Foreign Affairs

Conference on the Power of Free Inquiry and Cold War International History



Session IV

Historical Materials at the Johnson Library on East Asia

Regina Greenwell
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library

Cold War Conference
College Park, Maryland
September 26, 1998

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, has been a recognized source for scholarly research in American foreign policy for over 25 years. While it is an institution long familiar to many in the scholarly community, in the past few years significant new materials have been added to the Library's holdings, an important collection has been opened for research, and our declassification program has undergone considerable revision. Today, I would like to give a brief overview of the Library's history for those not familiar with it, and provide some insights into what is new at the Library, with particular emphasis on our holdings on East Asia.

Following a tradition established by Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson gave his papers to the federal government in August 1965, stipulating that they be housed in a facility built by the University of Texas which would be administered by the National Archives. When Johnson left office in January 1969, his presidential papers, along with material documenting his service as a congressman, senator, and vice president, were transferred to Austin and housed temporarily in a federal facility until the Library was completed. The building was dedicated in May 1971 and soon thereafter opened as a research facility. Over the years, other individuals associated with Johnson or his administration have also donated their papers to the Library. In addition, the LBJ Foundation, a private, non-profit institution which provides additional support for the Library, funded the creation of an extensive oral history program to supplement the Library's archival holdings, giving us an estimated 44 million pages of material in total. The Foundation also funds travel grants for visiting scholars, which are awarded twice a year.

Of these 44 million pages, probably the most important file for all foreign policy researchers is the National Security File, often referred to as the NSF. This was the working file of President Johnson's special assistants for national security affairs, McGeorge Bundy and Walt Rostow. McGeorge Bundy served under President Kennedy and continued to serve under President Johnson until February 1966. Walt Rostow took up the post in April 1966 and continued as national security adviser until the end of the administration. Documents in the National Security File originated in the offices of Bundy and Rostow and their staffs, in various executive departments and agencies, especially those having to do with foreign affairs and national defense, and in diplomatic and military posts around the world.

There are a number of sub-series within the file, of which the two largest by far are the Country File and the Vietnam Country File. The Country File contains Department of State and Defense Department cables, White House memoranda, CIA intelligence reports, and other material arranged by region and thereunder by country. Each folder was assigned a volume number by the NSC staff. Copies of cables, usually to and from diplomatic posts around the world and the Department of State, were arranged under tabs and bound on the right side of the folder. On the left side, memos, memcons, correspondence, and reports were filed with tabs highlighting selected documents or events. Material concerning head of state or head of government visits was originally filed in separate folders within each country file, as was material concerning crises. This organization has been retained by the Johnson Library staff. The Vietnam Country File, almost equal in size to the Country File for the rest of the world, originally had the same format as the other Country File, using a chronological volume arrangement, but in May 1967, an alpha-numeric subject file arrangement was instituted. However, substantial amounts of material were filed in neither the chronological nor the subject files but in loosely arranged segments at the end of the file.

Among its other components, the NSF also contains two separate head of state correspondence files, an agency file, subject file, intelligence file, committee file, NSC meetings file, a chronological "Memos to the President" file, the NSC History File, and individual office files for the various NSC staff members. In February 1993, the Library received a significant accretion to the NSF when about 80 feet of classified materials were shipped to the Library at the time that the Bush presidential materials were shipped to College Station, Texas. Of particular interest to those researchers interested in East Asia are the Files of Alfred Jenkins, Files of Robert Komer, Files of Charles Johnson--all NSC staff members whose responsibilities included U.S. relations with East Asia--and the Personal Papers of long-time NSC Executive Secretary Bromley Smith and of Morton Halperin, Among its other components, the NSF also contains two seperate which include material from his service on the NSC staff during the Nixon Administration.

We estimate that over half of the National Security File has been processed, including all of the Country Files for China and Japan and all of the Korea Country File except 7 boxes dealing with the Pueblo crisis in 1968.

While the National Security File is probably the most important file in the Library's holdings for foreign policy research, there are a number of other important files which researchers should consult. The White House Central Files, maintained by a permanent White House office, was the main filing unit during the Johnson administration. Although it was not the primary file location for foreign policy documents, the Confidential File component of White House Central Files may contain documents not filed elsewhere. The White House Central Files Subject File is also useful to document domestic and congressional reaction to foreign policy events.

