Making History More Accessible…
and Sometimes Stunningly Informative (part 1)

One aim of interactive transcripts is to make history more accessible, and thus more informative.

An oral history collection is a snapshot of a given person at a certain point in time. It’s informative to hear quotes from these snapshots against the backdrop of today’s events.

Here are some examples from Duke’s Rutherfurd Living History collection  – snapshots from 1981, 1986, 1987, 2007 and 2016 that resonate today. Click the link to hear the quote in context.

Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talking in 2016 about Russia:

I don’t think Russia intends to attack the United States, but I do think they would love to find a way to sever the transatlantic link, discredit NATO, and have far more influence in Europe.


Dean Rusk, former US Secretary of State, remarking in 1981 about how foolish it might be for world leaders to meet during crises:

Then there are circumstances where it is, in my judgment, dangerous for the court of last resort ever to go into session. What might have happened, for example, if Chairman Khrushchev and Pres. Kennedy met face-to-face during the Cuban missile crisis?


Armenta Eaton, civil-rights activist, talking in 2016 about the importance of voting:

Too many people died for the right to vote and they knew how important it is to vote. That’s why they sacrificed their lives in order that other people might have that right to vote.


Zbigniew Brzezinski, US National Security Advisor, during the Carter administration, looking back in 2007 at Iran in 1979:

I suppose I would now be more sensitive in the context of the discussion of the Iranian crisis to earlier US-Iranian history, and particularly to the pernicious impact on that relationship of the overthrow of Mossadeq and what that represented to many younger Iranians.


Robert McNamara, US Secretary Of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, talking in 1986 about crisis stability:

Crisis stability should be the objective of arms control, not solely reduction in numbers of weapons.

So, as a society we didn’t understand then and we do not understand today a) the importance of crisis stability and b) the actions that contribute to it or detract from it.


James Schlesinger, US Secretary of Defense under President Ford, and Secretary of Energy under President Carter, talking in 1987 about short-term gains, obscurantism, and the relationship between perception and reality:

Until we get a different type of leader or until American politics changes dramatically, I suspect that political leaders will tend to exploit opportunities for short-term gains, for marginal gains to use the phrases of the 1972 treaties, and that they will not restrain themselves.

Analysis can only carry one so far, and one should recognize the limitations of analysis. But in recognizing the limitations, that is not an excuse for obscurantism. And we see a fair amount of obscurantism these days in which policies are made without any prior analysis.

I cannot give you a formula for the relationship between perception and reality at all times. One hopes, one hopes, that one does not have to push much beyond reality.