After taking a bit of a break in the series, Native Americans in the Military, PTT is picking up where it left off. The last war written about was the Spanish American War. To summarize: In that war, as in previous conflicts that have been discussed, members of the Native American tribes fought in the Spanish American War with courage and honor as they served a nation that had oppressed them. A consequence of the war was that the newer politics of the Progressive Era marked the beginning of better relationships between the two sides.
With that being said, we are now at the next major conflict that happened in U.S. history. This conflict was referred to as “The Great War”, or as most of us have learned in history class, World War I (WWI). This was initially considered the war of all wars and began on July 28, 1914, and lasted until Nov. 11, 1918. This war involved 30 different countries and over 65 million soldiers at one time or another during the war. And it has gone down in history as one of the bloodiest and deadliest conflicts in American history. It also brought with it new technologies, industrial changes, and major political changes.
The main powerhouses of this war consisted primarily of a number of European countries. At the beginning of the 20th century, the powers of Europe started forming an alliance system. The British and the French were allied against the Germans and eventually drew in the Russians. The Germans felt they needed support against this alliance so they partnered with Austrians and eventually attached to the Ottoman Empire. By 1914, Britain, France and Russia were united as the Allies and Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were the Central Powers. On June 28, l914, Archduke Frank Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. This event served as a trigger for the war, with the diplomatic crisis following this event resulting in the major powers finding themselves at war within weeks. This conflict rapidly spread around the world as this tangled web of alliances resulted in countries becoming involved on one side or another as they joined the conflict in an effort to protect specific countries with they were allied. These connections eventually resulted in Japan, Bolivia and the United States, as well as many other countries, becoming involved in a war that essentially became worldwide. By the time the war eventually came to an end, there were over 100 countries involved.
With this bit of background about the basics of the Great War, PTT wants to focus on the United States’ involvement with an emphasis on how Native Americans helped fight this horrific war of wars.
When the United States entered WWI, a draft was applied and Native American men were required to register for the draft—even though they did not become citizens of this country until 1924. It was a very confusing and controversial requirement as many did not understand why they had to register if they, in fact, couldn’t be drafted. There were some conflicts with the government at this time as a result of this draft requirement. Even though they could not be drafted, many Native men volunteered to serve hence keeping the opportunity to continue the ‘warrior’ traditions of their tribes. An interesting thing to note is that many of these men who fought in this war were already accustomed to military life considering that they were coming from certain government- run schools such as Haskell in Kansas and Chilocco in Oklahoma. They were used to wearing uniforms, doing certain drills, and having their time strictly regulated. For a Native young man to go into the military seemed in a way to be a normal way of life after having been assimilated to a culture that was not their own.
Through research it was found that a technical number of 12,000 Native Americans volunteered their time and life to WWI. Finding this information led me to Patty Loew, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Her grandfather was known as keeping the best documented diary during this horrific war. Loew regarded Native Americans being placed at the frontlines of battle during this war hence portraying the role of the ‘warrior’ conception. She quotes, “They were seen as super-warriors, who were supposedly extraordinarily brave and fierce.” Because of these stereotypes, Native Americans were placed in more of a life threatening place during the war, therefore having a number more die. The actual ration to support this is that they had a casualty rate five times higher than any other race.
As most know, the Navajo Code Talkers became the heroes of WWII while using their Native language to talk in code that the enemy could not break. What many people may not know is this form of communication didn’t just help out in WWII, but it also helped in WWI. Since the English language was spoken frequently by the Germans, communication was a problem during the war in keeping certain things secretive. Even though these Native men were punished at one point in their lives for speaking their native tongue (while attending government schools), it was a practice that came to save countless lives. The tribe that consisted mainly of these code talkers was that of the Choctaw tribe who were sworn to secrecy about this plan, therefore having their story be lost. Not only did this small group of men (19 to be exact) help confuse the Germans, it also paved the way for the Navajo Code Talkers to exist and help in WWII.
Throughout this series, Native Americans in the Military, one thing seems to hold consistent through it all: How dedicated Natives in these wars were in protecting a country that treated them as sub-human. Maybe once we see 1924 come along, the way Natives have been treated within this country – especially war – time may change. The rest is history.