Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Monday, March 01, 2004

Fire in the stacks

On Crooked Timber,
"a bit from Margaret Levi’s Consent, Dissent and Patriotism, where she discusses the politics of military archives.

More arcane is the account of a small fire that destroyed relevant materials from World Wars I and II in the Australian War Memorial. The representatives of the British government operate under strict rules of secrecy concerning a very large amount of military-related material, and they uphold those rules rigorously. The Australian government operates with a greater openness. The problem arose because in the Australian War Memorial were records that the British deemed secret and the Australians did not. The problem was resolved by the British, or so my reliable source tells me, by planting a mole archivist in the War Memorial. This mole lit a small fire in the relevant stacks and then disappeared."

Actually, the War Memorial story seems unlikely, in that it posits an uncharacteristic Australian willingness to defy great and powerful friends. When my father retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs he was occasionally called back to do declassifiaction tasks, and one of the things he found was that the Americans generally objected to the Australians releasing under FOI any information involving America even when it would have been accessible under American FOI - indeed, even when the Americans had already released it in America. The problem was not the information; the problem was who was to be master. And the Department invariably buckled under.

Admittedly, the Americans do have more clout in Canberra than the British, but even so.
Though it has to be said that the thought of James Bond doing his ocker librarian shtick does appeal strangely.


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