Kissinger Tapes: I Love This Country!
I don't actually have a lot of historical or personal questions at stake in the Kissinger tape releases: I'm too young and I don't study 20th century diplomacy. He comes up in my Chinese and Japanese history classes when I get to the 1970s, but that's about it; I don't teach Vietnam, except as a blip in my World History survey, and as a component of Chinese history. My strongest memory of Kissinger is the Tom Lehrer quotation:"Satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize." From the news reports (HNN's Breaking News page has a good survey), it sounds like Lehrer was, as usual, more right than he realized. But that's not my point.
My point is this. I am proud of my country this week. Proud as a citizen and proud as an historian. The release of these documents, still politically sensitive and while powerful men may still suffer the consequences, is an act of openness the likes of which are rare in this world. This wasn't released by Kissinger's enemies, though the scholars who initiated the lawsuit certainly qualify as critics. These were released by a government which, despite itself, operates in the most open environment and fashion of any government in history.
Yes, I know the tendency over the last few decades has been towards greater secrecy, and the Bush administration is fighting to maintain control over information. They are losing, partially because the system is stacked against them, partially because the information technology now makes secret-keeping hard. In the long run, they clearly lose, because nothing they do short of information obliteration will hide the truth for more than a few decades, and anything they destroy will be held against them.
As an historian, watching the public release of rich primary materials when principles are still alive to question and to respond and when memories are still pretty fresh and when the questions are still really relevant.... well, I'm smiling. It's a good time to be an historian, and I envy my Americanist friends this week.
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