White House aides other than those on the National Security Council staff also maintained office files of their own, separate from the rest of the White House Central Files and the National Security File. They reflect that staff member's responsibilities and may contain information of interest to the foreign policy researcher.

The President's Daily Diary and the President's Appointment File, also known as Diary Backup, are two chronologically arranged files which present unique information about the President's schedule. Prepared by the President's secretaries, the Diary is a log of the President's daily activities--telephone calls, meetings, public activities--but it may also contain comments he made to the secretaries about his activities or anecdotal information about his mood or events of the day. The Diary is of such interest to all our researchers, as well as the public in general, that the Library recently submitted entries for about 50 selected days for inclusion in the National Archives Electronic Access Project, including the pages for November 2, 1966, when LBJ returned from the Asian Summit in Manila, and the days for his summit meeting with Soviet Premier Kosygin at Glassboro, New Jersey in June 1967. These pages, along with photographs from our audio-visual archives and photographs of a number of our museum artifacts will soon be available on the World Wide Web. Diary Backup is just that--a file of backup material for the President's activities that day: schedules, invitation lists, briefing papers, and memoranda of conversation. While it is less useful in the early years of the administration, beginning in 1966 it contains a significant amount of foreign policy material.

In addition to the NSC Meetings File contained in the National Security File, two other sets of notes of meetings are worth mentioning: the Meeting Notes File and Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Like the NSC Meetings File, they consist of notes taken by individuals, not transcripts of recorded meetings. The Meeting Notes File consists of notes for 100 of LBJ's meetings with foreign policy advisers, congressional leaders, or members of the press. The Tom Johnson notes contain notes taken by the former assistant press secretary of about 120 meetings, including notes of 45 Tuesday Lunch meetings with the President's senior foreign policy advisers in 1967 and 1968. While a considerable number of the notes in both collections concern the Vietnam War, both include material concerning the Pueblo incident.

Donated by Tom Johnson, this collection is actually what the Library terms a "Personal Papers" collection; that is, papers donated by someone other than President Johnson. Other important collections of interest to scholars researching East Asia include the Papers of George Ball, which consist of notes taken of his telephone conversations while Under Secretary of State; Papers of Clark Clifford, from his service as Secretary of Defense in 1968; Papers of Under Secretary and later Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler; Papers of Drew Pearson, the investigative journalist; and Papers of U. Alexis Johnson, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan; and the aforementioned Papers of Bromley Smith and Papers of Morton Halperin.

While material from the White House years is usually the focus for most researchers who come to the Library, the pre-presidential records from Johnson's Senate and Vice-presidential career also contain some valuable material, including material on the Korean War and on the controversy over Quemoy and Matsu.

Time precludes me from going into further detail about the various collections at the Library. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of relevant material there; the problem for many researchers may be finding what they need among all of it. Sometimes, it seems as though no one ever threw anything away in the Johnson White House. Drafts of cables, speeches, or reports in various stages are often found, each with handwritten annotations. Notes by two or three different people exist for the same meeting, each filed in a different location, surrounded by different documentation. The organization of the files reflects their use by the NSC and White House staffs, not the research needs of later scholars. For example, someone researching U.S. policy towards the People's Republic of China would logically begin research with the National Security File, Country File for China--which includes material on both Taiwan and the People's Republic--and the White House Central Files Confidential File categories for both countries. But this researcher would be missing part of the picture if he or she did not also consult the Country Files for the USSR for material dealing with the Sino-Soviet conflict; for Vietnam, where information on US concerns about Chinese involvement in the conflict is found; for France, for material on recognition of the PRC by one of our western allies; for Poland, where memcons of the talks between the US ambassador to Poland and the representatives of the People's Republic of China are filed; for various African countries, for information on Chinese involvement in support of rebel movements; for India and Pakistan, for information about Chinese involvement in the continuing conflict between those two countries; and for the United Nations, for material on US opposition to PRC entry into the UN. They would also want to consult many of the other files mentioned above.

