Book Review: Code Girls by Liza Mundy (Three Stars)


Book Review: Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World Wear II by Liza Mundy

(Three Stars)

“Almost everybody thought we were nothing but secretaries.”

A true and important part of American history. World War II was also won by thousands of women who labored in secret to penetrate the encrypted communications of America’s adversaries.

“Major General Stephen Chamberlin, who served in the Pacific, announced that military intelligence, most of which came from code breaking, ‘saved us many thousands of lives; in the Pacific theater alone, ‘and shortened the war by no less than two years.”

Three hundred pages of story crammed into 456 pages. The book wanders down many rabbit trails. Mundy seemed not able to resist inserting every fact, no matter how trivial and unconnected to her theme.

“Nobody cooperated with the Army, under pain of death,” said naval code breaker Prescott Currier.

Interservice rivalry, office politics and pure bureaucratic stupidity often impeded the mission more that the obtuseness of the cyphers. “Many cited as the chief workplace outrage during the summer of 1943: a directive that all window blinds had to be lowered to the same position.” Some things never change. “Growing up with the ideas that our newspapers always told the truth, I quickly learned about propaganda.” Each generation learns this truth anew.

“The Midway victory also set in motion one of history’s great bureaucratic backstabbings.”

A better book is Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies. Better: read them both.

“’Mother, how dreadful! You killed all those Japanese sailors, and you were pleased about it!’ Elizabeth was dumbfounded. America quickly forgot what the war had felt like—how real the menace had been.” We wallow in that same ignorance today.

“And for every hero brave/ Who will find ashore,/ his man-sized chore/ Was done by a Navy WAVE.”