Unlike Robert McNamara, who finally admitted that he was the architect of the Vietnam war, and that he made mistakes, Donald Rumsfeld’s new book does nothing of the sort. He made no mistakes, the deceptive bastard (more on that in a bit).
My son, Ethan, now 30, was a baby in my dream last night. He was all peaceful wrapped in a blanket, and we were out for a walk. Rumsfeld must have been summering in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on Mount Desert Island, where Ethan grew up.
The former defense secretary stepped onto his porch to pick up the newspaper. When he saw how sweet my little guy looked, he smiled, turned into a paragon of warmth and wanted to hold Ethan. I let him. (It was a dream, folks).
Fast forward 27 years or so. Intrepid Ethan was based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, as a stringer for the New York Times. (Please search Ethan wilensky-Lanford on nytimes.com. I’m on a plane flying to Newark for Thanksgiving with Brook and Gianmarco and the connection is mucho slow).
Rumsfeld was in Bishkek to look in on the U.S. military base post violence in nearby Uzbekistan. He held a news conference and Ethan was there. Rumsfeld deflected answers to Ethan’s first two questions, passing the buck and saying he “didn’t know anything about that,” then telling Ethan he’d have to ask so-and-so. When Ethan hit Rumsfeld with yet a third quote, the ruthless defense secretary stared him down and asked, “Am I missing something in translation?”
“No, Mr. Secretary,” Ethan responded. “I’m speaking English.”
(Eth — I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten this exactly right, but it’s the punchline that matters, and that’s correct.)
At some point in his life Rumsfeld has held a baby, smiled warmly, cared about someone, but not so much when he sent other people’s sons and daughters to wage war with inadequate body or tank armor.
When Ethan was a baby in real life his dad and I heard Dr. Helen Caldicott speak at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Ethan was peaceful in his baby car seat, taking it all in, I imagine. Caldicott, an early and passionate anti-nuclear advocate, asked if she could hold our “beautiful baby,” telling the audience that he was the reason she was so adamantly opposed to nuclear weapons.
She’s still at it — and so is Rumsfeld. I’m grateful for so much in my life — for Ethan, Brook and Gianmarco, Dan, the rest of my family, all my dear friends, and Helen Caldicott.
A Happy and Peaceful Thanksgiving to all.
Right On! Farm Out!
We need more journalists willing to ask “awkward” questions. What was Ethan’s question that Rumsfield wouldn’t answer?
I don’t remember exactly, but Ethan was well prepared, giving background research and quotes but Rumsfeld was dodging any responsibility. And Ethan nailed him.
Great story, Sheila. Good for Ethan–you raised him right, too! Your writing lately has had so much heart in it, I really love reading you. Love, Sharon