If official secrecy had a devastating impact on American history, its impact on Americans’ understanding of that history was a collateral disaster.1
Richard Gid Powers, introduction to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience
13 Rue Madeleine, a 1947 semi-documentary that commemorates the sacrifice and courage of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) wartime predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), opens with a shot of the US National Archives Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The building’s location, at the heart of the nation’s capital on the Washington Mall, amidst so many iconic monuments to American democracy, is no accident. Like the Washington or Lincoln Memorial, it is a depository of historical experience that binds up the nation. In its inner-sanctum, as audiences then and now would know, the United States of America’s founding documents, including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, are housed. After the establishing shot the camera slowly tilts from top to bottom, surveying the archive’s columnar neo-classical facade – a common architectural feature of America’s monuments that evokes a sense of both history and authority. Finally, it comes to rest on a statue in the forecourt of the archive called Future. On Future’s plinth, the inscription reads: ‘What is Past is Prologue’. At this point we hear the booming voice of an omniscient narrator – an oratory style borrowed from the newsreels of the time that was also a defining feature of the semi-documentary format:...
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