Explaining What Rumsfeld Means
Donald Rumsfeld has won something called the “Foot in Mouth” award for bad English from someone called “the Plain English Campaign”.
“The award singles out what judges believe to be the most baffling statement made by a public figure in the past year.”
Here’s the statement that won the award for Donald Rumsfeld…
“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.”
It’s interesting to me that they found this to be “baffling,” because it’s actually a quite profound statement that Rummy has bought up before. They also left off a key part of the quote that helps explain what he means. Here’s that last paragraph with the next sentence added…
“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.”
What Rummy is saying here is that it’s the huge surprises, the things that catch us completely off guard, that we don’t expect, that tend to be the most dangerous.
For example, let’s say we know Iran is building nuclear weapons and we know they’re going to be ready in August of 2004, we can do whatever it takes to stop them by that date. If we know Iran is building nukes, but we’re not sure when they’ll be completed, let’s say it could be anywhere from a month to five years, it’s much tougher to know if we need to make a move yet. But, if Iran is building nukes and we have no idea they’re doing it, we’re in deep trouble because we’re unaware that the problem even exists.
Now if that “baffles” you…well, let’s just say it shouldn’t anymore.