I love reading well written history books and my interest mostly lies in politics or WWII. However, my knowledge about the Second World War has been limited to Nazism, the Holocaust and the occupation of Paris. This book covers a new aspect of the war for me – an American women’s perspective. Many men have been recognized and celebrated for the parts they played in the Allied victory and all of them were well deserved. However, what we never realize is the extent of involvement of women in wartime activities and how they have never been appropriately appreciated. This book gives a small glimpse into the lives of some such women code breakers who played a crucial part in the war.
This was a time when women wanted to get educated, even in unusual fields like math and science but didn’t have many job prospects because all the “important” jobs were required for men. This forced even highly intelligent and capable women to settle for low paying teaching jobs, sometimes in remote places with no facilities. But the war changed everything. All the healthy men were needed to fight the war from the frontlines and it was only the women who were left and they had to be engaged in intelligence activities to support the forces and gain advantage over the Axis powers. This books tells the story of how highly intelligent women graduates were picked from colleges and also school teachers who were tested and shipped to DC. They were sworn to an oath of secrecy, mostly had to learn cryptanalysis on the job and get to work immediately. They played a crucial role in the battle of Midway, the attack and killing of Japanese commander Yamamoto who was responsible for Pearl Harbor and the sinking of many enemy ships. Their code breaking skills were highly responsible for cutting off supplies to the Japanese troops in the Pacific and create a diversion that helped the Allied forces in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
The book describes a lot of technical details about code breaking in the initial days and might be very interesting for readers of the profession. It explores the relationships that these amazing women forged with each other and in some cases maintained their whole life. But the author is also able to show us how these women were affected by the war – they were happy when they helped in the defeat of the enemies, satisfied with saving the lives of their countrymen but also devastated when their own family members sacrificed their lives. Their aspirations, friendships, vulnerabilities are captured well in the book. At the same time, the stereotypes and misogyny they faced is also quite clearly captured.
What happened to these women after the war is worth noting and mentioned in the last chapter. Most of the women had to settle as homemakers because the jobs were for men and they couldn’t disclose their code breaking activities. Some women did manage to go back to college and become professionals in other fields. Nothing would ever be the same for them though. However, some women managed to remain in the code breaking profession. But most of them remained close to each other because only they understood.
I feel proud and privileged to read about these women. We should appreciate what they did in times when women were not considered capable of anything other than being housewives and mothers. They have made it possible for us to pursue our dreams and prove that women can be anything they want to be. I salute these amazing women for their work and it’s time they are all celebrated. And I thank the author for bringing their story to us.
PS: I thank Hachette books and Netgalley for providing me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.