At the same time that WikiLeaks began making diplomatic history this past Sunday, November 28, another piece of diplomatic history was being made—or, to be more precise, being revealed—in a less noisy corner of the Web.
The historian blogger known as “History Punk” published on his blog a large collection of declassified State Department cables from the period immediately after September 11. The cables’ primary focus is logging global reactions, journalistic, diplomatic, and anecdotal, to the earthshattering terrorist attacks.
“These cables, largely unredacted, provide an inside look into how the world, foreign governments, and the staff at American embassy reacted to the horrors of that day,” History Punk wrote in his blog on Sunday.
Some of the reactions were, of course, negative. For instance, as History Punk notes, the American Embassy in Beirut reported “celebratory” gunfire in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, and diplomatic staff in Belgrade received taunting phone calls evincing support for the attacks. Saudi Arabia in particular stands out as a country where there appears to have been significant pleasure taken in the attacks.
Yet, what’s really striking from the cables is the huge wellspring of goodwill and support expressed for Americans. One remarkable example is Algeria, where one minister, who reportedly lived in the United States for a time, sobbed in grief, and several political parties, including none other than the banned Islamic Front for Salvation (FIS), by no means a friend of the United States, sent the American Embassy in Algiers letters of condolences.
“The cables confirm on paper what we all witnessed on September 11: American possession of the world’s almost total support and sympathy,” History Punk explained to me via an e-mail. “Governments and people moved swiftly to assist the United States and to express their sympathy and solidarity with us, something Americans have forgotten, in my opinion, as a result of contentious build-up to the war in Iraq.”
Besides the feelings expressed about September 11, there is also a lot of other interesting information. For example, the cables report on the debate within the South Korean press over the development of the then-new Bush Administration’s strategy in the Korean peninsula—only a few months before the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech that went on to change the diplomatic topography of the world.
History Punk says he obtained the cache through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Numbering at 176 8.5×11 pages, he believes it is still only a “small sampling” of the total State Department internal communication traffic from that period.