Category Archives: language

Okinawan Médecins Avec Frontières

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~2765:

The imperial schooling of Okinawan youths in Taiwan reflects Okinawa’s liminal position in the Japanese colonial empire. Taiwan had benefited from heavy Japanese investment in colonial development, whereas Okinawa was left behind and marginalized within the Japanese Inner Territory. The Medical Training School was the first and most eminent medical school in Okinawa before World War II, but it was poorly equipped and had insufficient human resources. In contrast, the support the colonial government of Taiwan provided for medical education enabled Taiwan Medical College to quickly become the top educational institution for the Taiwanese. Nevertheless, Okinawan youths were able to take advantage of their “Japanese” status in obtaining imperial schooling. Taiwan Medical College opened its doors to Japanese students in 1919 and allowed Taiwanese students to enroll alongside them in 1922. Bringing the Taiwanese into tertiary institutions with Japanese students reinforced the fact that they were in direct competition with the Japanese and at a disadvantage because they were not native speakers of Japanese. Instead, Okinawan youths gained the most from the policy allowing Taiwanese students to attend medical school alongside their Japanese peers. Taiwan Medical College and the Specialized Division for Medicine paved the way for Okinawans to become medical doctors without incurring great debt. Indeed, Okinawa’s medical development cannot be understood without understanding the circulation of people and knowledge beyond the metropole-colonies divide. Modern medicine in Okinawa was, on the one hand, marginalized within the scientific network of the Japanese Empire; on the other, Okinawans’ liminality allowed them to gain the greatest benefit from the imperial school network.

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Parade of Nations in Katakana Order

I don’t remember how Japan ordered the Parade of Nations when it hosted the Olympics in 1964 (when I was in high school there), but this year the nations were ordered according to how their Japanese names sounded in katakana, the Japanese syllabary used to render foreign names. A full list of the nations in Japanese order can be found in the NPR report about the parade.

Katakana order was used even when names contained kanji (Chinese characters). So Equatorial Guinea (赤道ギニア Sekidou Ginia, lit. ‘Redroad [=equator] Guinea’) appeared between Seychelles (セーシェル) and Senegal (セネガル) because they all start with the sound SE, written セ in katakana.

Similarly, Great Britain (英国 Eikoku, lit. ‘brave-country’) and the British Virgin Islands (英国ヴァージン諸島) appeared after Uruguay (ウルグァイ) and before Ecuador (エクアドル) because the katakana syllabary starts with the five vowels in the order A I U E O (アイウエオ), then proceeds to KA KI KU KE KO (カキクケコ). So the E+I of Eikoku precedes the E+KU of Ekuadoru. (In Chinese, where the name 英国 originated, the character 英 sounds much more like the first syllable of England.)

The last of the vowel-initial names are those that start with the sound O: Australia (オーストラリア Oosutoraria), Austria (オーストリア Oosutoria), Oman (オマーン Omaan), and the Netherlands (オランダ Oranda < Holland). I’ve transcribed the long vowels here as double vowels.

The order of the consonant-initial syllables is KA (カ), SA (サ), TA (タ), NA (ナ), HA (ハ), MA (マ), YA (ヤ), RA (ラ), WA (ワ), N (ン). Most, but not all, of these consonants occur with each vowel. The YA series has YA (ヤ), YU (ユ), and YO (ヨ), but YI and YE have been replaced by the vowels I and E. As a consequence, Yemen is written イェメン Iemen, and its team preceded Israel, Italy, Iraq, and Iran in the parade, while Jordan was relegated to near the end of the parade as the only name starting with Y, written ヨルダン Yorudan. The WA series only has WA (ワ) and WO (ヲ), with WI, WU, WE replaced by the vowels I, U, E. The final sound, N (ン) only occurs at the ends of syllables, as in Iemen and Yorudan.

In katakana, voiced consonants are distinguished from their voiced equivalents by a diacritic that looks a bit like a double quote mark: KA カ vs. GA ガ, TA タ vs. DA ダ, SA サ vs. ZA ザ. The consonants with and without diacritics are considered equivalent for ordering purposes. So Canada (Kanada), Gabon (Gabon), Cameroon (Kameruun), Gambia (Ganbia), Cambodia (Kanbojia) are in that order because of what follows their initial KA/GA syllables (-NA-, -BO-, -ME-, -NBI-, -NBO-, respectively). On the same principle, Zambia (Zanbia) precedes San Marino (Sanmarino) (-NBI- > -NMA-), while Singapore (Singaporu) precedes Zimbabwe (Zinbabue) (-NGA- > -NBA-) among the nations whose names start with S/Z.

