DATE June 12, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Loch Johnson discusses improving intelligence in the
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Yesterday, the House opened hearings on the new Homeland Security Department
proposed by President Bush. Congressional Intelligence committees are
currently investigating intelligence failures that preceded September 11th.
My guest, Loch Johnson is the author of "Bombs, Bugs, Drugs and Thugs:
Intelligence and America's Quest for Security." He's a professor of public
and international affairs at the University of Georgia. In 1995, he was the
assistant to the chair of the Aspen Brown Commission, which assessed US
intelligence in the wake of the Cold War. From 1977 to '79, he was staff
director of a House Select Committee on Intelligence Oversight. And from '75
to '76, he was assistant to Frank Church on the Church Senate committee that
investigated CIA abuses in the wake of an investigation by New York Times
reporter Seymour Hersh that revealed that the CIA spied on Americans and
helped overthrow the democratically elected Chilean president, Salvador
This was the first congressional intelligence oversight committee. I asked
Johnson what it was like to hear intelligence secrets as they were revealed to
Professor LOCH JOHNSON (University of Georgia): Well, it was quite stunning
because frankly very few of us knew very much about this subject, because it
had been so hidden for so long, and the senators and many of the staff were
really boning up as quickly as they could, and we were meeting with people in
the intelligence agencies to find out what had gone wrong, and then we
developed a list of documents that we wanted to see that could help us
understand whether or not some of the allegations were true.
So there was a long period here, about five or six months, in which we were
frantically doing research and not really sleeping that much, because we had
time limits on how long the committee would last. So it was a rush of
excitement, and it was considered very serious, because the notion of these
secret agencies, the CIA and several others, spying on American citizens was
so Orwellian that it was intolerable, if true, so we wanted to come to the
bottom of matters. And as we looked into more and more of this, we found out
that the initial horrors reported by Sy Hersh and The New York Times were only
the beginning, and as we turned over the rocks, we found all kinds of other
abuses that Hersh had not reported on, and that none of the American people
knew about, including assassination plots against foreign leaders and spying
against American citizens, not just by the CIA, but a raft of other agencies.
GROSS: Were you or other members of this intelligence oversight committee
ever afraid that you were asking the CIA to disclose too much information?
And did any of the people in the CIA try to stop the investigation or limit
the investigation claiming that in the long run it would be harmful to US
intelligence and to US security to have investigations like this?
Prof. JOHNSON: Oh, yes, it was a constant struggle. There was stonewalling
going on every day, and all kinds of tricks used by the executive branch to
delay what we were doing. For instance, once we had complained many weeks to
the Pentagon about not giving us any documents that we wanted, and one
afternoon a big truck, a big Army truck came over, a half-ton truck, filled
with documents, and it flooded our quarters with all these papers. So at
first we were happy, and then as we waded through them, we realized that they
So there were lots of games played like that, and when it came to the
assassination plots, Gerald Ford didn't want to go into that at all. And, of
course, Henry Kissinger, the secretary of State, was adamant in refusing to
appear at public hearings on the subject of covert action. And in a couple of
instances, we actually had to go to Washington, DC, District Court to get some
of the documents we wanted. So it was a fight all the way.
GROSS: And I'm just wondering what it felt like to you as a private citizen
to suddenly have access to all this secret information.
Prof. JOHNSON: Well, it was rather heady, and I must say after a while you
don't feel like reading anything unless it's got stamped `top secret' on the
top of it. So it does get to be a little bit silly. And indeed I'm told that
in the bureaucracy often people will stamp things `top secret' just so others
will read it, because nothing else gets read.
GROSS: What were the most important precedents set by the Church committee?
