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In recent years, we have seen a spate of memoirs by high government officials, many of them controversial.  Among those publications are books by former Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Colin Powell, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and Dean Rusk.  Perhaps the model for all of them is Cordell Hull, at least in the modern era.

Hull’s book, THE MEMOIRS OF CORDELL HULL (The Macmillan Company, 2 volumes) was published in 1948.  He had served as Secretary of State from 1933 to late 1944, the longest tenure of any person ever holding that job.  He entered service at the height of the Depression and resigned, largely due to his health, near the end of World War II and when we see the beginnings of what became the Cold War.

Memoirs of Cordell Title Page

In any such publication, there is the risk that a former official will want to express opinions or reveal facts that their successors will find inconvenient or consider still sensitive.  Today, there is an institutionalized review process to ensure that former officials do not publish any classified information.  At the time that Hull prepared his recollections, however, no such formal process existed and, as noted in the memorandum that follows, Department of State officials consciously determined that Hull’s published memoirs should not indicate that they had been read by the Department before publication.

The memorandum was prepared by G. Bernard Noble, chief of the Division of Historical Policy Research, and addressed to Under Secretary of State Robert Lovett (the Under Secretary was the second ranking official in the Department).  Noble praised the manuscript but noted the presence of some problematic opinions, especially about former Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, former Soviet ambassador to the U.S. Constantine Oumansky, and Charles De Gaulle.  Noble suggested to the Under Secretary that given the then-current situation with regard to France that Hull be asked to tone down the comments about De Gaulle.  As noted in the marginalia, Lovett did discuss the Department’s concerns with the former Secretary of State and subsequently a Departmental official and Hull’s assistant revised the manuscript before publication.




Source: Memorandum: Memoirs of Cordell Hull, G. Bernard Noble (RE) to the Under Secretary of State, December 9, 1947, file 116/12-947, 1945-49 Central Decimal File (Entry A1 205 H, NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

Statistics: The Subtle Tool

by on November 21, 2014

Today’s post is written by Meghan Ryan Guthorn, an accessioning archivist at Archives II in College Park

In archives, as in books, it is important not to judge the content by the cover. Even the records series with the driest names can be home to some of the most fascinating pieces of history.

The President’s Commission on Federal Statistics was formed by President Nixon in 1970 to conduct a comprehensive review of the Federal statistics programs. The Commission was tasked with surveying the statistical community at large for advice and suggestions for improvements in existing statistical programs.

Dr. Stanley Lebergott contacted statisticians in the public and private sectors asking for advice. Responses were many and varied, but some predominate themes emerged: the government should collect more data, and more frequently. For example, the 10 year census cycle was not capturing the complexities of a rapidly growing and changing American landscape. Many respondents argued for a 5 year census cycle.

Some of those contacted provided only brief responses, indicating that they had no advice to give. Some of those who couldn’t provide advice recommended Dr. Lebergott contact their colleagues, who might be better able to help.

At least one respondent acknowledged that he could probably help the Commission in its work, but refused to do so. Dr. John W. Lamperti, professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College noted that he had received the Commission’s request for advice on the same day he learned of the United States bombings in Laos. “Statistics,” he wrote “is a means, not an end, and as such it can be used for good or ill. If a tool is sharpened, it has a greater capacity to be employed at the discretion of its wielder. […] at this time the United States is under control of short-sighted, immoral and irresponsible men. It seems to follow that increasing the efficiency of an important instrument of the Federal Government may actually be contrary to the best interest of the country.”

Lamperti Letter-page-001 Lamperti Letter-page-002

Dr. Lamperti further noted that a major function of the Federal Statistics Program is improving the efficiency of the military. “Since these same military forces are being employed for an aggressive and atrocious war against small countries which have not harmed us, I do not want to see their efficiency improved,” he wrote.

The Records of the President’s Commission on Federal Statistics is not a place where you would expect to find such a passionate argument against United States military intervention in Southeast Asia.  But that’s half the fun of the National Archives – finding interesting things in the places least expected.

Dr. Lamperti’s letter, and other responses to the President’s Commission on Federal Statistics can be found in RG 220 Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, 1893-2008, American Statistical Association Fellows Letters (Entry A1 37180 C, NAID 6919428).

Scholars are increasingly writing about the physical destruction visited upon friendly European countries during World War II’s campaign to free Western Europe from Nazi domination.  Recent books such as Keith Lowe’s SAVAGE CONTINENT, Antony Beevor’s D-DAY, Max Hastings’s ARMAGEDDON, and Rick Atkinson’s THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT (all quite excellent and worth a read) pointedly remark on the total ruin caused by modern war.

