ON JULY 18, 1965, U.S. NAVY COMDR. JEREMIAH A. DENTON, JR., WAS SHOT DOWN WHILE LEADING AN AIR ATTACK ON A MILITARY INSTALLATION IN NORTH VIETNAM. CAPTURED BY THE NORTH VIETNAMESE THAT DAY, HE REMAINED A PRISONER OF WAR FOR SEVEN YEARS AND SEVEN MONTHS, ENDURING YEARS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AND BRUTAL MISTREATMENT. ON MAY 2, 1966, AS PART OF A PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN, THE NORTH VIETNAMESE ARRANGED FOR HIM TO BE INTERVIEWED FOR TELEVISION BY A JAPANESE REPORTER. ASKED ABOUT HIS VIEWS ON THE ACTIONS OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, HE STRONGLY AFFIRMED HIS GOVERNMENT’S POSITION, IN DEFIANCE OF HIS CAPTORS’ INSTRUCTIONS; HE PREPARED HIMSELF FOR A TORTURE SESSION THAT WAS SURE TO FOLLOW. WHILE SPEAKING ON CAMERA, HE BLINKED IN MORSE CODE THE WORD “T-O-R-T-U-R-E.” EVENTUALLY, THE VIDEOTAPE WAS WIDELY CIRCULATED AND REVIEWED BY U.S. NAVAL INTELLIGENCE. DENTON’S ONE-WORD REPORT, DELIVERED IN MORSE CODE, WAS THE FIRST CLEAR CONFIRMATION RECEIVED BY U.S. INTELLIGENCE THAT AMERICAN POWS WERE, IN FACT, BEING TORTURED. HE LATER SPECULATED THAT THE NORTH VIETNAMESE DID NOT LEARN OF HIS BLINKING MESSAGE UNTIL 1974. THE TAPED INTERVIEW IS AMONG THE HOLDINGS OF THE SPECIAL MEDIA ARCHIVES—RECORDS OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY. PROMOTED DURING HIS CAPTIVITY, CAPTAIN DENTON WAS RELEASED ON FEBRUARY 12, 1973. AFTER RETIRING FROM THE U.S. NAVY AS A REAR ADMIRAL, HE WAS ELECTED TO THE U.S. SENATE WHERE HE SERVED FROM 1981 UNTIL 1987.
MGD TM11 is a typeface based on instructional letters which were shown within the 1943 published »Technical Manual Instructions for Learning International Morse Characters« by the US War Department, in order to teach US-military students the transcription of audible international morse signals into latin characters. Regarding circumstances of army transcribition, the single letters must be written in a fast and distinct way. Through the demand of a strong aesthetical differentiation, unusual proportions determine the typefaces odd appearance (FIG1-3).
The strict demand shown in the manual represses as many personal features as possible which are usually elementary to handwriting. Through the accurate repitition of the single letters in a pre-determined way, they become digital in the sense of Gutenberg. Furthermore, handwriting loses its characteristic function throughout this process—the function as a container of personality, self-expression and even the possibility of failure—in order to be »neutral«. The idea of the letters’ neutrality ironically shapes them into something overly characteristic—it reminds of the never-ending discussions about neutral typefaces, which, as we know, simply cannot exist.
History has shown an example in which something apparently neutral, turns out to be highly political. Letters and their visual representation can serve as advocats of discrimination and fascism, a form of symbolic violence. Spelling alphabets are used in in contexts when a conversation is held through distance. To distinguish letters of similar sound phonetically from each other, such as B and D or F and S, words represent the letters themselves. In morsing this is a common method, thus the above mentioned technical manual also displays these representatives.
Nine years after the introduction of telephone books in 1890, the first spelling alphabet was printed in german telephone books (FIG4) which connected everly letter to numerals. Later on, these letters were replaced through names, from Albert to Zacharias. German military had an important influence on the wording of these spelling alphabets as they highly used them during WW1 for their intern communication. In 1915, the imperial Reichs-post office rejected a reformative proposal for the current spelling alphabet from the imperial german telegraph administration with reference to the problematic implementation during the war and the high costs afterwards, and to keep the alphabet congruent with the current field telephone alphabet.
With the rise of the NSDAP a reformation in 1934 led to the substitution of 15 of 31 terms. Dora, Jot, Nordpol, Siegfried, Zeppelin replaced DAVID, JACOB, NATHAN, SAMUEL, ZACHARIAS (FIG5). Other terms changed into Anton, Bruno, Kurfürst, Ypern, Ärger, Öse, Übel. Besides the disposal of jewish names, the replacement of Ypsilon through Ypern is an evidence for the influence of the Nazis on this reformation, as Ypern refers to a Belgian city where the Germans won a battle during WW1. Cynically it was the first city ever whereat lethal gas has been used as a military weapon.
Letters are able to work as agents for societal and historical principles of the respective cultural context. MGD TM11 might be a silent reminder of that.