#VisDare 66: Restoration

RestorationWe found so much pain, that despite our hardened hearts we felt despair, but you, my love, you stood in the face of the Shadow.

I remember you, holding the small crying child, and how beautiful you were, how much hope then rested on your smile.

It was the early summer, already the tide had turned. Soon we would counterattack, and then, we would finish the job, and make sure our children would never cry again in fear.

#DailyPrompt: Pride and Joy

What’s your most prize possession?

IK 1813

He could not understand those youngsters glorifying a past which was alien to them: how could they know? How could they even understand what it had been like?

He could tell them, but he doubted they would listen. So they marched in the streets of still peaceful cities, ignorant, holding flags and symbols whose meaning they could not guess at: like a herd of sheep.

But, he, the ghost, the dead warrior, the one who knew and remembered, just held the small cross, hidden tightly under his poor shirt: the small cross he had won, still a boy, confused and lost, in the ice, the snow, alone still living, far away, surrounded by his dead comrades.

Yes, he’d understood the victors then, the just ones,  the real heroes, the ones who alone deserved to win. So, as he, a mere shadow, walked the streets of Berlin, once again united, he held the cross against his meagre chest, his tears unseen.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Moments

Pablo Picasso, Guernica Then she knew, soon he would have to go, to go East, and face his fate, the fate of a soldier.

Years later she would remember, his last letter from the front, the collapse, the ruins, the hunters in the streets…

Now she was smiling, for their son was there, a strong tall young man, with his father’s calm eyes, and hard fists.

He had done the pilgrimage once, to his father’s and his comrades tombs, far away, hard to find.

And he had captured the moment: when he lifted the steel helm, rusted by time, that now hung on the small wooden cross, one cross for four heroes.

#AtoZChallenge: April 30, 2013 ~ Zero


Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” Model 21 takes off from the aircraft carrier Akagi, to attack Pearl Harbor.

Well, this is the last post of this series, and I have succeeded in keeping slightly ahead of myself for the whole Challenge!

This last post is about aircrafts and engineering, and bravery.

The “Zero” was one of the finest fighters of WWII. It was the Mitsubishi A6M (Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter) in service in the Japanese Imperial Navy from 1940 to 1944.  In the early operations of the Pacific War it was considered as the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, and gained a legendary reputation as a dogfighter, achieving a kill ratio of 12 to 1.  After 1942 US industrial might and engineering skills more than offset this advantage, with more powerful engines, better weaponry and manoeuvrability approaching the Zero.  War accelerates everything, technical progress, and the destruction of man.

#AtoZChallenge: April 29, 2013 ~ Yalta (Conference)

Yalta Conference, February 4-11, 1945

Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference in February 1945 with (from left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Also present are USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, RN, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, RAF, (standing behind Churchill); George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt).

It was their last meeting, the last Allies Conference of the War, that was to reorganise Europe in “peace-time”.  WWII was drawing to a close: soon Hitler would be dead in the ruins of Berlin, soon the USSR, and her martyrs, would win the war, at last, at the price of 25 million dead.

Soon President Roosevelt would die.  The former Allies would become the enemies of the Cold War.  Atomics would be dropped on defenceless Japanese cities.  When they meet again in Potsdam, in August 1945, Truman is President, the dice are down, and the Cold War has started, in all but the name.  But still, in this cold month of February, 1945, it was possible to hope… against all hopes.  German refugees were flowing through the ruined roads and cities of central Europe, in their millions.  For the next 45 years Germany would be a divided country.

In the US Roosevelt’s New Deal would survive in the guise the warfare/welfare state till the late 70’s, then other demons would take over.

Britain was a shadow of her former self, then a hopelessly indebted country, the country soon of  Orwell’s “1984” –  of food rationing perduring till the 50’s, still a colonial power, although not for much longer.

The long night of Stalinism would last until 1954, the year a French army was defeated in Dien-Bien-Phu in what would be soon called the Republic of North-Viet-Nam, and was still then “l’ Indochine”, and the United Nations (chiefly the US and Britain) would stop bombing what was already North-Korea.

