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

December 2, 2008: Obama Presents Hillary and His National Security Team & The Canadian Political Gamble


President-Elect Barack Obama’s National Security Team: President-Elect Barack Obama unveiled his national security team at a press conference in Chicago on December 1st, 2008. – You Tube, 12-1-08

Canada in Focus:

  • Liberals, NDP Reach Coalition Deal: “Harper accused the Liberals of playing the “biggest political game in history.”: Liberal Leader Stephane Dion sent a letter to Michaelle Jean today advising that the Harper government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons.
    He said the Liberals and NDP – backed by the Bloc Quebecois – have reached a deal to form a coalition for at least 18 months, with Dion as prime minister until spring.
    Dion’s letter states that the new government “will effectively, prudently, promptly and competently address these critical economic times.” – Canadian Press, 12-1-08

The Headlines…

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago announcing appointments, including Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.

  • Hillary Clinton A Concession Wrapped in an Acceptance: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech was no ordinary public-service pledge; for plenty of viewers, it was the moment when Mrs. Clinton finally conceded the election for real.
    The occasion was solemn, but like a wedding where the parents are divorced, the ceremony was carefully choreographed to avert awkward moments and camouflage past unpleasantness. – NYT, 12-2-08
  • Holder a historic pick for A.G., with big challenges ahead: Eric Holder, the first African-American nominee for attorney general, has blazed trails before. He was the first black U.S. attorney, the Justice Department’s first black deputy attorney general — its second-highest- ranking official — and the acting attorney general for 14 days at the end of the Clinton administration. – USA Today, 12-1-08
  • Clinton begins new chapter with State job: She may not have the title she sought, but Hillary Clinton still got what she wanted on Monday: the opportunity to “clean up” after President George W. Bush on the world stage. Clinton, the one-time Democratic White House hopeful, became the face of President-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy, putting aside any lingering doubts about her former rival as she accepted his offer to be secretary of state. – Reuters, 12-1-08
  • Live Blog: Presenting the National Security Team – NYT, 12-1-08
  • Who will replace Hillary Clinton as New York senator? The scramble to replace Hillary Clinton on Capitol Hill was well underway by the time President-elect Obama officially nominated her Monday morning. Among those mentioned to to take her seat as New York’s junior senator: her husband, former President Bill Clinton. – CNN, 12-1-08
  • Obama Releases Names of Donors – NYT, 12-1-08
  • Obama taps Clinton, Gates for US ‘new dawn’ abroad: Barack Obama promised “a new dawn of American leadership” in a troubled world Monday, announcing a strong-willed national security team headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who fought him long and bitterly for the presidency, and Robert Gates, the man who has been running two wars for George W. Bush. – AP, 12-1-08
  • Is Obama America’s First Co-President?: Presidential historians say Barack Obama has a larger role than any president-elect in the last 75 years, as he takes on the financial crisis even before taking office. – Fox News, 12-1-08

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday with President-elect Barack Obama.

