Related and Not: Rumsfeld, Code Orange and a Duck-Billed Platypus
October 17, 2002
By Carol Norris
"Go massive. Sweep it all. Things related and not."
This is some of what Donald Rumsfeld was noted as saying to
his subordinates after the 9/11 attacks.
As I thought about this for a while I got out my old book
on Surrealism. It says, in part: "Surrealism combines
seemingly unrelated elements and smashes them together with
a demented sense of humor."
Rumsfeld, a Surrealist. I had no idea.
But I think he is influenced by more than just Surrealism.
He's got some nihilism and intentional irrationality in the
mix it seems to me, so I feel sure he's part Dadaist. And
then there's the Absurdism – no need to elaborate there. Gosh,
if you add a healthy dose of smugness and more than a smidgen
of belligerence you could have yourself a whole new movement:
Rumsfeldism. And to think, Surrealism and Dadaism were both
a response, in part, to the despair of WWI and its atrocities.
In a way, it was a relief hearing about the instructions
Rumsfeld gave. Yes, I know, ordering one's minions to sweep
"things related and not" – ruining the lives of
innocent people, undoing hard-won civil liberties, endangering
the future of entire countries - regardless of whether they
are related to terrorism or even to anything questionable
– and sweeping them into a giant self-serving dragnet is unbelievably
repugnant, greedy, ineffective, cruel and shortsighted; but
still a relief.
At least now I know they know a lot of what they are doing
in the name of combating terrorism or protecting national
security or promoting "free and open societies"
as stated in new document The National Security Strategy
of the United States is, in fact, unrelated, try as they
might to spin it otherwise. For a minute there I thought they
were drunk from their speechwriters' words, buying into their
own BS. Now that I know I'm living under deliberately surreal
and irrational dictates, I can stop trying to make sense of
It's just Rumsfeld playing his Surrealist parlor games, like
I used to do in grad school, cutting up words from a newspaper,
putting them in a hat, pouring them out and then pasting them
together in the helter-skelter order they fell, creating an
often hilarious, bizarre new world. Only Rumsfeld and Company
are playing for real. His parlor is our planet. And it isn't
so funny. The powers that be are tearing apart people's lives
like pages of a newspaper; haphazardly spewing out orders,
bombs, and policy as fast as they can be disgorged; creating
color-coded, media-sustained fear:
Give those pesky law-abiding dissenters a tax audit here,
put a non-violent protesting nun in jail there, create a new
class of American Disappeareds, bomb Afghan weddings, generate
unilateral foreign policy resolutions that include embarrassingly
transparent euphemisms such as "distinctly American internationalism."
IT'S CODE ORANGE, FOR GOD SAKES. GO! GO! GO!
And in the end We The People are all left to sort ourselves
out and, if we are lucky enough to find all the pieces, paste
ourselves back together again with a little oil and spilled
I figure with all that massive, indiscriminate lumping and
sweeping Rumsfeld might be a little confused at this point
about what things, in fact, are related to terrorism/war on
Iraq/national security/etc. and what are not. So, I've come
up with a little Surrealist game of my own.
I call it: Connecting the Nots. And it looks something like
Thora: A woman (who looks surprisingly like me) in a General's
uniform, only it is skin-tight leather and she has on 3-inch,
spike-heeled boots and is wielding a rather significant whip
(with first strike capabilities).
Rumsfeld: He is in a giant Duck-Billed Platypus costume,
looking all-too natural dressed as one of the world's most
Stark grade school classroom. Thora is swinging on a large
swing at the front of the class before a large blackboard.
Instead of a clock there is an old woman sitting cross-legged
on the floor in the corner wearing a large button that reads:
‘Condi Rice: Any Woman Who Has Had an Oil Tanker Named After
Her Is Alright with Me.' She is ticking off the seconds by
beating the war drum in her lap. She marks the hour by shouting
out: ‘One hour closer to supreme American military and corporate
There is a schoolroom loudspeaker, microphone and a very
small camera behind Thora on the wall. A glaring light bulb
is dangling from a wire directly above Rumsfeld who in full
platypus drag is sitting at a lone grade-school desk, trying
to appear self-satisfied as he clumsily attempts to grasp
a pencil, which is proving to be quite difficult as he has
four webbed feet.
The Manchurian Candidate meets a segment on Sesame
Street with a little A Clockwork Orange thrown
"It's very simple, Donnie. I'm using your very own words
to make it easier. Look at the board, I've written it all
down," Thora says in her best Loving Teacher Gone Bad
voice. "Take your piece of paper and divide it into two
columns. Label the first column: "Things Related"
and label the second: "Not." I will now read out
two groups of items and you will write them in the correct
column, depending on whether they are related to one another
or not. When you get an answer right, I'll feed you a handful
of yummy insect larvae, a favorite of the platypus. And, if
you get enough answers wrong, we will use some of the tactics
used at Guantanamo Bay to help you get back on track.
