David McCullough & Paul Johnson: President Bush's remarks at ceremony awarding them the Medal of Freedom

Historians in the News

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Thank you all for coming. Welcome. Mr. Vice President, members of my Cabinet, Laura and I are please you could join us on this special occasion. We're delighted to welcome our distinguished honorees, as well as their families and friends to the White House. Thanks for coming.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is our nation's highest civil honor. The Medal recognizes high achievement in public service, science, the arts, education, athletics, and other fields. Today we honor 10 exceptional individuals who have gained great admiration and respect throughout our country....

The struggle between freedom and tyranny has defined the past hundred years, and few have written of that struggle with greater skill than Paul Johnson. His book, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties, is a masterful account of the grievous harm visited on millions by ideologies of power and coercion. In all his writings, Paul Johnson shows great breadth of knowledge and moral clarity, and a deep understanding of the challenges of our time. He's written hundreds of articles and dozens of books, including The History of the Jews, The History of Christianity, The Quest for God, and The Birth of the Modern. Obviously, the man is not afraid to take on big subjects. (Laughter.)

Eight years ago he published A History of the American People, which, Henry Kissinger said, was "as majestic... in scope as the country it celebrates." In the preface, Paul Johnson called Americans "the most remarkable people the world has ever seen." He said, "I love them and I salute them." That's a high tribute from a man of such learning and wisdom. And America returns the feeling. Our country honors Paul Johnson, and proudly calls him a friend. (Applause.)...

David McCullough has won the Pulitzer Prize, twice -- for Truman and John Adams, two of the most successful biographies ever published. In person and on the printed page, David McCullough shares the lessons of history with enthusiasm and insight. He has written definitive works on the Johnstown Flood, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the digging of the Panama Canal. His first book came out nearly 40 years ago; all of his books are still in print. David McCullough is also, for millions of Americans, the voice of history, as the narrator of Ken Burns's The Civil War and other films.

For those who question the importance of history, David likes to quote Harry Truman, who said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know." David McCullough reminds us that "The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we take for granted ... are all the work of other people who went before us." He's a passionate man about our responsibility to know America's past, and to share it with every new generation. He's fulfilled that duty in his own career, with splendid results.

This chronicler of other times is one of the eminent Americans of our own time. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to a fine author and a fine man, David McCullough. (Applause.)...

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