July 1, 2021 Editor

War Criminal Donald Rumsfeld Found Dead at 88

The human and economic costs of Donald Rumsfeld’s wars are staggering.

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by Phyllis Bennis

July 1, 2021

photo above: Then-US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld addresses a press conference at the Pentagon on 4 May 2004, more than a month after the US invasion of Iraq (AFP/File photo)

WN: Rumsfeld did monstrous evil around the world, on a scale not unlike that of World War II War Criminal General Curtis LeMay–until then the most decorated General/Monster/War Criminal in American history. LeMay decided to deploy napalm bombing at unthought-of-levels over Japan in the spring and summer of 1945. He dropped tons of napalm on 66 Japanese cities and burned close to a million Japanese civilians alive over the course of that summer. He also famously said he wanted to “bomb them back to the Stone Age”–all of America’s unyielding adversaries:

The threat’s triteness, however, may offer a clue to its real significance. To become a cliché, a figure of speech has to begin with enough freshness, irony, or dead-on accuracy to get repeated until its original gist wears off. So what did this expression mean, and who said it first?

The quote is usually attributed to Curtis LeMay, the scowling Air Force general who supervised the destruction of Japan’s major cities in World War II and was disappointed when Kennedy wouldn’t let him do the same to Cuba. In his 1965 memoir he suggested that rather than negotiating with Hanoi, the United States should “bomb them back to the stone age,” by taking out factories, harbors, and bridges “until we have destroyed every work of man in North Vietnam.” (“Back to the Stone Age”: Origins of a Cliché, by Nick Cullather)

He in fact did that to North Korea, eliciting ever afterwards its ceaseless animosity and wariness.1

We read further in the Wikipedia article above:

USAF General Curtis LeMay commented, “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too.”[23] Pyongyang, which saw 75 percent of its area destroyed, was so devastated that bombing was halted as there were no longer any worthy targets.[24][25] By the end of the campaign, US bombers had difficulty in finding targets and were reduced to bombing footbridges or jettisoning their bombs into the sea.[26]

Public statements by the U.N. command obfuscated the extent of the destruction of North Korean communities with euphemisms, for example by listing the destruction of thousands of individual “buildings” rather than towns or villages as such, or reporting attacks on North Korean supply centers located in a city with language suggesting that the entire city constituted a “supply center.”[5]

While a writer like Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Bomber Mafia: A Story Set in War ultimately justifies LeMay’s “inhuman barbarism”–an expression coined by Roosevelt in 1939 at the outbreak of the War, but discarded entirely two years later–for a Jesus Follower, it is into the stratosphere of horrific mass murder. We read in the interview highlighted by Gladwell’s name:

And much as I — part of me is filled with revulsion at Curtis LeMay. Curtis LeMay was–you know–there’s a point in the book when I list the people in the 20th century who killed the most civilians, responsible for the deaths of the most civilians. Stalin is a one. Mao is a two. Hitler is three. Pol Pot is four. And Curtis LeMay is five. Curtis LeMay–I mean, he’s in the pantheon of the most, you know, horrendous mass murderers in history. In the summer of 1945, he threw his–he launches a fire-bombing campaign over Japan that results in the deaths–result in burning to death somewhere close to a million Japanese civilians. And yet, you can make an argument, a compelling argument, that he had no choice and that by virtue of this attack, the end of the war was sufficiently accelerated that we avoided a much worse calamity.

Whatever else, I see the calculus in this statement to be utterly at odds with anything remotely connected to Christ and his Gospel of Peace.

Then there is Father George Benedict Zabelka who got it right; who under LeMay as Chaplain had blessed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said:

Three of us chaplains took a trip to Nagasaki to see [the results of] the bombing. There were no restrictions of any kind. So we went to the nearest place where there were still the survivors. And this I think is what really got me started on even a beginning of a new way of thinking on this. Because, here were little children that were horribly burned and suffering and dying. By that time there were nurses and doctors taking care of them, because this was two or three months afterwards. But this was the beginning of a whole new kind of worm squirming in my stomach that something was wrong. These little children had nothing to do with the war. Why were they suffering?” This quote can be found between 25:40 and 26:17 of The Reluctant Prophet DVD.

The Wikipedia article highlighted above indicates:

“I was brainwashed. They told me it was necessary.”

In August 1980 “Sojourners” magazine published an extensive interview with Rev. George Zabelka, titled “I was brainwashed. They told me it was necessary.” In the interview, he described the process of his conversion from a hard-core belief in the moral validity of Christian Just War Theory as a viable moral option for a disciple of Jesus to a full-fledged and public commitment to the nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels and his way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies. The interview was picked up and published in religious and non-religious journals and books throughout the world. Its considerable influence was immediate, and it extends to this day.

