Courtesy Reuters

The Other 9/11: The United States and Chile, 1973

In This Review

The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability

edited by Peter Kornbluh
New Press, 2003
528 pp. $29.95
Purchase

There are two types of what Theodore Draper called "present history." The first is based on documents and testimony accessible to all historians: assertions and interpretations can be checked, verified, and contested on the basis of fact rather than speculation. Both Draper and, in his own way, I. F. Stone were brilliant practitioners of this kind of history and demonstrated that, despite the best (or worst) intentions of bureaucrats to hide or distort the record, much could be found in the public domain if diligently sought after. The second approach to writing about contemporary history is based on anonymous "sources" and self-interested "leaks." Here, much depends on the credibility of the authors; but in the right political climate, such writing can be powerful enough to bring down a president, as it did with Watergate. And over the past two decades, heavily redacted, "secret" government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have been added to its menu.

Both approaches have their weaknesses, and neither is as new as might first appear. The Draper method -- by abjuring the fragments exhumed from a government's dark places -- risks underestimating the role of the clandestine actions that were often at the center of the ideological and geostrategic struggles of the Cold War. History by self-interested leaking of documents or the use of anonymous sources, however, tends to produce narratives that are self-justifying, on the one hand, or indictments, on the other, and to exaggerate the importance of covert operations. Again, there is a long history of both genres: Winston Churchill the historian was a master over many volumes at preempting the assessment of Winston Churchill the statesman, and Henry Kissinger is doing what Churchill did for his own epoch and his own historical place within it by releasing weighty tomes on his White House years and other topics.

But, as Isaac Newton taught us, actions produce reactions. So it is entirely within the established pattern that 30 years after the Yom Kippur War

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