The same principle applies to the three-way diacritical distinction between HA ハ, PA パ, and BA バ. So Bahrain (Baareen), Haiti (Haiti), and Pakistan (Pakisutan) begin the series of names beginning with HA ハ, which also include Vanuatu (Banuatu) because Japanese has no syllable VA. (However, the V can be represented by adding the voiced consonant diacritic ” to the vowel ウ U, as in ヴァージン Vuaajin for the Virgin Islands.)

Nor does Japanese have a syllable FA, but the syllable HU (フ) sounds close enough to FU to substitute for F in foreign words. So names beginning with F sounds fall into the same group as those beginning with H, P, and B. Thus, the next countries to enter after Fiji (フィジー Fuijii), Philippines (フィリピン Fuiripin), and Finland (フィンァンド Fuinrando) were Bhutan (ブータン Buutan) and Puerto Rico (プエルトリコ Pueruto Riko).

The TA/DA (タ/ダ) series is at least as complicated. When pronounced, the syllables TA TI TU TE TO (タチツテト) actually sound like Ta Chi Tsu Te To and are usually romanized that way in English, while DA DI DU DE DO (ダヂヅデド) sound like Da Ji Zu De Do. So nations whose names start with Ch or Ts sounds are ordered among those whose names start with T/D. So the teams for Chile (Chiri), Tuvalu (Tsubaru), Denmark (Denmaaku), and Germany (Doitsu < Deutsch) entered in katakana order チツテト (TI TU TE TO, which sound like Chi, Tsu, Te, To), keeping in mind that TE=DE and TO=DO for ordering purposes.

Just as the normally syllabic フ FU can be combined with イ I (in フィ) to represent the foreign syllable FI, normally syllabic チ TI/CHI can be combined into チャ (TI+ya=) CHA, チュ (TI+yu=) CHU, チェ (TI+e=) CHE, and チョ (TI+yo =) CHO to represent foreign syllables starting with those sounds, as in チャイナ Chaina (China) or チェコ Cheko (Czech). Foreign words starting with J- can be represented using similar combinations starting with ZI/JI. So ZI+ya = JA in ジャマイカ Jamaica and ZI+yo = JO in ジョージア Georgia, which are sandwiched between ジブチ Djibouti and シリア Syria in katakana order. (Jordan is written ヨルダン Yorudan.)

It’s interesting that the Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the People’s Republic of China all appear among the nations whose names start with T/D, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would too, if it sent a team to this Olympics. The official name of South Korea in Chinese characters is 大韓民国 (Great Han Republic), which is pronounced in Japanese as Daikanminkoku. This name places South Korea immediately after Thailand (タイ Tai), which starts the T/D section of the parade of nations. Chinese Taipei (Chainiizu Taipei) and Tajikistan (Tajikisutan) immediately follow, so the former is ordered as if it were Taipei, not Chinese Taipei.

Tanzania, Czech (チェコ Cheko) Republic, Chad (チャド Chado), and the Central African Republic (中央アフリカ共和国 Chuuou Ahurika Kyouwakoku) precede China (中華人民共和国 Chuuka Jinmin Kyouwakoku ‘Chinese [‘Middle Splendor’] People’s Republic’) because the official names of both the CAR and PRC start with 中 ‘middle’, which in katakana is written チュウ Chuu. The official name of North Korea in Chinese characters is 朝鮮民主主義人民共和国, pronounced in Japanese as Chousen Minshuushugi Jinmin Kyouwakoku (‘Korean Democratic People’s Republic’). It would immediately follow Tunisia (Chunijia) because チュ Chu precedes チョ Cho in katakana order.

Finally, because Japanese R renders both R and L in foreign names, and katakana RA RI RU RE RO come near the end of the syllabary, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Libya, Liechtenstein, Liberia, Romania (Ruumania), Luxembourg, Rwanda, Lesotho, and Lebanon come after Jordan (Yorudan) at the tail end of the parade, just before the current and future Olympic host nations.

