Hillary and Historians

Roundup
tags: Hillary email



Jeffrey Frank, a former senior editor of The New Yorker and the author of “Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage,” is working on a book about the Truman era.

Nearly sixty years ago, there was trouble in Poland and more so in Hungary, both Soviet satellite states. When the Russians sent troops to Hungary, the United States was pressed to do something, or at least saysomething. The pressure, and the stakes, grew when what had started as street protests became a full-fledged uprising and the Soviet Union used tanks to crush it with deadly force.

Attention turned to President Dwight Eisenhower, and to his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who was known for his stern views on Communist ideology and used the provocative word “liberation” in connection with Eastern Europe. What Dulles and others said publicly, though, was not exactly what they said behind their office doors. There, the emphasis was less on confrontation and more on how to phrase another numbingly repetitive diplomatic note. In late October, 1956, Dulles telephoned Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the American ambassador to the United Nations, and said that he was disturbed by “clear evidence of considerable Soviet military activity in the area,” but suggested only that the question be brought before the U.N. Security Council. Dulles seemed equally concerned about how America’s passive response would look to others. “From a political standpoint,” he remarked, “it will be said that here are the great moments and when they came and these fellows were ready to stand up and die, we were caught napping and doing nothing.” The next day, when Vice-President Richard Nixon’s office called for advice on what to say, Dulles was particularly cautious: Nixon could certainly “refer to love of country and individual freedom surviving and bursting forth and today the whole area of Soviet satellites is a seething mass and one can look forward hopefully to when national independence and liberties will be restored,” he said, according to notes taken by his secretary. At the same time, “We don’t want to upset anything.”

We know about these earnest and somewhat embarrassing exchanges because our government has excellent records. Memoranda provide descriptions of meetings and telephone calls; correspondence—whether by mail or cable—was preserved; minutes were kept of sessions of the National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, much of them eventually published. All this helped to lessen the chance for misunderstandings among departments in Washington and between the United States and foreign governments. Thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the State Department’s Office of the Historian, and others, these contemporaneous impressions of what was said and thought while policies were formed produce a historical inheritance of great value.

E-mail didn’t exist then, but if it had, it’s easy to imagine that some of this material might have been lost—not because it compromised national security but because it provided retroactive evidence of poor judgment or naïveté. Someone might have been embarrassed, and hit delete. Before meeting with Eisenhower in 1954, for instance, Dulles prepared a memo on Indochina, which, with unintentional comic understatement, observed that “any use of atomic weapons will raise very serious problems” with public opinion in Asia, and might affect the “attitude of our allies.” Dulles also saw what was happening in Hungary as “the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Empire.” No one, though, removed any of this from the files....




comments powered by Disqus