Prof. JOHNSON: The most important thing the Church committee did, and this
would be true in the House, too, where a committee run by Otis Pike did some
similar work, was to establish permanent oversight committees which had not
existed before for intelligence, so that in 1976 the Senate created the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence, and a year later the House created what's
called the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. So now both of
those chambers have members and staff who every day are looking at these 13
secret agencies and checking on their budgets and so on. It's not a perfect
system by any means, as Iran-Contra points out, because even with this
machinery in place, we still had the Iran-Contra scandal. But it's still a
difference between night and day, pre-1975 and post-1975.
GROSS: What are some of the things that Congress has created to keep
intelligence agencies accountable to the public? And in talking about that,
maybe you could talk too about the tension between accountability and just
adding layers of bureaucracy that make intelligence work more difficult.
Prof. JOHNSON: Yes. When it comes to looking at the question of legislative
accountability over the executive branch, whether or not we're talking about
the Department of Agriculture or these secret agencies, it really comes down
to constantly balancing security on the one hand, and liberty on the other
hand. By security, I mean protecting this country against threats like one
that happened on 9/11, and that means having efficient intelligence agencies
that can move with dispatch and have some discretion and some flexibility.
Yet flexibility and discretion, as we learned in 1975, can lead to the abuse
of power. James Madison once said that `power lodged, as it must be in human
hands, is ever liable to abuse.' We certainly found that out again in '75.
So that brings us to the other side of the scale, which is security, or rather
liberty, and in order to have liberty, you've got to have the watchdogs, the
checks and balances, and that may reduce efficiencies to some degree because
it means getting Congress involved and having hearings and so on. But you
can't do without that in a democracy, so we're trying to find the appropriate
balance between the two.
You mentioned, Terry, what are some of the specific things that Congress does.
I think two of the most important are establishing reporting requirements, and
by that I mean, according to law, the CIA and other agencies must, on a
periodic and routine basis, present to the Congress information about its
ongoing activity, such as covert actions. Anytime the president signs a
covert action authorization, that has to be reported to Congress. And then
the second thing is hearings. It's constantly involved in holding hearings,
usually secret or private hearings, because much of this information is
sensitive, but hearings that help legislators know what's going on.
GROSS: One of the problems we appear to have run into is that the CIA and the
FBI have kept information from each other. There's a lot of competition
between the two agencies, a lot of rivalry. Is this a long-time problem?
Prof. JOHNSON: Oh, it certainly is. You know, the FBI was created in 1908,
so it's been around a long time, and it's a little cocky about its lineage and
in some ways feels superior over the newcomer agencies like the CIA, which was
established in 1947. But on the other side of the legend, the CIA feels
somewhat superior because often the people out there have PhDs from lofty
institutions and are somewhat smug in their intellectual abilities, whereas
the FBI people more inclined to be out on the streets trying to catch
criminals. So there are some cultural differences here and some turf
protection differences and competition over finite resources from the federal
At one point in the 1960s, the direct of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, refused
even to speak to the director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms. That
probably was the lowest point in this relationship, but it's been rocky over
GROSS: What's the difference in what each agency can do domestically and
Prof. JOHNSON: Traditionally--and by that I mean starting in 1947 in the case
of the CIA--that agency was meant to look overseas. In fact, it was
prohibited from activities within this country out of fear that it might turn
into a Gestapo. And the FBI, in contrast, has had a long history of working
within the United States, particularly catching bank robbers and white-collar
criminals, but also doing some counterintelligence work, trying mainly to
catch KGB and other Soviet agents in this country.
So the CIA looks outward, the FBI inward, and when there's a spy overseas who
travels from some foreign country to the United States, the CIA is supposed to
hand off, if you will, that spy, and once he or she enters these borders, the
FBI begins to follow that person. But it hasn't always worked. Now sometimes
it has. There are some good examples where these two agencies work well
together, but there are even more in which it hasn't worked smoothly. And
sometimes it's personality. J. Edgar Hoover was a very difficult man to work
with, very arrogant. And sometimes it's been these more organizational
jealousies and pettiness that we've talked about.
GROSS: Are there proposals on the table now to resolve this and to help
coordinate information between the CIA and the FBI?
