Conference on the Power of Free Inquiry and Cold War International History
Session IV Comments
Nancy Bernkopf Tucker
Copyright 1998 by Nancy Bernkopf Tucker
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here today to address three such wonderful papers, but I have to confess that the real reason that I came was the hope that Michael Kurtz and Milton Gustafson would be standing at the doors and handing out secret documents as we came into the sessions, so I'm disappointed, but it's still nice to be here. Yesterday we dealt with new knowledge about the Cold War in Eastern Europe an arena, I think it's fair to say, of newly discovered riches.
Asia has not yielded nearly so much material. Even in places like Japan where democratic principles should have made access to the historical record, at the very least, better than in China. In fact, it's worth stopping to remark on the paucity of historical materials that have come out of the Japanese archives. In spite of a multi-year project run by the National Security Archive and funded by Japanese foundations and newspapers, the Japanese government remains secretive and unresponsive. Japanese scholars continue to be forced to use American documents to corroborate their arguments, and interviews are the primary new component of research there. Somewhat more promising has been the South Korean government, which has seen fit to permit limited access to its holdings. Until recently scholars could only guess at the inner workings of the South Korean government as it confronted a series of crises in the more than 50 years since partition. But during the Kim Young-sam years, 1993-98, some government files, a small number, were deposited at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security of the Foreign Ministry. With such unevenness among the democracies, it is less remarkable that a government like Vietnam's would refuse to open its archives. When a delegation from the Cold War History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Center went to Hanoi in 1996, we were stonewalled. Indeed, a senior Vietnamese scholar told Chen Jian that he was wrong about a historical episode that Chen related at our meeting. I think it was something to do with a conversation between Zhou Enlai and Ho Chi Minh. When asked for evidence from the Vietnamese archives to prove his contradictory point, however, the Vietnamese looked at us and said "No." And that was the end of the conversation. Still, even with all this reluctance to follow a policy of openness, we do know much more about the Cold War in Asia today than we did a decade ago. Despite Richard Ned Lebow's caveats in the fall 1998 issue of Diplomatic History, where he reviewed John Gaddis's most recent book, We Now Know, we have made progress in our understanding of the era, as papers for this session make clear. Declassification in the United States, China, and the Soviet Union has contributed to a clearer picture of events in the region. In this sense, the papers by Regina Greenwell and Chen Jian perform an exceptional service to the profession in detailing what resources are now easily accessible for research. The Johnson library has been in the forefront of declassification among the Presidential libraries for many years, and the Greenwell paper confirms that her tireless efforts have maintained and expanded upon the tradition laid out by David Humphrey and enjoyed by a generation of grateful scholars. Regina's prompt replies to enquiries, her conscientious efforts to assist searches, and her initiatives in seeking declassification of important resources mean that the Johnson library remains a Mecca for diplomatic history.
Chen Jian, although less directly responsible for the release of documents from the Chinese archives, performs a similar valuable service in his paper in explicating the contents of a series of official publications reprinting selected documents from the Chinese holdings. One would have to go back to the work of He Di and Steve Goldstein for the Cold War History Project Bulletin in 1992 or Michael Hunt and Odd Arne Westad's essay in China Quarterly in 1990 for anything nearly as useful to the research community. Chen Jian makes clear that, although nothing like the Johnson library's resources, what we have today is far superior to what we have had in the past. Zhang Shu Guang's remarks when he began this session reminded me that when his dissertation came up for review and defense, several years ago, it was pathbreaking, and so much so that his dissertation advisor was alarmed. What were these sources that Zhang Shu Guang wanted to use that he couldn't put in print but that were so valuable? And his advisor confidentially asked several of us in the field, "Would you look at this and see, I mean, is this legitimate stuff? I mean, could we really be getting stuff this good out of China?" I don't know if he's ever heard this story before. But anyway, we've come a long way, clearly, from those days. Chen also tells us, indirectly, the very good news, that although independent scholarly access to the official record remains impossible, there is a wealth of material to get access to. In other words, these materials have not been destroyed. Even some that are not completely flattering to the leadership appear to remain intact.
