After all the disparaging remarks about "egg heads" that have emanated from Washington in recent years, the State Department's sudden compassion for the nation's historians is both surprising and suspicious. The publication of the Yalta documents, however, contributes little to the cause of history-writing. And it adds even less to the United states standing in the world and to the confidence that Americans can have in the conduct of their foreign affairs.
If the State Department had really intended to aid the historian, it would have published a complete record of the Yalta proceedings. It would have made sure that its report of the conference was accurate. Furthermore, it would have published all the records of all the wartime conferences from Casablanca on, in chronological order. The Department did none of these things. Its spokesmen have admitted that deletions were made in the original documents. Prime Minister Churchill, who should know s much as any living person about the conference, insists that there are "serious inaccuracies" in the records as published. The Yalta meeting was wrenched out of its time sequence for publication, leaving the records of earlier conferences, of equal historical significance, to simmer in the Department's files under a "top secret" label.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the State Department had its eye on the ballot-boxes, not the history books in publishing the Yalta documents at this time. Curiously enough, the Department had first scheduled the issuance of the Yalta volume for October, 1954, just a month before the Congressional election. Violent objections from the British Foreign Office stopped publication then. But leading Republican Congressmen have kept up steady pressure for release of the documents, and the Department finally decided to go ahead last week despite the obvious British objection.
These same Republican Congressmen are already denouncing the Democrats with renewed violence for alleged mistakes at the famous parley. Again they have conjured up the spectre of Alger Hiss at Yalta--thanks to the State Department's thoughtful inclusion of Hiss' conference note sin the Yalta volume. These jottings reveal little more, however, than that Hiss could easily fail a college history course because of poor note-taking.
Another Retreating Step
In its implications for the future, the State Department's action is even more disturbing. The government has once again made political strife over foreign policy the order of the day. But each succeeding step away from the ideal of bi-partisanship is harder to retrace than the last, until finally the point of no return is reached. Publication of the documents over British protests, moreover, has unnecessarily angered out best friends in Europe for the sake of a domestic police advantage. And France and Germany have been aroused at a time when our efforts to weld both countries into the western alliance are at a critical point.
By publishing the Yalta records, the State Department has probably made any chance of a high-level conference with the Russians impossible in the near future. Perhaps that was the Department's secret intention, but it may unwittingly have destroyed hopes for an East-West conference not only in 1955, but for a long time to come. As Prime Minister Churchill pointed out in his remarkably restrained comments on the release of the documents, diplomacy is simply impossible if diplomats must fear that a record of every exchange of views will be promptly delivered into the eager hands of Congressmen and newspapermen.
In a perilous period of history, he Department's action has cast serious doubt on the United States' ability to conduct its foreign relations with maturity and rationality. Publication of the Yalta documents at this time was had in motive, in execution, in implications, and above all, in principle. The State Department--and the nation cannot afford many more such blunders.