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The Education Forum

George Bush and the Military

John Simkin

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Here is an extract from Ian Williams' book, Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past (2004)

On a bright and clear afternoon on May 1st 2003, the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln cruised an hour's sailing off-shore from San Diego, California, with its 6,000 crew members marshaled on its four-and-a-half-acre deck. A Navy S-3B Viking roared past, not once, but twice, and then finally circled around to land on the carrier's flight deck, snagging the wires that stopped the plane and its participants from tumbling into the cold Pacific Ocean. The nominal co-pilot had actually been prepared for just that watery contingency -- in the White House swimming pool, since the Viking's precious cargo was none other than President George W. Bush.

As the plane snapped to a halt, the assembled crew, and the peak time cable TV viewers, could see that "Navy 1" was emblazoned on the body of the aircraft and that just below the co-pilot's cockpit window, assiduous Navy sign painters had stenciled "George W. Bush Commander-in-Chief." In his chic olive-colored flight suit, combat booted, looking every inch the warrior, with his doffed helmet tucked under one arm, Bush raised his other in salute to the cheers of the sailors gathered under a huge banner declaring "Mission Accomplished."

The Republican obsession with the military has never been as deep or more contrived than under Bush, who has tried to exorcise his somewhat ethereal military career by appearing whenever he can in front of made-to-order audiences at military bases or veterans' rallies. The phrase "commander-in-chief" is rarely off the president's lips, especially when he speaks to the military. Nor does he often miss an opportunity to don some form of uniform to further underline his military title.

In eighteen months, more than one in three of his speeches and policy pronouncements have been at military bases and veterans' gatherings. Not for him the unscripted happenstance of Town Hall meetings with voters or un-choreographed press conferences with inquisitive reporters; he is much happier surrounded by people in uniform, snappily saluting and calling him "Sir" and cheering dutifully whenever he pauses.

President Bush's 2003 May Day flight was an outstanding, but by no means isolated, example of Bush's abuse-by-association of the military. He had tried for a double the day before, attempting to conscript both God and the military on his side by hosting 150 military chaplains for a prayer breakfast in the White House. Just as typical was his staged ceremony on July 1 2003 at the White House, where he welcomed thirty reenlisting service people. "Like many thousands of other soldiers, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen and marines who reenlist this year, these men and women are answering the highest call of citizenship... As commander-in-chief, I assure them, we will stay on the offensive against the enemy."

… From one way of looking at it, all over the world, men and women are now dying and being maimed because George W. Bush had lived through "the war of his generation," without hearing a shot fired in anger. "Little Googen," as his indulgent parents called him, has been trying to emulate his genuinely heroic father -- without actually risking his life. Bush's Freudian self-delusion is apparent in Bob Woodward's friendly account, "Bush at War." In the days after September 11, Bush tells Rove, "just like my father's generation was called in World War II, now our generation is being called ... I'm here for a reason."

Bush the Elder, however, was a genuine war hero who left school at 18 and used his family connections to become the youngest pilot in the Navy. But when the government was drafting his contemporaries and sending them to Vietnam, his son joined the Air National Guard in Texas, and ticked the box saying "no" to overseas service: a choice denied most of his contemporaries then, who did not have the Ivy League connections to enter such units. (More importantly, such choices are denied now to the National Guardsmen who were not only called up for service in Iraq, but have found their terms extended while they were out in the desert.)

Bush the Younger is very much the product of his family's move from Yale to Texas after his WWII service. In the East, you were rich because of family but with a concomitant sense of noblesse oblige. In the South, you were rich because God loved you, personally. The resulting combination seems to have stripped out any of old money's sense of obligation in favor of a doubled meme for a sense of entitlement, allowing him to enjoy the benefits of playing soldier without taking any of the risks involved in actually being one. It makes for a draft-dodging president who once told Woodward, "I'm the commander - see, I don't need to explain - I do not need to explain why I say things."

This breathtaking arrogance exemplifies essential qualities that define George W. Bush: the sense of privilege for being born rich; the sense of exaltation that God has chosen him to be rich; and the sexual thrill of being commander-in-chief. To get the same combination of lightweight intellect and ruthless appreciation of power, we have to return, as so often in this administration, to Lewis Carroll, who seems to have anticipated our current president' philosophy in Humpty Dumpty: "The question is, which is to be master - that's all."

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