History Buzz May 18, 2009: Philip Zelikow Testifies on Torture








  • Richard J. Evans: ‘We Are All Guilty’ THE THIRD REICH AT WAR Source: NYT, 5-17-09
  • Bruce Kuklick: America’s First Legal Coup IMPEACHED The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy Source: WaPo, 5-15-09
  • David C. Frederick: LAW SCOTUS Seizes Power THE GREAT DECISION Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court Source: WaPo, 5-15-09
  • Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager: WORLD WAR II Targeting Hitler VALKYRIE Source: WaPo, 5-15-09
  • Ronald Hutton: Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain By Ronald Hutton: review As Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe makes clear, we like the idea of the Druids so much that we’ve made up almost everything we know about them, says Noel Malcolm – Source: Telegraph, UK, 5-14-09


  • William R. Pinch “No Food for Thought: The Way of the Warrior”: You have to marvel at how Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a former Special Operations commander and the newly appointed leader of American forces in Afghanistan, does it….”The Christians grafted notions of piety and reverence onto asceticism, but the Greeks saw it as about power,” said William R. Pinch, a history professor at Wesleyan University. “They believed you could create power by disciplining the body.” – Source: NYT, 5-16-09






  • June 11-14, 2009: The ninth annual “Reacting to the Past” Institute at Barnard College (New York), Annual summer history institute at Barnard College – Source: Press Release (4-21-09)


  • C-SPAN2: BOOK TV Weekend Schedule
  • PBS American Experience: Mondays at 9pm
  • History Channel: Weekly Schedule
  • History Channel: “The Hitler Conspiracy ” – Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Nostradamus: 2012” – Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 8pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Life After People: The Invaders” – Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 10pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “God vs. Satan” – Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Ku Klux Klan: A Secret History” – Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “he True Story of Charlie Wilson” – Friday, May 22, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Cities Of The Underworld: Alcatraz Down Under” – Friday, May 22, 2009 at 8pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Band Of Brothers” Marathon – Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 12-11pm ET/PT



  • Simon Schama, American Future: A History, May 19, 2009
  • Geoffrey Blainey, Sea of Dangers: Captain Cook and His Rivals in the South Pacific, May 25, 2009
  • Richard Ben-Veniste: Emperor’s New Clothes: Exposing the Truth from Watergate To 9/11, May 26, 2009
  • Douglas Brinkley, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, 1858-1919, June 30, 2009


  • Professor Norman Gash: Gash, who died on May 1 aged 97, was one of the foremost scholars of 19th–century Britain and an acknowledged authority on Sir Robert Peel – Source: Telegraph, UK, 5-17-09

May 18, 2009: President Obama and Notre Dame’s Convocation


John Gress/Reuters

President Obama with Richard Notebaert, chairman of the board of trustees at Notre Dame, after delivering his commencement address on Sunday. More Photos >


In Focus: Stats

  • Poll indicates more Americans call themselves ‘pro-life’: It’s the first time since Gallup began asking the question 14 years ago that more don’t say they’re ‘pro-choice’ on abortion.
    For the first time since it began asking the question in 1995, the Gallup Poll reported Friday, 51% of the American adults questioned for its annual Values and Beliefs survey said that when it comes to abortion, they consider themselves “pro-life.” Forty-two percent consider themselves “pro-choice.”… – LAT, 5-15-09