The Library's archival staff tries in a number of ways to assist researchers in finding their way amidst all of this material. The most useful tool for the scholar beginning research in the Johnson Library holdings is the topical "search," which gives a brief description of the principal files on that topic, usually either a regional area, a country, or an individual. We will mail a copy of the relevant search, or searches, to the researcher in advance of his or her visit, and several searches are now available on our web site. Lending copies of finding aids and oral history transcripts are available by mail, free of charge within the continental United States. Overseas researchers may also obtain copies but must pay the costs of air mail return postage. A number of oral history transcripts are also now available on the Library's web site, including the oral histories of Dean Rusk, Bromley Smith, and Nicholas Katzenbach, and we hope to make more available there in the near future, as well as our list of holdings and most frequently requested finding aids.

Perhaps the most valuable tool for researchers in finding their way around our holdings is their initial interview with an archivist. The purpose of this interview is not only to describe our rules and procedures, but also to explain how our files are organized, to learn more about the scholar's particular research topic and thus to help find the most relevant material. Members of the Archives staff each have an average of over seventeen years of service at the Library, and are extremely knowledgeable in assisting researchers to find their way around the holdings.

From the beginning, President Johnson was committed to opening these papers for research as fully and as quickly as possible. In the deed transferring ownership of the papers, he gave his copyright in them to the federal government, thus ensuring that it would be in the public domain. He stipulated that only private family matters, information that would embarrass, injure, or harass living individuals, and national security classified information should be withheld from research. While these papers, like those of all other presidents up to Ronald Reagan, are exempted from the Freedom of Information Act, from its earliest days the Library has devoted considerable staff resources to the Mandatory Declassification Review program in order to have security classified materials made available for research.

Access to the Library's foreign policy holdings has always been researcher driven. Until fairly recently, researchers could consult the finding aids for the Library's collections--usually basic lists of folder titles--and request that specific folders be processed and opened for research. Archivists would then review the material for both privacy and security closures, prepare document withdrawal sheets for the closed material, and open the remainder for research. The Library staff had very limited authority to declassify documents on-site, and often 75% or more of the documents in a given file initially would remain closed. It was then up to the researcher to request declassification of the closed documents under the Mandatory Review Program, a time-consuming procedure that requires members of the Library staff to photocopy the requested document and send it to the federal agency which originated it for declassification review. It often takes months--if not years--for the results of the review to return to the Library and for the documents to be opened in whole or in part for research. Cumbersome as this system may be, it has resulted in over hundreds of thousands of pages being opened for research in the past 20 years.

The advent of Executive Order 12958, signed by President Clinton in April 1995, has resulted in important changes in the Library's declassification efforts. This executive order mandates that all security classified material 25 years old or older--including the security classified holdings of the Johnson Library--must be reviewed for declassification and, with certain narrow exceptions, declassified by April 2000. Our first effort to meet this goal was our participation in the pilot project of the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) Project, an interagency effort initially developed by the Central Intelligence Agency whereby security classified documents are scanned and transmitted on compact disks to Washington for declassification review. A team visited the Library in May-June 1996 and scanned over 90,000 images in the National Security File, Country File for Vietnam. To date, over 28,000 pages have been opened for research in whole or in part, and we are continuing to process more material which has been returned to the Library. The RAC Project has scanned the security classified holdings of the Eisenhower and Kennedy Libraries, and we hope they will return to the Johnson Library next year, pending continued funding of the project.

Equally as significant as the RAC Project has been the extension of declassification authority to Library staff by a number of government agencies, particularly the National Security Council and the Department of State. Last October, Department of State personnel visited the Library to provide on-site training in the use of their declassification guidelines. Since that time, the Library staff has begun a process of systematic declassification review of our remaining unprocessed security classified holdings. Because it is more efficient for us to tackle large blocks of material, we are no longer accepting processing requests for isolated folders as we have in the past. We have found, however, that since 60% or more of the material can now be declassified using agency guidelines, considerably more material is being opened for research immediately. In the past 6 months, over 61,000 pages have been opened under this systematic review process. We still accept mandatory review requests for individual documents from files which have already been opened for research, but whenever possible we declassify these documents on-site, using agency guidelines. We have been able to open an additional 5,000 pages without referral to the originating agencies, including a considerable amount of material on the Pueblo crisis, head of state correspondence with Chiang Kai-Shek, and material on the Cabot-Wang talks in Warsaw. In the months ahead, we hope to process the remainder of the Korea Country File, the remainder of the Files of Alfred Jenkins, and to continue processing the Files of Robert Komer, all of which contain significant new material on East Asia.

