tv Call-in with Liza Mundy Code Girls CSPAN April 16, 2018 7:35am-8:02am EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> booktv is on facebook. like us to get publishing news, scheduling updates, behind the scenes pictures and videos, author information and to talk directly with authors during our live programs. facebook.com/booktv. >> and our live coverage from the tucson festival of books continues.st liza mundy, who has written most recently "code girls: the untold story of the american women codebreakers of world war world war ii," now joins us to take your calls. liza mundy, how do you find a history like this? did you stumble on it? >> guest: yes. so i read a declassified
history. the national security agency is our descendant of wartime code breaking. and they knew that their origin story was largely female. and there were internal histories about this. one of them had been declassified. i read it, and then i talked to some agency historians who introduced me to the larger or story. and then itin was a matter of tracking down women and getting records declassified. >> host: margo lee shetterly's hidden figures came out around the same time. >> guest: right. >> host: how is it that these books came out about the same time? >> guest: yes. and i think of these women as the hidden figures of the greatest generation, and it is extraordinary their stories have been untold up until now. i think we're in an era where people are receptive to believing these stories. i think hidden figures did an enormous service to the rest of us authors in terms of preparing people to believe that this really happened, that these women have been laboring in rooms in american history.
the rooms have been dark, but theen switches are being flipped now, and the lights are going on in the rooms, and we realize these women have been here doing important work all along. >> host: you got first-person accounts, too, with these code girls.>> >> guest: right. yeah. in some cases i had to convince them they wouldn't be put in prison if they spoke to me about the work that they did. they were very, very good about keeping the secret. >> host: fran stein. here's a quote. the quote, here's the one that got that s.o.b., only a damn woman could have figured out that blanking code. what are we talking about? >> guest: right. well, thenk implication was thee was something irrational about that particular code that the japanese were using. this was our code-breaking effort in which we were able to put together the effort of admiral yamamoto, the mastermind behind pearl harbor, and we put
togetherer his itinerary when he was making an inspection tour in the solomon islands and shot his plane out of the area. >> host: and fran stein was the one who -- >> guest: well, there were groups of people working on that, men in the pacific and women in washington, d.c. who were working as fast as they could to put together his actine area. there was also a group of women from wellesley that was involved in the yamamoto shootdown, and they recalled that cheering went upol in the code-breaking compod when they learned that the plane had been shot out of the air. >> host: what were thep logistis behind moving all these women to washington, housing them, uniforming them? >> guest: washington was transformed by thousands and thousands of women taking the trains, landing in union station, scrambling for housing. eventually barracks would be built, dorms would be built for the women, but at first it was a scramble for boarding houses, for a basement, an attic. there were groups of women living together, you know, in grouptt houses, living together
for the first time. there was a lot of -- it was a very hard, hard job. there was a lot of stress and urgency, but this their off hours there was also a lot of fun, there was a lot of drinking. this was the first time that the women had ever been unchaperoned, so you can imagine. >> host: liza mundyon is our guest, "code girls" is the book, and cherry is calling in from hawaii. please go ahead with your question or comment. >> caller: lisa, can you hear me? >> guest: yes, i can hear you. >> caller: okay. lisa, this isn't directly necessarily all about the code girls, although i'm hearing the things that you said about what happened to them and the other two ladies. my question to you would be have youe heard from either of the other two ladies or three ladies or whoever put the bug in your ear about the code girls? about what we have known of, in our family is called the funny
uncles. and what they are, are the men who didn't go to war and the women who had to stay home and live with them. and the children who had to stay home and live with them. and it was a very nasty sexual experience for many of the wives who were home. their husbands were fighting, but their brothers were at home. things were going on at home. so they were fighting world war ii on a whole different level. and stories are just now coming out from, example, my class and my classmates. and i'm 74, 75. so those horror stories are just beginning to come to light. i don't know if you've heard about themro at all. >> host: all right, cherry, thank you very much. liza mundy, any comment for her? >> guest: well, it was a a time- i haven't heard those particular stories, but i certainly believe them. and it was a time of, you know,
enormous dislocation and social change, and i'm sure there were vulnerable young women at hole. and there weree also women -- at home. and there were also women getting on trains, coming to the nation's capital. most of them had the time of their lives, but it was a very chaoticic period. >> host: up next is lavinia in boulder, colorado. go ahead. >> caller: thank you for taking my call. ita love c-span. i watch it almost constantly. my older sister was living in washington. he was working in washington, d.c., and she flew to england. she was a codebreaker. she flew to england, and she worked over there until, i don't know, it was after world war ii was over or not, but she came home. andd she never talked about it. it was a always a secret, it seemed like, to the family. so is i just wanted to tell you that i was really interested in
listening to all of the, all of the ladies, especially the one from england. i love the english. and it was just so much fun to hear their conversations, their accent, of course, and their stories about when they were codebreakers. >> host: thank you for calling in. liza mundy, it's funny, right before this began i told you my auntie did this in world war ii, and she would not talk about it. >> guest: that's right. there were thousands of women who did this work, and it was top secret work. of course, you can't have the enemy know you've broken their cold systems because they'll change the code systems, because all your hard work will be lost. so the women were told during the war that if anybody asked what they did, they were to say that they were secretaries, you know, that they empty wastebaskets and sharpened pencil, and their work was unimportant.
