My Digital Strategy to Fill in the Memory Hole

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

This memorable phrase, articulated by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), is profound, but at bottom it is incorrect. Orwell made this phrase the motto of a modern totalitarian regime. Had he made it the motto of the equivalent of the Russian Orthodox Church or some other traditional establishment, it would have applied far better. It does not apply to any modern political party or regime. Here is what does apply:

Whoever controls men’s vision of the future controls the present; to legitimize this vision, he must also control the past.

Control over the public’s understanding of the past is essential, for no vision of the future can be sustained politically without confirmation by the past. The directionality of history toward the Promised Land must be continuously confirmed by the historical record. The longer a society has been on the highway to the Promised Land, the more confirmation from history is required. When this confirmation is lacking or becomes suspect, people begin looking for an exit ramp. They may even make a run for it across a weed-covered field.

The history of Communism has illustrated this truth better than any other movement in history. Its original eschatological vision was undeniably powerful: the redemption of man. Its means of achieving this goal was a monstrous lie: regeneration through bloody revolution. To this were harnessed the ever-popular related goals of envy and revenge.

Communism’s methods of social control from the beginning required escalating terrorism. Communist rulers justified terrorism to themselves and to their intellectual followers in the West by the magnitude of Communism’s eschatological vision. But the magnitude of the terrorism was so great that it might eventually call into question the legitimacy of the Communists’ methods to achieve their messianic eschatology. So, they had to lie.

The historically unprecedented magnitude of the lies necessary to conceal the all-pervasive level of Soviet terror — terror necessary to control the present — after 56 years finally proved insufficient to suppress the truth of these techniques of terror. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s first volume of The Gulag Archipelago (1973) can accurately be said to have delivered a mortal ideological wound to Communism’s apologists in the West. It was not what he wrote that was decisive. It was that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature before he wrote it. He had been officially credentialed. Western intellectuals evaluate truth in terms of credentials, and there are no higher credentials than the Nobel Committee’s awards: the right to give a lecture in a tuxedo to people in tuxedos, and a check for $1.3 million.

In his magnificent and horrifying new book, Koba the Dread, Martin Amis wrote a sentence that can serve as a tombstone’s last words for the Soviet Union, the archetype of all Communist regimes.

“Lying could no longer be enforced, and the regime fell.”

Then, like dominoes, the other Communist regimes fell. Only Cuba and North Korea remain true to the received faith: Marx’s religion of revolution.


Every modern political regime’s eschatological vision requires legitimacy in order to be sustained in the hearts and minds of the voters, who are officially identified as the sole agents of legitimacy. Without legitimacy, the regime will fall.

Here is the supreme problem for most modern political regimes and all empires, always: the degree of lying necessary to sustain the public’s faith in the ability of a regime to deliver on its eschatological promises is far greater than the public is prepared to accept. If the lies are uncovered and then believed, not only is the regime’s ability to deliver the future called into question, the legitimacy of the regime’s eschatological vision may be called into question. Political survival therefore depends on the ability of the regime to keep the de-legitimizing truth from the public.

Into our world of flawed political eschatologies, systematic lies, and misplaced legitimacy has come the Internet — ironically, a physical infrastructure put in place by the United States Defense Department. The Internet got away from its inventors because of Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the address system that made possible the World Wide Web. Then came the Web browser, developed by a group of students at the University of Minnesota. Then came Netscape and Internet Explorer. “And the rest is history!” This, from the politicians’ point of view, is the essence of the problem: history.

An international digital revolution — no other word suffices — is today verifying Hayek’s theory of the spontaneous order. It is also undermining the efforts of various not-so-spontaneous orders. One by one, the Internet is castrating the bodyguard of lies.


The Web has several billion pages on-line, and Google can search 3 billion of them in one-fifth of a second. This technology has changed our lives. I spend about 12 hours a day staring at either of two screens. I sit in a cheap swivel and swivel in a 45-degree arc that lets me view these two screens: one for my Web research and the other for writing. My fear of computer viruses is why I have two computers. I keep my writing computer off the Internet. But I could do my work with only one screen. Basically, I live half of my life in 50 square feet of space. Yet my output today is far above what it was in 1996. So is my audience. The Internet makes the difference.

I have changed in other ways. I used to write 200 letters a year. They were sometimes quite detailed. I have several filing cabinets full of the carbon copies and photocopies. I have not seen carbon paper in 25 years. Today, I write thousands of letters, most of them under three sentences. When my hard disk died last year, I lost most of them. The world is no worse off.

