George F. Will: History can be instructive only if it's available

Published: Sunday, Sept. 15 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In his 1998 book "Secrecy: The American Experience," Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that secrecy makes government stupid by keeping secrets from itself. Information is property and government agencies hoard it. For example, in the 1940s, U.S. military code breakers read 2,900 communications between Moscow and its agents in America. So, while the nation was torn by bitter disagreements about whether Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs committed espionage, the military knew they had. But it kept the proof from other parts of the government, including President Harry Truman.

America needs all the caution its history of misadventures — a record recently enriched by Syria — should encourage. Since the Bay of Pigs, caution has been scarcer than information justifying it.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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