Prof. JOHNSON: Not to the extent that it should be, and that's why I find the
new Department of Homeland Defense concept a little disappointing. I think
it's a useful thing to do, because some of those agencies planned to go into
that new department do need consolidation, but in a way it misses the point,
because the real point in the war against terrorism is to better coordinate
the information among the existing 13 intelligence agencies, all of which will
continue to lie outside this new Homeland Defense Department.
And the way, in my view, and in many other people's views, to develop better
coordination among the 13 agencies is to enhance the authority of the director
of Central Intelligence, who presently is a very weak figure. George Tenet,
who holds that office presently, doesn't have budget or personnel authority
over 12 of those agencies. He has that authority only over the Central
Intelligence Agency, but the other dozen are quite independent and don't
report as fully as they should to him, and it's because he doesn't have the
kind of direct-line authority over them.
GROSS: What are the 13 intelligence agencies that collect information, the
ones we're hoping will coordinate a little bit better?
Prof. JOHNSON: Well, I could probably bore you to death by going through all
13, but there are seven military intelligence agencies. The Army, Navy, Air
Force and Marines all have intelligence units. There's the Defense
Intelligence Agency; there's the National Security Agency; there's the
National Reconnaissance Office; there's the Intelligence and Research Division
of the State Department; the Energy Department has an intelligence unit that
keeps track of fissionable and fussionable materials worldwide; the Treasury
Department has some intelligence components; the FBI does; the CIA, as we
mentioned. So it's quite a cluster of agencies.
GROSS: Clearly the intelligence agencies failed to connect the dots, as
everyone is saying. They failed to link certain pieces of information which,
if were linked, could have perhaps predicted what happened on September 11th.
What do you think is one of the most compelling examples of something that
could have been connected and wasn't and might have prevented September 11th.
Prof. JOHNSON: Well, imagine if the FBI Phoenix memo talking about how maybe
some people from other countries were in our country learning to fly
airplanes--imagine if that memo had not gotten lost in the bowels of the FBI
and had been dealt with seriously there, but also, equally important, sent
over to the CIA for their knowledge, to see if they had any similar
information. Or let's say the Minnesota FBI field office and its request to
get a warrant to conduct surveillance against the person who's now often
viewed as possibly the 20th hijacker, Mr. Moussaoui, what if that information
had properly been handled in the FBI. And again, equally important, sent over
to the CIA for cross-referencing. Very little of that were done, and those
are just two of many examples.
Harry Truman, back in 1947, when he created the CIA, wanted one thing above
all else. He wanted all of these agencies to work together in one coordinated
hall so that there would be genuine integration of information. After all,
Pearl Harbor took us by surprise because there were fragments of information
about, but none of it was really brought together properly and given to
Franklin Roosevelt. So Truman wanted to make sure that didn't happen again,
but unfortunately his dream has not been fulfilled.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Loch Johnson. He's a professor
of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia in Athens.
He's also the author of the book "Bombs, Bugs, Drugs and Thugs: Intelligence
and America's Search for Security." Let's take a short break here and then
we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Loch Johnson is my guest. He's a professor at the University of
Georgia at Athens. He's the author of "Bombs, Bugs, Drugs and Thugs:
Intelligence and America's Search for Security." And in the mid-'70s he was
the assistant to Frank Church on the Church Senate committee that was probing
President Bush has proposed a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland
Defense. What would the mission of this department be?
Prof. JOHNSON: The mission of the proposed department is to overcome
fragmentation within the government dealing with our border defense in
particular, but some other aspects of protecting this country here at home.
So it would bring together, in one department, the Coast Guard and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency and 20 other entities which would then comprise
the new department. And they would presumably, now working under the same
roof, be able to cooperate better with one another. Of course, it's important
to note that even though this is probably a useful thing to do, it leaves
outside of the equation what I think are even more important agencies in the
war against terrorism, agencies like the FBI and the CIA. And the real
problem we face is getting those agencies to work better and to work in
harness with one another more effectively.
