Under Wraps


My grandmother unintentionally stymied and stumped me time after time with the simple question, “What do you know for sure?” She left us in early 1979; if she were here now I would still be stumped, but might glib it off with, “Well, Gran: A long time ago…there was this BIG Explosion…”

Over fifty years ago Robert Heinlein wrote a Russia-critical article entitled “PRAVDA Means TRUTH.” He and his wife Virginia had just returned from the Soviet Union; they happened to be there when American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers (no relation to your humble narrator) was shot down, or otherwise forced down, over Soviet airspace. Heinlein took it upon himself to write an apologia (emphatically NOT an apology; rather, a defense) of the US spy mission Powers was conducting, and of spying as a way of leveling the Cold War playing field. The title of the article was meant ironically; Heinlein scorned the idea of anything remotely approaching truth in (the Soviet newspaper) Pravda.

To his credit, Heinlein later acknowledged that it is hard to find truth anywhere, including Time Magazine. But he’d written his article in the heat of the moment, after what he regarded as shabby and hypocritical mistreatment by the Soviets. (Interested parties may find the article in Heinlein’s Expanded Universe.)

Anyone heard of the Pentagon Papers? Great. Anyone know what was IN the Pentagon Papers? Me neither–but I cheated by looking it up on Wikipedia, which says that the Johnson administration lied to the American public and to Congress about the extent of our involvement in Vietnam and surrounds. Anyone surprised? Anyone surprised that the Pentagon Papers in their entirety–not just the juicy parts Daniel Ellsberg leaked to the New York Times–were not declassified and made available to the public until 2011?

Smithsonian.com has a great article entitled “Nine Historical Archives That Will Spill New Secrets.” Such is the nature of some sealed documents, that some of the information therein might embarrass people still living…

Here are the words:

Uphold the Law–some documents in escrow
Need secrecy to make U.S. securer
Delay, detain, denounce as Apocrypha
Encourage Need-To-Knowers to shut up
REPEAL the 1st Amendment as seditious

–And of course I suggest nothing of the sort.

Historical note: As of this writing a fellow named Snowden is fleeing U.S. jurisdictional space for having spilled some beans in a possibly-indictable way.

  1. Whistle blowing, never appreciated to it’s true value. One always want the whistle blowing to be about what the Others are doing….
    Still, it’s fascinating that these things eventually do come out, for appreciation by historians and such, and don’t just end up in the shredder…

    • The Shredder, I perceive, hides a multitude of sins…

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