The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld

tags: Donald Rumsfeld



Errol Morris is a writer and filmmaker. His movie “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara” won the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2004. “Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography,” a book of his essays (many of which have appeared here), and his latest book, “A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald,” were both New York Times best sellers. Morris’s latest film, “The Unknown Known,” is due out on April 4, 2014.

When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?

Many people associate the phrases the known known, the known unknown and the unknown unknown with Rumsfeld, but few people are aware of how he first presented these ideas to the public. It was at a Pentagon news conference on Feb. 12, 2002. Reporters filed in to the Pentagon Briefing Room — five months after 9/11 and a year before the invasion of Iraq. The verbal exchanges that followed provide an excursion into a world no less irrational, no less absurd, than the worlds Lewis Carroll created in Alice in Wonderland....

The power of dogma versus evidence. We have been transported back to 1633. To Galileo Galilei standing before the Inquisition disputing the geocentric versus the heliocentric solar system. For the Inquisition, Galileo’s calculations conflict with dogma. But for Galileo, his calculations reveal the true nature of the universe — the true nature of reality. (The scene is memorialized in a painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei Before Members of the Holy Office in the Vatican in 1633 — a painting of a painting with Raphael’s Disputation of the Holy Sacrament looming in the background.)

These 17th century debates remind us that if you have an unshakable belief in something, then no amount of evidence (or lack of evidence) can convince you otherwise. (There are always anti-rationalist objections to everything and anything. It is curious, however, to hear them in the 21st century rather than in the 17th.)...



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