I suppose we nearly all have, or have had, secrets of some kind. Probably one of the most common kinds concerns some hidden object. Stores used to sell a little magnetic box called a “Hide-a-Key,” in which you could put your car keys, and attach it to some unseen part of your car. But thieves became so adept at locating these containers (which were usually put in the same easily reachable part of the car) that the whole idea soon lost traction.
The classic metaphors on this subject, for some reason, concern the hiding of human remains – e.g. having “a skeleton in the closet,” or knowing “where all the bodies are buried.” But the world’s biggest secrets have had to do with warfare. There was of course the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which Japan kept nicely up its sleeve. Then came the terrible retribution of the atomic bomb – a huge project involving thousands of people – which was successfully concealed over several years. And in between, we had “D-Day.” Everybody knew an invasion of Europe was coming, but the big secret was, exactly when and where?
Among attempts to conceal the truth about that event, an elaborate hoax was staged, in which the body of a supposed Allied official carrying supposed secret invasion plans, after a supposed plane crash at sea, was found, under such circumstances as to ensure that the false information was conveyed to Nazi authorities.
Speaking of whom, nobody in the German public, or anywhere else, knew that Hitler had a long-time girlfriend named Eva Braun, until after they died together, as suicides, in the 1945 collapse of Berlin.
Another kind of secret, which has had an explosive rebirth in our time, is the PASSWORD. This concept can be traced back at least as far as Old Testament times, when, as the story goes, two warring tribes spoke the same language, but different dialects, in which the “S” sound was pronounced differently. So, the word for an ear of corn became the password. The word was “SHIBBOLETH,” which to this day signifies some “give-away” which distinguishes one group from another.
But nowadays the password phenomenon has become so complex that some people, in their regular activities, have to remember as many as ten or twenty different ones. This, of course, all ties in with concerns about “security” and “identity.” Not to mention our current topic of “secrecy.”
Then there are team sports, particularly American football (though it has now spread internationally) in which opposing teams secretly discuss and plan their strategy right on the field, in a circular head-to-head formation called a “HUDDLE.”
And of course, much secrecy attaches to the subject of BURIED TREASURE, whether the putative treasure be on land or at the bottom of the sea – or even in an un-mined seam of precious ore, or an untapped deposit of mercury or pool of oil. In every case, the finder(s) must guard their discovery from possible competitors. Hence all the stories about secret maps.
But it is governments which have most to lose in terms of secret information. Techniques of espionage can be traced back at least as far as the 5th Century BC, in ancient China. It has therefore been governments (at least until the computer age, which has made it possible for everybody to get into the act) which were most responsible for the development of codes, and devices for decoding encrypted messages. Momentous events of World War II hinged upon such factors as a Japanese code called “Magic” and a German encryption machine called “Enigma.”
Most secret of all, however, are the thoughts within our own heads which, despite torture, hypnosis, money, drugs, threats, sex, and simple persuasion, are the hardest of all concealed data to be successfully extracted from unwilling and uncooperative brains. Of course, many of us harbor secrets which, for better or worse, nobody else is interested in. This may particularly apply to things we remember which everyone else has forgotten about – the phenomenon of the “guilty secret,” sometimes leading to another time-honored occurrence – the legendary “deathbed confession.”
But my own darkest secret may surprise you – it was my own name! I didn’t mind the “Brilliant,” but I hated the “Ashleigh Ellwood,” because for some crazy reason, my parents never used it (except in anger), but called me “Junior” (although my father’s name was Victor). For years, I used “John Brilliant,” but it took all my courage, when I turned 21, to reveal my secret to the world.