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Posted on Mar 3, 2009 in War College

14th Annual William E. Colby Military Writers Symposium

By Carlo D'Este

The 14th Annual


March 25-27, 2009


National Security Challenges in 2009 and beyond

Click for larger image.

This month I’m again taking the opportunity to highlight one of the finest military programs in the United States. Now in its 14th year, the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium has established itself as a premier forum for the discussion of military history, military intelligence operations and international affairs. Since its inception it has brought to my alma mater, Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, the nation’s oldest private military college, nearly one hundred top authors, historians, journalists, and filmmakers for a two-day event consisting of open forums, lectures and a public panel presentation.

In 2009, the symposium is poised for yet another residency of inspired debate, discussion and sharing of knowledge. What began as an experiment quickly evolved into a program of national prominence. As you will see, the program is also ably supported by Armchair General magazine.


From an idea to reality:
A brief History of the Colby Symposium

A program to bring influential writers to the campus of Norwich University was originally conceived by former Norwich University president W. Russell Todd in 1994. The genesis of the program took shape later than year at the University’s 175th Anniversary Medal of Honor Gala honoring Norwich’s only living recipient, Capt. James N. Burt. It was at this event, attended by best-selling author W.E.B. Griffin, former Ambassador and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William E. Colby, and myself, that the concept of a writers program began to take shape. Staunchly endorsed by current President Richard W. Schneider (see “10 Questions,” March 2008 Armchair General magazine), the Symposium became a reality under Executive Director, Ed Tracy.

In 1996, Norwich hosted a small but prestigious group of writers to the campus for a two-day series of lectures and panel discussions. Among the panelists was Ambassador Colby. That first year we were known as the Norwich University Military Writers’ Symposium.

Bill Colby’s presence at the first Symposium defined the character of the program and his untimely death soon afterwards prompted the University to dedicate future programs in the memory of the South Burlington, Vermont high school graduate and Norwich honorary degree recipient.

It was natural for Norwich to develop the program around Bill Colby’s memory. In this media driven period in our history when there are fewer and fewer dedicated public servants whose service was not tied to a personal agenda, Bill Colby’s record of selfless service to this country shines even brighter. The easy way out is to tell people what they want to hear; Bill Colby never took the easy way. He was the exemplar of a selfless public servant who was never afraid to tell the truth, no matter how unpleasant or how portentous the consequences.

The purpose of the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium is to expose Norwich students, faculty, alumni and the public to the works and views of authors, historians, journalists and national figures to educate, enlighten, and inspire. Each of the participants come to Norwich each year for two reasons: to make a difference in the lives of our students through their interaction in a variety of lectures, social functions and the innovative in-class sessions which make up the heart of the program; and to interact with each other to further the debate on current issues of interest. They receive no compensation—they do it because they share our goals.

In April 1997, our experimental program became the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium, now known nationally as “The Colby.” At the formal dedication ceremony a Who’s Who in military writing was on hand to participate in one of the most stimulating programs in our thirteen-year history. Joining us were Tom Clancy, Steven Coonts, Harold Coyle, Winston Groom, Fred Chiaventone and GEN Gordon R. Sullivan to address the topic of Military Fiction in America. Also joining us in 1997— and at virtually every event since—was Bill Colby’s son, Paul, who has been a stalwart supporter and devoted friend of the University.

Since then the Symposium has grown to the national prominence that it enjoys today. Standout moments over the years include satellite telephone discussions with war correspondents Sean Naylor from Afghanistan in 2002; and Rick Atkinson from Baghdad in 2003 on the day the Iraqi capital fell (the same week that Rick received the Pulitzer Prize for his fine book, An Army At Dawn); after-dinner remarks by author Phil Caputo our first year recalling his poignant memories of his friend and Norwich grad, Walter Levy ‘64, who was the first Norwich graduate killed in action in Vietnam; our three public broadcasting television programs – two moderated by CNN’s Frank Sesno; our C-Span Book TV appearances from the National Press Club and the new Pritzker Military Library in Chicago.

Since the program’s inception, the Colby has hosted some of the brightest names in the business. As we celebrate the 13th Colby Symposium, we do so in the knowledge that the world has changed significantly since its inception—and so has our program. We have never avoided the hard issues that are central to the public’s understanding, and the 2009 program is the latest example of our commitment to making the Colby a relevant and meaningful experience.

