In 1994, while serving a 25-yr prison sentence on a drug conviction (an archival conspiracy), I found myself with a new cellmate at FCI McKean, PA…the former Chairman (Chief) of the Navajo Nation, Peter MacDonald.
From day one I used my time to pursue studies in historical knowledge and a Doctorate in Forensic Psychology (PsyD).
My attitude was to thoroughly study the American gulag from inside the beast, as it were, and to avail myself of all the knowledge and experience possible from those around me…prisoners, staff and contractors.
My cellmates included Mafia figures, a bankster ($200 million rip), an airline pilot (Lufthansa), a Cuban gusano commandant, an IRA officer, an Air Force general, a Medellín Cartel pilot, a Grateful Dead-Head, a Nigerian gov’t official, a PA state rep, a US Congressman and a variety of other interesting characters.
The U.S. federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a unique living laboratory. With more than 118 facilities, holding more than 215,000 prisoners. Some 27% are designated as “aliens,” mostly Hispanic, but quite representative of an international population. Imperial Rome was not built in a day….
If one adds the populations of state jails and prisons, juvenile, military, Native American, immigrant, possessions et cetera, we’re looking at a total of some 2.5 million world citizens.
If you add all those who are under criminal justice control (parole, probation, etc.) the number reaches over 7.5 million. Add former felons, well, you get the idea….
America is the largest “criminal” gulag empire in human history. Ironically, only 3-to-8% of these populations are considered violent predators. The incapacitation of criminal predators in the general population is the least of its tasks.
One might reasonably argue that the capitalist enterprise fosters–if not requires–the warehousing of a large surplus labor force.
Just over 50% are drug prisoners, mostly for reefer. (During alcohol Prohibition, that percentage rose to 75%.) The percentage convicted of moral, consensual and public order “crimes” designated as victimless is 86% of the total prison population.
Contrary to the conservative algebra of the corporate media, if one were to release 1% of the predators, the impact on society would be significant; on the other hand, if over half the consensual prisoners were to be released one would hardly score a blip on the reported-crime graphs. Well, that’s my experiential opinion….
But for these “criminal” designations (overwhelmingly weighted toward racial, ethnic and class factors), the federal prison population is in fact a reasonable microcosm of the general US population. (Give ’em time, they’ll get around to the rest of y’all…)
In all-too-many respects, the police, prosecution and court systems are themselves predatory, parasitic agencies imposing racial and class rule for the direct benefit of a corporatist/political elite.
Back to Peter MacDonald. Pete was born to the Navajo in 1928. He was among young native children wrenched from their parents by Congressional decree and installed in Christian Missionary facilities to be whitewashed (forbidden their dress, language, religion, long hair, even their original names).
In 1944 Pete was laboring on the railroad. Being only 15, he falsified his birth status and joined the U.S. Marine Corp. After boot camp he trained as a Navajo Code Talker and was sent to the Pacific. When the US nuked Japan and ended the war, Pete was sent to China to help repatriate Japanese troops.
After military service, he completed high school and used his GI Bill to attend Oklahoma University, acquiring a degree in electrical engineering. Working for Hughes Aircraft, he became a Project Manager of the Polaris (Submarine) Missile Program. Pete eventually returned to the Navajo Reservation and served as the elected Chairman (Chief) of the Navajo Nation for a total of 20-yrs.
In 1989 in a tribal election dispute, two local sheriff officers were “kidnapped” and two of Pete’s followers were killed. While Pete was not present, he was convicted (like Leonard Peltier, another Indian leader) of conspiracy to riot along with fraud and racketeering and sentenced to 14-yrs. After serving most of his sentence the remainder was commuted by Clinton in 2001.
In our cell, Pete was one busy beaver. In addition to his full-time prison clerk’s job, he was constantly writing letters to correspondents, working on another book following up on his autobiography, working on a Navajo dictionary and other projects.
The Navajo are the largest Native American tribe in the United States. Their tribal lands of over 27,000 square miles occupy significant parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Navajo land is comparable to the size of Ireland.
True to other historical aspects of Euro-American racism and nativism, the Navajo were treated as sub-humans by many colonial settlers. As with other tribes, the Navajo suffered a variety of massacres by colonists and the Army, one of them was the Long Walk in 1863. Even birthing mothers who “straggled” were shot.
Like other Native Americans they would no doubt have been dispossessed and mostly wiped-out had their lands been more fertile. Given their often cruel wardship by the US, the Navajo remain among the poorest of populations in America.
Nevertheless, the Navajo saw their military service as a source of great pride. One might be able to imagine young men coming from such a victimized culture becoming Marines, given such critical jobs as Code Talkers and being respected for the first time in their lives by the ruling culture.
The Navajo Code Talkers participated in all 14 of the Pacific Island campaigns, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa during World War-II. They were credited with saving many thousands of American lives.
After the war, they were considered so secret (to be used in future conflicts) that for 24 years (1969) they were prohibited from divulging what they had done, even to their families.
Pete is a curious blend of Navajo and Christianity (as are most colonized peoples). He explained to me that the actual name of the Navajo were the Diné, the original people, and that they were the first people in the world and were bounded by the four sacred mountains.
To me–a secular humanist–his belief is perfectly in line with the other world religions. They all believe that they alone were “chosen” by their respective god(s).
On the other hand, scientists have found that the genesis for modern humans was Africa some 200,000 years ago.
Eventually humans spread throughout the planet. Asians traveled into the Western Hemisphere thru the Bering Bridge. DNA studies today confirm these hypotheses.
For me, other confirmation came from Sally McClain’s 1994 book on the Code Talkers, Navajo Weapon. The Japanese themselves–a highly ethnic-conscious race–supplied an interesting form of confirmation.
During the War in the Pacific, the Japanese were very keen on cracking the Navajo code. One of their highest priorities was to capture one of these elusive “Navajo.”
What they never realized until December of 1944, was that they already had a Navajo that they had captured in 1942 in the Philippines at Corregidor. He was Joe Kieyoomia who had joined the Army in 1941 and had survived the Bataan Death March not long after Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese were convinced that Joe was hiding his true Asian ancestry (even his name to them was Japanese-sounding: “Key-oh-me”). All of his protestations that he was an American Indian only further pissed-off his interrogators.
They transferred him to Nagasaki, Japan and tortured him repeatedly, breaking a number of bones over time to get him to admit he was Japanese. At one point, they made him stand over night in the cold, freezing his feet to the ground.
When they finally figured it out and had him listen to some recordings of the battle-field code, Joe was amazed to hear his own language. While he could easily understand the words, they were in a code that made no sense to him. This led to even greater torture.
In August of 1945 the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Joe survived. (One of the war secrets is the number of POWs killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
After the war, it took another four years of hospitalization for Joe to recover. He was grateful to the code-talkers…having a remote chance of breaking the code is the only reason the Japs even kept him alive.
Today Peter MacDonald is the president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association. I believe there are 39 (out of some 385) still living. They’re trying to raise funds for a Navajo Code Talker Memorial in New Mexico.
As stated…I cherished my time with Pete… Even great empires create the conditions for their own eventual fall…
P.S.: A response I’ve since rec’d from Peter MacDonald: There were a total of over 400 Navajo Code Talkers in WW-II; 13 were KIA and more the a dozen WIA; and only 38 remain alive, Pete being the youngest at 85.
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD)