“Go massive. Sweep it all. Things related and not.” This is some of what Donald Rumsfeld was noted as saying to his subordinates after the 9.11 attacks.
As I thought about this for a while I got out my old book on Surrealism. It says, in part: “Surrealism combines seemingly unrelated elements and smashes them together with a demented sense of humor.”
Rumsfeld, a Surrealist. I had no idea.
But I think he is influenced by more than just Surrealism. He’s got some nihilism and intentional irrationality in the mix it seems to me, so I feel sure he’s part Dadaist. And then there’s the Absurdism – no need to elaborate there. Gosh, if you add a healthy dose of smugness and more than a smidgen of belligerence you could have yourself a whole new movement: Rumsfeldism. And to think, Surrealism and Dadaism were both a response, in part, to the despair of WWI and its atrocities. How ironic.
In a way, it was a relief hearing about the instructions Rumsfeld gave. Yes, I know, ordering one’s minions to sweep “things related and not” – ruining the lives of innocent people, undoing hard-won civil liberties, endangering the future of entire countries – regardless of whether they are related to terrorism or even to anything questionable – and sweeping them into a giant self-serving dragnet is unbelievably repugnant, greedy, ineffective, cruel and shortsighted; but still a relief.
At least now I know they know a lot of what they are doing in the name of combating terrorism or protecting national security or promoting “free and open societies” as stated in new document The National Security Strategy of the United States is, in fact, unrelated, try as they might to spin it otherwise. For a minute there I thought they were drunk from their speechwriters’ words, buying into their own BS. Now that I know I’m living under deliberately surreal and irrational dictates, I can stop trying to make sense of things.
It’s just Rumsfeld playing his Surrealist parlor games, like I used to do in grad school, cutting up words from a newspaper, putting them in a hat, pouring them out and then pasting them together in the helter-skelter order they fell, creating an often hilarious, bizarre new world. Only Rumsfeld and Company are playing for real. His parlor is our planet. And it isn’t so funny. The powers that be are tearing apart people’s lives like pages of a newspaper; haphazardly spewing out orders, bombs, and policy as fast as they can be disgorged; creating color-coded, media-sustained fear:
Give those pesky law-abiding dissenters a tax audit here, put a non-violent protesting nun in jail there, create a new class of American Disappeareds, bomb Afghan weddings, generate unilateral foreign policy resolutions that include embarrassingly transparent euphemisms such as “distinctly American internationalism.” IT’S CODE ORANGE, FOR GOD SAKES. GO! GO! GO!
And in the end We The People are all left to sort ourselves out and, if we are lucky enough to find all the pieces, paste ourselves back together again with a little oil and spilled blood.
I figure with all that massive, indiscriminate lumping and sweeping Rumsfeld might be a little confused at this point about what things, in fact, are related to terrorism/war on Iraq/national security/etc. and what are not. So, I’ve come up with a little Surrealist game of my own.
I call it: Connecting the Nots. And it looks something like this:
Thora: A woman (who looks surprisingly like me) in a General’s uniform, only it is skin-tight leather and she has on 3-inch, spike-heeled boots and is wielding a rather significant whip (with first strike capabilities).
Rumsfeld: He is in a giant Duck-Billed Platypus costume, looking all-too natural dressed as one of the world’s most primitive mammals.
Stark grade school classroom. Thora is swinging on a large swing at the front of the class before a large blackboard. Instead of a clock there is an old woman sitting cross-legged on the floor in the corner wearing a large button that reads: ‘Condi Rice: Any Woman Who Has Had an Oil Tanker Named After Her Is Alright with Me.’ She is ticking off the seconds by beating the war drum in her lap. She marks the hour by shouting out: ‘One hour closer to supreme American military and corporate world domination.’
There is a schoolroom loudspeaker, microphone and a very small camera behind Thora on the wall. A glaring light bulb is dangling from a wire directly above Rumsfeld who in full platypus drag is sitting at a lone grade-school desk, trying to appear self-satisfied as he clumsily attempts to grasp a pencil, which is proving to be quite difficult as he has four webbed feet.
The Manchurian Candidate meets a segment on Sesame Street with a little A Clockwork Orange thrown in.
“It’s very simple, Donnie. I’m using your very own words to make it easier. Look at the board, I’ve written it all down,” Thora says in her best Loving Teacher Gone Bad voice. “Take your piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Label the first column: “Things Related” and label the second: “Not.” I will now read out two groups of items and you will write them in the correct column, depending on whether they are related to one another or not. When you get an answer right, I’ll feed you a handful of yummy insect larvae, a favorite of the platypus. And, if you get enough answers wrong, we will use some of the tactics used at Guantanamo Bay to help you get back on track.