Rumsfeld is visibly shaken. "Are you kidding? That's…that's
"What? Too much? Okay, then how about if we give away
all of your estimated worth of between $62.1 and $115.8 million
dollars to various peace and justice movements. Just think
of it: you could help significantly advance the justice efforts
of, say, Global Exchange or you could make a massive anti-globalization
He shudders. "Okay, okay. Bring on the electrodes."
"No, I think I like the funding idea. And because you've
so enjoyed being the Little Media Darling of The War on Terror,
we think you'll be particularly pleased to know we'll have
a special seat for you up on the stage at any and all peace/anti-globalization
rallies with you in full platypus regalia. You may as well
get used to that bill and tail because I have a feeling you
are going to be your new lower-mammalian self for a long while.
Not to worry, it's a good look for you. Really." Rumsfeld
looks momentarily flattered.
Speaking of the media, right now your image and voice are
being simulcast over the Internet via the microphone and camera
behind me. This simulcast is being hosted by none other than
Mr. Colin Powell who at this very moment is living in an underground
bunker as part of his reparation for his participation in
your massive sweep. He was just about to leave when he saw
our shadow government in the bunker next to his, so he'll
have to stay in there at least six more weeks. Throughout
our little visit Mr. Powell, at his whim, will be making an
assortment of emasculating comments to you.
"Are you there, Colin?"
"Yes, audio and visuals are working well," says
Powell over the loudspeaker.
"Strangely, I think he was really quite eager for this
part of his reparation. Hmm…why might that be, Donald?"
Donald is busy trying to smooth down his fur for the camera
and doesn't hear.
"Anyway, as you are writing, please sing your answer
to the tune of my choosing so we can all know what you've
written. Do you understand?"
"NO, I DO NOT," Rumsfeld says indignantly.
"Wonderful. Now you know how the rest of us feel. Let's
"War on Iraq: Saddam as a credible threat to the U.S.,"
sung to the tune of ‘Love Will Keep Us Together' by The Captain
"Things Related," he half sings and half coughs.
"You'll really have to sing out if you ever want to
see your opposable thumbs again."
"Things Related," he sings at full volume.
"Lovely delivery, really it was. Has anyone ever told
you, you sound remarkably like Jim Neighbors? But, come, come,
Donald you know and I know there is no real evidence that
these two things are related. Next category…
"Cheney, Halliburton, Bush's Axis of Oil Pals, Daddy
Bush's Old Vendetta, Carlyle Group: War on Iraq, sung to the
tune of ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.'"
"The Carlyle Group? I'll have you know George Bush Sr.
and John Major are distinguished members of that group."
"Unh, unh, unh… you aren't singing. And don't tell me
you've gone the way of the president and his pal, Kenny Boy,
forsaking Frank Carlucci. You can't forget Frankie Boy; he's
your very best friend and he heads up the Carlyle group. I
think that might hurt his feelings, don't you? Related or
"Not," he snorts.
"I'm sorry. It's endearing that you are trying to protect
your best pal and your boss' father and all their investment
interests. After all, they do stand to gain a hell of a lot
"That's ridiculous and even it wasn't, it's not illegal,
by the way."
"Ridiculous? If only it were. Does the Crusader artillery
system with its two billion in advance government contracts
ring a bell? Legal, perhaps, but hmmm… I wonder if there is
any conflict of interest? Sorry, but upon hearing the case,
even my six year old niece would insist that you move these
in the Things Related column. Here, use my eraser to change
Thora jumps off her swing and moves towards Rumsfeld forcefully.
She cracks her whip next to his chair. Powell's voice comes
over the loudspeaker. "Noooooo…"
"Don't worry, Colie, I'll be restrained."
"No…I mean…let me, let me, let me."
"Now, now, Colie, all in due time, all in due time."
Rumsfeld then produces an eraser.
"You have your own? Ah yes, of course, I see the vestiges
of The Bill of Rights on it. You must share this eraser with
John Ashcroft. Sharing. How nice. I'll be seeing Mr. Ashcroft
next. He is being fitted for his Lady of Justice garments
now. It seems the sash doesn't fit him properly. He's larger
than we thought and I'm afraid one of his breasts will be
exposed. I hope he won't find that too disquieting. We opted
not to give him the Scales of Justice because we figured he
doesn't use those much anyway. Instead, we will have him hold
a large, Calico cat. I've heard our top lawmaker thinks they
are the sign of the devil.