So the homeland defense idea is a piece of the puzzle that needs to be solved
here, but only one piece. In fact, I'm sure there are even more important
pieces of the puzzle that need attention but have not gotten in yet.
GROSS: What's the rationale for leaving the FBI and the CIA out of this
Department of Homeland Defense?
Prof. JOHNSON: I think that if you put the major secret agencies from the
intelligence community into this new department, it would just be too large
and unwieldy. After all, the Pentagon today is so huge that everyone
understands it's unmanageable. No person, I don't care how talented they are,
has been able to go in there and really effectively manage the Department of
Defense. So you can get too large, and I think people wanted to avoid that
sensibly, so they consolidated 22 agencies with a budget of about $38 billion,
which is less than the Department of Education, but it's still a hunk of
money, and I think this is useful to consolidate these groups, and I think
this proposal will pass; it's got a lot of support on both sides of the aisle.
But again, I keep coming back to my main thesis, and that is the real problem
is getting the other cluster of agencies known as the intelligence community,
13 agencies--FBI, CIA and 11 others--to work together, and their
responsibility would be to feed information in to the new Homeland Defense
Department so that department can then react and protect us.
So you see, Terry, the intelligence community is in the business of gathering
information and providing insight to what might happen. That would then be
passed along to Homeland Defense Department which is responsible, actually,
for throwing up the barriers to protect us.
GROSS: So the CIA and the FBI aren't integrated into the Department of
Homeland Defense, but they're still feeding information into it?
Prof. JOHNSON: That's right. You could view the Homeland Defense Department
that's been proposed as a client, if you will, and the FBI and the CIA will
provide this client with, ideally, very good information about what the
threats are. Then it will be up to the homeland defense to protect us against
GROSS: How much controversy is there about this proposed Department of
Homeland Defense? A, controversy over whether it should be created or not,
and B, whether it's well created.
Prof. JOHNSON: I think there's a fair amount of controversy. After all, Ted
Kennedy, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has said it's like
rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I think that's a little harsh. I
think it's a more useful proposal than that. But it does have a little bit of
the feeling of being thrown together quickly and not fully thought out. But
after all, that's the glory of our system of government. Now the Congress will
have a close look, and there will be plenty of hearings held, and there will
be amendments and modifications and I think a stronger proposal will come out
at the end.
GROSS: What do you think this joint committee that's investigating what went
wrong with intelligence agencies regarding September 11th, what do you think
they're up against? You have some experience in this yourself.
Prof. JOHNSON: Well, they're put against the time clock above all, and
frankly I think they're rushing to judgment. I've been rather disappointed at
the notion of beginning public hearings this month of June, because they only
got started in February, and they fired their staff director in the middle of
the process. And having been on a couple of inquiries, I know it takes time
to interview the people you need to talk to and get the documents you need.
Now I'm sure they have a good staff, and I'm sure they've been working hard,
but you've got sift through this information, make sense out of it. And then
once you understand everything and you have some recommendations in mind,
that's when you hold your public hearing. They're going to run into, I think,
the problem of not being fully prepared to present their case persuasively.
And, of course, at the same time, they're confronting an executive branch
that's quite aggressive and pre-empting them by announcing solutions of its
Now I would imagine there's a little bit of stonewalling going on, too,
because the executive branch always knows that these investigative committees
have a limited amount of time, so they can stall them out.
GROSS: What kind of changes would you like to see within the intelligence
Prof. JOHNSON: The war against terrorism is very complex. There's no single
answer. A new Department of Homeland Defense is not going to solve our
problem. The United States is going to have to move forward across a broad
front. We have to improve the coordination of these 13 intelligence agencies
we've been talking about. We do need the consolidation of the 22 additional
agencies that the Homeland Defense Department will bring about.
