Inside Known and Unknown: Moments Inspiring our Mission
FEB 12, 2021

This month marks a decade since the initial release of our founder’s memoir, Known and Unknown, originally published in February of 2011. Deemed “the first political memoir of the Information Age,” Rumsfeld’s personal account as a witness to over one-third of the history of the United States includes stories beginning from early childhood and spanning through his decades-long career.

To commemorate the book’s 10-year anniversary, we have compiled notable excerpts from Known and Unknown that highlight some of the experiences that have shaped our founder’s values and beliefs, eventually serving as inspiration for the mission and work of the Rumsfeld Foundation – to encourage leadership, public service and free political and economic systems at home and abroad.

We hope you enjoy the below collection of anecdotes which provide a personal window into the motivation behind our efforts here at the Foundation, as well as some influential moments in our founder’s history.


FOUNDATION FOCUS AREA – Public Service

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We believe that effective leadership and dedicated public servants are essential for the success of our country. Public service should be encouraged, commended and highly regarded. We honor those talented individuals who volunteer to contribute to the leadership and welfare of our nation, whether through civil service or in the uniform of our Armed Forces.

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On serving the nation in the U.S. Congress…

“I was ready to serve in Washington, D.C. Early on I took a tour of the Capitol building — that exquisite monument to America’s heritage; I walked along the rich marble floors and gazed up into the splendid dome of the rotunda and studied the large statues, two from each state in the Union. I felt fortunate every day to be a member of Congress. At the age of thirty, it was quite a privilege to be the human link between half a million people and their federal government. I found the 434 members I served with interesting as individuals. I soon came to believe that by knowing them, I was learning about our country. They varied in energy, integrity, and intelligence. But the important thing was that they did represent the people of their congressional districts, and each one was there for that reason.”

"With White House Minority Leader Gerald Ford outside of the Speaker's Lobby of the United States House of Representatives."

On the essential need for dedicated public servants and a pivotal moment of inspiration…

“As we prepared for our graduation in March 1954, I attended our senior class banquet. The speaker was a Princeton alumnus and the former governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson…Stevenson’s speech that evening had more influence on me than any I had heard before. I knew I would next be serving in the Navy, but I was not certain whether I would stay in it and if not, what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It might seem strange considering my later career that the one who so strongly sparked the idea of public service for me was a liberal Democrat and self-proclaimed egghead. But his comments came to me at a formative time in my life and a turning point for the country…

Stevenson put the future into an important and new context for me. He talked about the responsibility of citizenship in whatever path we might choose, and the stark consequences awaiting us all if we failed in our responsibilities. ‘If those young Americans who have the advantage of education, perspective, and self-discipline do not participate to the fullest extent of their ability,’ he warned, ‘America will stumble, and if America stumbles the world falls.’…Stevenson’s eloquent and inspiring words opened my mind to the need to look squarely and thoughtfully at each new experience, and to know I’d have to answer to myself at each leave-taking.

Our still-young country has withstood tragedies and trauma of unimagined scope. And yet it has continued to thrive, thanks to proud and resilient citizens and leaders from both political parties who have done their best to guide the nation...Those who have been privileged to serve our country have been the guardians of one of the greatest achievements of mankind. Our United States of America, at once imperfect and extraordinary, has offered more opportunity and improved more lives, both at home and throughout the world, than any other nation in history. In writing this book I have looked back over a life enriched beyond measure by those opportunities. I hope readers will come away with a conviction that service to America is an obligation to be fulfilled, as well as an honor to be embraced.”

On honoring those who wear the uniform of our Armed Services…

“I told those gathered that the most inspiring moments of my tenure were my meetings with the troops, all volunteers. I had met tens of thousands of dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deployed in the defense of our country, many of whom had enlisted after 9/11 just as my father had done after Pearl Harbor. Whenever Joyce and I met with wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and in the field hospitals in Afghanistan and Iraq, I knew they had reason for regret, bitterness, or sadness. Instead, what I found time and again was that they were strong, upbeat and wanted to get well so they could return to their units. We remembered those who had fallen as well as those who survived their time on the battlefield but saw their lives changed forever. And I remembered my times with their families who I knew sacrificed as well. It was the highest honor of my life to have served with and known them.”

"At a town hall meeting at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. I welcomed the opportunity to meet with our troops overseas. They were a constant source of inspiration."

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FOUNDATION FOCUS AREA – Greater Central Asia

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We believe free systems, economic and political, provide the most opportunities for their people. Continued engagement with the important region of Greater Central Asia is essential. We work to encourage these countries' evolutions toward freer systems by cultivating a growing network of rising leaders across the region from all sectors.

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On the significant opportunities that free systems provide…

“On my desk at the Pentagon I kept a satellite picture of the Korean Peninsula taken at night to remind me of all the Americans who were fighting for the freedom of Iraqis, Afghans, and, most important, for the safety and freedom of our own citizens. The photo shows that south of a distinct line — the demilitarized zone — is a free nation illuminated by the countless bright lights of a successful economy, the world’s thirteenth largest. To the north is virtually total darkness, in which only one small pinprick of light shows, marking the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The two countries have the same people and the same resources, and yet one country is full of light, and the other is dark, hungry, and poor. The lesson can sometimes be lost on any who take their freedom for granted.”

"With General Dick Myers and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless, I showed my favorite satellite photograph to South Korea's Minister of Defense. The image of the Korean peninsula at night illuminates more vividly than any words the power of freedom."

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On the importance of engagement with Greater Central Asia…

“My next stop was Uzbekistan, the most populous of the Central Asian republics and perhaps the most crucial of my trip. It was an example of a country that was generally ignored by American officials. Central Asia, which includes several former Soviet republics, is a blank slate to many in the West, in contrast to Eastern Europe, which Americans had reached out to after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was due, in part, to personal familiarity. A major reason Americans were eager to forge close ties with Poland, the Czech Republic, and other Eastern European countries after the Cold War was that many Americans in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh had relatives there or next-door neighbors of East European descent…It worried me that the countries of Central Asia were not getting similar attention, aid, and encouragement as they tried to move toward freer political and economic systems. Yet because of their location — squeezed between two large nuclear powers, Russia and China, and straddling the legendary East-West corridor through Asia — they were countries of great strategic importance with a potential that remains to this day largely unfulfilled. Well before 9/11, in fact, I made it a personal goal to develop new relationships in Central Asia.”

"This handsome horse was a symbolic gift from the Mongolian Minister of Defense in 2005."

As we honor a decade of this comprehensive memoir which provides special insights on the inspiration for our efforts here at the Foundation, enjoy some further fast facts on Known and Unknown and its publication:

  • Known and Unknown spent 8 weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list and debuted at #1
  • The memoir was written using a vast document archive, from Rumsfeld’s parents’ letters back and forth during WWII to the 20,000 “snowflakes” dictated during his time as SECDEF in the George W. Bush administration and everything in between
  • Contains more than 1,300 endnotes – including many primary source documents
  • All relevant documents and more can be found on the memoir’s supporting website, www.rumsfeld.com, which currently hosts 4,241 documents and has had over 40 million hits since its launch
  • Rumsfeld visited 24 states, numerous military bases and 5 countries throughout his book tour

The Foundation is fortunate to benefit from Rumsfeld’s profits from the sales of Known and Unknown which go to the military charities we support. As of the start of 2021, over $637,000 has been donated. Read more about the Rumsfelds' inspiration in launching the Foundation here and about our unique focus areas here.

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