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Upwardly Mobile Maids in Prewar Japan

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~1980:

Of the total number of Japanese domestics in Taiwan, 27 percent came from Okinawa Prefecture. The October 1924 edition of Yaeyama News also reported that the Yaeyama Islands were known as a “supplier of maids” to Japanese settler communities in Taiwan: “It seems that the number of Yaeyama girls migrating to Taiwan has increased rapidly of late. Each ship carries more than ten migrants to Taiwan; many of them live as apprentice maids (jochū bōkō [女中奉公]). As people associate maids (gejo [下女]) with Yaeyama girls, Yaeyama is now known as a supplier of maids.”

Domestic service has a long history in Japan. It remained one of the most popular occupations for Japanese women until the 1940s. Before the word jochū became common in the early twentieth century, a domestic was usually called gejo in Japanese, which literally means “under woman.” Until the nineteenth century, a young Japanese woman did not necessarily become a domestic in order to make money. Rather, she worked for an upper-class family as an apprentice servant so that she could learn proper manners and etiquette. By practicing good manners and having a solid grounding in traditional Japanese etiquette, a young Japanese woman from a less prosperous background could prepare herself for marriage. This folk educational custom continued to be practiced even after the state introduced universal education.

The nature of the female apprenticeship was transformed during the interwar period. Instead of becoming an apprentice servant, a young woman could go to technical school or advanced girls’ school (kōtō jogakkō [高等女学校]) and learn cooking and sewing before marriage. Domestic service was no longer the only way for a woman to earn a respectable living. She could take better-paying jobs in an office or factory. As women came to have more educational and professional options in the interwar period, domestic service lost its appeal both as an apprenticeship and as an occupation.

However, the demand for domestics increased in the early twentieth century. Until the nineteenth century, domestics were employed mostly by upper-class households. With the rapid economic development and growth of the interwar period, a new middle class emerged, and its members became the employers of domestics. Of the 10,589,403 working women in Japan in 1930, 697,116 were domestics. A majority of these domestic workers are supposed to have been maids (jochū). Domestics were also in great demand in colonial Taiwan, where government officials, freelance workers, and merchants composed a large majority of the Japanese migrant population. The Taiwan Daily News reported in 1923 that domestics were in high demand and that the Taihoku [Taipei] Employment Agency was listing their average wages at fifteen to twenty-five yen.

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Defining Japan’s Southern Periphery

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~415:

Before proceeding, I should clarify the usages of the key terms in this volume, including “Ryukyu,” “Okinawa,” “Mainland Japan,” “Inner Territory,” and “Outer Territories.” The geographical name “Ryukyu” appears in Chinese historical documents such as the Book of Sui, which was written in the seventh century. In the fifteenth century, “Ryukyu” became the official name of the kingdom unifying the archipelagos of Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama, known today as the Ryukyu Islands or Southwest Islands. Under the Ryukyu Kingdom’s rule, the name “Okinawa” indicated the main island of Okinawa and surrounding small islands. In 1872, Japan’s Meiji government changed the kingdom’s status to that of a domain (han) by fiat; the government then declared the abolishment of the kingdom and the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. However, as Wendy Matsumura explains, the word “Okinawa” is not a neutral geographical title referring to a Japanese prefecture but a term that implies a cultural community distinct from the Japanese nation-state. This volume loosely defines “Okinawans” as people whose families and relatives originated in Okinawa Prefecture or the Ryukyu Islands. The term “Okinawans” therefore encompasses people of diverse backgrounds, including those born in Okinawa Prefecture and those born and raised in Taiwan whose parents were born in Okinawa Prefecture. In fact, people from the Yaeyama and Miyako Islands often distinguish themselves from “Okinawans” even though they are part of Okinawa Prefecture, identifying themselves as people of Yaeyama and Miyako rather than as Okinawans. Nonetheless, in this volume, the term “Okinawans” includes people with Yaeyama and Miyako backgrounds unless otherwise indicated.

Likewise, in this volume, the term “Mainland Japan” loosely indicates the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. As the following chapters reveal, the word “Japanese” occasionally includes and excludes “Okinawan.” In other words, the social and cultural categories of “Japanese/the others” and “Okinawan/the others” have been persistent, although the categories are malleable and changeable. Mainland Japan is geographically ambiguous, but the notion of such a place suggests that Okinawans are “the others,” as Mainland Japan was considered dominant over the local islanders. In Okinawa Prefecture, Mainland Japan has customarily been called the “Inner Territory” (Naichi). However, to avoid confusion, this volume defines the Inner Territory as the territory under the rule of the Meiji Constitution (Constitution of the Great Japanese Empire). The notion complements the idea of the “Outer Territories” (Gaichi), which refers to the territories excluded from the Meiji Constitution.

