I, IV by A.E. Benenson

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Ian Cheng, from This Papaya Tastes Perfect, 2011

I.

Here are the Germans in Arizona and New Mexico.

Their skin turning the coral-red of the veined rocks, of the local jewelry, as if the color had begun to rub off on them in the heat, some kind of desert frottage but really a sunburn is the just the opposite, if you think about it.

But that is how things are when they are opposites: you can't tell them apart.

Like the first time the group saw a Swastika on a native's cloth rug beady red inside a clutch of eagles, their wings eddying around it—one of them realized for the first time that the sign looked exactly like a miniature windmill (another learned later that in Navajo the symbol did almost mean that, in fact—"whirling log")

Another German was embarrassed; but for the others, this sign was a sign and they telegraphed Goebbels immediately.

It was like when Cortez had arrived in Mexico: 

His men found that the natives there already worshipped a deity with long hair and fair skin, Quetzelcoatl, who had walked the earth before he ascended into the heavens. Ignoring any other possibility, Cortez understood this as the proof of the universality of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. 

The Germans didn't know it then, but that turned out to be the "breakthrough" of their reconnaissance mission. It was the best these code crackers would do: discover a symbol they already all wore on their uniforms.  

The rest of the Navajo language remained as much of a mystery as when it had first been captured coming across the Allied wireless.  

After they returned home, those Germans still thought of the Allied Code, but something changed. It made no more sense, but before, whereas ...

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