The Colby is not only unique but is the only program of its kind in existence at an American university. It has enabled Norwich University students the opportunity to meet some of the most prominent military writers and historians of our time and gain a better understanding of the world through their eyes.

Ambassador William E. Colby Biography

William E. Colby, 1920 – 1996
The son of a career Army officer, Bill Colby was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mr. Colby had a long and distinguished career of public service. He received an A.B. degree cum laude from Princeton University in 1940, where he was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and an L.L.B. in 1947 from Columbia University Law School.

A highly decorated veteran of World War II, Colby parachuted into France and Norway to work with the French and Norwegian resistance forces for the Office of Strategic Services. His wartime service earned him the Silver and Bronze Stars, the French Croix de Guerre, Norway’s St. Olaf’s Medal and a Mention in Dispatches in Britain.

After the war, Colby began a distinguished post-war career with the OSS’s successor organization, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). From 1951–1962, Colby served with the American Embassies in Stockholm, Rome, and Saigon. He was Ambassador and Deputy to the Commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam from 1968 to 1971.

After holding various other high-level positions in the Central Intelligence Agency, he became its Director from 1973 to 1976. After leaving the CIA, Mr. Colby was a consultant and lecturer on international and domestic political matters to various corporations and governments and practiced International and American Law in Washington, D.C. His many years of outstanding public service have been recognized by the awarding of the National Service Medal, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, and the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award.

Ambassador Colby authored two important books: Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America’s Involvement in Vietnam and Honorable Men—My Life in the CIA. He was a long-time friend of Norwich University, which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Public Service in 1992.

Past Authors/Participants

Symposium participants in recent years include such notables as W.E.B. Griffin, Cole Kingseed, Thomas E. Ricks, Rick Atkinson, Lewis Sorley, Dave R. Palmer, Nigel Hamilton, Joseph L. Galloway, Bryan Mark Rigg, Sean Naylor, Frederick J. Chiaventone, Ed Ruggero, James Bradley, Bing West, Patrick K. O’Donnell, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, Robert L. Bateman, T.X. Hammes, Mark Stoler, Maj. Gen. Sid Shachnow, Williamson Murray, Douglas MacGregor, H.R. McMaster, Adm. Stansfield Turner, Tom Clancy, Stephen Coonts, Mark Bowden, Harold Coyle, Philip Caputo, Winston Groom, Ralph Peters, Dale Brown, Frank Sesno, the late Russell F. Weigley, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret.), General Al Gray USMC (Ret.), John Katzenbach, Geoffrey Perret, Marvin Kalb, and a number of other distinguished authors.

National Press Club

From 1998 to 2006, the symposium established a partnership with the Eric Friedheim Library of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to co-produce events at the press club for area alumni, club members and the general public.

History of the Symposium at Norwich

Annual Themes
2008 The New Battlefield
2007 Civilians in the Path of War
2006 The Ways of War
2005 The Rules of War
2004 The New Face of War
2003 Uncommon Valor: Ethical Lessons in Military Literature
2002 Raging War: Understanding the 21st Century Enemy
2001 The American Way of War
1999 Info Wars: The Next Battlefield
1998 Ethics in Military Literature and Film
1997 Military Fiction in America: The Craft and Its Influence
1996 Fact and Fiction in 20th Century Military History


First established in 1999, the Colby Award recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. The 2009 award will be presented on behalf of the Symposium by co-founder Carlo D’Este and Colby’s grandson, Elbridge Colby, at Norwich.

Past recipients:
2008 R. Alan King, Twice Armed
2007 John Glusman, 
Conduct Under Fire, and Ian W. Toll, Six Frigates
2006 Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away, and Kevin Weddle, Lincoln’s Tragic Admiral
2005 Sid Shachnow and Jann Robbins, Hope and Honor, and Jon Meacham, Franklin and Winston
2004 Bing West and Major General Ray L. Smith, The March Up and Robert L. Bateman, No Gun Ri
2003 Bryan Mark Rigg, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers
2002 Patrick K. O’Donnell, Beyond Valor, and Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle
2001 James Bradley with Ron Powers, Flags of Our Fathers
2000 B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley, Stolen Valor
1999 Fred Chiaventone, A Road We Do Not Know, and Bill Harlow, Circle William

Armchair General Award

In 2007, Armchair General publisher and CEO, Eric Weider and Editor-in-Chief, Jerry D. Morelock, began an association with the Colby and Norwich University. Armchair General is donating $500 annually (a figure matched by Norwich) to an outstanding student in military history who enrolls in the Norwich Master of Arts in Military History online graduate program. On behalf of Eric and Jerry, the award will be presented at the Colby Award dinner at Norwich on March 26, 2009. In addition, Armchair General is also donating free subscriptions to the magazine for interested Norwich military history students. My sincere thanks to both Eric and Jerry for their generous support. It is yet another example of ACG’s growing contributions to the field of military history.