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Removing Traces of German Settlement

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle p. 280:

In each of the expelling countries, governments, residents, and ecclesiastical authorities struggled mightily to eradicate all indications that Germans had ever been present. As Edvard Beneš urged his compatriots, “We must de-Germanize our republic … names, regions, towns, customs—everything that can possibly be de-Germanized must go.” Place names were changed overnight, often by direct translation into the new language (e.g., the substitution of “Zielona Góra” for “Grünberg”); statues and memorials demolished; and fanciful local histories composed that airbrushed into oblivion centuries of German presence. “In Wrocław the government had special teams that roved for years painting over and chiseling out German inscriptions. Derelict German cemeteries were converted into parks, and headstones were used to line ditches and sewers.” The most ambitious—and unrealistic—attempt to accomplish this objective was an order by Commandant Srević of the Banat military region in Yugoslavia that all German signs on buildings be removed within twelve hours, on pain of the immediate execution of the German occupants. Nor was this a passing phase. As late as 1989, applications for visitors’ visas to Poland from Germans born in the Recovered Territories were routinely rejected if the applicant used the former German place name when stating his or her place of birth. The de-Germanization effort extended not only to penalizing the use of the German language, but to putting pressure on residents to abandon German-sounding personal names. The success of the campaign, however, was mixed. Cultural and sometimes physical clashes ensued between settler Poles and many of the indigenes of the Recovered Territories, who had absorbed over the years a high degree of Germanization. New place names could also be rejected by the local population, who sometimes “boycotted new names and even broke road signs that identified the new name…. For them, place name changes on the lands in which they had been living were never the processes of re-Polonisation, but rather Polonisation against their will.”

Consigning evidence of German settlements to George Orwell’s “memory hole” was one thing; putting self-sustaining communities in their place entirely another.

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German U-Boat Losses, 1943-44

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 280-281:

After the carnage of 1942 and early 1943, the Allies had seen a stunning turnaround in the Atlantic. By September 1943, most U-boats had been swept from the Atlantic waters. This was thanks not only to the new high-speed bombes but also to a host of other Allied war measures: advances in radar, sonar, and high-frequency direction finding; more aircraft carriers and long-range aircraft; better convoy systems. The Allies changed their convoy cipher, and Dönitz could no longer read it. The tables turned. During the summer, American hunter-killer units used code breaking along with other intelligence to find and sink big German submarines that were sent out to refuel U-boats. These refuelers were known as milch cows, and between June and August, American carrier planes sank five. In October, they finished off all but one. The refuelers were critical to the U-boats’ ability to stay so far away from their home base, and as the milch cows went down, the U-boats began to drift homeward.

There was always the chance, however, that the U-boats could come back. And they did try. In October 1943, the U-boats reappeared. But now the costs were punishingly high. For every Allied merchant vessel sunk, seven U-boats were lost. Now Dönitz was the one who could not build boats fast enough to replace those he was losing. In November, thirty U-boats ventured into the North Atlantic and sank nothing. The U-boats began lurking elsewhere, clustering around the coast of Britain, hoping to intercept materiel brought in for an anticipated invasion of France. Dönitz was always trying to innovate the U-boats, adding a Schnorchel that enabled them to remain submerged longer. He was willing to sacrifice his boats, and his men, and kept the U-boats in the water even as a way to tie up Allied resources.

But it was a losing battle. In May 1944, the Allies sank half the U-boats in operation—more than the Germans could replace. More than three-quarters of the U-boat crews were killed, suffering terrible watery deaths. The women in the tracking room were privy to the full immensity and horror.

By now the British had indeed handed over the four-rotor bombe operations to the Americans. After the war, a U.S. Navy file was made of messages from grateful—and gracious—British colleagues. “Congratulations from Hut six on colossal… week,” said one missive from Bletchley. An internal British memo acknowledged that “by half way through 1944” the Americans “had taken complete control of Shark and undoubtedly knew far more about the key than we did.”

