More fallout from SHAFR's decision to invite David Petraeus as keynote speaker

Historians in the News
tags: SHAFR, David Petraeus, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations



John Prados is a senior analyst with the National Security Archive in Washington DC. Read more about Gina Haspel and the torture story in his book The Ghosts of Langley (New Press), on the National Security Archive website, or at johnprados.com.   

HNN Editor:  In this open letter to Amy Sayward, the executive director of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), John Prados says the group has shown poor judgment. As we reported last week, hundreds of historians have signed a petition protesting the selection of Petraeus as the keynote speaker at SHAFR's upcoming annual convention.

Dr. Sayward –

I am John Prados sending this. I have been a SHAFR member for many decades. I have just seen the latest development in the sorry saga of the David Petraeus address. I find it necessary to object very strongly to the Society's practices in regard to selecting, engaging, and presenting conference speakers. This episode has risen to the level of abhorrent.

SHAFR should have learned the lesson in the early oughts when we brought in Paul Wolfowitz to speak at our conference. That amounted to a supposedly objective organization giving an administration flak a megaphone to peddle the official line. But we went on to invite Michael Hayden, who took the occasion to inform historians he was going to deny us access to a whole category of primary source material. Then there was John Yoo to tell us torture is legal.

When do we learn?

This time around the invitation to David Petraeus, highly dubious to begin with, was actively protested by a significant segment of the membership. The grounds were substantive, but the Petraeus invitation, in the @metoo era, can only appear as offensive. I don't care to know the details of why the supposed alternative event (the counterinsurgency panel) fell apart.

SHAFR leadership was doubly at fault in the Petraeus invitation--triply for repeating past poor judgment. And now the society tells members the speaker can get away with written questions. That's quadruple. No historian can be satisfied with a process in which the speaker/interviewee/source person gets to choose the subjects they will or will not deal with. I am forced to conclude that this event has lost all integrity.

I do hope that at the Society's business meeting, a resolution is adopted declaring an official, explicit SHAFR policy for the selection of invitees to address us and for ground rules that will apply in all cases to the speakers we commission. I believe the business meeting will occur before I arrive at the convention site,  but in all fairness you should bring it up autonomously.

For me, I shall not participate in or attend future SHAFR conferences that repeat these atrocious practices.


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