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 evidence.
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 match up?"
But what if nothing in the document seems to correspond with chronological evidence provided by third-party documents?
The historian 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.
Your challenge: Date this press conference.
9:04 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
This government 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.
Deb, you’ve 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 PRESIDENT: 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 we discussed.
What was the other part of your question?
Q What steps did you discuss this morning about better protecting U.S. personnel?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
Not easy, is it?
All right, I’ll admit it: I did withhold certain obvious signals.
Let me provide a key one.
First, 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.
Does this help? Are you getting warmer? No? How about this?
AMBASSADOR 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 perspective.
Still stumped? Here is another bit of evidence, the document’s title: President Bush, Ambassador Bremer Discuss Progress in Iraq.
Still stumped? Then this last piece of evidence may help.
For Immediate Release 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.
October 12, 2006