#AtoZChallenge: April 24, 2013 ~ Uranium

Trinity You are the most fatal chemical element found on earth, only preceded by plutonium, the byproduct (“waste”) of nuclear reactors.  In nature you are mostly the stable isotope Uranium-238, but your brother, Uranium-235, is much sought after by the sorcerers of nuclear fission since it “only” requires low-energy neutrons to trigger the chain reaction.

Nuclear Fission was discovered in 1938, on the threshold of WWII, by German scientists.  The discovery was one of the outcomes of a series of  findings, both experimental (observations and measurements of interactions of sub-atomic particles) and theoretical (Quantum Mechanics), in nuclear physics, particularly the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932.  Artificial fission, as opposed to natural radioactive decay, and as obtained in nuclear reactors, or in nuclear explosives (atomic bombs), is the result of the bombardment of heavy elements by neutrons, which “transmute” the target element releasing enormous energy (E=mc2).  The physics of fission is relatively “simple” and well understood by physicists, but the control and engineering of its applications far more complicated.  Following the discovery of fission, fear that Nazi Germany could develop an atomic bomb prompted the Allies (USA, Canada and Britain) to launch their own program: the Manhattan project, led by Major General Leslie Groves, scientific Director J. Robert Oppenheimer (“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”).  Finally bombs were built, tested, and dropped on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the very end of the WWII.

Later research led to the thermonuclear bomb (the “H” bomb), which is an application of nuclear fission and fusion of light elements (such as deuterium), triggered by a plutonium bomb.

In 1983, thirty years after the development of the extension of Quantum Mechanics named  Quantum Electrodynamics, Richard Feynman declared:

We physicists are always checking to see if there is something the matter with the theory.  That’s the game, because if there is something the matter, it’s interesting!  But so far, we have found nothing wrong with the theory of quantum electrodynamics.  It is, therefore, I would say. The jewel of our physics – our proudest possession.”

Oak Ridge
Shift change at the Y-12 uranium enrichment facility at Oak Ridge. By May 1945, 82,000 people were employed at the Clinton Engineer Works.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer





#FiveSentenceFiction: Abandoned

 It was night and it was winter, but I wanted to see the place, our place, once again.

So, alone, I followed the long road, lined with so many memories of you, of us, of time past, of dreams lost.

I found the old house, the air was frosty, there was no sound as I open the door, no ghost to welcome me.

I looked up, and through the mists of time I tried to see you, as you came down those stairs, a last time, so beautiful you were, and how close the war was to us then…

But I only see the ruins, the faded colours, and the faded halo of the gas light: there are replacing the street lamps in Berlin.


Cryptonomicon: Das Messer sitzt mir an der Kehle…

 …The knife is at my throat… As Günter Bischoff, the best U-Boat skipper of the Kriegsmarine, lies dying, in 1945, in the hull of his submarine, off the shore of Manilla, he reflects on what could have been: “…It was a nice conspiracy while it lasted…”

Cryptonomicon, published in 1999, is Neal Stephenson‘s second triumphal novel, after Snow Crash (1992), and before Anathem (2008) and Reamde (2010) and a host of other fictional and non fictional work. The book is full of tightly woven conspiracies, revolving around the two main characters of Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, organ player of genius, cryptography magician, friend of Alan Turing and Rudolph, “Rudy”, von Hacklheber, and Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe of the US Marine Corps, survivor of Pearl Harbour and Guadalcanal, war hero, and their respective grand children, Randall, “Randy”, Lawrence Waterhouse and America, “Amy”, Shaftoe. The conspiracies themselves center on the battle for deciphering the German and Japanese secret codes (Lawrence and Bobby) and recovering the gold hidden in the Philippines by the Japanese Imperial army (Randy and Amy). In between, the reader travels from Princeton, where, before the war breaks out, Lawrence, Alan Turing and Rudy discuss what will be known as the Turing machine, the proto digital computer, to the streets of Shanghai as the Japanese armies invade China, to the Pacific battles, the North African theater of war, England, Bletchley Park, the North Atlantic U-boat battles, Sweden, Manilla and the jungle of the Luzon peninsula. Those locations are the stages for the two projects that span the lives of the protagonists: the victorious conquest of the mysterious Arethusa code designed by Rudy for the sake of his WWII conspiracy, and the “Crypt”, an ambitious plan to create a data haven and the first all-electronic currency – Randy’s and his friend Avi’s project. In the midst of Arethusa-encoded messages lies the secret of the Japanese gold, hidden by Goto Dengo, mining engineer extraordinaire and scarred war veteran, protégé of General of the Army Douglas McArthur, last employer of Bobby Shaftoe.

