By GAIL FINEBERG and JOHN MARTIN
Long-secret records made available recently from the military archives of Poland, Hungary and Romania will help scholars and historians write a new Cold War history from the perspective of the Communist side as well as that of the United States and its Western allies.
"We are now beginning the first truly retrospective examination of what happened during the Cold War," said Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter B. Slocombe (left) during his keynote address during a two-day Conference on "Cold War Archives in the Decade of Openness," held at the Library June 28-29.
"History was written during the Cold War. The crucial change is that we can now examine the history of that period with a much broader range," Mr. Slocombe said. "The opening of records from the Communist side is a crucial aspect of that effort."
Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Dr. Billington proposed that the Library and the Department of Defense organize a program to film rare books and manuscripts in the former Soviet Union. Subsequently, the Library and the Defense Department launched a project in Russia and Lithuania. In 1996 the Department of Defense expanded the project to microfilm military records and inventories in former Soviet-block countries, primarily from World War II and the early Cold War years. The governments of Poland, Hungary and Romania agreed to cooperate.
To date, the program has generated some 900 reels of microfilm. Records are selected for filming by mutual consent between the source archives and the Department of Defense and the Library. One copy of the processed microfilm, plus inventories of the records, are housed at the Library, where they are available to researchers in the European Division Reading Room. The East European archives retain both a positive and negative copy of the microfilm.
In response to a 1995 executive order, the Department of Defense has declassified 195 million pages of historical documents from the same era.
Chief of Staff Jo Ann C. Jenkins introduced Slocombe during opening night ceremonies on June 28. The conference itself, which was sponsored by the Library and the Department of Defense, included presentations by Col. Andrzej Bartnik, director of Poland's Central Military Archives; Jolán Szijj, director of Hungary's War History Archives; and Col. Alexandru Osca, chief of Romania's Military Archives of the Ministry of National Defense. Other sessions featured scholars and archivists with specialties in the Cold War, Department of Defense representatives and area specialists from the Library's European Division.
In his address, Mr. Slocombe emphasized the importance of history in shaping policy and statecraft, and the vital dependence of history on primary source material, such as the documents in the new collection. He also evaluated the joint microfilm project in the larger context of changes that have occurred since the dissolution of the Soviet state.
The lessons of history, Mr. Slocombe said, are not just for academics and scholars; they also inform and guide policymakers and government leaders. "History is the ultimate judge and the ultimate teacher. No sooner had the Soviet flag been lowered than historians began reexamining history. For that reexamination, it was essential that historians and archivists seek access to the enormous archives behind the iron curtain."
Quoting historian John Louis Gaddis, Slocombe noted that the emergence of primary source material from the archives of the Soviet Union and its former allies will prompt a reconsideration of prior Cold War historiography, which, by necessity, was based almost exclusively on information available in the West.
Saying he would leave the interpretation of the Cold War to historians, Mr. Slocombe reviewed some changes in global politics and relations since the Soviet flag was lowered on Dec. 25, 1991. "The most important change is strategic," he said. "The greatest threat to our national security -- war on a global scale against an adversary with nuclear weapons and aggressive global ambitions -- has been all but eliminated."
The second major change, he said, "is that we no longer live in a world of clear ideological conflict." However, conflict still exists. "The end of the Cold War has created its own challenges with threats that are no less real," he said, explaining that "security challenges" range from regional conflicts and ethnic hatred, which threaten to spread, to "growing dangers from weapons of mass destruction and terrorism."
"Without security against these threats, as well as against the classic threat of direct invasion, the promise of a new century free of the horrors of the last will prove hollow," Mr. Slocombe said.
The greatest threat to stability since the end of the Cold War has been the Balkans, the under secretary said. He noted that NATO made a choice it might not have made during the Cold War. "World attention focused on the humanitarian aspects of the conflict in Kosovo, on the brutality of ethnic cleansing and on the refugees forced from their homes, a spectacle we had hoped had been banished in Europe. NATO chose to act, not only as a response to the obvious imperative to do what we can to redress violations of basic humanitarian standards," he said, but also to protect regional stability in Europe generally and Southern Europe in particular.
The lesson of history from the "approximate cause" of World War I was not to ignore conflict in remote places, Mr. Slocombe explained.
Such intervention requires coalitions. "That is why the United States -- including the U.S. military -- invests so much effort and energy in shaping a more stable international environment and in preventing sparks of instability from igniting into conflagrations -- as well as in being ready, when fires do start, to douse them before they spread."
New coalitions being forged now were unimaginable 10 years ago, he said. For example, he said, Russia and the United States collaborated in Kosovo, Russian soldiers stood with American troops in Bosnia, and Russian officers carried out orders issued by U.S. commanders. Russians and Americans sat side by side at the NORAD command center in Cheyenne Mountain to guard against any misunderstanding between nuclear forces as the millennium changed. Presidents Clinton and Putin established a permanent monitoring station to avoid misunderstandings relating to missile and space activities.
Mr. Slocombe noted that two of the former Warsaw Pact countries collaborating with the United States in the Cold War Archives project, Poland and Hungary, are now members of NATO, and the third, Romania, has applied for membership.
Historians drawing on material being made available by this collaboration of archivists will write a "new" Cold War history that will shape another generation of policy makers, Mr. Slocombe said.
The Library and the Department of Defense gave special thanks to the archivists from Poland, Hungary and Romania, who spoke at one of the sessions.
Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper. Mr. Martin is an examiner in the U.S. Copyright Office.