To: Colorado Republicans
From: Unknown Knowers
Date: April 12, 2014
Re: The Unknown Known, a documentary of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
A new documentary called The Unknown Known has been released to coincide with the Colorado Republican Party’s 2014 Convention so that it can be used by Democrats to cast aspersions on the policies of Republicans and their beliefs and ideals — or at least those of a certain era and ilk.
This memo is being provided to help Republicans (not that they needed such help anyway) to rebut those charges, allegations and attacks. Feel free to use the arguments and observations contained herein to eviscerate any insipid attempt by a Democrat to suggest that the film validates their mistaken view that all Republicans are evil, slippery warmongers.
Donald Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known
Photo Courtesy of Radius/TWC
“Errol Morris,” the director of this film, is a known known liberal who espouses leftist views about national and foreign policies. He can be seen hobnobbing with left-leaning filmmakers and in other such circles where they regularly sling mud on Republicans and bolster bleeding-heart causes and individuals.
“Interrotron” is a technique, invented by Morris, whereby people are seen looking directly into the camera as if looking at Morris the interrogator to instill terror in the interviewee so that Morris can ostensibly catch them in gotcha moments of contradiction, candor or inconsistencies.
“Donald Rumsfeld” is the longtime public servant who worked for various Republican presidents on economic, intelligence, and foreign and military affairs and who also happens to be the latest foil for Morris’s “interrotron”.
The Skewering Tone
The first way to challenge a Democrat’s likely opinion that this film is a takedown of Republican thought and wisdom is the way that the film tries to turn Secretary Rumsfeld into a clown or a subject of mockery. This is done with a variety of techniques that include:
• the musical score, which although of inherently high quality nevertheless contains a number of motifs that evoke a carnival or a clown show deliberately designed to convey the message that the film’s subject is goofy or loopy;
• the snow globe, which is a hokey and disrespectful visual device to describe the thousands of meticulous national security memos that Sec. Rumsfeld produced over his decades of critically important service to the nation — memos that he called “snowflakes” due to their volume and frequency; and
• the “unknown known” phrase, which even though represents a famous and insightful analysis by Sec. Rumsfeld of his attempt to educate the ill-informed and flagrantly biased national press corps as to the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war of 2003, is bastardized and twisted into gibberish so as to justify any egregious actions — actions that Democrats also happen to strenuously oppose.
Evidence of Absence (of Thought)
The film asserts that Sec. Rumsfeld uses verbal trickery to avoid being pinned down and fessing up in answering specific questions. It perpetuates the Democrats’ theory that Sec. Rumsfeld is capable of twisting any communication so that he can claim he never said or asserted an allegation that is leveled against him — that he could bend the facts to support any reality he wants to propound and advocate.
One such purported technique that’s featured prominently in the film is the statement by Sec. Rumsfeld that the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence,” which the film scurrilously suggests was a way for Sec. Rumsfeld (and the Bush Administration) to obfuscate the rationale to launch a war against Iraq by continuing to raise the specter of the existence of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Saddam Hussein.
What’s galling about this is that Democrats (or at least certain far left factions that are typically supportive of and supported by Democrats) engage in the very same thing. How often do we hear these political extremists allege corporate or military wrongdoing whether or not there is evidence of such transgressions? Polluting the environment? Selling unsafe or dangerous products? Unfair treatment of workers? Such posturing to score political points happens all the time, and when denials are forthcoming they similarly invoke the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” when proof of such claims cannot be provided.
Ever heard of the refrain, “people in glass houses…”?
The “Feel Bad Rainbow”
Morris tries valiantly to get Sec. Rumsfeld to atone for some perceived misdeeds. We never actually see Morris as he interviews Sec. Rumsfeld (instead he puts Sec. Rumsfeld under the glare of his “interrotron” and we only hear Morris’ voice infrequently), but we can tell by the overall focus of the film that Morris is frustrated and baffled by Sec. Rumsfeld’s cool demeanor and refusal to breakdown and provide some outpouring of remorse or confession. In fact, Morris suggests that Sec. Rumsfeld’s projection of confidence and self-assuredness is itself a personality flaw.
That could not be further from the truth. On the contrary, Sec. Rumsfeld comes across like most well-intentioned Republicans — dedicated to doing what’s right and standing tall in the correctness of their mission and service (which does not mean not continuing to reevaluate and question). Instead, it’s Democrats who feel bad about themselves and the world around them. They are quick to find fault and welcome any and all opportunities to confess their sins when things get difficult and challenging — especially when matters go awry and people have to make hard choices and decisions involving high risk. Their pangs of angst reflect a Pollyannaish belief that government can and should be perfect so that no one is hurt and all needs are provided for.
The fact that Morris chastises Sec. Rumsfeld for not boo-hooing his way through the interview speaks volumes about Morris’s political philosophy and his own personal need to gaze at the Democrats’ “feel bad rainbow.”
Sec. Rumsfeld is not perfect. And as much as the film tries to perpetuate the mischaracterization that Sec. Rumsfeld is a cold, calculating politician who will do and say anything to convince himself and us that he is infallible, it actually stands for the opposite. Here are the specific ways that the film (no doubt inadvertently) humanizes Sec. Rumsfeld, and by extension, Republicans.
Learning from mistakes. Sec. Rumsfeld says on a number of occasions that we need to learn from mistakes (i.e., not tape recording all conversations at the White House a la Nixon, rescinding an unfortunate memo regarding the treatment of enemy combatants, and so on). His major point — that seems to be lost on Morris and Democrats in general — is that sometime things go wrong even under the best of intentions. At these moments we can either navel-gaze or we can carry on the best we can with dignity and determination.
Show some emotion. Sec. Rumsfeld is visibly moved by a story he tells of a soldier in intensive care at a VA hospital who was not expected to live. It’s difficult not to be touched by his caring and feeling for his fellow man, but it’s also hard to discern whether Morris thought this was insincere so as to bolster his bent that Sec. Rumsfeld is a charlatan.
Appalled by Abu Ghraib. Sec. Rumsfeld states (and documents are shown on the screen to corroborate it) that he was so upset at the mistreatment of the Iraqi detainees at this facility that he was willing to resign. He felt so strongly that he should be held to account for such behavior on his watch that he is the living embodiment of “the buck stops here.” The film again cheapens this humanistic gesture by implying that it was done only to save his reputation.
No waffling on waterboarding. Although he stands by his support for interrogation techniques (we needed to get information to save American lives), he restates that he did not sanction waterboarding of any detainees held by the Department of Defense, the agency over which he had authority. That the film continues to delve into this is another instance where it tries to paint him as an inhuman monster.
Imagine a Safer World
Sec. Rumsfeld’s mission was to safeguard the lives of Americans and those fighting on our behalf. Such a duty requires one to imagine the worst, the unthinkable so that we can prepare for and, most importantly, respond to the threats posed by the realities of a world in perpetual conflict.
Morris’s film poo-poos this notion by claiming that such imagination can be used to justify all sorts of atrocities.
To which are two words that Morris and his Democratic ilk seem to have failed to image: Vladimir Putin.
Doug Young, the senior policy director in Gov. Hickenlooper’s office, is a prestigious film critic whose creative columns have received multiple awards in the Colorado Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contests over the years.