Perhaps the most important development in the past few years, however, has been the decision to make available for research the recordings and transcripts of President Johnson's recordings of telephone calls and meetings. As many of you know, Johnson recorded some but not all of his telephone calls throughout his presidency and, beginning in 1968, some of the meetings held in the Cabinet Room. Telephone calls were recorded apparently at his direction on Dictabelts attached to the telephone lines, either by his secretaries or by members of the Signal Corps when Johnson was away from the White House. The Cabinet Room recordings were made on reel-to-reel audio tapes. Transcripts of some of these recordings were prepared by his staff either in the White House or later when he was preparing his memoirs, The Vantage Point. Following LBJ's death in January 1973, his long-time assistant, Mildred Stegall, turned the materials over to the Library, along with his instructions that the material was to be sealed for 50 years after his death. Following passage of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act, Harry Middleton, the Director of the Johnson Library, broke that seal and the Library began processing and making the collection available for research. In late 1993 and April 1994, all of the recordings and transcripts from November 22 through December 31, 1963, as well as selected conversations specifically related to the Kennedy assassination from later periods in the Johnson administration, were made available for research. Beginning later in 1994, the Library began providing copies of relevant recordings and transcripts to the Office of the Historian of the Department of State, for use in their research on the Foreign Relations of the United States, and to Robert McNamara for use in his memoirs, In Retrospect. In October 1996, the Library resumed chronological release of the collection to the public, and as of last week, when we opened the recordings and transcripts for September and October 1964, we have opened approximately 296 hours of recording and 4,400 pages of transcripts.

Of what value is this material to the foreign policy researcher, and in particular to those interested in East Asia? First, scholars have frequently noted that while the Johnson Library holdings are a rich resource, they offer little documentation on LBJ himself. He was a man given to verbal communication, not written, and prior to the release of the telephone conversations there was little evidence of his personal views except in the various meeting notes and in the brief, handwritten annotations he would add to memoranda. The telephone recordings provide a fascinating glimpse of the LBJ we have always read about but have seldom observed in action: cajoling congressmen, seeking advice from his cabinet, handling a crisis, and even accepting a critique of his performance at a press conference from his wife. They are of perhaps the greatest interest when capturing the words and emotions of crisis times such as the morning of August 4, 1964, when Robert McNamara called LBJ (who was in the midst of crucial negotiations on passage of the Poverty Bill) to report on activities in the Gulf of Tonkin; or, later on the same day when Deke DeLoach, J. Edgar Hoover's liaison officer to the White House, called to report that the bodies of three civil rights workers missing since June of that year had been found. At other times, intriguing information emerges in the midst of a long conversation such as this one on January 15, 1964, with Senator Richard Russell concerning France's recognition of the People's Republic of China: (play tape).

Sometimes the recordings are revealing in the lack of information that is recorded. For example, on October 16, 1964, Communist China conducted its first nuclear test. In the recordings for September and October 1964, which were released last Friday, the first mention of this event is in this recording of a conversation with McGeorge Bundy on September 26: (play tape). The event isn't mentioned again on the recordings until October 17. Why? Because the telephone conversations that were recorded in that period of October--two weeks before the 1964 presidential election--deal almost exclusively with the arrest of Johnson's long-time key aide, Walter Jenkins (on what was then euphemistically called a morals charge) in the men's room of the Washington, D.C., YMCA, and the attempts to counter Republican charges that Jenkins (who had held the highest security clearances) had endangered national security. During this period, the written record shows that LBJ was meeting with the NSC and congressional leadership, and addressing the nation about the nuclear test and about the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev as leader of the Soviet Union which had occurred almost simultaneously, but the telephone records clearly show his deep concern about an entirely unrelated issue. As with the recordings on August 4, when LBJ struggled to balance events in the Gulf of Tonkin, with events on Capitol Hill and in Mississippi, these recordings bring events in perspective as no other records in our holdings. Because they are so important, we have described this collection in far greater detail than any other materials in our holdings. A computerized description of each conversation is available free of charge by contacting the Library, and is also available on the Online Catalog.

The coming years promise to be exciting--if not exhausting-- ones at the Johnson Library, both for researchers and for the staff, as we continue to open more of these recordings, to process and declassify more of our textual holdings, and to make more information available on the Internet. We invite you to keep in touch with us for more information and to visit the Library often.

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