and they continued that after the war. they were told nobody could ever know. nobody told them in the 1980s when they were released from their80 oath of secrecy, so most of the women took the secret to their graves or told their families they were secretaries. >> host: and it's funny, because you heard in your research, correct? >> guest: and i've heard from so many families. oh, so that's what my mother was doing or my grandmother was doing. she always said she was a secretary, but it's almost guaranteed that she probably wasn't, particularly if the work was secret. >> host: david's in las vegas. david, please go ahead. >> caller: yes, can you hear me? >> guest: yes. >> caller: hello? hi? >> host: david, please go ahead. we are listening. >> caller: okay. i just wanted to make sure i was live. may i call you liza? >> guest: sure. >> caller: okay. liza, i've been watching c-span, as i always do every weekend, and it was a few weeks ago, and they had -- it was spotlighted
on world war i, the codebreakers, by a gentleman, american gentleman. do you remember anything of this person? and i think they used some other people for the code breaking. >> host: david, i apologize, i can't remember what book that is. we've covered some books on this topic including margot lee shetterly's "hidden figures," ney that would ya holt's "rocket girls." let's try michael in beechwood, ohio. you're on booktv from the tucson festival of books with author liza mundy, and we are listening. >> caller: hi, liza, this is michael, and i hope you can understand me all right. i'm a 30-year veteran of one of the service crypt logic agencies from the middle '60s until i retired in the mid '90s.
>> guest: thank you for your service. >> caller: thank you. thank you for your book. [laughter] one brief question, then i'll go on. the women and men who were working on the yamamoto schedule, were they in op 20-g? were they part of the navy? >> guest: yes. yes, navy. uh-huh. >> caller: okay. i've heard the stories of the women in world war ii, and naval security, they were told if they everst said anything, they'd be shot. >> guest: exactly, you got it. >> caller: well, they didn't tell us we'd be shot. [laughter] none of us, we took our oath seriously, and i was president of the northern ohio chapter of
the association of former intelligence officers, kind of involved with some debates about, you know, at conventions of other agencies of when it's okay to leak classified material. and the answer is it was never okay to leak classified material. what we did was not subject to automatic downgrading of classification at 12-year intervals like much other stuff was, and we just didn't talk about it. i thought when the enigma secret came out in the '70s, i was appalled and outraged, and i didn't think anybody should be talking about it, and i still don't. it's fine, keep it secret. i think it's ad good idea. -- a good idea. and in the '60s and '70s, a lot of the material from world war ii is still completely classified and rightfully so because some of our enemies in the '60s and '70s were using those same systems because they didn't know any better, and that was fine with us.