"I digress. Where were we? Ah yes: Making the War on
Terrorism the big political issue: Keeping the Democrats,
who are less trusted with international policy, in a minority
"Politics is not part of the proposed war."
"Not." Thora moves her face directly in front of
Rumsfeld's and smiles sweetly.
"Now, Don, how can we have any sort of healthy relationship
if you won't be honest with me? Let's try another, shall we?
One reason the powers that be disapprove of the new UN Weapons
Inspectors: Old Weapons Inspectorate UNSCOM closing down after
the US used some of the inspectors as spies. And now there
are new rules in place making it harder for the US to control
the new inspectors."
"Not," he quips.
"Donnie. Kitten. Haughtiness does not befit one in your
current position." Thora turns and looks at the loudspeaker.
"Your…your tail is crooked," stammers Powell, unprepared
for his big moment. Thora grimaces. Rumsfeld rolls his eyes
as he shifts in his chair trying to straighten his tail. "Ah,
your heart was in the right place, Colin. But, I was hoping
for something a bit thornier. Maybe you can ask audience members
to email some suggestions."
"Ah, c'mon," he whines. "That's not fair.
Nobody ever listens to me anymore. I never get to do anything.
Never. Let me try again. Pleeeeease."
"Very well. Next time."
And so Thora goes, hammering out topic after topic, hour
after hour until in the early morning hours finally, Rumsfeld
"In 1982 while Hussein was moving toward a biological
warfare program, despite that this was known to the US intelligence
community, Iraq was taken off the state-sponsored terrorists
list. And in 1983, Don, you gave Hussein a hand-written letter
from Ronald Reagan resuming diplomatic relations with Iraq.
Three years later the CIA gave Saddam intelligence that helped
him more accurately target mustard gas attacks on Iranian
troops. So, you helped resume relations with Saddam and then
helped him use biological weapons more effectively. And now
you use the fact that he might use said biological weapons
again, which you know is highly improbably at this point as
it would be all but suicide for him (unless he is backed into
a corner and has nothing to lose), as a part of the argument
for perhaps sacrificing the lives of thousands of US soldiers
and more probably thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis,
spending millions upon millions of US taxpayers' money to
fund it all and alienating a great majority of our allies
around the world. That is related to…well, that's a lot to
explain. Why don't you tell us how that all relates to things,
"Okay, OKAY. All right already. Enough. Conflict of
interest? Obviously there is conflict of interest. The whole
goddamn government is rife with conflict of interest, Republicans
and Democrats alike. And of course I know Code Orange isn't
related to any real threat. And of course Saddam isn't militarily
remotely what he used to be. Good God, what do you think I
am, an idiot? But the guy is sitting on a hell of a lot of
oil…and then we have to distract the American people from
Cheney's incredible Halliburton mess and from who Bush sold
his Harken stock to…and from how just about everyone Bush
has surrounded himself with – Karl Rove, Lawrence Lindsey,
Thomas White are all so deep in the Enron thing, it's ridiculous…and
from the other corporate scandals and…and the economy… and
from the fact that we have almost completely moved from a
democracy to a corporate plutocracy…and from the fact that
we haven't found that goddamned bin Laden and that was supposed
to be the whole point of invading Afghanistan in the first
place, at least I think it was, I can never keep that one
straight…and we needed to stir up a little fear and pro-Republican
sentiment with the elections coming up…and, we have a war
to sell, damnit! But, thank God for those toothless Democrats
because they've made it all a hell of a lot easier. Even still,
do you think all of that has been easy? HUH? DO YOU?? YOU
TRY IT SOMETIME."
He then pulls out the US's unratified copy of the International
Criminal Court treaty, tucked away in the webbing of his feet
to try and sop his sodden brow. But again, he can't reach.
He begins to weep. Defeated, he drops to his knees - well,
technically he has no knees as he is now pretty much a full-time
Duck-Billed Platypus - but he drops, and momentarily aware
of the camera and the millions who now know the truth, he
weighs out the political advantages of being contrite, but
despite himself tears roll off his big duck-bill. He then
begins rocking back and forth, singing softly to himself "Conflict
of Interest" to the tune of "God Bless America."
"Not so tough now are you, you big bully?!" Powell
says with conviction.
"Beautifully said, Colin. Beautifully said."
Postscript: No actual Defense Secretaries were costumed against
their will or harmed in any way in the writing of this piece.
Carol Norris can be contacted at email@example.com
and wants you to ponder the fact that when she typed in the
word "Rumsfeld" the first suggestion her spellchecker
gave was "Rusted."