Next to my office is a large room in which I have 13,000 or more books. I rarely walk into that room. Yet the cost of the building and the cost of the books constitutes a significant investment. In terms of how often I use this capital today, it was a waste. The Web did this.

I am committed to the Web. I am also addicted to it. As Garrett Morris might have said, “The Web has been bery, bery good to me.”

I am convinced that a new civilization lies ahead. I think the Web is that significant. For the first time in the history of man, there are no longer gatekeepers who can control the flow of information to the public. No longer can the Powers That Be control ideas by controlling printing presses, paper, and ink.

There are no borders in Webland. There is almost no way to control copyrights. What Daniel Ellsburg did with the Pentagon Papers could not have been done without the cooperation of the New York Times and the Washington Post, plus authorization by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, with a Website located in (say) Uzbekistan, and mirror sites in other “copyright challenged” countries, it can be done.

It is my firmly held belief (this week) that what brought down the Soviet Union was the photocopier. It replaced carbon paper as the technology of samizdat: underground writing. Surely, the FAX machine was a key tool on Yeltsin’s ability to resist the Communist Party’s coup. There were other technological factors besides the photocopier, but it was surely not people’s access to guns that brought down the USSR. It was access to forbidden ideas.

Every political establishment rests on a specific view of the way the world works — or at least should work. To maintain their power, men must control the public’s access to ideas. Those ideas that run counter to an establishment’s paradigm are a threat to the system.

Never in the history of man has anything threatened the legitimacy of establishment paradigms to the extent that the Internet does. While politicians publicly anguish over naked digital ladies, it is naked digital documents that worry them.

The Internet is going to bring down all of the existing establishments. All of them rest on lies and deliberately contrived misinformation. They all rest on some version of the technique that Orwell named in Nineteen Eighty-Four: the memory hole.


I am a trained historian. I know how the memory hole game is played. Certain theories of historical cause and effect are not allowed to be discussed by members of the historical guild. If one of them breaks ranks, and if he has not gained tenure, he will lose his job.

The means of control has been the printing press: textbooks, journal articles, monographs, and newspapers (especially the New York Times). The establishment guild of historians has bet the farm on its ability to keep unapproved ideas away from the public. But the Web has breached a hole in the guild’s defensive lines.

“Franklin D. Roosevelt knew on December 6, 1941, that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was coming on December 7, and he deliberately failed to warn the military at Pearl Harbor. More than this: he deliberately provoked the attack.”

At the age of 16, I believed this. I wrote a term paper on it. That was in 1958. There were many books devoted to proving it, but hardly anyone had heard of any of them, let alone had read them. They were in few libraries, even university libraries. No history textbook discussed this possibility. Yet two of the anti-Roosevelt books on Pearl Harbor were written by two of the most distinguished historians in America: Charles A. Beard and Charles C. Tansill. The guild of historians destroyed both of their careers and reputations within months of the publication of each of their books: Beard’s in 1948 and Tansill’s in 1952.

Their books had not been the first. In 1946, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, George Morgenstern, wrote a series about Pearl Harbor, and in 1947, his book was published by an obscure conservative publishing company.

There is a scene in the Academy-Award-winning 1946 movie, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” that heads off the story in advance. The hero of the movie gets into a fight with a Roosevelt critic who has dared to tell a disabled vet that he had been injured for nothing, that the government had lured Japan into starting the war. The insensitive big-mouth waves a newspaper in front of the vet. “It’s all in here.” Well, it was all in there, and the entire historical guild has been adamant to keep that story from spreading.

Fearful that the public might discover the truth, the Rockefeller Foundation in 1946 gave $139,000 — a huge sum in 1946 — to the Council on Foreign Relations to hire two historians from Harvard,Langer and Gleason, to write a book disproving the anti-Roosevelt thesis. They did. William Bundy (CIA, State Department), writing four decades later in the CFR’s magazine, Foreign Affairs, waxed euphoric about this project.

The two volumes produced under the Langer project are still, I believe, the standard reference on the subject, generally accepted as honest and full. And there has never been a repeat of the bitter controversy of the 1930s, apart from a natural level of criticism and revisionism about FDR’s pre-war policies. I would say that the Langer project was a major and largely unsung public service.

