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Bush's Role Models

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As the day he departs the White House draws relentlessly closer, President Bush might be pardoned for wondering what historians will make of him and his Administration. My guess is they will not see him as an innovator so much as a man who took many of his ideas from previous rulers.

Unfortunately, most of his role models were dictators, wise guys who knew how to rationalize launching a war of aggression, torture captives, and conceal urgent truths from the public.

Like Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush says "we don't torture," so apparently he doesn't consider sleep deprivation(SD)torture. Stalin knew better because his NKVD used it all the time. He called SD "the conveyor belt." Prisoners kept awake for days on end by a succession of thugs would admit to any crime. One NKVD torturer cruelly boasted to the father of an imprisoned 14-year-old boy, "Your son just confessed to writing (the Russian epic) Eugene Onegin." China's contemporary Communists, like the Bush military, also employ SD today.

The Administration denies it is torture to imprison captives for years without charging them with a crime. On this score, Hitler knew better. According to historian Piers Brendon, author of The Dark Valley, Hitler used this ugly technique at Dachau "to break the spirit of inmates."

Until the Washington Post exposed secret U.S. prisons in Europe, the Red Cross didn't know about them to inspect them. And when the Red Cross sought access to the very visible CIA compound in Kabul, the CIA turned it down. Hitler, too, opposed outside scrutiny of his jails. As Brendon noted, "Only a few foreign observers were admitted to Hitler's concentration camps and then only under the strictest conditions."

When President Bush looks in his mirror, he also sees a benevolent individual. Hitler also thought he was a pretty decent guy. "Thank God I've always avoided persecuting my enemies," Hitler said. Both leaders thought of themselves as super patriots. Hitler liked to give speeches against a backdrop of immense swastika flags. And when Bush speaks, White House image-makers believe showing just one Old Glory isn't good enough for their guy.

Speaking of image-making, Japan's World War II despots warned families whose sons were killed in China not to tell even their closest friends of their loss. And when defeated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944, Radio Tokyo called it a "victory" and played "The Battleship March." Carrying forward this dubious tradition, Bush forbids the photographs of GI coffins shipped home from Iraq.

In the Thirties, Hitler paid off alcoholic British journalists to write flattering columns about his regime. One Japanese reporter got paid for glorifying a beheading competition between two Army lieutenants who raced to see which could kill 100 Chinese men first during the Rape of Nanking.

Also in the Forties, a BBC broadcaster named George Orwell got paid for mocking Nazi reports British Bomber Command was targeting German civilians --- when it was doing precisely that. So the White House policy of bribing Iraqi journalists to color the truth is hardly original.

Bush can be compared with Winston Churchill in one important respect. No, historians probably won't call Bush a great war time leader. The comparison is a bit negative. Churchill wrote in his memoirs Bomber Command only killed 300,000 Germans when the actual figure was closer to 800,000, perhaps even a million, owing to the man-made firestorms at Dresden and other cities. The Bush White House also underplays the number of civilian deaths in Iraq, giving out figure that is just about a third of the actual one.

There's also ample precedent for President Bush lying about WMD to justify his invasion of Iraq. Stalin claimed he invaded Finland because that tiny nation posed a military threat to Leningrad. In 1939, Hitler claimed the Polish army attacked a German radio station, forcing him to invade Poland. The "Polish attackers" actually were Nazi concentration camp inmates suited up in Polish uniforms.

Will history and historians smile on George Bush? Who can say for sure? But many embittered Americans who feel they've been lied to by their President hope he'll find plenty of time to study history from a jail cell.
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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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