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Japanese Transport Code Language

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 244-246:

The language of the 2468 [transport code] messages was telegraphic in style. Short, straightforward, and no-nonsense, the messages consisted of sailing schedules, harbormaster reports, reports on the water levels of ports and transportation of cargo. Sailing schedules were the simplest. These included the transport number, the date, the time the maru [ship name] would be arriving or leaving, and its destination. Others concerned the movement of troops or equipment. A few dealt with transportation of the wounded or ashes of the dead. The marus out there in the Pacific Ocean carried everything: food, oil, supplies, human remains.

When a new message arrived, Dot looked for stereotypes, which were words that occurred frequently in the same place. “Maru” was a common one, but there were others as well, depending on the origin and the goods being transported. For example, one station transmitting from Singapore—the #3 Sen San Yusoo—sent a regular report on the shipping of oil to Hiroshima, Manila, and Tokyo. Stereotyped words might include ship names and numbers; the number of kiloliters of light oil, crude oil, heavy oil, aviation gasoline, or other gasoline aboard; how many trips each ship would take, and when. Another Singapore station transmitted to Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Moji a report of ships leaving for Palembang. Stereotypes might include the ship number or name, the date and hour of departure, the speed, the course, and the date and hour of scheduled arrival at the mouth of the Musi River.

Another transmitted a daily weather report with data including wind velocity and direction, temperature, and condition of the surface of the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and other faraway bodies of water. Dot handled a lot of weather reports. Sitting at her table in Arlington, Virginia, Dot was amused at how many bits and pieces of information she knew about what the weather was like eight thousand miles away.

Another station transmitted a report on small boats available for supply services. Mentioned might be steel barges, wooden barges, special boats, small boats, twenty-metric-ton boats, plywood barges, and cargo submarines.

A station at Surabaya originated a report on the departure of ships escorted by a single Navy plane, including the names and types of ships (motor, sail, fishing), number of barges being towed, date of departure and destination, speed, scheduled date of arrival, route, and daily position of ship on consecutive days at given hours. A report from Shanghai about a supply ship might include a message spelling out that the probable route was “from Shanghai along the coast to the Yangtze River up the Yangtze River to WUU (Buko) down the river to Nanking and finally across the East China Sea to Moji.”

Here is how Dot did her work: Let’s say she knew that the code group for “arriving” was 6286 and she knew where this word was likely to appear. She would find that place in the message and look at the GAT [“group as transmitted”] before her. Books at Arlington Hall listed common code words as well as possible enciphered versions. She would look for a match, or she could do the math in her head and strip out the additive herself. Sometimes—when they were desperate—the code breakers would take the code groups and encipher them with every possible additive. A smattering of 2468 code groups included:

4333 hassoo—to send things [発送]
4362 jinin—personnel [人員]
4400 kaisi—beginning, commencing [開始]
4277 kookoo—navigate, to sail [航行]
4237 toochaku yotei—scheduled to arrive [到着予定]
4273 hatsu yotei—scheduled to leave [発予定]

There were vocabulary words associated with sailing schedules. According to training materials compiled at Arlington Hall, atesaki [宛先] was “destination” or “address”; chaku [着] was “arriving”; dai ichi [第一] was “first”; honjitsu [本日] was “today.” Maru [丸] was “commercial ship”; sempakutu [船舶通] was “ship” [-tu for 通行 tsuukou ‘traffic, passage’?]; sempakutai [船舶隊] was “convoy unit”; teihaku [碇泊] was “anchoring”; yori [より] was “from”; yotei [予定] was “schedule.” Gunkan [軍艦] was “warship.” Chu [中] was “now [or ‘in the middle of, i.e., underway’].” Hatsusen [発船] was “ship leaving.” Hi [日] was “day”; hongetsu [本月] was “this month”; senghu [sic; 船上 senjou?] was “onboard ship”; shuzensen [修繕船] was “ship being repaired”; tosai sen [搭載船] was “ship loading.”

Dot’s workday consisted of messages that, once deciphered, said things like “PALAU DENDAI/ 2/ 43/ T.B./ TRANSPORT/ 918/ (/878/)/ 20th/ 18/ JI/ CHAKU/ ATESAKI/ DAVAO/ SEMPAKUTAI/ 4/ CEBU/ E.T./”

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Cracking the Japanese Water Transport Code

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 241-242:

Ambon. Canton. Davao. Haiphong. Hankow. Kiska. Kobe. Kuching. Kupang. Osaka. Palembang. Rabaul. Saigon. Takao. Wewak. Dot Braden until a few months earlier had never heard of most of these places. Now they ruled her life. They kept her running from the big table where she worked, over to the overlapper’s console, then back again to her spot at the big table. These were the names of places, somewhere in Asia or the South Pacific, likely to be mentioned toward the beginning of messages coded in 2468, the main Japanese water-transport code, or one of the other, smaller transport codes.