One example of this is found in “The Bishops and the Bomb”, James Castelli’s history of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s famous war-peace pastoral, The Challenge of Peace. Castelli writing about Bishop Frank Murphy, the sole initiator of the document that became The Challenge of Peace, and what influenced him to make this proposal to the U.S. Bishops says, “But the major influence on Murphy may have been Father George Zabelka, a Catholic priest, who as an Air Force chaplain had blessed the men who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just as he had previously blessed the men who were inflicting massive bombing damage on the civilians of Tokyo. Murphy quoted from an interview with Zabelka in the evangelical Christian magazine, SOJOURNERS” (August, 1980).

Fr. Zabelka: “I was brainwashed! It never entered my mind to publicly protest the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told the raids were necessary; told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters, especially by a public body like the American bishops, is a stamp of approval.”

Though Gladwell returned to Christian faith through the influence of my friend Wilma Derksen, he seems, like the vast majority of the Church, nonetheless to have missed entirely the nonviolent way of the Cross. See for instance on this my War, Police and Prisons: Cross-Examining State-Sanctioned Violence, and much else.

War by any other name . . .

Please also see, by Donald Rumsfeld, Torturer, Serial Liar, Butcher of Baghdad, dies at 88

Those were bad old days. Rumsfeld clearly chafed at the way the loss of the Vietnam War had soured the US public on foreign wars, and hoped that 9/11 would authorize a muscular US military dominance of the world in the 21st century. Instead, he managed to create a new generation of Americans opposed to such adventurism.

And another by , June 30 2021, Farewell to Donald Rumsfeld, Dreary War Criminal. These men were hatched and Made in America. What a ringing world legacy for Independence Day, USA! We read:

And now Rumsfeld is gone. In a statement, his family said, “History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service … the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country.” This is likely true for establishment history. For instance, almost none of these details about Rumsfeld appear in the obituary just published by the New York Times. But everyone else should remember who Rumsfeld truly was — and the kind of person you need to be to reach the summit of American power. (Emphasis added)

The line beneath the title gives a truer measure:

Rumsfeld managed to do terrible things throughout his life while remaining tremendously banal.

The emphasized line of the quote in 15 words sums up indeed, past and present, the “kinds of persons you need to be to reach the summit of American power.”: inhuman barbarians. Or tell me it ain’t so . . . I dare you! (You may also wish to read , July 4, 2021: At 245, America Is Old Enough to Be Honest About Its Founding.)

There is also ’s 5 Jul 2021: Iraq was Donald Rumsfeld’s war. It will forever be his legacy. He writes:

Most famously, he vigorously promoted the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, deploying a special unit in the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans to generate intelligence asserting Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. When it became clear that Saddam had, in fact, no such weapons, he dodged responsibility for the fake intelligence. In the same vein, routine torture of prisoners by US troops came as news to him [–he oversaw it], while the thinly armoured vehicles in which troops were being killed by roadside bombs were somebody else’s responsibility. Whether the Iraq operation could have ended happily under any circumstances is open to doubt, but Rumsfeld’s micromanagement style – arrogant, bullying and ignorant – helped ensure disaster.

Still more by , : Into the Quagmire with Donald Rumsfeld. In it:

“A ruthless little bastard,” was President Richard Nixon’s verdict on Donald Rumsfeld as recorded by the Watergate tapes – and everything in his career, supremely successful until the Iraq war, confirmed that Nixon had read him correctly.

It was Iraq that turned out to be his nemesis. He promoted his public image as the man who did not blench when al-Qaeda flew a plane into the Pentagon on 9/11. He had personally rushed to succour survivors, though witnesses later said that stories of his heroism were exaggerated. By that evening he was giving a press conference from a bunker in the Pentagon demonstrating that, though President George W Bush might have been evacuated to safety, his defence secretary was standing tall.

Within hours of the al-Qaeda attack Rumsfeld was looking to use it as justification for a war against Iraq. He sent a note to General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, looking for “best info fast … judge whether good enough [to] hit SH [Saddam Hussein] @same time – not only UBL [Usama bin Laden]”. This detail – along with much else in this piece – is derived from Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy by Andrew Cockburn.

And more by George Packer, June 30, 2021: How Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered. A couple of quotes:

Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of defense in American history. Being newly dead shouldn’t spare him this distinction. He was worse than the closest contender, Robert McNamara, and that is not a competition to judge lightly. McNamara’s folly was that of a whole generation of Cold Warriors who believed that Indochina was a vital front in the struggle against communism. His growing realization that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable waste made him more insightful than some of his peers; his decision to keep this realization from the American public made him an unforgivable coward. But Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile—squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. His fatal judgment was equaled only by his absolute self-assurance. He lacked the courage to doubt himself. He lacked the wisdom to change his mind.

