Dr. Harry Wilson interviews former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

Dr. Harry Wilson, at left, with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Photo courtesy of The Roanoke Times, roanoke.com.

Dr. Harry Wilson, at left, with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Photo courtesy of The Roanoke Times, roanoke.com.


Dr. Harry Wilson, Roanoke College professor of political science, found himself in the company of one of the most outspoken heavyweights in U.S. politics on Feb. 2 - former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Wilson, who also serves as director of the College's Institute for Public Opinion Research, conducted a one-hour interview of Rumsfeld in front of an audience of 350 at Roanoke's Jefferson Center. The event, "Known and Unknown: An Evening with Donald Rumsfeld," was presented by the local Republican party.

The event brought together several people with Roanoke College connections. Chris Walters '00, chairman of the Roanoke City Republican Committee, asked Wilson to conduct the interview. Brice Long '09, a Rumsfeld staff member who is a former student of Wilson's, had accompanied Rumsfeld to the event in Roanoke.

Wilson spent about 20 minutes talking to Rumsfeld prior to the program. "He was very personable and adept at putting others at ease, engaging in discussions ranging from meetings with Presidents to the joys of living in the midst of the beauty of the American West," Wilson said.

Wilson admitted to being nervous at first as he read through Rumsfeld's long and distinguished bio during the program's opening introduction, but said he felt better after getting through it.

"I did not want to ask 'softball' questions," Wilson said, "but I did want to allow him to talk about his experiences prior to 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was difficult to find that balance."

Wilson asked Rumsfeld about the abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib and about dealing with enemy combatants. "He did not shy away from the tougher questions," Wilson said. "That was not surprising, though, because he tackled all of those issues in his book."  Wilson read all of Rumsfeld's 800+ page best-selling memoir, "Known and Unknown," to prepare for the conversation.

Walters jokingly asked Rumsfeld if he considered making the book shorter so it would be more accessible for some readers. Rumsfeld responded that his editor actually cut about one-third of the contents of the book to shorten it. Proceeds from the book go to military charities supported by the Rumsfeld Foundation.

Walters organized the event as a fund-raiser for the Roanoke area Republican Party. Wilson said he had some concerns about the event being a party fund-raiser but he would gladly take a similar assignment from the opposing party, too.

"Give me an opportunity to interview Hilary Clinton or another prominent Democratic leader and I'd take that in a minute," he said. "It's an honor to get to interview someone with as long and distinguished a career as Secretary Rumsfeld."  Rumsfeld has worked directly with four different presidents.

"Certainly, many people disagree with his views and assessments, but he is not afraid to take positions and vigorously defend his decisions and actions," Wilson said.

See some of the interview in news coverage by WSLS in Roanoke at http://bit.ly/AaFmNN.

Released: February 14, 2012
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