- GW Home
- About GW
- University Life
- News & Events
- Faculty And Staff
Donald Rumsfeld Speaks to GW Veterans
September 30, 2011
Veterans Campaign hosted the former secretary of defense Thursday night.
Donald Rumsfeld twice served as secretary of defense—first under Gerald Ford and then under George W. Bush—and was one of the country’s leaders during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I’ve lived one-third of our country’s history,” said the 79-year-old, who was born in 1932. “It suggests we have a very young country, or I am very old—or maybe both.”
On Sept. 29, Mr. Rumsfeld spoke about his transition from the military to public office at the Minutemen Memorial Building in Northeast, D.C. The event was part of the GW Veterans Campaign Distinguished Speakers Series, hosted by GW Veterans Campaign, GW’s Graduate School of Political Management and the Reserve Officers Association.
Mr. Rumsfeld was introduced by George Washington Provost Steven Lerman, who spoke about the GW Veterans Campaign—a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that trains veterans to run for public office—and the university’s “longstanding commitment to veterans.” Dr. Lerman told the audience it was his “honor and privilege to introduce someone who has given so much to the United States in service.”
After graduating from Princeton University in 1954, Mr. Rumsfeld entered the Navy, where he served as a pilot. In 1957, after “knocking on doors,” he got his first political job in the U.S. House of Representatives on the staff of Rep. David S. Dennison Jr. (R-Ohio).
“I knew nothing about politics,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, “and I was made an administrative assistant to this congressman. I was supposed to be able to do legislative briefs and press releases and deal with constituents and all that stuff—and I didn’t have the vaguest idea how to do it. I was a darn good pilot, and that is not the skill set needed in a congressional office.”
But Mr. Rumsfeld got the hang of the political world; in 1962, he was elected to the House as a representative from Illinois. In his nearly 50 years in public service, Mr. Rumsfeld worked for four presidents, serving during some of the nation’s most important moments in history, including the Sept. 11 attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He told the veterans in the audience that the power of the individual is strong, and he encouraged them to pursue a career in politics, stressing that their broad experiences at a young age have equipped them for the rigors of public service.
“People say, ‘I’m only one person, what can I do.’ The truth is, you can do a lot,” he said.
“It’s a tough business, but it’s enormously rewarding…being the link between a large number of people and their local, state or federal government is truly a high privilege,” he added.
Mr. Rumsfeld spoke about his most recent book, “Known and Unknown: A Memoir.” All proceeds from book sales go the Rumsfeld Foundation, which supports public service and the growth of free political and economic systems abroad.
Mr. Rumsfeld said it took him four years to write the memoir, and although hard work, he “had a lot of fun.” The memoir hit number one in the New York Times bestseller list, which Mr. Rumsfeld noted “had to drive those folks nuts.”
He also has a website called the Rumsfeld Papers that features more than 4,000 documents of his notes and memos chronicling his work in the U.S. government, many of which are included in his book.
After his remarks, Mr. Rumsfeld took questions from the audience, which ranged from government stability in Afghanistan to military collaborations abroad and a mandatory draft. He told the audience that it was the job of parents and other influencers—not the government—to encourage young people to serve in the armed forces.
“I think that we have lost something by having fewer people serve in the military,” he said. “The responsibility ought to fall on us as parents, neighbors, friends and teachers to do what Dr. Lerman and others are doing, to try and loop them in and see that they have so much more to offer as people who have served than those who haven’t.”
George Washington is one of the leading participants in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Between GW and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs' contributions, graduates and undergraduates who are Yellow Ribbon qualified can attend GW for free in nearly every program. This year, more than 360 GW student veterans are participating in the program. There are approximately 700 student-veterans on campus.