But then we need a lot of other things, as well. The jointness, or
interconnectedness of these computers in the government has got to be solved.
I mean, our government is 30 years behind Silicon Valley in developing
information technology, and it's outrageous that these computers don't even
talk to one another so that information can be quickly shared.
And then, above all, we have to overcome this problem of separateness, where
agencies are involved in more in turf protection than they are in working
together. And that's going to take presidential leadership, not just for an
afternoon press conference, but on a steady, weekly basis where George Bush
brings these agency heads together and reminds them time and time again that
if they can't cooperate together, then he'll find someone who will to take
GROSS: Loch Johnson is a professor of public and international affairs at the
University of Georgia.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews two new
releases from Bridge Records, a small label that avoids the standard
repertoire. And we talk with Roy Hawthorne who served with the Marines in
World War II, using his Navajo language to speak in code. The Navajo Code
Talkers are the subject of the new John Woo movie.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Roy Hawthorne discusses his experiences as a Navajo
Code Talker during World War II and the movie "Windtalkers"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The new movie "Windtalkers," directed by John Woo, is based on the stories of
Navajo Code Talkers during World War II. My guest, Roy Hawthorne, was one of
those Navajo Marines who relayed and received secret tactical battlefield
messages in a code based on the Navajo language. The Navajo language was used
because it is an extremely complex, unwritten language that was virtually
unknown outside of the Navajo world. The idea for the code was developed by a
World War I veteran who was the son of a missionary and was raised on a Navajo
reservation. He knew that other Native American languages had been used as
code during World War I. About 400 Navajo Marines were trained in the code
and sent to the South Pacific. The Japanese never broke the code. The Navajo
code had two elements: the alphabet and the vocabulary. Each letter of the
English alphabet was given a Navajo code. There were no existing Navajo words
for the military equipment. Roy Hawthorne told me they created a new
Mr. ROY HAWTHORNE (Navajo Code Talker During World War II): We searched for
the characteristics of any particular piece of equipment, whether it be an
airplane or a submarine or a tank. And then we would take these
characteristics and match them with similar characteristics. If in the air,
then it was a bird. And, of course, a reconnaissance plane is unarmed, does
not engage in battle, and normally flies at night, so an owl has similar
characteristics, so the reconnaissance plane became an owl.
GROSS: Could you say something in code for us? For instance, like, `We need
air cover or artillery strikes.'
Mr. HAWTHORNE: OK. OK. (Navajo code spoken)
GROSS: And what did you say?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Attack by enemy forces, hill, two, three, six.
GROSS: And that was in straight Navajo or was there like an elaborate code
within the language?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: It was a code. No other Navajo that did not attend the code
school would make heads or tails of that.
GROSS: What was one of the most important messages you had to relay in code?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: One particular experience that I recall was on a combat
patrol, and my task was to radio back in to our headquarters our situation,
what enemy we might come upon and just make a report, as the commanding
officer gave me the information. So we came upon an enemy force that was
quite superior in numbers and in weaponry, and they were very well dug in.
They had dug trenches where their weapons, such as machine guns and mortars,
were trained on these trenches. So if an enemy force approached them and
tried to take cover in these trenches, they would be immediately killed, and
we found that out very, very quickly. We were pinned down, and we stayed
pinned down for I believe it was about two days, and all manner of fire--light
machine guns, heavy machine guns and mortar fire and just about anything you
could think of, including grenades.
And during this incident, the antenna of my backpack radio was shot off. So
as a result, our communications were cut off. So I used some of the field
wire and some of the tools that I had carried with me and was fortunate in
putting the antenna back on the radio. And so when it was back in service, my
commanding officer, who was a first lieutenant, gave me a message to send to
a command ship that we needed air strikes, and so that got through. The
message was in Navajo code. It got through. And in a matter of just a short
time, we had that air strike, and that saved the day.
GROSS: In the movie, "Windtalkers," each of the Code Talkers is assigned a
Marine whose job it is to protect the code, to protect the code at all costs.
