Get Me Coding Book Review - Code Girls

Book Review: Code Girls – The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Code Girls – The Untold Story of the American Woman Code Breakers of World War II is an excellent retelling of how the United States military broke the secret transmissions of Germany and Japan during the Second World War. Liza Mundy takes you back to experience a well researched story that I was not aware but felt I should share here on the GetMeCoding.com Blog.

Code Girls is a very well researched story with its examples of grit, intelligence, a love of country, and a dedication to each other.  You do not need to be a World War II history expert to enjoy this book.   Code Girls tells a story that lays the foundation of early computing and cyber security.

If you do enjoy World War II history, I highly recommend this book as it does explain how strategy shaped by intelligence impacted how we fought the war. 

I also recommend this for teachers in STEM/STEAM roles who can use the examples of these woman for their students interested in studying technology, coding, and cybersecurity. 

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A Story of Intellect, Secrecy, and Dedication

Code Girls tells how more than 10,000 woman were secretly recruited from colleges and brought to Washington D.C..  These young woman helped to build a solid foundation for cryptanalysis which is the process of deciphering coded messages.  This type of work before computers required a sharp mind and level of dedication that can be an inspiration for all generations.

During World War II, the colleges across the country were becoming emptied of the men who joining the U.S. Military.  Some of these of these woman who said good-bye to brothers, friends, boyfriends, and teachers would then go on to serve in a secret capacity that they would take with them to their dying days.  The woman were told to tell others they were secretaries in order to keep the secrecy of their project work.

If you are familiar with the story of the woman in the book and movie Hidden Figures that tells of their key roles in the American space program during the 1960’s, this has a similar feel.  I have read many stories, watched countless documentaries, and viewed motion pictures of various accounts from World War II.  I was completely surprised by this account told in Code Girls.

A Challenge Unlike Any Other

Their challenge was simple, decipher encrypted messages transmitted by the Axis powers.  Once the codes were deciphered it became intelligence that allowed us to dismantle the Nazi army and navy.  It then lead to saving thousands of lives in the Pacific war front as it allowed us to know where the Japanese were going to move next. 

For many decades, the woman, some who became leaders within the United States intelligence community, never spoke about what they did as they took their oaths of secrecy seriously.

Code Girls image with team working on deciphering a code
Cryptographers, both male and female, were trained to decode German encrypted communications during World War II. (National Archives, RG 457)

As computer programmer and former military officer, I was fascinated by the depth of detail that really brought these woman to life.   Liza Mundy introduces you to a group of woman who exemplify what can be achieved when you put your mind to it. 

After reading the story, I went out to the website where I was eager to hear the woman gives accounts in their own words (see video below).  Sadly, since the publication, these woman have passed away but what a gift Liza was given to be able to capture this story.

Code Girls woman working with crytanalytic device
A female code breaker and member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program operated a Naval Security Station cryptanalytic machine to help decode enemy communications during World War II. WAVES was created during the war effort in response to a need for additional military personnel. (National Archives, RG 457)

Meet These Amazing Woman

Summary

I enjoyed this book as an audio book while walking my dog and during long drives.  Each segment had me reflecting on how the world has changed but difficult problems still exist.  When my thoughts moved to my many students at the college level, I began to wonder if my students have this same level of dedication and persistence these woman possessed. 

Having two daughters and raised by a widowed Mom, I was saddened to think how these woman were treated.  To deal with it, they turned to one another for strength and support as the problem was incredibly challenging not to mention trying to be recognized in an organization dominated by men.

All in all this is a amazing and inspiring story that I am happy to have found.  It fills in a knowledge gap that I did not know I had.

NOTE: If you know of any other code girls, you can visit this website to learn how to provide your information.

Closing Observation

If there is one passage that still haunts me it is this one and it is why reading and understanding accurate historical accounts is important for us all as we face current world challenges.

One message between a Japanese emissary and his headquarters commented on how to topple the United States.  They messaged that by using messaging or propaganda focused on economic and racial strife in the United States, a disruption can occur.  Of course it never happened.

Even today, we have deep divide racially and economically.  Social media in everyone’s hands via smartphones that message us all day.  What if that message was divisive?  One can possibly draw from this that someone is taking a play from the Japanese war machine in the 1940’s.  If ever needed,  would we have the ability to raise an army of Code Girls today?  Time will tell.

I hope you find this story as interesting and inspiring as I do.

Enjoy!

GetMeCoding.com Mr Fred

 

Mr. Fred

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