Rumsfeld 'Meets the Young People's Press'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 26, 2002 Known for no-nonsense news briefings with Washington's notoriously tough press corps, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently answered some difficult questions posed by reporters representing the younger set.
Rumsfeld met in his Pentagon office March 23 with reporters Lori Savitch of cable show Nickelodeon's Nick News; John Kelly, The Washington Post KidsPost; and Time magazine's Alexandra Tatarsky for Time for Kids magazine.
Time for Kids magazine reporter Alexandra Tatarsky interviews Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in his Pentagon office. Tatarsky, 12, and two other reporters for young people's news media interviewed the secretary March 23, 2002. Photo by Gerry Gilmore.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary spent more than two hours answering questions ranging from how he viewed his job to how he would assuage the fears of America's youth about terrorism. He also gave the reporters a brief tour around the Pentagon.
Before she interviewed Rumsfeld, Savitch, an adult, noted that Nick News "doesn't patronize" its 8-to-12-year-old audience. She said the group is often overlooked when it comes to talking about their concerns, such issues as "fear and fairness" regarding the war.
"They saw the (World Trade Center twin towers) buildings go down, and it scared them," she said. "They don't have the perspective that adults have."
Savitch, who did a previous "Nick News" segment about military commissions, said pre-teens, like adults, have questions about how the war against global terrorism is conducted.
"There's a lot of concern, like, 'Are we doing this right?' 'Is this fair?'" she explained.
Time's 12-year-old Tatarsky, a New York City resident and Time veteran of the 2000 Democratic convention, and the Post's Kelly interviewed the secretary together.
"What can we do to support our country right now?" asked Tatarsky, as she posed the first question to the secretary.
Rumsfeld noted that children across the nation have mailed countless cards, posters and letters to the Pentagon offering condolences for attack victims and lending support for the war. He later showed the reporters an American flag displayed in the foyer outside his office constructed of more than 1,000 red, white and blue paper cranes, donated by students and staff of Aikahi Elementary School, Kailua, Hawaii.
"There are youngsters who are sending dollars for kids in Afghanistan," the secretary continued. More than $4 million has been collected thus far, he noted.
To reassure America's children, and adults, about the course of the war against global terrorism, Rumsfeld pointed to the country's democratic government, ideals and traditions.
Democracy, Rumsfeld noted to Tatarsky, "is an important stabilizing fact in our society, which ought to give one confidence, regardless of their age."
If "one looks over the whole span of American history," the secretary added, "On big issues, within a reasonable period of time, we tend to make the right decisions as a country, and I think young people can have a lot of confidence in that."
Rumsfeld remarked to Tatarsky that when he was around her age in 1944, he wanted to be a Navy pilot like his father. The secretary did become a Navy pilot and would go on to serve twice as defense secretary.
"It never crossed my mind that I would be secretary of defense, you can be sure of that," Rumsfeld said. "I just wanted to fly airplanes."
Kelly asked if America's young people -- including those in Washington -- should be scared about events like the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, in New York City and aboard the airliner downed in Pennsylvania.
Rumsfeld told Kelly that he agreed with President Bush's assessment that it was good to be alert about possible new terrorist acts against Americans.
Recalling his youth and the heightened awareness during World War II, the secretary noted, "People can get comfortable and learn to live" while watching for enemy activity at home.
"What's important is the president and the Congress and the country have decided correctly that the only way we can live with terrorism as a threat is to go find the terrorists and to stop them," he said.
Rumsfeld said dozens of countries are cooperating with the United States around the world and in Afghanistan to stop terrorism.
"Some information was found in a house in Afghanistan that was analyzed, translated, transmitted to Singapore and was used to stop at least three terrorist attacks in Singapore in a matter of days," the secretary noted.
Cooperative nations are detaining and arresting suspects for good reason, questioning them and sharing information with other coalition members, just as the United States has, he said. The pool of information can "lead to the arrest of other people who are potential terrorists," he noted.
"We're able to close their bank accounts so they are having trouble raising money," he continued. "We're able to make it more difficult for money to be transferred to them. We're making it more difficult for them to communicate with each other.
"That doesn't mean you're going to find them all, it doesn't mean you're going to stop them all, but what it does mean is that it's going to be much more difficult for terrorists to operate," Rumsfeld emphasized.
Rumsfeld told Savitch that the United States and its allies "have achieved quite a bit" thus far in the global war against terrorism. This includes throwing out invaders who took over Afghanistan and used it as a haven and also to train terrorists such as those who attacked America, he said.
Savitch asked Rumsfeld what the hardest part of his job was as defense secretary, overseeing America's military men and women. It's "the tremendous responsibility" to make decisions that justify asking people to put their lives at risk, he answered, "that you have a very good reason, that it is an important reason for our country.
"And there are reasons why people are willing to put their lives at risk: It's to defend our freedom," he continued, "so that we can do what we all do every day -- get up and go to work, go to school, and feel safe."
Tatarsky seemed the most pleased with her interview. She said she'd heard "bad rumors about mean and snobby" government people.
"Secretary Rumsfeld is so nice," she said. "He really seemed concerned and thought about his answers to my questions a lot, so I was really happy about this."