Saturday, February 05, 2005

As I take pen in hand...

Since personal correspondence became common hundreds of years ago, the letters of noteworthy individuals have become a means to better understand and personalize an otherwise cold objective figure. Prior to WWII, letter writing was a common task. Historians have the letters that notable people wrote home and to loved ones to round out their more famous histories.

The letters of John Adams show he was not the stiff shirt that superficial histories portray. The letters of the great and famous make them seem human and normal and driven by special circumstances.

Dropping someone a note to tell them you had arrived and how things were going allowed the human touch to creep in on the image of a great or famous person, but that all went away with the advent of the telephone and rapid transit. One need not write when a simple call can to say, “I’m O.K.”, would suffice. Or, why write at all when you can be across the country the next day to see the person with whom you are concerned. Thus, a major aspect of history was lost. The fleshing of the icon goes undone or greatly reduced if the mundane and common is not left behind for anyone to read.

But with the introduction of email and computers, it has returned. How ironic that something so modern would provide something so quaint. Most computer network servers, especially government servers are backed up every night. A record is made of important documents, but also the mundane correspondence that goes on with today’s emails. That is how they caught Oliver North in Iran Contra. He deleted the memos he wrote after they were printed, but he left them on his computer overnight while he was composing them. They were backed up along with everything else and the rest is history.

I hope the backups from the White House, State Department, Congress, as well as other governmental organizations are being kept for future historians. There is a world of daily, routine correspondence that would seem boring today and invaluable tomorrow. After the respective computer division within each organization has held the backups for whatever length they deem necessary, they should send them over to the National Archives to hold for posterity.

Imagine a historian one day being able to word search all electronic documents that were written in the run up to the Iraqi War. As today’s emails are forwarded and replied, a long change of correspondence develops in many of them that are like a stream of consciousness in the development of policy. No doubt there is many a Neocon who has removed Ahmad Chalabi from their Favorites list unaware that the record has already been made.

Someone somewhere who is a nobody but will one day be a somebody is currently typing a comment, an observation, or an endearing phase that will one day help paint him or her in a way that no straight forward objective history ever could, and it will be saved in a archive file somewhere – hopefully for some future historian to find.

By the way, Red Word / Blue Word has been updated.

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