The Headlines…

  • At Notre Dame, Obama Calls for Dialogue on Abortion: President Obama directly confronted America’s deep divide over abortion on Sunday as he appealed to partisans on each side to find ways to respect one another’s basic decency and even work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies…. – NYT, 5-17-09
  • At Notre Dame, Obama confronts abortion uproar: The president’s commencement speech calls for greater understanding and for each side to stop dehumanizing the other. On and off campus, antiabortion protests are staged…. – LAT, 5-17-09
  • Obama to face right-to-life protesters: US President Barack Obama wades into a political thicket Sunday when he speaks at a prestigious Catholic university, where right-to-life protesters have gathered to oppose his support of abortion rights. Obama is to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, founded in 1842 and one of the leading US Catholic universities…. – AFP, 5-17-09
  • Obama taps aide to guide nominee for Supreme Court: A seasoned Democratic political operative will guide President Barack Obama’s eventual Supreme Court nominee on Capitol Hill, where the Senate’s top Republican on Sunday refused to rule out a filibuster. Stephanie Cutter is expected to leave her job as an adviser to Treasury Secretary Geithner and move next door to the White House, an administration official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel decisions and strategy…. – AP, 5-17-09
  • Obama’s Long War Against Cheneyism? – The Atlantic, 5-17-09
  • Obama, Netanyahu to Meet at White House Differences Unlikely to Come to Fore: When President Obama meets one on one with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office tomorrow morning, one thing is virtually guaranteed not to happen: fireworks…. “For different but complementary reasons, both Obama and Netanyahu do not want this meeting to fail,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and a foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign…. – WaPO, 5-17-09
  • Utah’s GOP governor picked to be envoy to China: With a single stroke Saturday, President Obama swept aside a potential 2012 rival, made his administration more bipartisan and assigned a respected Asia expert to handle the delicate relationship with the United States’ largest economic competitor. Obama announced Saturday that he is nominating Utah’s Republican governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., to be U.S. ambassador to China, choosing an envoy who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has deep ties to a country that is critical to U.S. national and economic security.
    “With Jon Huntsman representing the United States in China, I’m confident that we will launch a new era of partnership between our two nations that will advance our shared dreams of opportunity and security in America, in Asia and around the world,” Obama said in the White House Diplomatic Room…. – SF Chronicle, 5-17-09
  • Obama puts pragmatism over promises: His willingness to consider new perspectives and change his position, even when it angers his supporters, is a stark contrast to predecessor George W. Bush’s inflexibility….
    Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, who styled himself as “the Decider” and took pride in sticking with decisions come what might, Obama is emerging as a leader so committed to pragmatism that he will move to a new position with barely a shrug…. – LAT, 5-16-09
  • White House laughs at GOP idea to call Democrats “Socialists”: Well, add one more person to the list of people laughing at an effort in the Republican Party to rename their opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the rebranding effort today in his press briefing. “Given the challenges that they face, that;s exactly the way I would be using my time too,” he said chuckling…. – CS Monitor, 5-16-09
  • Panetta’s First Speech as CIA Director to Come Amid Pelosi Controversy: Most of the media attention is certain to remain on Leon Panetta’s repudiation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s explosive accusation that the CIA lied to Congress about Bush-era interrogation tactics…. – Fox News, 5-16-09
  • Conservatives Map Strategies on Court Fight: …Ten memorandums dissect possible nominees’ records, noting statements the groups find objectionable on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, the separation of church and state and the propriety of citing foreign law in interpreting the Constitution…. – NYT, 5-16-09
  • Police make arrests at University of Notre Dame: Graduation festivities got under way at the University of Notre Dame on Saturday — as well as another day of demonstrations over President Barack Obama’s appearance Sunday…. – AP, 5-16-09
  • Obama revives terror tribunals, dismaying liberals: President Barack Obama said Friday he would reform and restart the military tribunals he once reviled for Guantanamo Bay detainees, jeopardizing his timetable for closing the prison by January and dismaying many supporters who suggested he was going back on campaign promises…. – AP, 5-15-09
  • Analysis: Democrats focus on torture a gamble: Barack Obama warned Democrats in Congress against making a partisan cause out of the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation tactics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is ignoring him — loudly — and the party, from the president on down, may pay the price. So far, it’s Pelosi who’s suffered the greatest harm…. – AP, 5-15-09
  • In Detainee Furor, GOP Lands a Rare Blow to Pelosi: After many failed efforts, Republicans have finally found a weak spot in Nancy Pelosi’s political armor as a fight over detainee interrogations engulfs Ms. Pelosi, Republicans and intelligence officials. The furor was heightened on Friday when the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, pushed back against an assertion by Ms. Pelosi, a Democrat who is the House speaker, that she had been misled by agency representatives seven years ago about harsh treatment of terrorism suspects, a claim that struck a raw nerve at the spy headquarters…. – NYT, 5-15-09
  • Reports detail Obama’s new book deal: In the category of It’s Never Too Early to Seek New Supporters, the forms show that Obama in January struck a $500,000 advance deal with Crown Publishing Group for an abridged version of his best-seller, “Dreams From My Father,” aimed at “middle grade or young adult readers.” When the book comes out, Obama will rack up more in royalties: 15% of the hardcover sales price and 10% of the paperback price.
    It’s hard to figure out net worth from these forms because they only ask for broad ranges when reporting value of assets and debts. But the Obamas tax day filing had showed they paid $855,323 in taxes on a combined income of $2,656,902…. USA Today, 5-15-09
  • Obama asks Israel to drop out of Senate race: By persuading Rep. Steve Israel on Friday to drop a run for the Senate just days before he was to announce it, President Barack Obama sought to clear the field in next year’s Democratic primary for appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand…. – Newsday, 5-15-09
  • Pennsylvania Democrats give Specter mixed welcome: Some Democrats who opened their arms to party switcher Sen. Arlen Specter have softened the embrace. Progressive grassroots activists this week posted a fundraising Web link to draft Rep. Joe Sestak to challenge Specter in next year’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary…. – AP, 5-15-09
  • RNC boss: Democrats want to take away gun rights: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says Democrats in Washington want to take away the rights of law-abiding Americans to buy and own guns. Steele told thousands of people Friday at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Phoenix that the Obama administration has a theory that drug crime in Mexico could be prevented by banning guns in the United States…. – AP, 5-15-09
  • Cheney talks and the GOP squirms: PLEASE, Dick Cheney, keep talking! Now we know why he was so hunkered down as vice president, except to proclaim that we would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. Had he been more candid sooner, even more Republicans would have staked their lawns with Obama signs, ashamed of the rock their party lives under. Why Cheney is hitting the news-show circuit at all is amazing, given that his job approval rating was down to 30 percent by the time he left office, according a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Worse, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month found that only 18 percent of Americans had positive feelings for him. This compared with 56 percent in the months after 9/11…. – Boston Globe, 5-15-09
  • Joe Biden announces $100M for lead-paint removal: Nearly $100 million in federal stimulus money will go toward a program to remove lead-based paint and other health and safety hazards from low-income homes, Vice President Joe Biden announced Friday. “This is a real bang for the buck here,” he said. “You have people from this community filling good jobs, helping other families, helping children to stay healthy.”… – AP, 5-15-09
  • Notre Dame’s Invitation to Obama Sparks Protests and Soul-Searching: For more than a century, a statue of the Virgin Mary has presided over the University of Notre Dame here from the top of the iconic golden dome in the center of campus. This week, a different image dominates the sky above: an airplane trailing a giant photograph of a fetus aborted at 10 weeks. Antiabortion groups have sponsored the airplane banner to protest the commencement speech President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver here on May 17…. – WSJ, 5-9-09