That might mean protecting the Code Talker, but it might also mean that if the
Code Talker is about to be captured by the enemy for interrogation, it would
be the Marine's job to kill the Code Talker so that they couldn't, under
pressure or under torture, reveal the secrets of the code. Now is that
something that was created for the movie or were each of you actually paired
with a Marine who was prepared to kill you, if necessary, to protect the code?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, as far as I know, that story is unverified, and it
wasn't created by the movie, however. I don't know exactly how it came about,
but it certainly is unverified. I call it a myth about the bodyguard. As I
think about that, it says to me that if a bodyguard was assigned to a Code
Talker to shoot him when capture was imminent, that says to me that we would
have been classified as a lower-class Marine, as a second-class Marine, if
there were such a thing, that was unreliable and untrustworthy. And that just
GROSS: I'm sure for some of the Marines who you served with, you were the
first Navajo they had ever met or perhaps even the first Native American they
had ever met. How were you treated by the men that you served with? Did you
come against any racism?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Personally, I did not. Now there is always a touch of racism
wherever people meet. But I did not experience that. I experienced the
opposite of racism, and by that I mean that I found that my compatriot,
Marines, that had never come in contact with an American Indian stood in awe
of the American Indian. They wanted to know what made him tick and so forth.
And they had a lot of misunderstandings, such as many believe that our
eyesight was better than 20/20, more like an eagle's, which is not true, and
that we could pick up an arrow and, I mean, hit the bull's-eye every time,
which was also not true. But on the other hand, we had similar
misunderstandings about the white boys.
GROSS: Why did you want to join the military? And I ask that, in part,
because a lot of people might assume that as a Native American in the 1940s,
you would have felt very disenfranchised by your country as opposed to wanting
to risk your life to defend it.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: During my boyhood, my dreams and my aspirations were to be a
military person, and so when the day came that I was of sufficient age to
join the military, that was the day when I held up my hand and swore
allegiance to the country, and that was a fulfillment of all of my boyhood
dreams and all of my aspirations. And other than that, all Native Americans
have intricate ties with the land. I mean, the land is our life, and although
Native Americans never owned land--that was not a Native American philosophy,
to own land--yet, we had a control of a certain area of land that we used.
And so we were inextricably tied to the land. So when an enemy would attempt
to seize the land, we would rise up against them. And so all of America we
considered to be, in Navajo tradition, our mother. And all of the, say, over
300 broken treaties by the United States notwithstanding, we still loved
America and we still love America today.
GROSS: What made you want to serve in the military? Why was that your
boyhood dream and what kind of encounters had you had with the military,
either in person or through movies?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: I had absolutely no encounters with the military. I read a
book once by Jules Verne concerning Captain Nemo and his submarine, and I
wanted to be a submariner. But I was directed to the Marine Corps by federal
legislation, but I just had that dream. It was a spirit of adventure that I
had within me, which I still do today.
GROSS: My guest is Roy Hawthorne. He was a Navajo Code Talker during World
War II. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, Roy Hawthorne, was one of about 400 Navajo Marines during
World War II who served in the South Pacific, relaying tactical battlefield
messages in a Navajo code. The work of the Navajo Code Talkers is the basis
of the new movie "Windtalkers."
Now your knowledge of Navajo helped your country win the war, but when you
were a child growing up on the reservation, were you encouraged or discouraged
from speaking in your language?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, I guess I could say I was both encouraged and
discouraged, and what I mean by that is that I was living--we lived in a
sector of the reservation where we had a public school. So I attended public
school where your language was encouraged, English and Navajo. And then I
also attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs school that was a school run by the
federal government for Indians, and at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school, we
were definitely discouraged from speaking the Navajo language. And if we did
speak the Navajo language and were caught doing so, there were some
punishments that were quite severe, beginning with a washing of the mouth with
lye soap, and then even more severe punishment.