But within a few hours, he was already entertaining catastrophic ideas, according to notes taken by an aide: “best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].” And later: “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” These fragments convey the whole of Rumsfeld: his decisiveness, his aggression, his faith in hard power, his contempt for procedure. In the end, it didn’t matter what the intelligence said. September 11 was a test of American will and a chance to show it.

Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.

By the time Rumsfeld was fired, in November 2006, the U.S., instead of securing peace in one country, was losing wars in two, largely because of actions and decisions taken by Rumsfeld himself. As soon as he was gone, the disaster in Iraq began to turn around, at least briefly, with a surge of 30,000 troops, a policy change that Rumsfeld had adamantly opposed. But it was too late. Perhaps it was too late by the early afternoon of September 11.

Rumsfeld had intelligence, wit, dash, and endless faith in himself. Unlike [former Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara, 2 he never expressed a quiver of regret. He must have died in the secure knowledge that he had been right all along.

And so it goes in our morally bankrupt, war-addicted, inhumanly barbaric West (and much of the rest of the world/world history).


Unlike the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and so many others killed in the wars he launched and in the torture cells he oversaw, Donald Rumsfeld died peacefully.

Taking over the Pentagon as secretary of defense for the second time in 2001, Rumsfeld was one of the leading neoconservative ideologues surrounding President George W. Bush who saw the 9/11 attacks in 2001 as an opportunity to go to war. The Washington Post described a conversation between the not-yet president and not-yet secretary of defense in which Rumsfeld told Bush that US military power was needed to discipline the world. “I left no doubt in his mind but that, at that moment where something happens, that I would be coming to him to lean forward, not back. And that I wanted [him] to know that.… And he said, unambiguously, that that is what he would be doing, and we had a clear, common understanding,” Rumsfeld recalled.

War was on the Bush administration’s agenda immediately. On September 12, Bush would give his infamous “We will rally the world” speech, and Rumsfeld began crafting an invasion of Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world. More than anyone else, Rumsfeld was the architect of Bush’s “Global War on Terror.”

Although the mainstream media didn’t report it right away, it quickly became clear that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were unspeakably high. The first survey of civilian casualties determined that the best explanation lay in “the apparent willingness of US military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon heavily populated areas of Afghanistan.… the critical element remains the very low value put upon Afghan civilian lives by US military planners and the political elite.” Rumsfeld, of course, was both.


Two weeks into the war, Rumsfeld’s press office grudgingly acknowledged that US bombers had indeed dropped cluster bombs, a now-illegal form of weapons, on the village of Shaker Qala, near Herat in western Afghanistan. The bombs killed nine civilians and injured another 14. But Rumsfeld’s office had a bigger problem than that. The cluster bombs were wrapped in bright yellow tape. And at the exact same time, Pentagon planes were dropping food packets for desperate Afghan refugees that were covered with identical bright yellow wrappings. Any famished child running to pick up what looked like a food packet ran a good chance of being blown up by a US cluster bomb. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, standing alongside Rumsfeld at a press conference, admitted that civilians might confuse the two, but said the United States had no intention of suspending the use of cluster bombs.

Please click on: War By Any Other Name . . .


Hits: 46

  1. We read in Wikipedia‘s Bombing of North Korea:

    Napalm was widely used. In John Ford‘s 1951 documentary, This is Korea, footage of napalm deployment is accompanied by a voice-over by John Wayne saying, “Burn ’em out, cook ’em, fry ’em.“[See too my book review: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.] The New York Herald Tribune hailed “Napalm, the No. 1 Weapon in Korea.”[13] Winston Churchill, among others, criticized American use of napalm, calling it “very cruel,” as the US/UN forces, he said, were “splashing it all over the civilian population,” “tortur[ing] great masses of people.” The American official who took this statement declined to publicize it.

    It of course was all repeated in the Vietnam War. We read:

    Napalm became a necessary weapon of every modern military force, even though its consequences were among the most inhumane. The effectiveness of the weapon overruled its cruelty. In fact, napalm caused carbon monoxide poisoning when used on enclosed environment which wasn’t directly hit by fire. The effects of carbon monoxide were well known after the end of WWII, as it was one of the main gasses used for poisoning concentration camp victims.

    Out in the open, napalm caused severe burns all over the body, burns which were far worse than the ones caused by fire in general. Human skin becomes covered with viscous magma that resembles tar. Napalm causes wounds that are too deep to heal. In contact with humans, it would immediately stick to the skin and melt the flesh. There is no way to put the fire out, except by smothering it, which causes unbearable pain. In panic, many victims would try to wipe it off, but this only causes the fire to spread, expanding the burn area.

    Yes indeed. Words fail. But we’ll go with Roosevelt’s “inhuman barbarism“–cooked up to cook up torturously by our delightful Allies to the south . . .  And the West deplores of course “uncivilized” cannibalism . . .  See too my: It’s All Fun and War Games At the Air Show![]

  2. See Errol MorrisThe Fog of War: Transcript.[]


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.