Friday, October 26, 2012

Archives in the News: Bretton Woods and Nuremberg

The New York Times and the Guardian each have a prominent article with interesting archival findings on their websites.

The New York Times tells about how someone accidentially found a previously unkown transcript of the 1944 Bretton Woods conference:
Kurt Schuler a Treasury Department economist, was browsing in an “out of the way” section of uncataloged material in the library two years ago when he came across the Bretton Woods document. He flipped through and saw some remarks by Keynes that he was not familiar with, sort of the economists’ equivalent of a Bob Dylan fan finding unknown lyrics.
“I checked them against Keynes’s collected works,” Mr. Schuler said. “And I knew I had something.”
Apparently the chief historical significance of the document is that it shows the Americans and British weren't running the show to the extent later recollections indicated; countries such as Iran, India and China disagreed on significant matters.

The Guardian tells about newly declassified documents from the UK National Archives, regarding the 1945 deliberations prior to the establishment of the Nuremberg tribunals:
The British government opposed the establishment of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals at the end of the second world war because it wanted selected Nazi leaders to be summarily executed and others to be imprisoned without trial, according to a contemporary account that is declassified on Friday.
Well, that sounds rather ominous - until you read the full article and learn that the British position was actually based on a cool appraisal that not much good would come of aligning themselves with Soviet justice. From the diary of one Guy Liddell, a top MI5 chap:
"Personally I think the whole procedure is quite dreadful. The DPP had recommended that a fact-finding committee should come to the conclusion that certain people should be bumped off and that others should receive varying terms of imprisonment, that this should be put to the House of Commons and that the authority should be given to any military body finding these individuals in their area to arrest them and inflict whatever punishment had been decided on. This was a much clearer proposition and would not bring the law into disrepute.
"Winston had put this forward at Yalta but Roosevelt felt that the Americans would want a trial. Joe supported Roosevelt on the perfectly frank grounds that Russians liked public trials for propaganda purposes. It seems to me that we are just being dragged down to the level of the travesties of justice that have been taking place in the USSR for the past 20 yrs."
In 1946 Liddell was at Nuremberg, and felt the British fears had been proven true:
"One cannot escape the feeling that most of the things the 21 are accused of having done over a period of 14 years, the Russians have done over a period of 28 years. This adds considerably to the somewhat phoney atmosphere of the whole proceedings and leads me to the point which in a way worries me most, namely, that the court is one of the victors who have framed their own charter, their own procedure and their own rules of evidence in order to deal with the vanquished."
Which just goes to show that perspectives change, and hindsight is sometimes very different from sincere contemporary perspectives.

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