, William Meadows (UOT, 2009)
  • Search for the Navajo Code Talkers, Sally McLain (Rio Nuevo, 2012)



Primary Sources 

*Wildcard Resource*