Political Quotes

  • Obama’s National Security Team Announcement: And so in this uncertain world, the time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the opportunities embedded in these challenges.
    We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships. We will show the world once more that America is relentless in the defense of our people, steady in advancing our interests, and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world. Democracy and justice, opportunity and unyielding hope because American values are America’s greatest export to the world.
    To succeed, we must pursue a new strategy that skillfully using, balances, and integrates all elements of American power, our military, and diplomacy, our intelligence and law enforcement, our economy and the power of our moral example. The team that we’ve assembled here today is uniquely suited to do just that.
    In their past service and plans for the future, these men and women represent all of the those elements of American power and the very best of the American example. They’ve served in you uniform and as diplomats. They have worked as legislators, law enforcement officials, and executives. They share my pragmatism about the use of power and my sense of purpose about America’s role as a leader in the world.
    I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel, and a tough campaign opponent. She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic. I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state. She’s an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who know many of the world’s leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world…. – NYT, 12-1-08
  • BARACK OBAMA, President-elect of the United States: They would not have agreed to join my administration and I would not have asked them to be part of this administration unless we shared a core vision of what’s needed to keep the American people safe and to ensure prosperity here at home and peace abroad.
    I assembled this team because I’m a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that’s how the best decisions are made.
    One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group-think, and everybody agrees with everything, and there’s no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I’m going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.
    But, understand, I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made….
    Look, I mean, I think this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign. No, I understand. And you’re having fun. But — and there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, I’m not — I’m not faulting it.
    But, look, I think if you look at the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the heat of a campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure. And in order to do that, we have to combine military power with strength and diplomacy. And we have to build and forge stronger alliances around the world so that we’re not carrying the burdens and these challenges by ourselves.
    I believe that there’s no more effective advocate than Hillary Clinton for that well-rounded view of how we advance American interests. – PBS Newshour, 12-1-08
  • HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State-designate: America is a place founded on the idea that everyone should have the right to live up to his or her God-given potential. And it is that same ideal that must guide America’s purpose in the world today.
    And while we are determined to defend our freedoms and liberties at all costs, we also reach out to the world again, seeking common cause and higher ground. – PBS Newshour, 12-1-08
  • ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: Mindful that we are engaged in two wars and face other serious challenges at home and around the world, and with a profound sense of personal responsibility to and for our men and women in uniform and their families, I must do my duty as they do theirs. How could I do otherwise? – PBS Newshour, 12-1-08
  • SEN. JOE BIDEN, Vice President-elect of the United States: Each member shares our conviction that strength and wisdom must go hand in hand. Each member believes as we do that America’s security is not a partisan issue. – PBS Newshour, 12-1-08
  • Former President Bill Clinton released the following statement: As an American, I am thankful that President-elect Barack Obama has asked Hillary to be Secretary of State and that she has accepted. As her husband, I am deeply proud.
    She is the right person for the job of helping to restore America’s image abroad, end the war in Iraq, advance peace and increase our security, by building a future for our children with more partners and fewer adversaries, one of shared responsibilities and opportunities.
    She has already earned the respect of foreign leaders and diplomats through her work to promote human rights and the empowerment of women through access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. And Americans know, from her leadership in the Senate on national security, that she will always put the security, values and the interests of our people first.
    In her service to the people of New York and our nation, Hillary has demonstrated the knowledge, passion, resilience, and capacity to learn that our country needs at this critical time. She loves being a Senator from New York, but as she has in all the thirty-seven years I’ve known her, she answered the call to serve. I commend President-Elect Obama for asking her to be a part of a great national security team. America will be well-served. – NYT, 12-1-08
  • Bush sorry economic crisis has cut jobs, 401 (k)s: “I’m sorry it’s happening, of course. Obviously I don’t like the idea of people losing jobs, or being worried about their 401(k)s. On the other hand, the American people got to know that we will safeguard the system. I mean, we’re in. And if we need to be in more, we will.”….
    “A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration. A lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington, D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess. That is a do-over that I can’t do. It’s hard for me to speculate.””….
    “I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn’t campaign and say, ‘Please vote for me, I’ll be able to handle an attack.’ In other words, I didn’t anticipate war. Presidents – one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen.”
    “I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so”…
    “I think it was a repudiation of Republicans. I think most people voted for Barack Obama because they decided they wanted him to be in their living room for the next four years explaining policy. In other words, they made a conscious choice to put him in as president.”
    “It is hard for the average citizen to understand how frozen the system became and how over-leveraged the system became. And so what we’re watching is the de-leveraging of our financial markets, which is obviously affecting the growth of the economy.”
    “This economy will recover. And when it recovers, many of the assets backed by the government now will be redeemed, and we will – could conceivably – make money off of some of the holdings. I can’t guarantee that we’ll get all our money back, but it’s conceivable we could.” – AP, 12-1-08CNN

President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush react during a question and answer session Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. White House photo by Eric Draper

President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush react during a question and answer session Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. White House photo by Eric Draper Full Story

    • Bush: ‘I Was Unprepared for War’ to ABC News’s Charles Gibson: I’ll be frank with you. I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it — but, look, in this job you just do what you can. The thing that’s important for me is to get home and look in that mirror and say, I did not compromise my principles. And I didn’t. I made tough calls. And some presidencies have got a lot of tough decisions to make…. – NYT, 12-1-08
    • Rush Limbaugh endorses Clinton for Obama’s cabinet: “You know the old phrase, ‘You keep your friends close and your enemies closer?’ How can she run for president in 2012? She’d have to run against the incumbent and be critical of him – the one who made her secretary of state.” – AP, 12-1-08
    • Palin urges Ga. voters to back Chambliss in runoff: “Losing an election doesn’t mean we have lost our way. If we are to lead again, we have lots of hard work ahead of us. Let it begin here tomorrow in Georgia.” – AP, 12-1-08

    Historians’ Comments

    • PHILIP ZELIKOW, University of Virginia “Obama Crafts Team to Rethink Foreign Policy Challenges”: I want you to note that he’s picked them and presented them as a team. Usually, when people speculate about these jobs, it’s, well, who would be the best secretary of state? Who would be the best national security adviser?
      What you’re looking for from the point of view of the president is the composition of the team. The chemistry of the team in some ways is more important than the chemistry of any of the individual elements. You’re creating a compound, and the team will end up having a distinctive character.
      When this president came into office in 2001, people thought it was a glittering array of talents, all this experience. But the chemistry of the team in some ways didn’t realize some of the hopes people had for it.
      So what President-elect Obama has done, which a lot of experts like me have been urging a lot of president-elects to do, is to think of the administration as a team and compose it that way. He’s done that with the economic team; he’s done that now with the national security team. And I think it’s terrific.

