Critics assail quality of new State Department histories
The State Department Historian last week released a new electronic volume of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy, devoted to events in Eastern Europe from 1973-1976.
While every FRUS publication is of interest, the latest E-volume reinforced concerns about diminishing quality control in the venerable series.
"I was taken aback by how skimpy it is," said Mark Kramer, director of the Harvard Project on ColdWar Studies.
In principle, the major advantage of a softcopy-only volume is that it permits publication of a greatly expanded set of records, unlimited by the production constraints of a hardcopy volume. But that advantage has gone unrealized in the new FRUS volume.
"It contains a total of 105 documents, compared to 238 in the 1969-1972 volume. It includes no sections at all about Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, and even what's there is pretty meager," Mr. Kramer said.
"For example, the only item that really deals with the June 1976 protests in Radom, Poland is Document No. 57, a November 1976 CIA memorandum that's long been available from the CIA's very useful on-line reading room. The CIA memorandum focuses on the aftermath of the protests, rather than the protests themselves. Anyone hoping to know how U.S. officials in Warsaw or Washington, DC reacted to the crisis when it was actually occurring in June 1976 will have to look elsewhere. (I found a bunch of documents pertaining to this topic in the Ford presidential library, and I can't fathom why not a single one was included in the FRUS volume.)," he noted in an email message.
"If this volume is an indication of what the FRUS editors regard as a thorough treatment of the topic, I worry about where things are heading," Mr. Kramer said.
Though the Office of the Historian at the State Department is mad at me for saying so, there has been considerable upheaval and turmoil in that office over the last couple of years. Most recently, Dr. Edward C. Keefer, the respected general editor of FRUS, abruptly resigned.
It is unclear whether, how or when FRUS will be able to fulfill its
mandatory obligation to produce"a thorough, accurate, and reliable
documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions and
significant United States diplomatic activity" that is published"not more
than 30 years after the events recorded."
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