What we graduate students were never told by our professors was that both of them had worked for the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. One of them (Gleason) became the State Department’s in-house historian. From that vantage point, he worked with Langer.

Herbert Feis, author of The Road To Pearl Harbor (1950), another major establishment book on Pearl Harbor, had been a State Department policy-maker throughout the period 1939-45. The American Historical Association has awarded a prize named after him ever since 1982.

Not until I used Google to run a search on the names of the joint authors, Langer and Gleason, did I discover a Web page that lists American scholars who worked for the OSS-CIA. The list includes some of the leading historians whose works I was required to read in graduate school a generation ago. Believe it or not, Marxist Herbert Marcuse is on the list, the man who taught Angela Davis. So is Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., the chief establishment historian of the New Deal.

These days, word about Roosevelt’s advance warning about Pearl Harbor has gotten out. Robert Stinnett’s book, Day of Deceit (1999), which actually favors Roosevelt’s actions, makes it clear: the critics were right. But he never cites them. He cites primary sources instead.

He does not remind a handful of professional historians who will actually read his book that: (1) their academic predecessors were engaged from day one in systematic historical deception and villification; (2) they themselves have been dupes.

Crucial to modern America’s continuing acceptance of the New Deal’s legacy of state control over the economy is Roosevelt’s saintly status. What Stinnett accepts as morally valid — Roosevelt’s deliberate deception, which led to thousands of deaths at Pearl Harbor — the American establishment is still unwilling to risk affirming. The establishment remains terrified of the truth that Stinnett documents with painstaking detail. Therefore, his book has been ignored by the establishment’s historians and press. He is not a paid historian on some university’s payroll, so the reviewers think they can still get away with the black-out.

He found a smoking gun: a 1941 memo from a young Naval intelligence officer that outlined an 8-point plan that was immediately implemented by Roosevelt to force the Japanese to attack. He also found the files where the low-level military intelligence network in Hawaii had de-coded Japanese transmissions from the carrier fleet in late November, and had relayed this information to Washington. The senior commandeers refused to warn Gen. Short and Admiral Kimmel, who were a few miles from the tracking stations. Yet the academic guild has refused to take Stinnett’s book seriously, despite enormously detailed documentation from the primary sources.

I have surveyed this story of Pearl Harbor and the cover-up elsewhere. If you are interested, click through.

Stinnett says that most of the government’s files on the de-coded transmissions are disintegrating. The papers are falling to pieces. The files are in cardboard boxes in rooms that are not designed for document preservation. There is no Bill Gates to buy them and store them at sub-zero temperatures in underground caves. (Gates has done this with the Bettmann Archives, the largest private collection of photographs on earth.)

Almost everything published after 1880 was published on pulp paper. It had high acid content. It is now disintegrating. I first read about this in American Heritage in 1969. When I began publishing books, I paid a premium for acid-free paper. In 1980, you still had to ask. These days, it’s much more common.

The world’s libraries are going to lose everything published from 1880 to around 1950 that was not put on microfilm. It’s just a matter of time.

The Web can help preserve these records. I want to be a part of that preservation. That’s why I have hired a programmer to produce a template for a documents-intensive Website that uses a tremendous new technology for reproducing perfect images of books, articles, diaries, maps — anything. I intend to distribute this template for free in 2003 to anyone who asks. I want people to post all sorts of documents on-line before the documents disintegrate. I want to fill in the memory hole. The Web is the world’s largest library. I want to help make it even larger.

For $7 a month for a Website and $8 a year to secure a Web address, you will be able to post an enormous amount of documents on-line. All the hardware you will need is a cheap $50 scanner. I’ll provide the free software. Anyway, that’s my goal. I hope my programmer can deliver the digital goods. As soon as it’s ready to distribute, I will announce this in my bi-weekly e-mail newsletter. For a free subscription, click here, and then click send.


Let me show you how it works in America. I was a friend of the man who was the senior counsel for the Republicans in 1946 at the Pearl Harbor hearings that the House of Representatives conducted. His name was Percy Greaves [“graves”]. He died a few weeks after I did an interview with him on tape, back in 1985. In his day, he knew the Pearl Harbor story better than anyone else except possibly his democratic counterpart on the House committee, Gerhard Gesell.

The Republicans in 1946 challenged Roosevelt, saying that he had no right to conduct foreign policy on his own authority without consulting Congress. That was Greaves’ position. The Democrats denied this. The President is solely in charge, they said. That was Gesell’s position.