GROSS: Are there many people left who can speak Navajo fluently now?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: I suppose that there are probably, I would say, 70 percent.
GROSS: Seventy percent of the Navajos still speak it.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Yes, uh-huh. That's an estimate.
GROSS: And how often do you use the language now?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: I use it on a daily basis. Well, where we live, of course, as
a Navajo Nation, many Navajos, we are surrounded by Indians. We're not John
Wayne or anything, but we're surrounded by Indians. And so I have a daily use
of the language. I have a Christian radio program over the Navajo Nation
radio station, and I speak in the Navajo language on that program.
GROSS: Tell me what you think are the pluses and minuses of living on a
reservation as a Navajo.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, there are very few minuses, but I'm prejudiced, of
course. But some of the pluses are that there where my house is, every
morning when I wake up, I open my eyes and I can look out across the hills and
the valleys and see scenes that are picture-postcard quality. And so I tell
my wife, `Every day is a vacation for me. It's the next thing to heaven on
Earth.' Those are the positive things. Some of the negatives would be more
for the younger generation, the lack of jobs, the lack of housing, the lack of
infrastructure--that type of thing.
GROSS: Now the Navajo code that you used during World War II wasn't
declassified until the late '60s. So until then, those people who were
Navajo Code Talkers like yourself, I believe you had to keep it basically a
secret because it was still a classified secret. Were you able to tell your
friends and family about the nature of the work that you did during the war?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: We never spoke of what we did during the war, not those that
we were intimate with, like our immediate family. My brother and I served--in
fact, two brothers--served as Navajo Code Talkers, but we never spoke one word
to one another concerning our job as Navajo Code Talkers.
GROSS: After you came home, you never spoke about it.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: We never breathed one word about it; not to the brothers that
I served with, not to my mother, not to anybody.
GROSS: Would you have liked to talk about it?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: We never even thought about that. I mean, it was just
something that we immediately placed in the inner resources of our mind.
GROSS: So when the government declassified this, did they let you know and
basically give you permission to tell friends and family about what you did?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, when the code was declassified, some friends of the
Navajo Code Talkers who had served in the Marine Corps encouraged some of us
to form an association, which we still have today. And from that association
of Navajo Code Talkers grew a camaraderie that reached out to families and to
other people in relating the story of the Navajo Code Talkers.
GROSS: Were you given one of the Medals of Honor last year by the government,
by President Bush?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Yes, ma'am. But, no, not by President Bush. That was the
Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington. The bulk of the Code Talkers who served
were awarded the Congressional Silver Medal...
GROSS: I see.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: ...in the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizona.
GROSS: And when was that?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: That was in November of last year.
GROSS: Proud to have it?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Yes, I am. However, my recognition and my reward really came
when I became a Marine. I mean, that's when I felt that I'm recognized, and I
believe all of the Navajo people felt that way, or all the Navajo Marines felt
that way. And that was because before that, we were looked at as perhaps
second-class citizens, not allowed to vote, and as people who had very little
ability, but when we became Marines, then we were recognized as not
second-class but first-class, and people that had equal ability with other
GROSS: One last question. What did you think of the movie "Windtalkers"?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: The movie "Windtalkers" got before the public or is getting
before the public the Navajo Code Talkers' story. It does portray the vital
need for an unbreakable code, and it does show that the code was developed by
a unique group of Navajo young men.
GROSS: But did you like it? Did you like the film?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: There are some things that I did not like about it. I
appreciated the story line. Other things, I did not appreciate.
GROSS: What bothered you?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: The language.
GROSS: You don't mean the Navajo language.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: No.
GROSS: You mean obscenities?
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Obscenities, yes. I don't object to some of the swearing.
That does happen. But the obscenities--I really must object to that, because
that didn't happen like the movie portrays it to happen. And I'm not...
