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Published:April 11th, 2014 10:28 EST

In Errol Morris`s 'Unknown Known,' Donald Rumsfeld Uses Clever Wordplay Like the Nowhere Man!

By John G. Kays


Stuff happens...and it`s untidy and freedom`s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They`re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that what`s going to happen here. Further...The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it`s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, my goodness, were there that many vases? Donald Rumsfeld (Wikipedia)


In Errol Morris`s the Unknown Known, Donald Rumsfeld secures his legacy as he`ll have it, he`s good with words, he writes lots of memos stringing countless words together in clever combinations; I first thought of the Nowhere Man in George Dunning`s animation classic, Yellow Submarine.


Rummy is also a seasoned, highly crafty government bureaucrat, capable of deflecting a buried truth beneath a blanket of poetic sentiment, or otherwise, blunders disguised as patriotism. Those thieves weren`t purloining the same vases, they pilfered multiple ancient treasures from the National Museum of Iraq. This is a very good film, perhaps Morris`s best!


Part of my appreciation of the Unknown Known is due to the wonderful theater where I saw it; I got to see it at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas (Mockingbird Lane @ Central Exprwy). It wasn`t very crowded, the seats were right comfortable, and the sound system was out of this world; I was off to a good start! 


As I was watching, I knew I`d probably have to view it again on another occasion, since the images were dense and the content covered (of recent history) was loaded with important references (Vietnam, Iraq, 9/11, and Abu Ghraib are just four). The presentation was typical Errol Morris; a very simple and clear talking head, question and answer.


Errol was not trying to trip Rummy up, since that`s not even a possibility anyway. This man can wax rhetorical `til the cows come home without blinking an eye; stuff just happens with this man. Strings of seemingly logical words prolifically flow out naturally, like they do with Nowhere Man.


I must confess, I don`t know (I know I don`t know) Donald`s career very well, so I`ve done some reviewing over the past few weekdays, and this will make my next viewing much more rewarding, I suppose. Can`t wait to see the image clip of alphabet soup again, a scramble edit (of DR`s) words, against Danny Elfman`s terrifically chilling soundtrack (the best I`ve heard since Philip Glass`s for The Thin Blue Line)!


But no, I don`t care to read all 20,000 of Rummy`s old memos; my gut reaction to how DR fends off (probing questions) with evasive answers, regarding the various controversial decisions that were made on his watch as Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush, is I don`t think he`s lying so much as he`s been able to condition himself that what he decided was the right choice. 


He`s done a Manchurian Candidate on himself; (this will strike a nerve), he`s self-water-boarded! He was instrumental in getting us in a war with Iraq, but he denies it. He did believe that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction, but he uses clever word play that act as a confusing metaphor; possibly it`s a softened confession. Also, he denies he believed (at the time), that Saddam was part of the 9/11 al-Qaeda cabal.


Errol digs up one of his old memos (they come back to haunt him), that shows he was convinced of the connection (Saddam was al-Qaeda); this clip will be something I`ll look for on a second viewing. The thing that gave me the most trouble, and had me scratching my head wondering what the hell, is this Lewis Carroll-esque mathematical permutation of DR, that seems to be the basis for his philosophy of Government or rather (I mean) military intelligence gathering.


First off, you need lots of imagination; we just didn`t have as much imagination as the 9/11 terrorists, so we were late to the game and couldn`t prevent what they did to the Twin Towers in New York. You thought a plane could become a ballistic missile! Second, is the four part formula (or word gobbledegook) for covering your options (it`s God`s eye looking down on the globe!).


You have the Known Known, the Unknown Unknown (this would be like Greenland or Antarctica, how `bout Siberia?), then you have the Known Unknown, and finally, the Unknown Known (maybe, four possibilities only?). Rumsfeld describes the last one as thinking you know something, but finding out you didn`t have it right. This apparently is code, referring to the Pentagon believing Sadam had Weapons of Mass Destruction, later, finding out this was wrong.


I reckon here, Donald was making a mistake. This should have been the Known Unknown, not the Unknown Known. The last combination (and the title of our film) can best be described, when I reason it, as thinking you don`t know something, but then it turns out, you did know it all along. Rummy has convinced himself, Hussein hid the weapons; that`s why it`s actually the Known Unknown! Huh? Maybe it`s really a Known Known?


http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/04/the-true-subject-of-errol-morriss-donald-rumsfeld-doc-smugness/360344/