A shadowy past becomes a sinister future… It’s 1933 and the height of Boston’s social season. Claire Healey overhears a terrible argument between her industrial-tycoon father and her socialite mother. Claire’s father sends her mother away, declaring she is hysterical with fatigue. Displaced by this disastrous outcome, Claire is brought to New York by her spirited aunt, to be raised beyond the reach of the damaging turn of events.
Nine years later, Claire returns to her childhood home to face her past once more. The world has long since exploded in war. A mysterious stranger named Carsten Reiniger has infiltrated the scene, placing his commanding presence among the old familiar faces of Boston’s elite. Intrigued by the newcomer, Claire struggles to piece together his identity and finds a dangerous connection to her troubling past. When Claire’s prying comes to light, she and her aunt are whisked away in the middle of the night to ensure their silence. Can Carsten Reiniger be trusted or is he implacably loyal to duty alone?
Life for women during the Second World War changed immensely in the West, despite a virtually unmentioned shift in the narrative of OP-DEC: Operation Deceit. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1940-1945; 1951-1955, acknowledged the profound change brought to women by the war effort in his country, a sentiment shared by contemporary peers and historians. A gender clash was at the heart of this change, and still exists today.
Prior to the war, “women encountered the widely held idea (explicit or implicit) that men and women should occupy separate metaphysical space – that is, concern themselves with different areas of policy,” (Brian Harrison, Women in a Men’s House, The Women M.P.’s, 1919-1945 p. 636). In the United States, large branches of the government had always partitioned off spaces, as men vs. women’s work. For example, “the CIA did not always have a gender-neutral perspective on intelligence work,” Eli Lake cites the example of the notable agent Virginia Hall who “was relegated to a desk job as an analyst” postwar instead of field work despite her involvement in the war (Lake, Secret Weapons p. 41). Both my grandmothers were working mothers, during and after the war.
Other factors affecting women’s equality in work and the war effort were regulations put in place by governments, such as the marriage bar which was enacted to alleviate unemployment during The Depression, “supported by trade unions and even by many unmarried women workers,” (Harold L. Smith, The Womanpower Problem in Britain During the Second World War, p. 941). The marriage bar was policy that once married, a woman must vacate her job. Also, the intelligence portion of Allied governments was run by old men, politicians and military who had lost touch with the internal issues and social advances of the nation (Fedorowich, German Espionage and British Counter-Intelligence in South Africa and Mazambique, 1939-1942, p. 217-219). The social constructs facing women who were part of the Axis powers were similar if not more limiting, as in the case of Japan (David Kahn, Hitler’s Spies, p. 106, 274, 334, 345, 359). Germany bolstered their women much like the United States, calling them to factories as a matter of duty and honor.
Mobilizing women relied on a few factors, such as age, family responsibility and health (Margaret Gowing, The Organisation of Manpower in Britain During the Second World War, p. 158-159). Special considerations and tact were used during this process, which would not have been afforded to men (Gowing, 160). Wages were set to attract men or women to a certain vacancy, not to keep one or the other out (Gowing, 165). Researchers who were tasked with finding an answer to the labor shortage found that there were “nearly eleven million [British] women outside the labour force-over two-thirds the total number of working age,” (Gowing, 147). Stereotypes and long held beliefs in women and women’s work had to be laid aside if Britain meant to win the war. Ernest Bevin “had a sure instinct” which displayed an understanding of the “extraordinary obligations on women to work, without causing public bitterness and discontent,” and also “set a new measure for national potential,” (Gowing, 167). Bevin and other politicians basically conscripted women into the war, as women were now “to be allowed on to jobs previously reserved for men,” (Smith, 928). However, women were to also “be regarded as temporary workers and allowed to do men’s work only until the end of the war,” (Smith, 928). The largest population of professional occupation women could be found at the “Research and Analysis Branch in London” (Elizabeth P. McIntosh, Sisterhood of Spies, p. 92).
The active recruitment should not be regarded as having lowered standards, but simply to have opened their doors to a gender they previously disregarded as employable.