The President gives the Weekly Address on health care and energy

Political Quotes

  • Transcript: Obama’s Commencement Address at Notre Dame: Following is a transcript of President Obama’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on May 17, 2009, as released by the White House….. – NYT, 5-17-09
  • Obama calls for understanding in Notre Dame speech: Obama acknowledged that “no matter how much we want to fudge it … the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” But he still implored the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class and all in the U.S. to stop “reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It’s a way of life that always has been the Notre Dame tradition.” One of the noisiest controversies of his young presidency flared after Obama, who supports abortion rights but says the procedure should be rare, was invited to speak at the school and receive an honorary degree. “I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” the president said…. – AP, 5-17-09
  • Remarks of President Barack Obama Weekly Address Saturday, May 16, 2009: This week the President discusses breakthroughs on two issues where stakeholders from all sides, who once opposed each other, are coming together for real reform. On health care and energy, solutions would provide key pillars for a new foundation for the country. – WH Blog, 5-16-09
  • Changes: Energy, health care 2 areas Obama cites: President Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address that he was heartened by the “willingness of those with different points of view and disparate interests to come together around common goals, to embrace a shared sense of responsibility and make historic progress.” “I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk, that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it,” he said. “This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change.”…. AP, 5-16-09
  • Michelle Obama’s Commencement Address: Following is a transcript of Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at the University of California, Merced, as provided by the White House…. – NYT, 5-16-09
  • First Lady Delivers a Charge to Graduates: Michelle Obama on Saturday encouraged the first full graduating class at the University of California, Merced, to help change the world by using the same determination they had shown in bringing her to campus.
    “A few people may be wondering why did I choose the University of California, Merced, to deliver my first commencement speech as first lady,” Mrs. Obama said. “The answer is simple: you inspired me, you touched me.” “There are few things that are more rewarding than to watch young people recognize that they have the power to make their dreams come true. And you did just that.”
    Mrs. Obama was drafted to speak here at the smallest, newest campus in the University of California system through a lobbying effort by students and their families. They peppered the White House with letters, videos and hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards. “And let me tell you, it worked,” she said. “Because I’m here.”…. – NYT, 5-16-09
  • Michelle Obama urges graduates to give back: “Many of you may be considering leaving town with your diploma in hand, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable,” Mrs. Obama said before a crowd of 12,000 wilting in the afternoon sun. “By using what you’ve learned here you can shorten the path perhaps for kids who may not see a path at all. I was once one of those kids.” “You will face tough times. You will certainly have doubts, and let me tell you because I know I did when I was your age,” she said. “Remember that you are blessed. Remember that in exchange for those blessings, you must give something back. You must reach back and pull someone up. You must bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future.”… – AP, 5-16-09


Jim Wilson/The New York Times

First Lady Michelle Obama waves to the first full four year graduates of the Univ of California at Merced on Saturday.

Historians’ Comments

  • Myra Gutin “A campus – and a whole town – await the first lady”: The rise in the first lady’s popularity, says Myra Gutin, a first lady historian and professor of communications at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., is in part because Obama’s advisers have done a skillful job of shaping her image and keeping her away from anything controversial. “She and the president have shown very much that they are of the people. She’s going out in the community in Washington, she planted the vegetable garden, and all those things have a cumulative effect,” says Ms. Gutin. Gutin says she can’t know for sure why Obama, who attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School, chose UC Merced, but suspects it’s because it fits within her own particular interests in education. “It seems to go along with the whole philosophy of change and trying to revitalize American education that the Obama administration has endorsed.”…
    When Barbara Bush spoke before Wellesley, the women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts, in 1990, she knew that she wasn’t the students’ first choice and that her presence had sparked quite a bit of controversy, says historian Gutin. But she ended up winning over the audience and brought down the house when she told the graduating class: “Who knows, somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse – and I wish him well.” – CS Monitor, 5-15-09
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