so we didn't want those -- >> host: all right.s michael, thank you. we're going to leave it there. liza mundy, are we still using some of the intelligence that we learned in world war ii today? is some of this still classified? >> guest: well, some of the world war ii records are still classified, yes. i mean, i i worked very hard to get as much material declassifiedil as i could, and i certainly think lo these many years l later a great deal of ts material should be declassified. i certainly agree with the caller that leaks during wartime are something that you don't want to have happening. the women took that very seriously. in my interviews i not only had to persuade them sometimes they wouldn't be put in prison if they talked to me, but they had trouble bringing themselves to utter certain terms like overlap was a noun and a verb that they used in the course of their code-breaking work, and they had been told never to use certain words because if the enemy heard
you on the street, if somebody from the axis heard you on and street and you said overlap or security, they would know what was going on in these giant code-breaking compounds. the caller mentioned the compound on nebraska avenue which is where our department of homeland security is now, and that's where the women codebreakers were working for the u.s. navy. >> host: why women? was it simply a manpower issue? >> guest: because the men were unavailable. national emergency is a time of inclusion. we brought in the navajo code talkers, we availed ourselves of linguists and we did the same for women. we needed educated people who could learn this very difficult work very quickly. i literally found a memo in the national archives in which somebody in the u.s. navy, when they were recruiting codebreakers, types up "new source, women's colleges." >> host: from your book, 199 42,
the chair of the senate's committee on naval affairs argued that, quote, admitting women into the navy would break up homes and amount to a step backward in civilization. >> guest: yes. there was enormous controversy about admitting women into the military in world war ii. the navalrs codebreakers that we've been talking about were waves. they were women dur accepted for volunteer emergency service. this was the first big effort to include women in the u.s. military. there had been some in world war i, but this was a larger number, and there was a lot of resistancela particularly from e older admirals in the navy. they didn't want the women to have navyhe blue, they wanted tm to be gray or tan. the women who were pushing for inclusion of women in the military understood that even such things as uniform color were very important. it was very important to signal that the women were fully part of the naval reserves. theys were reservists called ino action. and so it was, it was a momentous time. i mean, some of the women that i
interviewed who had enlisted, their parents didn't want to permit hem to enlist because there was rumor-mongering that they were prostitutes, that they were entering the service for the sake of the men, the benefit of the men. but very quickly the families became very proud of their daughters who were members of the navy and, ultimately, the u.s. army as well. >> host: sean in redmond, washington, go ahead. we're listening. >> guest: liza, i want to congratulate you on your work, getting the mandatory declassification done. i think you can tell in my voice i am very, very knowledgeable on what that takes, and you need to take a bow when you're done with this interview. [laughter] i know what you went through, okay? that's numberh one. number two, i have two relatives of mine that are cold war vietnam era and peacetime era
individuals that were unclassified jobs in their branches, and they're super duper, duper, duper, duper secret. so again, congratulations. my question to you simply as an author, what would you advise some individual who may want to write a book -- and i've been talkingg to defense review, i have a good relationship with them -- what i'm considering doing something like that, so i wanted to just hear from you, basically, how difficult it is and, you know, whatow are the ps and cons when you're not an author to try to do something like that. and i'll take your answer off the air. have a great day today. >> guest: oh, thank you. well, i mean, i can respond to that a bit. it doesn't matter whether you're an author or not, a published author.
if you're applying for a freedom ofpl information act request or mandatory declassification review, all citizens can do that. i mean, that's the beauty of our foia t law, is that you don't he to be anybody -- anybody can do it and, of course, lots of citizens make foia requests. so, you know, file those requests. and take advantage of this great law that we have of that obligates the federal agencies to make this information available if they, you know, if they -- and also be patient, because some of these requests can actually take years. >> host: years? >> guest: years. >> host: how long have you been, did you work on "code girl"? >> guest: i worked on this for three years from start to finish. i got a lot of records declassified, i'm still getting letters saying, oh, this request that you placed two years ago, let us know if you're still interested. i'm still interested. >> host: next up is marilyn right here in tucson is, you're on with author liza mundy.
go ahead. >> caller: thank you for taking my call, and i just wanted to thank you for bringing the untold story of women to light. my question, were there any african-american women during the code breaking? >> guest: thank you so much for asking that. >> host: great question. >> guest: yes. so the navy was not willing to admit african-american women into that code-breaking compound. the navy did, not until 1945, but they were very paranoid about background and, you know, and5 things like that. but the army did. there was an african-american unit at the army code-breaking compound in arlington, virginia, not far from where i live, and that was a secret unit that worked the codes and ciphers of the private sector. so then as now companies and banks encrypted their communications that were traveling over the airwaves s and we wanted the know if any of our companies or banks were doing business with hitler or mitsubishi or japanese
companies. so there was a segregated african-american civilian army unit who was breaking codes to the private sector, so i'm so glad that caller asked. >> host: that's an untold story, isn't iting? >> uh-huh. i would have liked to have included, and i'm hoping maybe there's a family out there who knows their mother or grandmother did work at arlington hall during the war. >> host: do you have a web site where people can contact you? >> guest: yes, it's lizamundy.com, and there's a contact the author button, and i always love to hear from people. >> host: next call is danielle in p pensacola, florida. hi, danielle. >> caller: hi. thank you for taking my call. my mother worked in d.c. as a, quote, secretary. we never knew exactly where or anything, and i wonder is there a list, or how do we find out if, in fact, that might have been her job? >> guest: right.
