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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Kids Post and Time for Kids

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 23, 2002

(Interview with Kids Post and Time for Kids)

Question: -- have grown up entirely in peacetime, have no memories of the country being at war. Now in some way, depending on their age, they're aware that our country's at war even though there isn't a lot of fighting on our soil.

I think for many of our readers they're wondering is this going to be going on forever? Are we always going to be at war? How do we know when it's over? How do we know when we're done fighting the war on terrorism, and for some of the kids too, am I going to be pulled into this war? How would you answer that?

Rumsfeld: Well, as free people we expect to be able to get up in the morning and go to school or go out of our house and not have to look down the street and see if someone's going to shoot us or throw a hand grenade at us. For a lot of people in the world they live like that every day. When they go out the door they do have to look around the corner and see if it's safe to get out. We're very fortunate.

The way we'll know it's over is when in fact the alert levels are down for a long period of time, that we feel we've been successful in tracking down the global terrorists, that we've been successful in stopping other countries from serving as sanctuaries for terrorism and for terrorist organizations. And that day will come. We'll still have to look each way when we walk across the street for a car. There will always be dangers.

But will young people end up in the armed services I hope so. We've got wonderful people serving, men and women serving their country with great dedication and courage and pride. So I do hope young people will look at the armed services as a career, as a place that they can spend some number of years of their lives. It's a good thing to do. It's good for them and it's good for the country.

Will the country have a war of some type during the period they serve? It's not knowable. What we do know is that the way to prevent war is to be strong, is to invest in defense, it's to have wonderful men and women serving in the armed forces and to see that the capability is so clear and so obvious to the world that other countries are dissuaded from trying to start a war with us. If they see that our armies and our navies and our air forces and our capabilities of dealing with terrorists and with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles is sufficiently strong that it's not in their interest to try to do that, then one would think we'd done what we wanted to do. We invested before the fact to contribute to a more peaceful and stable world. Getting young people into the service to help do that is very, very important. I sure hope one of my grandchildren are willing to serve.

Question: What's the favorite part of your job?

Rumsfeld: The people in the service. There's just no question. When you go out and see them and come back, you're just enormously energized by it. You're so proud of them and they're so proud of themselves, and you're so amazed at their dedication and their determination and their willingness to serve. It's a thrilling thing.

Question: Do you think the job will be different in eight years when Alex is, seven or eight years when Alex can join? And how might it be different to be a soldier or a sailor or a pilot or a marine in eight years?

Rumsfeld: Well it will always require the fundamentals of leadership and education and discipline. But if one goes back 25 years ago when I used to be Secretary of Defense to today, you can just see the extent to which technology has affected how we train, how we equip ourselves, how we fight. It is undoubtedly going to be the case over the coming period of years that that will continue.

So certainly people who are digital as we say and understand mathematics and technologies can be a tremendous help to the country in lots of ways.

Question: I also had a corollary question about what's the hardest part of your job?

Rumsfeld: In this conflict there was no roadmap. You couldn't go back to a prior war and say okay, these things were done then. These were done right, these were done wrong, these were the lessons learned, we can avoid those mistakes and then we can follow that roadmap. There wasn't anything. That being the case you have to fashion things that you can test your decisions against so that what you're doing isn't random. And then calibrate as you go along to see if those things you fashioned, that you're testing your decisions against makes sense.

The worst part of the job is you know that people's lives are at stake so you want to make sure that those judgments are as right as they possibly can be. And to the extent they end up not being perfect, that they're done in a way that you can calibrate them promptly and have the outcome be as close to what the preferred outcome would be as possible. And that's hard.

Question: Are you saying learning from your mistakes of modifying or --

Rumsfeld: You try to learn from history, but you try to also watch early indications of your decisions so that you can calibrate them before they are mistakes.

Question: You have to be very nimble then.

Rumsfeld: You do. And institutions this size are not noted for their nimbleness. [Laughter]

I'll show you my grandchildren, come on in here.