CODE GIRLS

The Riveting, Untold Story Of The Brave Young American Women Who Cracked Both The German And Japanese Code To Help Win World War II

A woman driver was hit from behind by a man driver at a four-way intersection.  As both drivers exited their vehicles, the woman yelled at the man, “Didn’t you see my hand signal?”  The fella admitted that he saw her hand first go up, then go down, then circle and finally  point straight.  What was he to think?  “Simple,” the lady replied, “The first two hand signals might have been wrong, but didn’t you see me erase them and finally give you the right one?”  We make fun of women changing their minds, but there’s no joke about the minds of women when it came to World War II.

In the book, Code Girls, author Liza Mundy writes,

Recruited from settings as diverse as elite women’s colleges and small Southern towns, more than ten-thousand young American women served as code-breakers for the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II. While their brothers, boyfriends, and husbands took up arms, these women went to the nation’s capital with sharpened pencils –  and sharper minds – taking on highly demanding top secret work, involving complex math and linguistics. Running early computers and poring over reams of encrypted enemy messages, they worked tirelessly in a pair of overheated makeshift code-breaking centres in Washington, DC, from 1942 to 1945. Their achievements were immense: they cracked a crucial Japanese code, which gave the U.S. an acute advantage in the Battle of Midway and changed the course of the war in the Pacific Theatre; they helped create the false communications that caught the Germans flat-footed in the lead-up to the Normandy invasion; and their careful tracking of Japanese ships and German U-boats saved countless American and British sailors’ lives.  For many of these young women, breaking codes was one of the most thrilling times of their lives: they were engaged in stimulating, truly essential work – enjoying challenges and opportunities that had never been open to them before – while, in many cases, getting their first taste of big city life, falling in and out of love, amid the excitement and heartbreak of wartime.

And then the publisher of the book adds as to how the story itself was finally discovered.  Ordered by military officials never to reveal the scope of their war work, these women and their incredible stories and accomplishments were all but written out of history until Mundy discovered a cache of recently declassified documents at the archives of the NSA. (National Security Agency).  Based on these documents, other rich archival sources, and interviews with the women themselves (those still alive and now in their late nineties), it’s a riveting account of courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

But in reading the book, what stood out most for me were the young missionary ladies who were so critical to the code-breaking success.  You see, back then there was no problem finding young American women who could speak fluent German and so initially translate the intercepted coded-words from the battlefields of Europe.  However, such was not the case when it came to the very difficult Japanese language.  So where did the government turn for help – to American missionary families who had left Japan when the war began.  Here were daughters who had grown up in the Land of the Rising Sun and could both read and speak the dialect.  So these girls were recruited and became real game-changers in winning the Far East war.

The bottom line?  It has been said, “War is h-e-l-l.  And for these missionary gals it was not only true in body and mind, but also in soul.  For they loved the Japanese people dearly and now they were helping to send some millions of these same folk to a Christ-less eternity.