At the end of the war Bobby dies a hero’s death, and is buried surrounded by his friends. Lawrence, loyal to his friends to the end, refuse to submit to a brilliant future as employee of the newly created NSA, and declines the offer of the sinister Colonel Earl Comstock, homophobe and rabid anti-communist. Of course Randy and Amy will get the gold, all those decades later, with Goto’s help.

Cryptonomicon is a complex, enchanting novel, whose characters live long in the reader’s mind once the book is closed. On one hand it is a monument to the genius of Alan Turing, and through Lawrence’s friendship with Alan – and Rudy – we sense all the absurdity of war and the sheer distortion of their genius, long after they are gone. On the other hand, as Snow Crash invented the “Metaverse” and predicted accurately the rise of virtual reality, the Cryptonomicon sets out the emerging picture of the rivalries between states and the new owners of infrastructures, the owners of navies and NSA’s, pitted against the new owners of the old telephone networks and their modern extensions: a subject for the 21st century.

On Solitaire and Bruce Schneier

Neal’s next venture!

#FiveSentenceFiction: Pirates

Dedicated to the fallen of the Atlantic Battle, 1940-1945

 The dark currents of the Atlantic rock the boat as soon as they surface on the captain’s command, now, from the bridge in battle position, they can see the convoy escorted by five destroyers.

They arm the canon, wait for the order to fire, below deck their comrades have armed the torpedoes, all men anxious, inhaling the fresh air coming in the boat: Atlantic wind bringing in diesel fumes mixed with the cold salty air, refreshing their exhausted lungs.

A brief order passes through: fighters in view, soon they see the aircrafts, almost invisible just above the waves, they hear the roar of the engines, then the depth charges being thrown at them: order to dive, turret shut down before they can fire.

They make their escape, just on time, deep, leaving behind all hopes to raise the skull and crossbones flag, and take prisoners.

The year is 1943, the battle of the Atlantic is raging, the crew does not yet know that, far East, they are losing the war.

#AtoZChallenge: April 24 – U is for “Ultra”

Ultra was the designation adopted by British military intelligence in June 1941 for wartime signals intelligence obtained by breaking high-level encrypted enemy radio and teleprinter communications at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.”

The deciphering of messages generated by the enemy’s Enigma machines for land and naval forces was, by all accounts, a decisive factor of the Allied victory in Western Europe. By the end of the war “Ultra” designated the entire body of intelligence gathered from Axis forces’ radio and teleprinter emissions.

The successful development of the method and procedures leading to the breaking of ciphered communications was largely due to the mathematical analytical work of a small group of Polish, British and American scientists and engineers led by the mathematician Alan Turing. Turing is widely considered as the father of computer science and Artificial Intelligence.

GCHQ – the British government communications HQ – released Alan Turing’s code breaking theoretical papers in April 2012 from a 70-year old highly restricted classification.

The story of WWII code breaking inspired Neal Stephenson’s novel “Cryptonomicon”.

Alan Turing Statue at Bletchley Park - geograp...
Alan Turing Statue at Bletchley Park - geograph.org.uk - 1591025 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)