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(Photo: Gage Skidmore )
by Alan Philps
Rumsfeld is one of the most fascinating figures to climb the
This was a man who had served as Defense Secretary under
Morris believed he would find the answer to his question in the memos Rumsfeld wrote during his long career as congressman,
They were written in the bureaucrat-philosopher style made famous in his press conferences when Rumsfeld would bat away questions with musings about 'known unknowns'.
The resulting documentary, "The Unknown Known is part of a trilogy which began with the prize-winning Fog of War, where
There is no McNamara moment in the Rumsfeld interviews. His carapace of smiling self-assurance remains intact throughout the movie. Unlike McNamara, who tried to get out of the interview at the last minute but in the end willingly unburdened himself about the sins of America's past wars, Rumsfeld is unfailingly courteous, but never lets down his guard.
When Morris catches him out in a blatant untruth -- that investigators found no evidence that Guantanamo techniques of enhanced interrogation (or torture) influenced the behaviour of the guards at Abu Ghraib -- Rumsfeld smiles and says 'that's a fair assessment' and moves on, as if none of this concerns him.
He rarely gives a straight answer, often relying on semantics to cloud the issue. He seems strangely disconnected from events. The man who said 'stuff happens' when
Nowhere does he take responsibility for any event or decision. Yet he, with his former colleague, Vice-President
In one of the most revealing memos, from
At around the same time, however, he was bellowing at journalists who dared to question the justification for war: 'We know they have weapons of mass destruction.'
But there is another, very Rumsfeldian aspect to this memo. It concludes by saying that an equally persuasive list could be drawn up of reasons why failure to remove
Morris likes to develop some empathy with his subjects. This did not happen with Rumsfeld. Morris neither trips him up, nor gets him to bare his heart. This, Morris believes, is the key to his character. 'He is impervious to criticism. I would go further. He is blind to the world around him, and to history.'
His memos are an attempt to create a web of words in which knowledge and belief are hopelessly confused. The goal, Morris concludes, is to devalue evidence, and replace it with dogma.
Rumsfeld is not happy with the film, complaining that there is too much emphasis on Abu Ghraib and that his departure from the Pentagon is made to look like him sneaking out of the back door in disgrace.
No doubt Rumsfeld believes that he saved America, not once but twice. The first time, as Defense Secretary under Ford, when he bludgeoned
For Morris, he is a man who attempts profundity, but does not achieve it. For those who have tried to get their heads around the parlour game of the four combinations of 'known' and 'unknown' and failed, there is a reassuring moment. It emerges that Rumsfeld has two contradictory definitions. So he doesn't understand it either.
Article: Copyright ©, Tribune Content Agency
"The Knowing Donald Rumsfeld "