Enthusiasm for the new, more open environment leads Chen Jian to follow his analysis of the source material with a few observations on how the new documents ought to change the way we think about the Cold War era. Here I feel compelled to insert a cautionary note. Something akin to what LeBow has tried to say to John Gaddis in his review. Even if Chen Jian is right to say that the selectivity of document publication has become less political, with the placement of real scholars in the archival projects, which have been generating the recent volumes, that is not to say that they are not political at all. For instance, I continue to find it hard to believe that ideology so dominated Mao Zedong's thoughts in 1958 that he decided to attack the off-shore islands to assist people in the Middle East in their struggle against U.S. imperialism an example that Chen gives in his paper. Mao doubtless believed in his ideological comradeship with oppressed peoples, but it seems quite a stretch to think that he would have risked nuclear confrontation with the United States on behalf of the Lebanese people, however oppressed. We certainly have plenty of evidence to suggest that Mao enjoyed offering rhetorical encouragement to radicals in Asia and Africa. But he very rarely followed his declarations with actual assistance. And in those few cases, he had very immediate national security interests at stake. For example, protecting his border against American miscalculation in Vietnam. I would also like to see Chen Jian expand upon his discussion of the relationship between the domestic and external spheres. In practice, what are the real implications for this new way of looking at things, for analyzing policy making? How do things change from the way that we've been looking at them in the past? Finally, his contention that the new sources establish the centrality of Mao Zedong to foreign policy making is hardly a new contention. Chinese scholars have been telling us that for years, and again, there are clear current ideological reasons for insisting that that is so.
Bill Stueck has done a fine job with a very different sort of paper, demonstrating what the new information does for old interpretations, and showing some of the holes that remain. For example, despite a great deal of fresh Soviet material, Josef Stalin's behavior and decision making remain very hard to understand and to explain, although I was at a meeting about a year or two ago where John Gaddis said it was all because he kicked his dog. In fact, in reading Bill Stueck's paper, I found it very interesting to note how well David Rees' early analysis of the war has endured. Stueck also makes clear that the new information, however compelling, is still subject to differences of interpretive approach. John Gaddis suggests that the new work, including that by Chen Jian in his very important book, China's Road to the Korean War, establishes that Mao intended to enter the Korean War all along, that Zhou Enlai's warning's were irrelevant and designed just to influence public opinion, and that a modest set of goals, which stopped far short of an American attempt to reunify the peninsula, would not have acted as a deterrent. But Bill Stueck has read the same material, and he asserts that the odds are that Mao would have chosen to go a different route. He would have resisted massive intervention had Americans only restricted their aims on the peninsula. In sum, we have made a great deal of progress, but much more remains to be done.
That is true for all the key governments around the world that persist in trying to hide their motives and actions by obscuring the historical record. Of course, among these, the American government is the most shocking. In recent days, there has been a new assault on the American system of declassification with efforts by some in Congress to insert an amendment to an unrelated bill to make a page-by-page review of Defense Department materials necessary. Similarly the CIA remains recalcitrant. I am sorry to have missed yesterday's discussion, but I doubt sincerely that there was any declaration by our friends at the CIA that they would stop blocking the release of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes, or would release en masse for research at the National Archives even 30-year-old records that touch on a wide range of covert activities. If I'm wrong, somebody tell me, but I doubt I'm wrong. Selective volumes, such as those produced by the CIA in recent years, are, I would contend to you--and again I hope you pass this along if our CIA friends are not here today--no more acceptable than comparable volumes being compiled by Chinese communists to hide their secrets. They're really very much the same sort of creature. Furthermore, as the American economy becomes less robust and the Congress grows more conservative after this November's elections, we must fight the inclination to reduce funding for declassification and publication of the historical record. The FRUS series has been a critical resource for historians of American-East Asian relations in the United States and abroad, as well as an engine for broad declassification efforts in the United States. We should, and it's a responsibility that each of us in this room has, make sure that the FRUS series continues to serve these functions. Thank you.