One of the
skills that a professional historian is supposed to develop early
is the ability to date a primary source document, based on its internal
When the internal
evidence is not clear, the historian is then supposed to compare
the internal evidence with external evidence in third-party documents.
He asks himself: "What does the document indicate is happening?
What do external documents say is happening? Do these references
But what if
nothing in the document seems to correspond with chronological evidence
provided by third-party documents?
can then compare the original document with previous and subsequent
documents produced by the same source. Is there chronological development?
But what if
these documents also present the same non-chronological message,
like a mantra, repeated over and over?
Let me offer
an example of a primary source document that presents just such
a challenge. It is a transcript of a White House press conference
with President Bush.
9:04 A.M. EST
Good morning, everybody. I’ll share a few words and then answer
a couple of questions.
There are terrorists
in Iraq who are willing to kill anybody in order to stop our progress.
The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers
will react. And our job is to find them and bring them to justice,
which is precisely what General Abizaid briefed us on. It is a —
the people have got to understand, the Iraqi people have got to
understand that anytime you’ve got a group of killers willing to
kill innocent Iraqis, that their future must not be determined by
these kind of killers. That’s what they’ve got to understand. I
think they do understand that — they do. The Ambassador and the
General were briefing me on the — the vast majority of Iraqis want
to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people
and we will bring them to justice.
is determined to hear the call from the Iraqis, and the call is
they want a society in which their children can go to school, in
which they can get good health care, in which they’re able to live
a peaceful life. It’s in the national interest of the United States
that a peaceful Iraq emerge. And we will stay the course in order
to achieve this objective.
got a question?
Q Yes, sir.
Mr. President, the attacks are getting more brazen, they’re getting
more frequent. What do you know about who is behind these attacks?
The best way to describe the people who are conducting these attacks
are cold-blooded killers, terrorists. That’s all they are. They’re
terrorists. And the best way to find them is to work with the Iraqi
people to ferret them out and go get them. And that’s exactly what
the other part of your question?
Q What steps
did you discuss this morning about better protecting U.S. personnel?
Well, I think if you — we’ve hardened a lot of our targets for U.S.
personnel there. And today’s attacks were against places like the
Red Cross, or police stations. These people will kill Iraqis. They
don’t care who they kill. They just want to kill. And we will find
them, exactly what we discussed on how best to do so.
The Iraqi people
understand that there’s a handful of people who don’t want to live
in freedom, aren’t interested in their children going to schools,
aren’t — don’t really care about the nature of the health care they
get, aren’t pleased with the fact that the electricity is coming
back on line, aren’t happy about the fact that Iraq is now selling
oil on the world markets and people are finding work. And they’ll
do whatever it takes to stop this progress.
And our job
is to work with the Iraqis to prevent this from happening. That’s
why we’re working hard to get more Iraqi policemen; that’s why we’re
working hard to build up the Iraqi armed forces; and that’s why
we’re working hard with freedom-loving Iraqis to help ferret these
people out before they attack and strike.
Again, I will
repeat myself, that the more progress we make on the ground, the
more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity is available,
the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school,
the more desperate these killers become, because they can’t stand
the thought of a free society. They hate freedom. They love terror.
They love to try to create fear and chaos. And what we’re determined
in this administration is not to be intimidated by these killers.
As a matter of fact, we’re even more determined to work with the
Iraqi people to create the conditions of freedom and peace, because
it’s in our national interest we do so. It’s in the interest of
long-term peace in the world that we work for a free and secure
and peaceful Iraq. A free and secure Iraq in the midst of the Middle
East will have enormous historical impact.
I’ll admit it: I did withhold certain obvious signals.
Let me provide
a key one.
Ambassador Bremer and General Abizaid have been briefing the Secretary
of Defense and my national security team, General Myers, about the
situation in Iraq. We spent time talking about the success of the
donors conference, the fact that the world community is coming together
to help build a free Iraq, and we want to thank the world for the
willingness to step up and to help. Ambassador Bremer was particularly
pleased with not only the fact that governments stood up, but that
there was a series of private sector companies willing to help in
Iraq, and that’s a positive move for the people.
help? Are you getting warmer? No? How about this?
BREMER: Well, a lot of wonderful things have happened in Iraq since
July, as you mentioned. We have a cabinet now, with ministers actually
conducting affairs of state. We have met all of our goals in restoring
essential services. All the schools and hospitals are open. Electricity
is back at pre-war levels. We’re moving ahead with our plan. We’ll
have rough days, such as we’ve had the last couple of days. But
the overall thrust is in the right direction, and the good days
outnumber the bad days, and that’s the thing you need to keep in
Here is another bit of evidence, the document’s title: President
Bush, Ambassador Bremer Discuss Progress in Iraq.
stumped? Then this last piece of evidence may help.
Office of the Press Secretary
October 27, 2003
As you have
seen, when it comes to White House documents relating to the war
in Iraq, we need this sort of identifying mark to place the document
in its historical context. The news coming out of Iraq rarely provides
any identifying points of chronological contact.