Fast forward forty-one years. Oliver North is on trial. He had worked for Reagan, and it looked as though he broke Congressional law. The Republicans insisted that Reagan had the right to conduct foreign policy on his own authority. The Democrats insisted that Congress’s laws had to be obeyed. North wound up in front of a judge, who was known to be privately hostile to both North and the Republicans. His name was Gerhard Gesell.

Both sides had switched. Each had challenged the other’s arguments both times. But hardly anybody gave any thought to this monumental flip-flop. I did, and Bruce Bartlett did. That’s because we are both anti-Roosevelt revisionist historians who have written about Pearl Harbor. But, in 1987, nobody else picked up this remarkable story. Reporters who knew who Gesell was had no recollection of who he had been in 1946. People have short memories unless the establishment keeps reminding them of the official version.

Another example: there was a leaker inside the White House other than Deep Throat. It was he (or she) who brought down Nixon. Deep Throat (Pat Buchanan?) merely tipped off Woodward and Bernstein. But that information was not enough to prove the case in court. What proved the case were the tapes.

What the press has never bothered to explore is this: the prosecutors did not initially have the legal authority to confiscate the tapes. The White House controlled them, just as it controlled the archives. Until Judge “Maximum John” Sirica got legal access to them, the prosecutors had to request specific tape sections from the White House. The following story only right-wing crazies and conspiracy theory junkies have followed. A site that has reprinted my brief summary report on this matter was for years was the only place where you could read this on the Web. Now there is another: the one that has posted all of my friend Gary Allen’s book, The Rockefeller File — specifically, chapter 13.

This information has been available to the public for almost three decades. No one has bothered to follow up. Gary is dead. Dr. Susan Huck, who spotted the anomaly, is forgotten. Here is the official account from the files.

January 8, 1973 from 4:05 to 5:34 P.M. (E.O.B.)

a)at approximately 10 minutes and 15 seconds into the conversation, a segment lasting 6 minutes and 31 seconds:

b)at approximately 67 minutes into the conversation, a segment lasting 11 minutes;

c)at approximately 82 minutes and 15 seconds into the conversation, a segment lasting 5 minutes and 31 seconds.

The prosecutors requested specific sections of the tapes. They knew exactly what to ask for. How? This is the story of stories regarding Watergate. There was an inside man who was illegally passing on this information. But no mainstream reporter, no university historian, and no “60 Minutes” researcher has bothered to ask the question:



The Web is a hole-filling instrument to fill the memory hole with forgotten documents. Google is the primary instrument for sorting through this buried treasure. Links (URL’s) from one site to another are also important.

Bureaucrats keep papers. There is a lust to keep records. I think this is because every bureaucrat is looking for a way to cover his flanks. He wants evidence that “I was just following orders.” That’s why lots of incriminating evidence is available.

Then there is the fact of establishment control. Certain facts and lines of reasoning are turned into official dead ends. The most important book on this is now 40 years old: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. He is an historian of science. His book shows how successful movements in an academic guild gain control, and once they do, they create an official history that shows how they, neutral pursuers of the truth, discovered it. They re-write the story of the struggle, especially if the losers still have a plausible case to make.

Winners write the history books that get published, even in chemistry and physics. Losers disappear from public view. So do rebel historians who write the unofficial version. In the field of the history of science, the premier example is Pierre Duhem. He gave too much credit to medieval scientists. The French academic establishment kept the second five volumes of his life’s work from being published for over four decades. If you want to know how the academic game really works, click here:


Think about anything important that you have ever read that is out of print or unknown to the public. What if you could publish it on-line? Maybe the copyright has expired. Maybe the author would give you the right to post it. Maybe you would like to make it available to anyone who knows how to use Google.

Maybe you have a diary that someone in your family wrote.

Maybe you found a pile of government reports that are now forgotten. I have a set of the 45 volumes of the 1946 Pearl Harbor hearings that ought to be on-line. I also have a copy of the legendary 1953 report by the Reece Committee on non-profit foundations.

There are thousands of pages of out-of-print magazines that ought to be on-line. American Opinion comes to mind. Someone still owns the copyrights. Someone ought to get these magazines posted.

Let’s get the digital ball rolling.

December 23, 2002

Gary North is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s twice-weekly economics newsletter, click here.

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