Or rather, they were some of the places. Transport code 2468 was massive; 2468 was everywhere; 2468 dominated the Pacific Ocean. Anything anybody needed was sent by water. Water was how the rice was transported, and the soldiers, and the spare airplane parts. To move the goods the Japanese Army needed, the marus were always sailing. Always leaving and arriving. A maru [丸] could be a tanker, a freighter, a cargo ship, a barge, a cable layer, a motor transport. [Japanese Navy ship names never use maru.] They plied between Hiroshima, Yokohama, Wewak, Saipan, Tokyo, Manila, the Truk Lagoon. Exotic places. It was not necessary for Dot to know how to pronounce the cities and ports, but it was helpful to know the four-digit code groups that stood for them. Code system 2468 commanded Dot’s attention, controlled Dot’s movements. It filled her brain.

A job more unlike teaching Virginia schoolchildren would be hard to imagine. No longer was Dot Braden standing at a chalkboard, explaining physics formulas to eye-rolling teenagers, or ordering senior girls to march and salute. Instead, she was sitting head down at a table puzzling over words she had never heard before she came to Arlington Hall. “Sono.” “Indicator.” “Discriminant.” “GAT.” The sono [‘that, aforementioned’] was the number appended to messages that had been divided into parts before being transmitted. Sono #1 was the first part, Sono #2 was the second part, and so on. The discriminant was the number that identified the system—for instance, 2468. The indicator was the tiny clue that told you what book to look in. GAT stood for “group as transmitted”: the code group plus the cipher. The GATs were what you saw when you looked at the message for the first time.

Dot, of course, was not to utter any of these words outside the high wire double fences of the Arlington Hall compound. People were warned never to use, outside the building, the words they used inside it. “This material is extremely secret and must be treated with the utmost care,” one training document said. “Some of the words which you will consider elementary have been used only in this code, eg KAIBOTSU SU ‘to sink a ship’ [海没す ‘sea-reject do’?]. If you should mention this word to any one connected with the Axis or in some way succeed in letting it get into improper hands, this one fact alone would betray to the Japanese that we are reading their most recent transport code.”

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Culture of U.S. Army Codebreakers, 1943

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 207-209:

Unlike the Navy operation, the Army’s code-breaking operation at Arlington Hall was polyglot, open-minded, and nonhierarchical. Anybody could be in charge of anything. There was a wide assortment of ages and backgrounds working at its wooden tables. Bespectacled middle-aged men labored alongside pin-curled young women with names like Emerald and Velvet. Which is not to say that there wasn’t sexist condescension: One of the bookish men, a New York editor named William Smith, referred to Arlington Hall’s contingent of female southern workers as the “Jewels.” It was a lofty and rather snide reference to the number of women working there whose parents had seen fit to name them after precious stones. He wasn’t wrong: In addition to a profusion of Opals and Pearls, the workforce included a real Jewel—Jewel Hogan—who worked in the machine section. And there was Jeuel Bannister, the band director recruited out of South Carolina.

At Arlington Hall there also were “BIJs,” or born-in-Japans, the term for people who grew up in missionary families and worked in the translating section. There was the actor Tony Randall—later famous as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple—clowning around (at one point he danced on a table) as he waited for the intelligence summary to be taken to the Pentagon. There was an extended group of siblings and cousins—the Erskines—who had relocated as a family unit from Ohio. There was Sumner Redstone, the future billionaire media magnate, now a young officer in the translating unit. There was Julia Ward, former dean of students at Bryn Mawr, czar of a well-run library unit. There were nannies, beauticians, secretaries, restaurant hostesses. Josephine Palumbo at eighteen was virtually running the personnel unit, plucked out of McKinley High School in Washington. Tiny Jo Palumbo, daughter of an Italian immigrant laborer, was the person who swore in newcomers, and the sight of her administering the grave secrecy oath had inspired one code breaker to write a lyrical poem in her honor.