Rumsfeld is visibly shaken. “Are you kidding? That’s…that’s inhumane.”
“What? Too much? Okay, then how about if we give away all of your estimated worth of between $62.1 and $115.8 million dollars to various peace and justice movements. Just think of it: you could help significantly advance the justice efforts of, say, Global Exchange or you could make a massive anti-globalization rally possible.
He shudders. “Okay, okay. Bring on the electrodes.”
“No, I think I like the funding idea. And because you’ve so enjoyed being the Little Media Darling of The War on Terror, we think you’ll be particularly pleased to know we’ll have a special seat for you up on the stage at any and all peace/anti-globalization rallies with you in full platypus regalia. You may as well get used to that bill and tail because I have a feeling you are going to be your new lower-mammalian self for a long while. Not to worry, it’s a good look for you. Really.” Rumsfeld looks momentarily flattered.
Speaking of the media, right now your image and voice are being simulcast over the Internet via the microphone and camera behind me. This simulcast is being hosted by none other than Mr. Colin Powell who at this very moment is living in an underground bunker as part of his reparation for his participation in your massive sweep. He was just about to leave when he saw our shadow government in the bunker next to his, so he’ll have to stay in there at least six more weeks. Throughout our little visit Mr. Powell, at his whim, will be making an assortment of emasculating comments to you.
“Are you there, Colin?”
“Yes, audio and visuals are working well,” says Powell over the loudspeaker.
“Strangely, I think he was really quite eager for this part of his reparation. Hmm…why might that be, Donald?” Donald is busy trying to smooth down his fur for the camera and doesn’t hear.
“Anyway, as you are writing, please sing your answer to the tune of my choosing so we can all know what you’ve written. Do you understand?”
“NO, I DO NOT,” Rumsfeld says indignantly.
“Wonderful. Now you know how the rest of us feel. Let’s begin.”
“War on Iraq: Saddam as a credible threat to the U.S.,” sung to the tune of ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ by The Captain and Tennille.”
“Things Related,” he half sings and half coughs.
“You’ll really have to sing out if you ever want to see your opposable thumbs again.”
“Things Related,” he sings at full volume.
“Lovely delivery, really it was. Has anyone ever told you, you sound remarkably like Jim Neighbors? But, come, come, Donald you know and I know there is no real evidence that these two things are related. Next category…
“Cheney, Halliburton, Bush’s Axis of Oil Pals, Daddy Bush’s Old Vendetta, Carlyle Group: War on Iraq, sung to the tune of ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.'”
“The Carlyle Group? I’ll have you know George Bush Sr. and John Major are distinguished members of that group.”
“Unh, unh, unh… you aren’t singing. And don’t tell me you’ve gone the way of the president and his pal, Kenny Boy, forsaking Frank Carlucci. You can’t forget Frankie Boy; he’s your very best friend and he heads up the Carlyle group. I think that might hurt his feelings, don’t you? Related or Not?”
“Not,” he snorts.
“I’m sorry. It’s endearing that you are trying to protect your best pal and your boss’ father and all their investment interests. After all, they do stand to gain a hell of a lot of money.”
“That’s ridiculous and even it wasn’t, it’s not illegal, by the way.”
“Ridiculous? If only it were. Does the Crusader artillery system with its two billion in advance government contracts ring a bell? Legal, perhaps, but hmmm… I wonder if there is any conflict of interest? Sorry, but upon hearing the case, even my six year old niece would insist that you move these in the Things Related column. Here, use my eraser to change your answer.”
Thora jumps off her swing and moves towards Rumsfeld forcefully. She cracks her whip next to his chair. Powell’s voice comes over the loudspeaker. “Noooooo…”
“Don’t worry, Colie, I’ll be restrained.”
“No…I mean…let me, let me, let me.”
“Now, now, Colie, all in due time, all in due time.” Rumsfeld then produces an eraser.
“You have your own? Ah yes, of course, I see the vestiges of The Bill of Rights on it. You must share this eraser with John Ashcroft. Sharing. How nice. I’ll be seeing Mr. Ashcroft next. He is being fitted for his Lady of Justice garments now. It seems the sash doesn’t fit him properly. He’s larger than we thought and I’m afraid one of his breasts will be exposed. I hope he won’t find that too disquieting. We opted not to give him the Scales of Justice because we figured he doesn’t use those much anyway. Instead, we will have him hold a large, Calico cat. I’ve heard our top lawmaker thinks they are the sign of the devil.
