When we compare father and son, we see stark contrast. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Bush senior ruled out plans for college and entered Navy flight school on his 18th birthday. At age 19 he became the youngest combat pilot in the Navy and was assigned to a torpedo bomber squadron in the Pacific. Bush flew 58 combat missions, was shot down once, and was decorated for heroism. Later at Yale he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was also a fine athlete, the first baseman and captain of the Yale baseball team.
Compare this to the younger Bush. He also went to Yale, but as a legacy student, a product of his fathers status (and hard work) as a Yale alumnus. Lacking athletic talent or any real competitive instincts, the younger Bush became a cheerleader, just as he had been at Andover Prep. When graduation came and he was faced with military service in 1968, he used his family name and influence to secure a safe spot in the Texas Air National Guard. Thus, he was able to avoid service in Vietnam although he had professed a belief in the merits of the war.
Following Saddam Husseins invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the first President Bush assembled a strong international coalition, including the Arab countries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to forcibly expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. But Bush stopped short of sending U.S. troops into Baghdad to remove Hussein from power. As Bush explained in his book, A World Transformed, coauthored with Brent Scowcroft, toppling Saddam Hussein would have made the U.S. an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. In looking back at the first Gulf War, one cant help but appreciate now the elder Bushs much-maligned nuanced thinking as his administration carefully weighed the long-term consequences of its actions. In a Time Magazine article of March 1998, Bush and Scowcroft explained their thinking:
Bush apologists will argue that it was just this failing of the first Bush administration to remove Hussein from power that forced the younger Bush to confront Iraq as it became -- suddenly and somehow -- a threat to U.S. security. But this is nonsense. The rationale for war the weapons of mass destruction and Husseins link to 9/11 have both been proven false. Rather, we know now that before the ashes had even settled over the Twin Towers, George W. Bush was salivating at the thought of invading Iraq. The careful weighing of the pros and cons of war that characterized the first Bush administration played no role in George Bushs thinking or in the thinking of any of his confidants in the administration, all of whom were only too willing to play follow the leader, including the once proud soldier Colin Powell who revealed a streak of moral cowardice that surprised most everyone.
America, once the land of the proud and the brave, can no longer claim such title. After 9/11 we became America the Afraid and turned our wills and our lives over to a closet weakling who seizes on inflexibility as a way to show America that he is strong, as Norman Mailer once described George W. Bush. Added Mailer, [Bush], left on his own, might have become a successful movie actor He has been impersonating men more manly than himself for many years. Bushs father perhaps?
But the We Bush speaks of isnt the American people. Our lives are safe and comfortable. In fact, we dont even have to pay for the war. We will just continue borrowing the money. The last thing Bush wants is a public suddenly feeling the impact of the war on its pocketbooks.
And George Bush doesnt lack for security. On his trip to Argentina in November for the Fourth Summit of the Americas, Jordana Timerman tells us of Bushs imperial-style arrival with an entourage of 2,000 people and four AWACS surveillance systems.
And yet as the New York Times' Michael Moss reported last week, a secret Defense Department study conducted by the militarys chief medical examiner concluded thatas many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection. The ceramic armor plates in question cost about $260 a set."
None if this is to argue that George H.W. Bush was without shortcomings. But I think the record shows, that as a WWII combat veteran and someone who saw up close the inner workings behind the Vietnam War, he brought to the presidency a sense of decency and compassion that is entirely missing in the reckless ideologue, George the son.
In a 1999 reunion commemorating the 8th anniversary of the end of the first Gulf War, the senior Bush addressed the audience of veterans and spoke of the toughest decision any president can make ... when you're going to send somebody else's kid into harm's way." He explained that perhaps because of his own service in the military, the decision was never easy. More tellingly, he added, The decision to go to war is one that defines a nation to the world, and perhaps more importantly, to itself.
Gerald S. Rellick, Ph.D., worked in aerospace industry for 22 years. He now teaches in the California Community College system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.