The Truth, Mainly - 04/24/2006

Why Rumsfeld is still around
by Leon Satterfield

I come to praise Donald Rumsfeld, not to bury him. (Get it? It's a play on Shakespeare. Pretty classy, huh?)

So anyway, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld seems to be in deep doo-doo. Don't believe it? Listen to this:

Six—count em, six—retired U.S. generals have rebelled against Rummy. Let me identify the rascals: Marine Gen. Greg Newbold, Army Gen. John Batiste, Army Gen. Paul Eaton, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, Marine Gen. Wallace Gregson, and Army Gen. John Riggs.

All six have been publicly critical of Rumsfeld's handling of the war.

Gen. Newbold wrote a piece in last weeks Time magazine saying that "I retired from the military four months before the invasion [of Iraq] in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. I have resisted speaking out in public. I've been silent long enough…."

Two-star Gen. Batiste turned down a promotion to three-star general because he didn't want to serve any longer under Rumsfeld.

Gen Zinni has published an anti-war book called "The Battle for Peace." He says Rumsfeld should resign. As long as he stays in office, Zinni writes,"we are constantly defending the past, which limits the ability to move ahead. We are not as free to make changes, to accept new ideas."

And Sen. Chuck Hagel told Don Walton last week that Rumsfeld "does not command the respect and confidence of our men and women in uniform….There is a real question about his capacity to lead at this critical time."

You get the drift.

So, I began wondering, why does our President continue to let Rummy be our Secretary of Defense?

And here's my startling explanation: poetry. Yessiree, poetry.

My startling explanation grew out of an internet piece by Hart Seely. It's called—hang onto your hat—"The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld: Recent works by the Secretary of Defense."

I think Seely is on to something. I think he's isolated the essential reason the President keeps Rumsfeld on.

I believe that the President has succumbed to the power of poetry, that he's been hypnotized by Rummy's disguised poems without even knowing it.

You have to start with the secret literary life of the President. He often comes across as something less than the brightest bulb in the Library of Congress, but he has, I've decided, a serious addiction to poetry.

You'd think that I, even as a befuddled retired English major, would have caught on to that long ago. But it's only now in my dotage that I'm finally seeing the light.

When I ran across Seely's internet piece, it knocked my English major socks off.

He tells us that Rumsfeld, Renaissance Man that he is, has a brilliant past as "a pilot, a congressman, an ambassador, a businessman, and a civil servant. But few Americans know that he is also a poet."

To which I would add that Rummy, to my limited knowledge, is the only Secretary of Defense to ascend to stunning success as a poet.

Don't believe it? Look at what happens to some well-known Rumsfeld quotations when Seely presents the words in poetry lines. Here's the most famous, and probably the best, called by Seely "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 dont know."

Read it again. Say it loud and there's music playing. Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

Here's another, called "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."

And one more, this one called "The Situation":

"Things will not be necessarily continuous./ The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous/ Ought not to be characterized as a pause./ There will be some things that people will see,/ There will be some things that people won't see./ And life goes on."

Well, life goes on for most of us anyway.

And you expect the president to fire someone who can write poetry like that? Where else could he find a Secretary of Defense who could rule the military with the most free of free verse?


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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