Remembering Rumsfeld’s Poetry

Now we are hearing about the memoir. Now, just as we stand shocked and awed before another chaotic call for revolutionary change in leadership, a moment some have claimed confirm George W. Bush’s vision. What do we remember about the language used by that Administration in the moments leading up to war? It was often mocked; many remember a lack of art more than any skill with rhetoric. But former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used language well, well enough to be satirized. Slate’s Hart Seely was the Lish to Rummy’s Carver.


Seely wrote Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld. Here are a few of the best from the collection:

The Unknown

As we know, 
There 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.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Glass Box

You know, it's the old glass box at the—
At the gas station,

Where you're using those little things

Trying to pick up the prize,

And you can't find it.

It's—

And it's all these arms are going down in there,

And so you keep dropping it

And picking it up again and moving it,

But—

Some of you are probably too young to remember those—
Those glass boxes,

But—

But they used to have them

At all the gas stations

When I was a kid.

—Dec. 6, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession

Once in a while,

I'm standing here, doing something.

And I think,
"What in the world am I doing here?"
It's a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times

Seely later did the same for Sarah Palin but, predictably, it was less funny. What makes magic of matching Rumsfeld’s words with tacky poetic devices is the former Defense Secretary’s self-consciously philosophical, yet wry view of life. It was this that marked him as unusual in a genre we could call Men of Action. Rumsfeld may have been the most nimble thinker of that administration, the so-called “smartest guy in the room.” Robert McNamara saw poetry in numbers, while Rumsfeld saw poetry in poetry: in story and language, and in how time works to unravel an idea. He understood, and repeatedly reinforced, the notion that there are things we cannot know, and that there are also things that we should not know. The “known unknown” is a powerful idea.

If ever locked in battle with another wacky, runic deep thinker, our bet is on Rumsfeld to nab that glass box. He would take Assange's prophecies, grind them to sand, and make castles for display at the Pentagon.

Car culture and suburban sprawl create rifts in society, claims study

New research links urban planning and political polarization.

Pixabay
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
  • Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
  • People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Flickr / 13winds
Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less