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Secret Cities

On our last day in London, we traveled north to Bletchley. As we explored Bletchley Park, I was reminded of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s role in World War II. The two places are significant in similar ways. The two locations housed projects that are regarded as pivotal in ending the war, and both drew people of the highest levels of intelligence and talent. Additionally, both were surrounded by secrecy. So much so that Buckinghamshire, home to Bletchley Park, has been termed a “secret county,” just as we call Oak Ridge the “secret city.” In addition to the overall parallels, some of the literature about Bletchley Park was reminiscent of works about ORNL. In particular, there was a book called “The Bletchley Girls” by Tessa Dunlop, which immediately reminded me of “The Atomic City Girls” by Janet Beard. Additionally, the blue signs urging discretion (shown here) among the workers at Bletchley are reminiscent of the popular photograph of a billboard urging those who worked at ORNL and Y-12 to do the same (shown here).

With all the similarities between these projects and their secrecy, an interesting contrast lies in the fact that the code breakers of Bletchley Park burned their notes and held on to discretion in the years immediately following the war, but everyone knew what had been happening in ORNL once the news of the US using the atomic bomb on Japan had spread. This is particularly interesting given that the weapon developed in part by ORNL was one of unprecedented destruction, as well as one used on civilians. Whereas the code breakers were helping with military operations being acted out on an opposing military. Obviously the work done at Bletchley Park wasn’t kept a secret because it was shameful, but the contrast between its post-war discretion and ORNL’s is certainly fascinating.