To Be A Cryptographer

It is September 7th, 1940. The hushed whispers of large men in dark suits and the pitter patter of high-heeled women fill the corridors of a dimly lit underground bunker as the sounds of German bombs fly through the air above and shake the very foundations of London to its core. "The atmosphere inside these halls must have been unbearable," I thought to myself as I stood in the middle of Winston Churchill's underground war rooms, the center for British command and national intelligence during the Second World War. I could not help but think about the thousands of men and women who must have silently given their lives to protect their country's secrets, and of the thousands more who are currently serving within security offices today. This summer, I was lucky enough spend a week in London, England studying wartime code breaking techniques and looking into both the cause of international conflict, and the perspectives of the American and British forces.


For the first part of our trip, I traveled with three advisors and eleven other girls in a variety of majors to Washington, D.C. Here we checked into our hostel and visited China Town before turning in for our first night. The next few days were spent at the International Spy Museum, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and the National Cryptologic Museum, which was my favorite. The Cryptologic Museum was tucked away at the end of a winding road, under the shadow of the National Security Agency, home of the modern day codebreakers. We were given a tour by a retired member of the NSA, and being the history nerd that I am, I held onto every word spoken. My favorite artifact in the museum is the Bombe, a machine used by the British cryptanalysts to decode German ciphers during the war. This would be the start of our hands-on study of the Enigma machine.


After exploring D.C. for a few days, we boarded an incredibly crowded plane and set off on the next part of our adventure. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the airport was, oddly enough, the extremely comfortable climate. Hallelujah! The days I spent at home, practically laying on my box fan, surrounded by various packages of frozen food were over, however brief of a reprieve it might have been. Our London hostel was beautiful, and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Our rooms were situated on top of a full Thai restaurant and bar that provided free (non-alcoholic) drinks and food items. Each day had a required activity, and free leisure time at the conclusion of that activity. We visited the Churchill War Rooms, The Tower of London, Windsor Castle and the most important location, Bletchley Park. I enjoyed all of these, but Bletchley Park was my favorite. As the base of operations for British codebreaking during WW2, the main property and surrounding areas seemed to be permanently imprinted with historical importance. I walked through the original halls where the men and women were housed, and stepped foot inside Alan Turing's private office (If you saw the Imitation Game, he's Benedict Cumberbatch).


I never truly understood the self-sacrifice, ingenuity, and natural skill that goes into fighting a war behind the scenes until I took this trip. It has made me even more excited to pursue a career in national defense after graduation, but it also made me take a step back and re-evaluate the exact direction I would like to take. I learned that the social, economic, and political issues and misunderstandings that lead to war are far more interesting than combat itself, and I hope to begin studying ways to promote peace before situations reach a boiling point.
Thank you, Brad and Carole Wilson, for this amazing experience.

Written by: Vicky Anderson

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Published: Jun 10, 2017 1:50pm

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