Friday, April 04, 2014

"The Unknown Known": Donald Rumsfeld talks with "inevitable epigrams" at age 81 ("would'a, could'a, should'a") '

Back in undergraduate college days, when I took qualitative analysis in chemistry, in the laboratory part we had “unknowns” to solve.  I even missed just one, finding “one too many”. 

Decision making in life, or in national policy, involves logical possibilities, involving what we know, what we don’t know, and then how much we know about what we don’t know, and how much we don’t know about what we really do know.  It gets to be a game of "would'a, could'a, should'a". In the workplace this sort of thing matters, because we sometimes have to solve problems caused by the work of others when we know very little about a system we have to fix because we weren’t there when it was written.

So in the new documentary from Participant Media, “The Unknown Known”, Former Secretary of Defense (under President George W. Bush) mulls these four logical combinations – rather like “statement, converse, inverse, contrapositive” (in logic) as he justifies everything he did in his long career, dating back to getting elected to Congress in 1962. He also served as Secretary of defense under Ford.

Rumsfeld, at age 81, shows great humor as he talks (interviewed by the voice of director Erol Morris), and loves the word games of logic that he used in 2004 in memos to try to justify the administration’s war in Iraq.  The “knowing,” of course, refers to the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, as justification for Bush’s going to war, and the “Shock and Awe” of March 19, 2003 (shown in the film), when Bush though he knew where Saddam was.  Later, the film shows footage of Saddam after he was finally found and arrested (to be executed).
It’s also something you could apply to the decision of the former President George H. W. Bush not to move on to Baghdad in 1991.  But, then, why not apply it to the “domino theory’ that LBJ and McNamara believed as we got into the Vietnam war.  In fact, Rumsfeld describes the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 when it fell to the communists in great detail.
There is some effective abstract imagery, such as a snow globe surrounding the White House before a meeting in July, and an obvious allusion to “Rosebud” in “Citizen Kane”. There is a curious sunrise scene at sea that looks like a scene on another planet.
The film is shot at 2.35:1, which is disadvantageous on the closeups with the witty Rumsfeld.

The official site from Radius TWC is here. The film was produced by Moxie and the History Channel as well as Participant.  I saw it before a very small audience at the Angelika Mosaic late Friday afternoon.

A relevant film for comparison is “In Shifting Sands” (2001), by M. Scott Ritter, Marine Corps officer who became a weapons inspector and who maintains that the 1991 war destroyed Saddam’s ability to make WMD’s, undermining the case for the war in Iraq.  I saw the film at the University of Minnesota in 2002 as I recall.

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