The war effort reached beyond the employment line into the private spaces of hearth and home. Women were asked to forgo nylons, recycle just about everything, build victory gardens and endure rationing of food as well as fuel and materials. Woe unto those who refused to comply—for committees formed to oversee the home front effort on behalf of the boys fighting. Around this built an extensive black market. Upscale restaurants and other establishments appeared virtually untouched by rationing shortages, and the wealthy did not go without if they knew where to throw their money (Lorraine Diehl, Over Here!: New York City During World War II). This is evident in OP-DEC with the niceties afforded Claire – from chocolate to a silk gown, and even in what could be called a lack of conviction to contribute to the war effort. Moreover, her despondency on not knowing where she belongs in social settings, despite her ample education, reflects the swift and sweeping changes that came to women. This is not to say that Claire Healey is so sheltered from life that she’s not aware of what is going on. In a defiant move against the Reich, Claire uses two modes of protest afforded women: fashion and her body. When she enters the Chancellery, clad in a ghost white gown that brags of her status and her hair done in Victory Rolls (a hairstyle banned in Germany during the war), she’s demanding her western idea of Freedom and protesting the Reich’s control of her role in society. Though this is a personal statement of a prisoner of war about herself, it creeps into a symbolic stand for all prisoners. Though no longer common in Western culture, white is a color of mourning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White) in the East and was used in medieval Europe by wealthy women.
There was an uglier thread of history regarding women that goes virtually unmentioned in all sectors of public memory: the internment of Japanese Americans and the segregation of blacks. In most of the photos that can be dug up, there is virtually no racial diversity to be found. Images are as segregated as the populace. Until recently much of the Japanese internment wasn’t discussed. The hardships faced by women of color were and still are numerous. Imagine, if you will, the same limitations placed on the dominant population but the addition of restrictions based on color and ethnic background to the point that mobility was impaired or completely halted. The color of one’s skin or the markers of ethnic make-up aren’t things one can change, as women put on overalls instead of skirts and heels to do the job of men in the factories.
Among the hardships shared by all were supply shortages, such as luxury item foods and clothing. Those who could scarcely afford such items before the war were barred from them entirely for the duration. Mentioning nylons and their scarcity is a topic that does rise up in the book, and Claire is very careful not to waste them. In the sequel to the novel, OP-GHO: Operation Ghost (being penned now), she’s quite upset when an incident that once again puts her life in jeopardy destroys a pair of stockings (http://25dollarvintage.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html). Waste not want not, became a creed of many Allied homes, and it extended into the recovery period following the war. The massive scale of recycling damaged or used materials is unequaled to anything, even today’s efforts. Everything went back to be reprocessed for the war effort.
Following the war, women were pushed back into the home and ‘feminine spaces’ by a concerted effort of campaigning and propaganda provided by media and domestic outlets. The gender wars were just coming to a head.
Read more of my work on the above topics at:
The Psychology and History of Film Noir: Film Noir as Genre to the Present Day by K. Williams – http://bluehonor.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Film_Noir_Paper_D6.171174623.pdf
OP-DEC: Operation Deceit http://www.bluehonor.com/op-dec_operation_deceit
Diehl, Lorraine. Over here!: New York City during World War II. Smithsonian; 1ST edition, 2010a. Print.
Fedorowich, Kent. “German Espionage and British Counter-Intelligence in South Africa and Mozambique, 1939-1942.” The Historical Journal 48.1 (Mar., 2005): 209-230.
Gowing, Margaret. “The Organisation of Manpower in Britain during the Second World War.” Journal of Contemporary History 7.1/2 (Jan.-Apr., 1972): 147-167.
Harrison, Brian. “Women in a Men’s House the Women M.P.’s, 1919-1945.” The History Journal 29.3 (Sep., 1986): 623-654.
Kahn, David. Hitler’s Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II. 1st ed. Cambridge: De Cap Press, 2000.
Lake, Eli. “Secret Weapons.” Newsweek 160.13 (Sep. 24, 2012): 38-43.
McIntosh, Elizabeth P. Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS. Reprint ed. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009
Smith, Harold L. “The Womanpower Problem in Britain during the Second World War.” The Historical Journal 27.4 (Dec., 2004): 925-945.
Photographs by Library of Congress Public Domain Photographs, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 – 1962, and Pixabay.com.
About the Author
Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she continues to reside, K. Williams embarked on a now twenty year career in writing. After a childhood, which consisted of voracious reading and hours of film watching, it was a natural progression to study and work in the arts.
K attended the State University of New York at Morrisville, majoring in the Biological Sciences, and then continued with English and Historical studies at the University at Albany (home of the New York State Writer’s Institute) gaining her Bachelor’s Degree. While attending UA, K interned with the 13th Moon Feminist Literary Magazine, bridging her interests in social movements and art.
Currently, K has completed the MALS program for Film Studies and Screenwriting at Empire State College (SUNY), and is the 2013-2014 recipient of the Foner Fellowship in Arts and Social Justice. K continues to write and is working on the novels of the Trailokya Trilogy, a work that deals with topics in Domestic Violence and crosses the controversial waters of organized religion and secularism. A sequel to OP-DEC is in the research phase, while the adaptation is being shopped to interested film companies. Excerpts of these and more writings can be found at: www.bluehonor.com.