Joseph L. Galloway recently retired as the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. Galloway, a native of Refugio, Texas, spent 22 years as a foreign and war correspondent and bureau chief for United Press International, and nearly 20 years as a senior editor and senior writer for U.S. News & World Report magazine. He is co-author, with Lt. Gen. (ret) Hal G. Moore, of the national bestseller We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. Galloway and Gen. Moore recently completed a sequel titled We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam which also made The New York Times bestseller list. Galloway was decorated with a Bronze Star Medal with V for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire in the Ia Drang Valley, in November 1965. His is the only medal of valor the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian for valorous actions in combat during the Vietnam War.



Twice Armed author R. Alan King is a recognized authority in Middle Eastern affairs and security, with extensive specialized experience in Iraq. King served in the Army as a Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations officer and was promoted to the rank of colonel in the Army Reserve. He is a veteran of Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, Mr. King was credited with leading the Coalition‘s Tribal Affairs and Sunni outreach programs. He is the president and CEO of Consequence Management, Inc. and the National President of the Civil Affairs Association. Mr. King‘s book titled Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq was awarded the 2008 William E. Colby Military Writer‘s Award for major contributions to intelligence operations and international affairs.



Donald L. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. He is the author of nine books, among them the critically acclaimed best seller, Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. Miller is a contributing editor of American Heritage magazine, host and chief historian of the 26-part PBS series, A Biography of America, and has participated in the writing and production over two dozen television documentaries. His books have been nominated for every major American literary prize, including the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle award. He is Chief Convener of the Presidential Counselors, a group of distinguished historians and heads of cultural institutions that advises the CEO of the National World War II Museum. Miller is currently working as chief historical consultant and script editor on four major film projects and working on two books.


Colonel (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, an author of four books and a PhD. Macgregor was commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1976 after one year at the Virginia Military Institute and four years at West Point. He is now the lead partner with Potomac League, LLC, in Reston, Virginia. Macgregor‘s concepts from his groundbreaking books on transformation, Breaking the Phalanx (1997) and Transformation under Fire (2003) have profoundly influenced thinking about transformation inside America‘s ground forces. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich characterized Macgregor as being "to the information age joint military what Billy Mitchell was to airpower and what Liddell Hart, Fuller, DeGaulle and Guderian were to armored warfare." He occasionally appears as a guest military affairs commentator on television and radio shows. Macgregor‘s newest book: Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting Iraq, will be published by Naval Institute Press in September 2009.


A native of Massachusetts, and a graduate of Colgate University and the University of Texas School of Law, James is president of Hornfischer Literary Management, a literary agency in Austin, Texas. He is also the author of two books: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour and Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors. Hornfischer‘s Ship of Ghosts received the 2007 United States Maritime Literature Award.



The Colby Symposium is also open to the public and anyone interested in attending is cordially invited to do so. Further information can be found at the Colby Web site.

Or contact Ellalou Zirblis,
158 Harmon Drive, Northfield, VT 05663

Office – 802.485.2631 
Fax – 802.485.2090

After the event, a limited number of autographed 2009 full-color Colby posters will be available for sale, each signed by the authors attending this year’s event. Contact Ellalou Zirblis – Office – 802.485.2631 
Fax – 802.485.2090

1 Comment

  1. Having just watched a C-span replay of your splendid 3/31/11 symposium, I am writing to suggest that a future such event include George Feifer, author of “Tennazon: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb,” and more recent versions by a similar tile. I first met George in Moscow in 1978, after reading his iconic “Moscow Farewell”.

    George is not that far away from Norwich (in Roxbury, CT) and has also written extensively about the Soviet Union and Russia. Indeed, he is currently in a project with his son, Gregory Feifer (now at RadioFree Europe/Radio Liberty after serving as NPR’s Moscow correspondent, and author of “The Great Gamble” about the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan).

    George’s coordinates are, tel: 203-263-6495, at 48 Cross Brook Road, Roxbury, CT

    All best,

    Thomas R. Hutson
    U.S. Consul General (ret.)
    510 East Street, P.O. Box 121
    Thurman, Iowa 51654


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