Known and Unknown, A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld
June 2, 2011 by Bob Livingston
After his three-and-a-half-year stint in the U.S. Navy was up, Rumsfeld — Princeton graduate, married, the father of an infant and with his wife suffering from hepatitis — set his sights on entering the private sector and beginning his career. While interviewing for jobs he learned about through the Princeton alumni job-placement office, Rumsfeld discovered Ohio Congressman David Dennison was looking for an administrative assistant.
Rumsfeld writes that he and Dennison hit it off immediately. That set off a long and storied career that saw Rumsfeld advance from Congressional staffer, to member of Congress, to the staffs of President Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford and President George W. Bush. Under the different Presidents, Rumsfeld wore a number of different hats — Secretary of Defense (twice), representative to NATO and Chief of Staff were the most prominent — and he documents those periods of American history in a way that holds the reader’s interest.
His descriptions of his time working for Nixon, although mostly spent in Europe as the representative to NATO, provide a fascinating glimpse of Rumsfeld’s perception of one of the more curious and resilient figures to ever be elected President. It’s a reminder that there were many facets of the man whose political career seemed dead more than once.
Known and Unknown, A Memoir contains 815 pages of text, footnotes and index. The first third of the book is devoted to Rumsfeld’s pre-Bush years in government. But, unsurprisingly, the bulk of the book is devoted to the period from 2001, when Rumsfeld was tapped by Bush as the 21st U.S. Secretary of Defense, through his resignation in November 2006.
As expected, Rumsfeld casts himself as the good guy in the Bush inner circle. He goes to great lengths to explain and justify the Administration’s actions following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But he goes to greater lengths to reveal nothing new. Although he admits mistakes were made, most of the time he claims to have opposed a certain policy or viewpoint but erred in not expressing that opposition forcefully enough.
One thing the book does reveal is the almost-incestuous relationships that develop and remain throughout multiple Administrations. By this I mean the way the various players move from one Administration to the other, often swapping job titles but never changing policy. And Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and some other members of the Bush inner circle moved through the various Republican Administrations over the years.
Rumsfeld also lets slip one aspect of the 9/11 attacks that has been a source of debate among conspiracy theorists. That is, was United Airlines Flight 93 shot down by U.S. fighter jets?
The official story is that passengers wrested control of Flight 93 from the four hijackers. But Cheney told Rumsfeld at the time that he had given authorization to shoot down the hijacked airliners, and Rumsfeld’s notes indicate he learned at least one plane was shot down prior to Cheney telling him he had given the authorization to shoot down wayward planes.
“Cheney said, ‘(I)t’s my understanding they’ve already taken a couple of aircraft out,’” Rumsfeld writes. Rumsfeld then goes on to try to explain away Cheney’s comments.
Rumsfeld is a controversial figure who has been cast by some as one of the worse Defense Secretaries in U.S. history and by others as a man who responded appropriately to a very challenging time in U.S. history. The title of his book stems from a statement he made in one of his many news conferences after 9/11, when he said on Feb. 12, 2002, “(T)here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
What is known is that Rumsfeld and a long line of Republicans who hold and have held elected office and have worked behind the scenes are globalists who believe America should be meddling in the affairs of every country around the world. They are no different than the elitist progressives in America who want to micromanage the lives of Americans.
In fact, they may be worse, because their meddling makes America come off as a bully seeking to establish puppet regimes around the world to benefit American corporatocracy to the detriment of the citizens of the many nations.
If you are fan of the Bush Administration or find reading a varnished version of the nation’s foreign policy during the Bush years interesting, then this book may be worth the price and the effort it takes to read. If you’re hoping to learn something new, save your money.