The above title is a direct quote from a BBC article and it certainly is a nice piece of click-bait by whomever wrote it (kudos) as it was bound to raise the hackles of many of the BBC's core viewership.
While professional historians seem to relish 'reformist' history as lazy way of making their pet projects sound more interesting than they actually are to the general public - by deliberately offering contrary and controversial hypothesises that fly in the face of perceived and established (or should that be 'establishment') history - they completely forget that as a culture 'we' tend to build our interpretation of history on how we prefer to believe it took place. Apologies for that very long sentence.
The 'Bletchley Park Problem' is one of those issues.
We think we all know the story, of how a group of nerds - er, sorry, mathematicians - were brought together to crack one of World War Two's greatest secrets and in doing so making one of the greatest contributions to the Allied victory. At least that's how the 2014 film 'The Imitation Game', staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Skeletor (Keira Knightley), tells the story...
My wife and I recently watched this movie as it seemed to combine both our interests in one of those 'for couples' narratives, as she is a science teacher and I like war movies! But it wasn't long into the story before my 'spidey senses' were jangling at some of the claims about the importance of the work were being pronounced by the ever tenable Mr. Cumberbatch. I mean how could Sherlock Holmes not be telling us the exact facts about, well, anything!
The crux of the problem for me was the premise that knowing the enemy's secret plans by cracking their most important code was - in effect - 'game over' and was THE event which precipitated the winning of the war.
MR. Cumberbatch's character - he was playing the tortured Alan Turin - was almost dismissive of the part played by the soldiers, sailors and airmen (and women) who put their lives on the line in direct physical combat! In an attitude which was so reminiscent of Sheldon from 'Big Bang Theory' the implication was that it was intellect that won WW2 and not the martial toil of the 'ordinary man' (or women)!
This irked me (as indeed the character Sheldon does).
Fast forward to this morning's online BBC News and this article caught my eye...
"Bletchley is not the war winner that a lot of Brits think it is," the author, Professor John Ferris of the University of Calgary, told the BBC.
Link to the BBC article: Bletchley Park’s contribution to WW2 'over-rated' By Gordon Corera
It seems that the idea that intellect is the infallible superior to 'animistic' endeavour - to put it in turn of phrase that both Sheldon and Spock would expound - is NOT the full story.
The article is definitely worth a read as it seeks to re-calibrate the strongly held notion that Britain's Intelligence (with a big 'I') was instrumental in the Allies winning the war, an idea that makes a good plot for a weird romantic movie between two weird actors doesn't quite add up in reality.
What annoyed me was how the idea that a 'bunch of boffins in a wooden hut' single-handedly brought down the Third Reich under valued and underplayed the role played by the combined arms of the Allied military forces on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of Asia, the Steppes of Russia and the Islands of the Pacific (in the air, on the sea and on the ground)!
This expounding of the notion of technology over manual toil - to me - smacks of the old Audi moto 'Vorsprung Durch Technik' with all it's vaguely Nazi implications! And seems just as arrogant an idea as was the Nazi's desperate plan for it's 'super weapons' to win a war they had already lost.
OK, I may overstate the comparison slightly BUT while I totally admire the important contribution our boffins made to the war effort, no secret weapon or technology ever took a foot of actual enemy territory on it's own, they merely helped our forces job a little less risky.
Science and technology undoubtedly saved many, many lives during World War 2 - and beyond - but let's not forget that science and technology also ended many lives as well.
The spirit of British victory in WW2 was not the intellectual superiority of a minority of elite, but the way in which we overcame the threat of Nazism as a national whole. An idea we should perhaps remember as we try to overcome the current threat to our society of Corvid 19.
...I await a movie in a few years time when Mr. Cumberbatch dons a white coat and peers enigmatically down a microscope with nurse Keira Knightley moping his tortured brow! 😛