GROSS: Gee, I just assumed people in war would speak that way.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, that is definitely an incorrect assumption. Some did,
but it wasn't--I classify it as what we might call overkill, I mean, too much
emphasis on it. There wasn't that much.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, I appreciate sharing with you the story of the Navajo
GROSS: Roy Hawthorne was a Navajo Code Talker during World War II. The
stories of the Navajo Code Talkers are the basis of the new John Woo film
"Windtalkers," starring Nicolas Cage. We'll talk with Cage tomorrow.
Coming up, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews two new recordings.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Review: Two recent releases, "Elliott Carter, Volume 4" and "Great
Performances from the Library of Congress with the Budapest String
Quartet, Volume 12"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Small record labels are often the place to find music outside the usual
repertoire. One such label, Bridge Records, is a favorite of our classical
music critic, Lloyd Schwartz. Two recent releases caught his eye and ear.
LLOYD SCHWARTZ reporting:
One reason the big record companies are in trouble these days may be the
proliferation of recordings of the same standard pieces of music. How many
dozens or hundreds of recordings do we need of Scheherazade or The Four
Seasons? I respect and admire a small company like Bridge Records because
most of the repertoire they record doesn't exist anywhere else. It's also the
expression of personal taste and musical judgment by Bridge's founders, David
and Becky Starobin. David Starobin is a superb guitarist for whom more than
300 pieces of contemporary music have been composed by some of the best living
composers, including such diverse musical minds as Elliott Carter and George
On the new fourth volume of Carter's music, Starobin plays a dazzling little
piece from 1997 when Carter was only 89 years old called "Shard," packing
into two and a half brilliantly condensed minutes a whole sonata's worth of
music. With a wide spectrum of guitar strokes, picking, plucking, strumming,
"Shard" moves from fanfare through lyric introspection to energized scherzo to
a poignant glinting coda that quietly rises and dissolves into the ether.
(Soundbite of "Shard")
SCHWARTZ: It's fascinating to listen to "Shard," then hear how Carter placed
this piece, complete, inside a longer piece called "Luimen," archaic Dutch for
`whimsical moods'; a piece that combines and contrasts heavy brasses with
delicate plucked instruments.
Carter is renowned for his dramatic use of multiple and constantly changing
beats and tempos. His eloquent new song cycle, "Tempo e Tempi," is a
meditation on these very issues, on time itself, times remembered and
intersecting and time passing, using poems by the master 20th-century Italian
poets Montale, Quasimodo and Ungaretti. Its first recording is on this new
Carter disk. Here's soprano Susan Nakuri singing the entire second song.
Quasimodo's poem in Carter's own translation is: We are alone on the living
Earth transfixed by a ray of sunlight and it's suddenly evening.
(Soundbite of "Tempo e Tempi")
Ms. SUSAN NAKURI (Singer): (Singing in Italian)
SCHWARTZ: Bridge Records has also given us an astonishing series of
recordings of the traditional repertoire, live concerts from the Library of
Congress, especially by the fabled Budapest String Quartet. On the latest
release are two masterpieces for strings and piano, Brahms' passionate "G
Minor Piano Quartet" and Schumann's grand and profoundly beautiful "Piano
Quintet." Joining the Budapest is the underrated pianist Artur Balsam.
Here's part of the first movement of the Schumann.
(Soundbite of "Piano Quintet")
SCHWARTZ: These live performances are not as refined as the Budapest
Quartet's studio recordings. There are no retakes or patching sessions. What
we get is exactly what these players sounded like 50 years ago, warts and all.
But they have a warmth, a sense of experience, of conviction, of having lived
through what this music reflects. That's something many performers today
don't seem interested in, so these recordings are cherishable not only for
what they accomplish, which is considerable, but for what they stand for,
which is essential.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz reviewed two releases on Bridge Records, the music of
"Elliott Carter, Volume 4" and "Great Performances from the Library of
Congress with the Budapest String Quartet, Volume 12."(ph)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of "Piano Quintet")
(Soundbite of applause)
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