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March 08, 2006

The Biggest Problem We've Got Is People Don't Study Imaginary History

Here's Donald Rumsfeld being interviewed last Friday:

PLUM TV: [How] are people going to change the way they're thinking about this war, and to change the public perception?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think the biggest problem we've got in the country is people don't study history any more. People who go to school in high schools and colleges, they tend to study current events and call it history.

There's never been a popular war...Franklin Roosevelt was one of the most hated people in the country and he was President of the United States. He was Commander in Chief. He did a terrific job.

So, during World War II, "Franklin Roosevelt was one of the most hated people in the country"?

Maybe some history would come in handy here.

(Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research)

As you can see, Roosevelt's lowest approval rating during World War II was 66%. Moreover, before the war his approval rating was generally lower than that, ranging from 55-65%.

The interesting thing is, I doubt Rumsfeld was simply lying. FDR was deeply hated—by people like Donald Rumsfeld. CEO types were constantly fulminating about FDR's traitorous ways, and in fact some of them attempted to stage a coup to overthrow him in 1934.

Thus, Rumsfeld probably has spent his entire life around people who loathed FDR, and so assumes normal people did too. Since this belief fits in nicely with a self-justifying story line, he'll never bother to find out whether it's true.

The funny thing is, I think Rumsfeld's right that people should study more history. Where Don and I part ways is that I think we should study history that actually happened.

UPDATE: The Rumsfeld interview has disappeared from the Defense Department website. It's no longer listed as a recent transcript, and while there's still an html page at the original link, it's completely blank.

I guess that, while it's a good thing for people to learn history, there's no reason to make it easy for them.

Posted at March 8, 2006 07:51 AM | TrackBack

Perhaps there's a remedy:
In the DoD budget maybe there's a few million available to distribute a couple hundred thousand copies of Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" to schools and libraries.
Let the learning of history begin.

Posted by: donescobar at March 8, 2006 11:10 AM

No, no, no.

It's that alternative "sliders-like" history that they came from! Y'know: the one where oceans protected us during the Cold War.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce at March 8, 2006 11:22 AM

Excellent post, Jon. The difference between FDR and George W Bush--in addition to about 50 IQ points--is the erosion of the service ethic among the privileged classes in the US. I think people like the President to be an upper-class person--look at how much ire Truman raised--but until that class re-establishes some sort of internal compass, expect more irresponsible, ill-educated, easily manipulated figureheads. I look at Bush and see the male equivalent of Paris Hilton, no more or less.

Posted by: Mike of Rugoren at March 8, 2006 11:48 AM

What's freaking me out is that some people watching that interview will invariably believe Rummy, and there will be one more heinously inaccurate misunderstanding to bog down political discussion and understanding.

Posted by: Saheli at March 8, 2006 12:46 PM

Someone should ask Rummy to repeat this during his next TV interview and then flog him publically with the facts.

Actually this sounds like a great Daily Show or Colbert report segment.

Posted by: patience at March 8, 2006 01:02 PM

There's never been a popular war? Apparently Rumsfield has already forgotten his own experience with Bush I's triumphant Iraqi adventure. If Desert Storm had happened a few months closer to the 2002 election, Rumsfield wouldn't have had to hate non-war-mongering Clinton for the next 8 years.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at March 8, 2006 01:52 PM

Well, Saheli, you can blame the interviewer's lack of any knowledge of history, or else he could have called Rumsfeld on it instantly.

Assuming he could get his tongue out of Rumsfeld's ass at the time.

But if you're going to have reporters who keep coming to the interview more ignorant than their listeners, then this is the sort of shoddy propaganda that is going to result.

Posted by: alexis S at March 8, 2006 02:33 PM

Wow. Good catch.

Posted by: Maezeppa at March 8, 2006 02:54 PM

I just wrote
with the folowing request:

Can you please send me a copy of the interview transcript that was at2006/tr20060303-12616.html?

Thank you.

Posted by: Maezeppa at March 8, 2006 05:23 PM

Jon, I hope you downloaded that whole interview. Gotta keep the little momentos of this time. I've always been inspired by Victor Klemperer, who suffered under the Nazis as a Jew, but wasn't killed because he was married to an Aryan. As they took everything away from him, and beat him severely once for using his library card, he was still able to furnish himself with pieces of Nazi rhetoric. He wanted to keep a record. He survived the Nazis, and wrote a small classic about their linguistic crimes. Lingua Tertii Imperii.

Damn, that Rumsfeld remark is a catch -- a little fragment of his psycho mentality.

Posted by: roger at March 9, 2006 12:26 AM

You've captured the essence of Modern American Conservatism: they hate FDR and the New Deal, or they were brought up by people who did so. None of this Burke nonsense. Just more money for me and fuck everybody else.

Posted by: Tirebiter in Sector R at March 9, 2006 07:46 AM

I second: great catch.

What's more, I think there's a beautiful illustration here of a short-circuited mental process. Rumsfeld's not a dumb man. He's capable of concluding that an unpopular president would not be RE-ELECTED THREE TIMES - but his privileged conceptions prevent him from ever framing the question for himself.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at March 9, 2006 12:18 PM


Is Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink!) the son of Victor? I had vague references (or, more likely, I've forgotten the details) that his family was persecuted by the Nazis.


Posted by: stupidBaby at March 9, 2006 02:54 PM

SB, No. According to the Wikipedia, he was the son of Otto Klemperer, the conductor.


In any case, I don't remember the mention of any children in Victor's diaries. And after the war, he lived in East Germany.

Posted by: roger at March 9, 2006 04:02 PM

Aha! Thanks for looking that up. I guess I could have done that myself ;) I thouhgt he was the son of someone famous.


Posted by: stupidBaby at March 9, 2006 05:07 PM

Regarding Hogan's Heroes, I recall a HH-concentration camp connection too. (God! There's a very LONG wikipedia entry for this show!) Four of the actors were Jews who fled Germany, and two spent time in a concentration camp: the actor who played the Frenchman LeBeau, and also the actor who played Sergeant Schultz, John Banner.

Posted by: Aaron at March 9, 2006 05:17 PM

Arianna Huffington totally ripped off your whole post, including Roosevelt's popularity graph. Her version of your text is here: and here's the comment I left: Great piece, Arianna, and that's exactly what I told Johnathan Schwartz when he wrote it first.
Posted by: Maezeppa on March 09, 2006 at 07:50pm

Posted by: Maezeppa at March 9, 2006 06:50 PM

But.. she credits him! Which is how I got to this page.

Now what's up with the missing quotes on the Defense Departmetn website? Jesus christ.

Posted by: The guy who writes at March 10, 2006 02:23 AM

Rumsfeld is channeling some character from Orwell's 1984 (Minister of Information, I suppose) who is in charge of the 'official' history.

Posted by: Jon Koppenhoefer at March 10, 2006 06:14 AM

Maybe Rumsfeld's just so identified with the corporate class that he can only remember that his people hated Roosevelt. And how they did hate "that man", whom they considered a class traitor (far, far worse than being a traitor to the nation).

Posted by: Nell at March 10, 2006 10:02 AM

the interview transcipt pulled from the DOD website can be found here:

Posted by: bajesus at March 10, 2006 06:23 PM

What a great site. Thanks

Posted by: andre at March 10, 2006 06:32 PM