      It is a team that’s not ideological in the sense of it’s not a team that’s associated with the Democratic Party’s ideology. I mean, Gates is in the administration now. Jim Jones has been working as a special envoy for Secretary Rice for more than a year-and-a-half in the Middle East.
      This is not a team that’s being picked because they’ve hit particular litmus tests. It’s a team I think they’ve picked, frankly, because they’re looking at the need for change in national security affairs in two ways.
      First, in Afghanistan, I think they’re looking at a radical change of strategy. They’re going to need to put that change of strategy in place during the winter so that they’ll have forces ready with a new strategy by the time the fighting season returns in the spring.
      That means they need to keep continuity at defense, and they need an experienced hand with NATO and Afghanistan in the White House.
      And the other area of change is, I think, President-elect Obama really wants to hit the energy and climate issues pretty hard. There’s a heavy diplomatic agenda for that in the first year.
      And Jim Jones actually, beyond the background as a Marine and with NATO, actually has done a lot of work on energy issues recently. And it means he’s got a guy in the West Wing who knows energy, and so he doesn’t have to put an energy and climate czar in the White House.

      I’m not sure you get the strong — everybody wants truth-tellers. And they believe it. Whether you actually get truth-telling depends on what kind of process you run.
      This turns a lot on Jones. Sen. Clinton is a politician. Blunt candor in places where it might leak out is not a quality that politicians ordinarily prize.
      It’s going to be up to Jim Jones to run a process that really draws out blunt statements that have analytic clarity to develop policy. And he’s inheriting a policy-development process that’s had some really serious problems in both Democratic and Republican administrations for more than 15 years.
      It’s not a good quality policy process. It hasn’t been for a long time. He has a heavy burden to try to build that up as he faces a formidable agenda. – PBS Newshour, 12-1-08

    • Julian Zelizer “Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama stretch wings over Mumbai”: “If a country is in a crisis and the incumbent administration is weak or inactive, why not have the new President get a jump start?” said Princeton University’s Julian Zelizer. “The more he can do now, in terms of setting up shop and outlining his ideas, the faster he can move after the starting gun in January.” – NY Daily News, 11-28-08
    • Julian Zelizer: Will Bill Clinton capitalise on Hillarys success by taking over her Senate seat? – ANI, 12-1-08
    • Julian Zelizer Commentary: Why Obama’s picks will make Bill Clinton smile: Many observers use historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s term, “A Team of Rivals,” to describe the Cabinet that President-elect Barack Obama is assembling.
      They use the term to characterize choices like former Obama opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton — expected to be nominated Monday as secretary of state — and current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is being asked to stay on by Obama.
      But a more useful term might be a team of centrists. The most striking characteristic of the current lineup is how the personalities reflect the centrist vision of the Democratic Party promoted by Bill Clinton and his colleagues at the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s. – CNN, 12-1-08
    • Andrew J. Bacevich Expanding War, Contracting Meaning The Next President and the Global War on Terror
      Not long ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration’s conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.
      President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future…..
      Bush’s supporters beg to differ, of course. They credit the president with having averted a recurrence of 9/11, doubtless a commendable achievement but one primarily attributable to the fact that the United States no longer neglects airport security. To argue that, say, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have prevented terrorist attacks against the United States is the equivalent of contending that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since in 1967 has prevented terrorist attacks against the state of Israel.
      Yet the existing strategic vacuum is also an opportunity. When it comes to national security at least, the agenda of the next administration all but sets itself. There is no need to waste time arguing about which issues demand priority action.
      First-order questions are begging for attention. How should we gauge the threat? What are the principles that should inform our response? What forms of power are most relevant to implementing that response? Are the means at hand adequate to the task? If not, how should national priorities be adjusted to provide the means required? Given the challenges ahead, how should the government organize itself? Who — both agencies and individuals — will lead?
      To each and every one of these questions, the Bush administration devised answers that turned out to be dead wrong. The next administration needs to do better. The place to begin is with the candid recognition that the Global War on Terror has effectively ceased to exist. When it comes to national security strategy, we need to start over from scratch. – Philadelphia Jewish Voice, 12-08
    • Michael Beschloss: The Great Inspirer Presidents for generations have turned to Lincoln for solace and guidance: ….It is no surprise that President-elect Barack Obama says he has been rereading the words of Lincoln; the 16th president has been a source of solace—and guidance—for American leaders for well more than a century. Like Stevenson, whose ancestor had been a Lincoln campaign manager, Theodore Roosevelt had listened to tales of his family ties to the great man since he was a child: his father had worked in Lincoln’s government and escorted the president and Mary to church… Newsweek, 11-15-08
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