One city in France that experienced almost total destruction was Saint-Lo.  That city was a major transportation hub leading toward the Allied beachheads established on D-Day.  As such, it was a major target for U.S. bombing missions aimed at isolating German forces near the coast from reinforcements.  American bombers hit the city with a major bombing raid on June 6 and then every day for a week.  By the middle of July, however, the city remained in German hands.  An attack by U.S. forces finally captured Saint-Lo on July 18.

Rick Atkinson describes the impact the fighting had on the city (p. 129): “Hardly a trace of sidewalk or street pavement remained in St.-Lo.”  He quotes one observer as writing: “You couldn’t identify anything anymore . . . .  The persistence of durable objects had been solidly defeated.”  Atkinson also quotes one U.S. soldier as follows: “We sure liberated the hell out of this place.”

The results of the destruction and efforts at reconstruction as it played out over the eight years from 1944 to 1952 as seen by American eyes is described in the following despatch sent to the Department of State by the U.S. consulate in Cherbourg.



Source: Despatch No. 52 from Consulate Cherbourg to the Department of State, May 12, 1952, file 851.02/5-1252, 1950-54 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

The report mentions a Major Howie, an American killed during the fighting, as a symbol of the American liberators.  Major Thomas Howie, the new commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 116th Infantry, part of the 29th Infantry Division, was killed on July 17, 1944, during a German counterattack trying to hold off American forces.  After capture of the city, Maj. Gen. Charles Gerhardt, Jr., commander of the 29th Infantry Division, ordered Howie’s body brought to the city where it was symbolically laid on a pile of rubble that had been the Saint Croix Cathedral.

Major Howie's body was symbolically laid on the rubble of St. Croix Cathedral.

Source:  111-SC-191896, Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, 1754 – 1954 (NAID 530707), RG 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives.

Today, Saint-Lo is a rebuilt, economically thriving city that is the center of life for the surrounding area.

Today’s post is written by Alan Walker, a processing archivist at Archives II in College Park.

I’m never on Twitter.

Sure, I know of it; it’s a pervasive presence in our culture. One of the best greeting cards I’ve seen makes a hilarious play on it: Jesus on Twitter. “12 new followers: cool!”, “Whoops, crowd gathering at the river: gotta run!”.

So what do people do on Twitter? Well, ever since our Social Media Team embarked our agency on a journey to the Twitterverse, its denizens have been treated to periodic sessions of “#AskAnArchivist”, an event sponsored by the Society of American Archivists.

Our staff sit down and tweet answers to your questions: What’s the coolest thing you’ve found? How do I research my Native American lineage using the Dawes Rolls? Or, what’s the most interesting thing about the National Archives that no one knows?

That one I could answer:

Articles Placed in the Cornerstone of the National Archives Building


And I did, last week, as I joined in the latest session of “#AskAnArchivist”. What a great time! Well, until my PC locked up just as I received several questions at once. No harm done; all questions answered. Let’s do this again!

Working in a large bureaucracy, such as the U.S. Government, one’s accomplishments are often overlooked by the most senior leadership. On occasion, however, the big boss notices and recognizes the work being done. In some cases, the biggest boss in the bureaucracy – the President – notices. One such instance occurred in early 1963.

During the first 24 months of the Kennedy Administration, one of the major foreign policy issues facing the United States was the situation in The Congo. There was independence, civil war, supposed communist subversion, foreign intervention, etc. Dealing with the situation was a major headache for the United States. A selection of documents on U.S. policy and action regarding The Congo is found in two volumes of the Department of State’s venerable series Foreign Relations of the United States:

FRUS, 1961-1963, volume XX: Congo Crisis
FRUS, 1964-1968, volume XXIII: Congo, 1960-1968

In late January 1963, after the crisis had passed, President John F. Kennedy sent letters of thanks to the three senior officials in the Department of State who had been most heavily involved in dealing with Congo matters: George C. McGhee, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; G. Mennen Williams, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; and Harlan Cleveland, the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. The President sent copies of the three letters to Secretary of State Dean Rusk.


To Secretary of State Rusk

To Dean Rusk, Secretary of State

To George C. McGhee, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

To George C. McGhee, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

To G. Mennen Williams, Assistant Secretary of State of African Affairs

To G. Mennen Williams, Assistant Secretary of State of African Affairs

To Harlan Cleveland, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

To Harlan Cleveland, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs


The dispatch of these letters did not signal an end to the issue of The Congo in U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, it became an intractable problem over the next several decades and the fallout in that country, known for many years as Zaire, continues to this day.

Source: President John F. Kennedy to Secretary of State Dean Rusk (with attachments), January 21, 1963, file 770G.00/1-2163, 1960-63 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.