Monday, February 2, 2015

The Unknown Known (2013)


Director: Errol Morris
Writer:    Errol Morris
Features: Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris (Voice)


Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The title of the documentary comes from the quote that Donald Rumsfeld gave in 2002 about lack of evidence linking Saddam's regime with the supply of WMDs to terrorist groups. The full quote is as below:

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because 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. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones. "

When the documentary starts he says that is the lack of imagination from Intelligence agencies that led to failures like Pearl Harbour and 9/11. It is this that he means with the unknown unknown category. But later in the documentary he says that the unknown knowns, things that we think we know but turned out to be different, to be the most dangerous. When Morris points out that he used unknown unknown in the quote, Rumsfeld says that he meant unknown known and that can sum up his pedantry in torturing the language to suit his needs. Unknown unknown was used by him to convey the presence of imaginary WMDs and now we can use Unknown Known to describe what happened in Iraq after the invasion. 

The neo-cons, who also tend to be Jesus-Freaks, have a habit of making massive generalizations that are logically suspect. Another memo that he wrote regarding WMDs contained the argument that: 'Absence of Evidence is not evidence of absence'. This is something that religious people come out with when you question the absence of God. Well, you can also claim the existence of flying teapots orbiting Mars using that logic. 

Some have criticized the documentary for raising more questions than answers. That would be missing the point since it is aiming to depict how illogical and muddled Rumsfeld is in his rationalization. All of us know about what happened in Iraq and documentaries like 'No End in Sight' dealt with it already. What Morris is doing is to use Rumsfeld himself to reveal whatever he wants to say. The last question by a bewildered Morris: 'Why the hell have you agreed to do this?' is exactly what we feel. Maybe it is a case of someone who had Presidential ambitions in his 30s wanting a little more of the limelight. It was interesting that he took special care to describe Dick Cheney as his deputy when he was talking about the 70s. 

Rating: 4/5