Ten years ago, filmmaker Errol Morris sat down to interview Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense who’d molded the country’s Vietnam War policies in the 1960s, for the Oscar-winning documentary, The Fog of War. McNamara, one of the “best and brightest” minds from the Kennedy Administration, had come to regret some of his decisions, and his expansive conversation with Morris, conducted through an Interrotron camera that allows the subject to look directly into the eyes of the audience, became a cautionary tale at a time when the country was revving up its war machine to take down Saddam Hussein in Iraq following the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
One of the primary architects of that 2003 military campaign was Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld had been the youngest Secretary of Defense in U.S. history when he held the position under Gerald Ford in the 1970s, and he became the oldest Secretary when he joined George W. Bush’s cabinet in 2001. Rumsfeld was formidable, intimidating, and imperious, and his press conferences were grand theater in which he made immediately infamous statements like, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” and, in reference to the existence of Iraqi WMDs, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, or vice versa.”
Especially when the Iraqi War got ugly — “Stuff happens,” Rumsfeld said — and photos of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib were splashed on front pages around the world in 2004, Rumsfeld became the face of America’s controversial policies in the Middle East. He resigned in 2006, but he remains unwavering in his beliefs that the government did what it needed to do. There is no fog in Rumsfeld’s war.
Morris was surprised when Rumsfeld agreed to speak with him at all and even more surprised when he sat for 33 hours of on-camera interviews over the course of a year. The filmmaker calls those exchanges “one of the most difficult series of interviews that I’ve ever done.”
Morris spoke to EW at the Toronto Film Festival, where The Unknown Known screened.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does one begin to court Donald Rumsfield for a project like this? Not why, but how?
ERROL MORRIS: I wrote him a letter. I’d become aware of all of his memos — called yellow perils in the Ford Administration, snowflakes during the Bush Administration. And the idea of all these memos fascinated me. I contacted his attorney slash agent, Bob Barnett — he’s legendary. He sells most of these huge inside-the-beltway books. Bob Barnett told me, “Well, he’s never going to talk to you.” And I asked, “Well, will you forward a letter and a copy of The Fog of War?” He said he would. In the letter, I explicitly told Don Rumsfeld that I was not envisioning a Fog of War 2. I felt: different men, different set of historical circumstances, different issues. So I met with him in his offices — which was one of the more extraordinary events for me. You know, Rumsfeld coming to the door, introducing himself, saying, “Don Rumsfeld.” READ FULL STORY