• Can You Date This Press Conference?

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    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
    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

    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 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?

    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.

    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?

    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

    Still stumped?
    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.

    For Immediate
    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.

    12, 2006

    North [send him mail] is the
    author of Mises
    on Money
    . Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
    He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
    Economic Commentary on the Bible

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