March 19, 2007

It's not logical, Captain...

In June 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield delivered the following speech to a crowd of reporters who were asking about the progress of the war on terrorism:

"The message is that there are no 'knowns'. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also known unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of these known unknowns...There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

History now affords us the truth behind Rumsfield's sophistry; that the WMDs of Iraq were imagined and that the so-called "war on terror" is a futile task. Yet, as someone who earned a degree in philosophy, I cannot help but marvel at Rumsfield's astonishing grasp of rhetoric and his cunning use if illogic logic to make his point. As Lewis Lapham commented, it was "a speech worthy of the riddling fool in one of Shakespear's enchanted forests". It should be required reading in all American high school civics classes, as a portent of the abuse of logic for nefarious purposes.

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