“I digress. Where were we? Ah yes: Making the War on Terrorism the big political issue: Keeping the Democrats, who are less trusted with international policy, in a minority position.”
“Politics is not part of the proposed war.”
“Not.” Thora moves her face directly in front of Rumsfeld’s and smiles sweetly.
“Now, Don, how can we have any sort of healthy relationship if you won’t be honest with me? Let’s try another, shall we? One reason the powers that be disapprove of the new UN Weapons Inspectors: Old Weapons Inspectorate UNSCOM closing down after the US used some of the inspectors as spies. And now there are new rules in place making it harder for the US to control the new inspectors.”
“Not,” he quips.
“Donnie. Kitten. Haughtiness does not befit one in your current position.” Thora turns and looks at the loudspeaker. “Colin…”
“Your…your tail is crooked,” stammers Powell, unprepared for his big moment. Thora grimaces. Rumsfeld rolls his eyes as he shifts in his chair trying to straighten his tail. “Ah, your heart was in the right place, Colin. But, I was hoping for something a bit thornier. Maybe you can ask audience members to email some suggestions.”
“Ah, c’mon,” he whines. “That’s not fair. Nobody ever listens to me anymore. I never get to do anything. Never. Let me try again. Pleeeeease.”
“Very well. Next time.”
And so Thora goes, hammering out topic after topic, hour after hour until in the early morning hours finally, Rumsfeld cracks.
“In 1982 while Hussein was moving toward a biological warfare program, despite that this was known to the US intelligence community, Iraq was taken off the state-sponsored terrorists list. And in 1983, Don, you gave Hussein a hand-written letter from Ronald Reagan resuming diplomatic relations with Iraq. Three years later the CIA gave Saddam intelligence that helped him more accurately target mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. So, you helped resume relations with Saddam and then helped him use biological weapons more effectively. And now you use the fact that he might use said biological weapons again, which you know is highly improbably at this point as it would be all but suicide for him (unless he is backed into a corner and has nothing to lose), as a part of the argument for perhaps sacrificing the lives of thousands of US soldiers and more probably thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis, spending millions upon millions of US taxpayers’ money to fund it all and alienating a great majority of our allies around the world. That is related to…well, that’s a lot to explain. Why don’t you tell us how that all relates to things, Don.”
“Okay, OKAY. All right already. Enough. Conflict of interest? Obviously there is conflict of interest. The whole goddamn government is rife with conflict of interest, Republicans and Democrats alike. And of course I know Code Orange isn’t related to any real threat. And of course Saddam isn’t militarily remotely what he used to be. Good God, what do you think I am, an idiot? But the guy is sitting on a hell of a lot of oil…and then we have to distract the American people from Cheney’s incredible Halliburton mess and from who Bush sold his Harken stock to…and from how just about everyone Bush has surrounded himself with – Carl Rove, Lawrence Lindsey, Thomas White are all so deep in the Enron thing, it’s ridiculous…and from the other corporate scandals and…and the economy… and from the fact that we have almost completely moved from a democracy to a corporate plutocracy…and from the fact that we haven’t found that goddamned bin Laden and that was supposed to be the whole point of invading Afghanistan in the first place, at least I think it was, I can never keep that one straight…and we needed to stir up a little fear and pro-Republican sentiment with the elections coming up…and, we have a war to sell, damnit! But, thank God for those toothless Democrats because they’ve made it all a hell of a lot easier. Even still, do you think all of that has been easy? HUH? DO YOU?? YOU TRY IT SOMETIME.”
He then pulls out the US’s unratified copy of the International Criminal Court treaty, tucked away in the webbing of his feet to try and sop his sodden brow. But again, he can’t reach. He begins to weep. Defeated, he drops to his knees – well, technically he has no knees as he is now pretty much a full-time Duck-Billed Platypus – but he drops, and momentarily aware of the camera and the millions who now know the truth, he weighs out the political advantages of being contrite, but despite himself tears roll off his big duck-bill. He then begins rocking back and forth, singing softly to himself “Conflict of Interest” to the tune of “God Bless America.”
“Not so tough now are you, you big bully?!” Powell says with conviction.
“Beautifully said, Colin. Beautifully said.”
Postscript: No actual Defense Secretaries were costumed against their will or harmed in any way in the writing of this piece.
CAROL NORRIS can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She wants you to ponder the fact that when she typed in the word “Rumsfeld” the first suggestion her spellchecker gave was “Rusted.”