How-Keep A Secret, Well, Secret (Brill)

Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Top Secret History of America’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Warfare Programs and Their Deployment Overseas, edited by Matthew M. Aid, is described as:

At its peak in 1967, the U.S. nuclear arsenal consisted of 31,255 nuclear weapons with an aggregate destructive power of 12,786 megatons – more than sufficient to wipe out all of humanity several hundred times over. Much less known is that hidden away in earth-covered bunkers spread throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan, over 40,000 tons of American chemical weapons were stored, as well as thousands of specially designed bombs that could be filled with even deadlier biological warfare agents.

The American WMD programs remain cloaked in secrecy, yet a substantial number of revealing documents have been quietly declassified since the late 1970s. Put together, they tell the story of how America secretly built up the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The documents explain the role these weapons played in a series of world crises, how they shaped U.S. and NATO defense and foreign policy during the Cold War, and what incidents and nearly averted disasters happened. Moreover, they shed a light on the dreadful human and ecological legacy left by decades of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons manufacturing and testing in the U.S. and overseas.

This collection contains more than 2,300 formerly classified U.S. government documents, most of them classified Top Secret or higher. Covering the period from the end of World War II to the present day, it provides unique access to previously unpublished reports, memoranda, cables, intelligence briefs, classified articles, PowerPoint presentations, military manuals and directives, and other declassified documents. Following years of archival research and careful selection, they were brought together from the U.S. National Archives, ten U.S. presidential libraries, the NATO Archives in Brussels, the National Archives of the UK, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Archives of the Netherlands. In addition, a sizeable number of documents in this collection were obtained from the U.S. government and the Pentagon using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests.

This collection comes with several auxiliary aids, including a chronology and a historiographical essay with links to the documents themselves, providing context and allowing for easy navigation for both students and scholars.

It’s an online resource of about 21,212 pages.

Although the editor, Aid and/or Brill did a considerable amount of work assembling these document, the outright purchase price: €4.066,00, $4,886.00 or the daily access price: $39.95/day, effectively keeps these once secret documents secret.

Of particular interest to historians and arms control experts, I expect those identifying recurrent patterns of criminal misconduct in governments will find the data of interest as well.

It does occur to me that when you look at the Contents tab, http://primarysources.brillonline.com/browse/weapons-of-mass-destruction#content-tab, each year lists the documents in the archive. Lists that could be parsed for recovery of the documents from other sources on the Internet.

You would still have to index (did I hear someone say topic map?) the documents, etc., but as a long term asset for the research community, it would be quite nice.

If you doubt the need for such a project, toss “USAF, Cable, CINCUSAFE to CSAF, May 6, 1954, Top Secret, NARA” into your nearest search engine.

How do you feel about Brill being the arbiter of 20th century history, for a price?

Me too.

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