Roanoke native Liza Mundy’s new book Code Girls tells the story of the 10,000 or so mostly young women who played a vital World War II role in breaking the Axis codes for the Allies. They were instrumental in winning a war we could not afford to lose, but until now nobody really mentioned them because their story was hidden in the dark and dusty halls of D.C., where almost nobody went looking.
This is the latest–and maybe the best–examination of women as warriors, not just people who kept the home fires burning during times of national catastrophe. Mundy’s narrative is intelligent, probing, revealing and, frankly, encouraging. Hollins University’s theater department is in the middle of a play run, “Men On Boats,” that deals harshly with the way history has been written–mostly by white men.
Mundy, a former Washington Post award-winning reporter and author of several best-sellers, grew up in Roanoke, daughter of prominent attorney Marshall Mundy. She has become recognized as an expert on women’s employment issues.
Mundy’s book and several other books and movies dealing with codes, front-line nursing, African-American women and NASA, among other things have become big hits. I’m not surprised. In a country starving for heroes, men have pretty much worn out their (our) welcome and women are left to fill the void and maybe even to save the country.
History, for the most part, has been written by men and that is limiting. When you add in “men who won,” it becomes even more narrow. I find it fascinating, for example, to stream Netflix and Amazon TV series made in other countries on topics where Americans were involved (WWII, for example). I get a view I can’t find here. And it makes the view I keep much more relevant.
Mundy’s book is gracious in that it doesn’t take cheap shots at some of these blockhead men, that it credits those who actually helped push women forward and that it tells the truth, as far as that can be determined. Mundy’s effort to discover the role African-American women played hit wall after wall and the information she came away with was insignificant, though those women’s role was not.
History is imperfect, but fortunately, we’re dealing with its shortcomings in a positive way that can make us all smarter and help us to appreciate what was and what wasn’t. We’re better for that.