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Posted on Mar 26, 2008 in Carlo D'Este, Stuff We Like

Practicing History: The William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium

By Carlo D'Este

We have never avoided the hard issues that are central to the public’s understanding.

This month I’m taking the opportunity to highlight one of the finest military programs in the United States. Now in its 13th 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—over 82 top authors, historians, journalists, and filmmakers for a two-day event consisting of open forums, lectures and a public panel presentation.

In 2008, 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 that 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, 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.


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