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Rummy Flunks History


Earlier this week, I blogged about the Bush administration's increasingly absurd efforts to spin the war in Iraq, including Don Rumsfeld's attempt to lay the blame for the White House's Iraq troubles at the feet of America's history teachers:

"I think the biggest problem we've got in the country is people don't study history anymore. People who go to school in high schools and colleges, they tend to study current events and call it history... There are just too darn few people in our country who study history enough."

Readers curious to learn more about the scourge of the high-school history teacher could follow the link we provided to the Department of Defense website to read the rest of the interview. In it, Rumsfeld the historian expounds on the public's across the board disapproval of war. "There's never been a popular war," said Rummy, trying to explain away the president's 60% disapproval rating. "You can't name a popular war. There isn't such a thing."

Then, like a gruff professor, he rattled off some quick backup for his claim: Revolutionary War? "George Washington was almost fired." Civil War? "The Civil War was the ugliest thing -- carnage. 10,000, 15,000 people killed in a battle." What about World War II? "Same thing in World War II... 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."

Wow. No wonder Bush's approval rating is so low. People even disapproved of FDR -- and he was fighting the Big One, the one we had to win, the one that made the world safe for freedom. And he did "a terrific job," as opposed to the hapless job Rummy's boss is doing.

Pretty persuasive, Mr. Secretary.

Only trouble is, it's completely bogus history. A brief fact check reveals that public support for WW II never slipped below 75 percent, even though more than 200,000 Americans had been killed by mid-1945. As for the public's "hatred" of FDR, the facts tell a very different story: Roosevelt's approval rating during the war never fell below 66%, and his disapproval rating never climbed above 25%. Here's a chart blogger Jonathan Schwarz put together:

Jonathan Schwarz



And that wasn't Rumsfeld's only historical inaccuracy. He also claimed that, due to the Korean War, "Harry Truman went out of office with 23% popularity in the polls." Not true: in the last poll before he left office, Truman's approval rating was 32%. What's more, his approval rating was just 37% even before the Korean War started (it did, at one point, drop to 22% before rebounding). Thus, Truman lost just 5% overall. By comparison, Bush's Gallup approval just before the invasion of Iraq was 58%, so he'd need to win back 15% of the public to match Truman's numbers. Not going to happen.

During his history rant, Rumsfeld suggested, "frankly, journalists ought to do a better job of providing context for what's taking place." I agree. So here's the context for what's taking place: Bush, Rumsfeld, and company misled us into an unnecessary war and have utterly botched the occupation. And the public is finally holding them accountable. So now Rummy is desperately trying to sell the idea that Iraq isn't an unmitigated disaster but rather just part of a historical norm. Even if it means making stuff up.

So, in the name of all the history teachers Rummy cast aspersions on, let's give him an "F" as a student of history, and an "A" as a propagandist. Wait ... better make that an "A+"; it looks like Rummy and the gang at the DoD did some extra-credit homework. Soon after I posted about Rummy's "biggest problem" quote and linked to the DoD website, the entire interview suddenly vanished from the site. It's disappeared from the list of recent transcripts, and the page where the interview once was is now completely blank.
 
All part of their reverence for history and truth, no doubt. As Schwarz sums it up: "I guess that, while it's a good thing for people to know history, there's no reason to make it easy for them."

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