so, yeah, that's what all the women told their families after the war, that they were secretaries. so also on my web site there's a tab called resources for families and codebreakers, and i have instructions there. you can file a request for your mother or grandmother or aunt's civilian or military record during world war ii. it's all a matter of public record. i had a researcher, and her name is on my web site as well, or you can do it yourself. you can fileit a request, and is wonderful. you can get the college transcripts, you can get the background loyalty reports, and then you can get the ranks and the ratings and the work that these women did. so i highly recommend doing it. >> host: lyle in madison, alabama, you're on booktv. >> caller: good, thank you for taking my call. lyle here. hello? >> host: lyle, please go ahead. we are listening. >> caller: i said thank you for taking my call.
this is lyle, i'm in -- right now i'm out in tennessee, but, yeah, interesting bit of history. one of the things the air force army air corps was doing back in that year was they were using aerial surveillance to collect information to bring in to the girls. my father was the pilot in one of those aircraft. to make things even more interesting is when i became old enough to join the air force, i was put into the same type organization, and i did that for 40 years. are you there? >> host: well, thank you -- >> guest: yes. >> host: thank you for calling in, and thank you for sharing your experience. >> guest: yes. >> host: were there male codebreakers as well? >> guest: oh, absolutely. the women, for the most part, were confined to washington d.c. >> host: confined. >> guest: literally confined int these code-breaking compounds, but many of the women hoped they
would go overseas. the navy was reluctant to admit women into the theater of war, but for the most part the women stayed in washington. some of them did go to europe, and some of them went to the pacific, but the men were out there in the pacific, the atlantic and the european theater working wither the women as well. and to the call orer's point, the other thing they would do with the pilots in order that the japanese and the germans not know we were breaking their code systems, planes would be sent is up. so if we were sinking ships or sinking supply ships that the japanese army and navy would think that their supply ship had been spotted by an airplane when, in fact, it was code breaking, you know, that had determined the location of that ship. so that was another way in which they were working together with the pilots. >> host: 1945 rolls around, thek war is ending, what happens to all these women? how many women are we talking aboutsome. >> guest: we're talking about at least 11,000 women, probably more because some might have, you know, come and gone during the war although the women with the navy were in there for the
duration. so after the war for the most part, the women are told thanks very much for your service, you did a a great job, you saved thousands of lives, you shortened the war but never tell anybody what you did. the navy women were given a medal, they were told never to show it to anybody. so they were told to keep the secret for the rest of their lives. they were actually released from their oath of secrecy in the 1980s, but nobody told them. [laughter] nobody told them individually that it was okay to talk, so most of them took the secret to their graves. there was, however, an important can horse who stayed -- cohort who stayed with the work. many of the first super grades at the nsa came out of the war. one of the women rose to become the first female deputy director of the nsa. so there was an important generation of women who were pioneers of cyber intelligence, basically. >> host: were they given veterans benefits? >> guest: the navy women in
theory qualified for the g.i. benefits and any women who joined the women's army corps did as well. they could avail themselves of g.i. benefits, but it was spotty. one of the womenr working for te navy, a brilliant woman from vassar wanted to be an architect, after the war she wanted to use her g.i. bill to go to graduate school, all the architecture schools turned her down and said we're holding these spots for returning men, and she said i was also a member of the u.s. navy. they said, too bad. and she couldn't told them that she had sunk a convoy. they just, they couldn't tell what contribution they had made. >> host: here's the book. it's called "code girls." and chapter ten is entitled "pencil-pushing mamas sink the shipping of japan." liza mundy is the author. >> guest: that was actually a poem that one of the codebreakers wrote. and they did.
>> host: there we go. >> you're watching booktv on c-span2, with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. booktv, television for serious readers. >> next on "the communicators," a discussion on the impact of congressional hearings with facebook's ceo mark zuckerberg. then a briefing on the economic outlook from the congressional budget office. after that, a look at changing u.s. demographics and the electoral possibilities for democrats and republicans in future presidential elections. that's live at 9:30 a.m. eastern. >> tonight on "landmark cases," brandenburg v. ohio. ku klux klan leader clarence brandenburg was convicted of hate speech under an ohio law, but the supreme court
unanimously ruled the state violated his right. our bests are the former head of the american civil liberties union and law professor at new york law school in manhattan and a senior attorney at columbia university's knight first amendment institute. watch "landmark cases" tonight and join the conversation. our hashtag is landmark cases and follow us @c-span. and we have resources on our web site for background on each case. the landmark cases companion book, a link to the national constitution center's interactive constitution and the landmark cases podcast at c-span.org/landmarkcases. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies, and today t we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress,