History Declassified: New Archive Reveals Once-Secret Documents from World Governments

che and Zhou Enlai

In the ear­ly ’90s, the so-called “Iron Archives” of Russ­ian polit­i­cal doc­u­ments from the Cold War era opened up to his­to­ri­ans, shed­ding light on the ear­li­est days of Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin’s diplo­mat­ic alliance.

But not all of the Russ­ian doc­u­ments were declas­si­fied at that time. The Woodrow Wil­son Inter­na­tion­al Cen­ter for Schol­ars has launched a new dig­i­tal archive con­tain­ing recent­ly declas­si­fied mate­ri­als from some 100 dif­fer­ent inter­na­tion­al col­lec­tions, includ­ing a cable Mao sent to Com­man­der Fil­ip­pov (Stalin’s alias) eager­ly detail­ing his plans to study Rus­sia and com­plain­ing about his poor health.

The sub­se­quent exchange between the two world lead­ers is as banal as their lat­er cor­re­spon­dence would be ide­o­log­i­cal. Mao sug­gests, once his health improves, that they use the aero­drome in Weix­i­an for his depar­ture and he includes the exact dimen­sions of the land­ing strip. One won­ders whether Oba­ma and Israeli Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres worked so close­ly togeth­er on trav­el details for their meet­ings in March.

The details con­tained in the thou­sands of cables, telegrams and mem­os are part of the fun. Oth­er doc­u­ments exchanged between the KGB chair­man and East Ger­man Min­is­ter in July, 1981 include blunt lan­guage about the dif­fi­cul­ties of read­ing the Rea­gan Administration’s inten­tions and the impor­tance of quash­ing the Pol­ish Sol­i­dar­i­ty Move­ment.

Because the world’s biggest issues tend to have long roots, there is a lot of mate­r­i­al here that echoes today’s head­lines. Here, the Sovi­et Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs records a 1958 memo about his assess­ment of North Korea’s plans for a nuclear pro­gram.

Dur­ing a 1960 glob­al com­mu­nist del­e­ga­tion meet­ing, Mao Zedong spoke at length with Che Gue­vara about sug­ar sales, Amer­i­can influ­ence and counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.

As a side note, the Wil­son Cen­ter is a one of the more intel­lec­tu­al memo­ri­als to an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. Woodrow Wil­son was, after all, the only Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States to hold a Ph.D. The Cen­ter is one of the world’s top think tanks, with research and projects focused on U.S.-Russia rela­tions, the Mid­dle East, North Korea and, odd­ly, emerg­ing nan­otech­nolo­gies. But, of course, the Wil­son Cen­ter is more known for its cen­trist analy­sis of inter­na­tion­al diplo­ma­cy issues.

The new dig­i­tal archive (whose tagline is “Inter­na­tion­al His­to­ry Declas­si­fied”) offers sev­er­al ways to search: by place, year (begin­ning with1938) or sub­ject. For schol­ars or his­to­ry buffs, this is a trove worth brows­ing.

Kate Rix writes about edu­ca­tion and dig­i­tal media. Vis­it her web­site: .

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  • Jag Pop says:

    As the Woodrow Wil­son Cen­ter is head­ed by a trai­tor, Jane Har­mon, one won­ders how this will effect what is made pub­lic. There is a cer­tain irony to the Cen­ter mak­ing once-secret com­mu­ni­ca­tions pub­lic. Har­mon, as you may recall, was caught on tape by the FBI nego­ti­at­ing with a for­eign agent and famous­ly end­ed her con­ver­sa­tion with “this con­ver­sa­tion nev­er hap­pened”.

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