Unlike the Navy, Arlington Hall also had an African American code-breaking unit. This was not so much because the place was unusually liberal-minded, but rather because Eleanor Roosevelt—or somebody at the top—had declared that 12 to 15 percent of the Arlington Hall workforce should be black. It was poor recompense for the fact that many of Arlington’s black residents had been pushed out of their homes by the construction of the Pentagon and other military edifices, but work was welcome and this was better than nothing. Arlington Hall’s African American workers had to take segregated transport to get there, and many, even those who were college graduates, were given menial jobs as janitors and messengers. But there also was a special code-breaking unit whose existence was unknown to many of the white workers. The African American unit monitored the enciphered communications of companies and banks to see what was being transmitted in the global private sector and who was doing business with Hitler or Mitsubishi. They kept a library of 150 systems, with careful files of addresses and characteristics of all the world’s main commercial codes. There was no shortage of qualified people to staff it: Despite its segregated school system and the inequality of resources that accompanied segregation, the city of Washington had a number of highly regarded black public schools, as well as Howard, one of the country’s premier historically black universities. One of the team members, Annie Briggs, started out as a secretary and rose to head the production unit. Another, Ethel Just, led the expert translators. The team was led by a black man, William Coffee, who studied English at Knoxville College in Tennessee, started out as a janitor and waiter at Arlington Hall, and rose to this position.

In short, in its eclecticism and, often, its eccentricity, the atmosphere at Arlington Hall was unlike anything the U.S. military had ever produced.

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Cracking the Japanese Navy Code System, 1940s

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 88-90:

On June 1, 1939, the Japanese fleet began using a code that the Allies came to call JN-25. The Japanese—who had moved to using numbers rather than characters—now employed a massive codebook containing about thirty thousand five-digit groups. They also had a new way of enciphering. Before the code was sent, each code group was enciphered by using math to apply an “additive.”

Here is how the additive method worked: When a Japanese cryptographer began encoding a single message, he would look in the codebook and find the five-digit group that stood for the word (or syllable or phrase or punctuation mark) he wanted. He would repeat that process until he got to the end of the message. Then he would get out a different book, called an additive book, turn to a page—selected at random—pick a five-digit number, and add that to the first code group. He would add the next additive to the second. And so on. The Japanese code makers used a peculiar kind of math called noncarrying or “false” addition. There was no carrying of digits, so 8 plus 7 would equal 5, rather than 15. If the code group for “maru” was, say, 13563, and the additive was 24968, the resulting group would be 37421 (1 + 2 =3; 3 + 4 = 7; 5 + 9 = 4; 6 + 6 = 2; 3 + 8 = 1). That was the group of digits that would be radioed. To crack a message, the Americans had to figure out the additive and subtract it to get the code group. Then they had to figure out what the code group stood for.

Once again, it was Agnes Driscoll who diagnosed the new system. Neither she nor anybody in the Navy operation had seen an additive cipher—everything up to then had been transposition, or switching—but she figured it out. It took her less than a year to make a dent. A March 1 status report for the unit “GYP-1” stated that for the “5-number system”—an early title for JN-25—“First break [was] made by Mrs. Driscoll. Solution progressing satisfactorily.” She worked on it for several more months before being transferred in late 1940 to German systems—a promotion in the sense that the Atlantic was beginning to emerge as the hot spot. The research team continued working their way through JN-25, using her methods.

The process of stripping additives and discerning the meaning of code groups was laborious and excruciating. Years after World War II ended, American code breakers who worked in Hawaii and Australia were still arguing with their D.C. counterparts over what certain code groups stood for. Much like the women who trained the men who would get to do the wartime flying, much like Elizebeth Friedman over at the Coast Guard, Agnes Driscoll taught the men in the field who did this. “In the Navy she was without peer as a cryptanalyst,” wrote Edwin Layton, who headed naval intelligence for Admiral Nimitz, the chief naval commander in the Pacific during the war. In December 1940, both code and cipher were changed, to a system the Allies called JN-25B; the team stripped the additives and built a partial bank of code words. Then, in early December 1941—days before Pearl Harbor—the additive books were changed. The codebooks were not. The U.S. Navy was able to recover a certain amount of the new system—but not enough—before the attack on Pearl Harbor happened and all hell broke loose.

“If the Japanese Navy had changed the code-book along with the cipher keys on 1 December 1941, there is no telling how badly the war in the Pacific would have gone,” said Laurance Safford.

As crushing as Pearl Harbor was, it was thanks in large part to Driscoll’s decades-long detective work—and to the example Elizebeth Friedman set for other women—that America did not enter the Second World War quite as blind as it might have seemed.

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