IN MEMORIAM : GEORGE H. W. BUSH

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“This aggression will not stand.”

Of all the sentences that George H. W. Bush spoke, as President or otherwise, those five words can still be felt. I suspect they will be felt for a century to come. Maybe longer.

Saddam Hussein, then tyrant of Iraq, had sent his army into Kuwait, a small, neighboring nation, conquering the entire country. The world was angry; war was threatened.

President bush did not threaten. He simply stated : “this aggression will not stand .”

Over a six month period thereafter, a vast armed force, involving several nations, maybe 500,000 troops and their arsenal, all of it sought for and persuaded for by the President, gathered at the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Hussein was given a choice: withdraw, or be pushed out. Hussein defied the ultimatum and was pushed out and much more.

The world then knew that when the President of our nation said “this will not stand,” he meant exactly what he said.

The entire event was a huge confidence builder for a nation that had, since the disaster of Viet Nam, profoundly doubted itself. Doubted our resolve. Questioned our strength. Dared not test our ability to be the world’s “arsenal of democracy.” Yet here we did what we said we were going to do, and we as well as the rest of the world saw it happen as we made it happen, and we were right to do it and to led a large coalition of nations to do it alongside us.

Kuwait remains free, and so do Iraq’s Kurds; and if the full result was incomplete — because President H. W. Bush felt that to go the whole distance might overreach — it was good enough for its purposes.

Bush ’41 was not re-elected. He lacked political smarts; was unable to sell his big tax compromise after having promised his voters that compromise was off the table. A master of diplomacy, and no slouch at legislating civil rights — his Americans on Disability Act changed the entire world for millions of disabled Americans, and still does change their world — Bush ’41 was no master of the street. Foresight was not in his craft. He had scant grasp of the AIDS crisis — his son would master that — and was content to run a nasty 1988 election campaign directed in part by the very street-smart Lee Atwater. At home among world leaders and movers, he seemed awesomely unaware of what his fellow Americans were like, so that what he did achieve — there was plenty: include among his works the Clean Air Act — came about more because of his idealism and sense of duty than from any personal witness. Nonetheless, he accomplished; and we live with the benefits of what he –and his Congresses — accomplished, however they accomplished it.

He was a son of America’s traditional merchant aristocracy — short-handedly called “WASPS” — “white Anglo Saxon Protestants,” which was what the motivating majority of the class were, though by no means all : WASP leaders included many who were Catholic, or Jewish, or even Black: think Senator Ed Brooke, Brooke’s mentor Melnea Cass, Ambassador Ralph Bunche, Tuskeegee Institute’s Booker T. Washington, the union leader Bayard Rustin, author Langston Hughes ( himself the son in law of an Abolitionist leader, John Langston), and, above all, Frederick Douglass. The Bush family were WASP to the core : Andover Academy, Yale, law and banking, diplomacy, the world stage; and the social register. And public service : in Bush ’41’s case, Navy Pilot in World War II, Congress, the CIA, Ambassador to the UN, the Vice residency and the Presidency. The sense of duty; of serving because, so much being given to one as a member of an entrusted, leadership group, one had to merit that trust. All of that was Bush ’41, and he never looked back or doubted himself.

If, as his son Bush ’43 said today, “the best father a son or daughter ever had,” that too was the way it had to be for a man who just did it, because it was how one did. Being best came naturally to him; he didn’t have to think how to be best or worry about what-if’s. He was perhaps the luckiest of men as well; in Barbara Pierce he found a lifelong soul mate who was what he was — and as witty as beautiful, a woman who did not suffer fools at all and said so. But of course Bush ’41 was no fool,. not ever, except perhaps “a fool in love,” as the 1950s song had it, and that was a foolishness that he never had second thoughts about.

The nation is now saying a long good-bye that expresses the unconscious, long, heart-beatingly confident love that most of us have always had for a leader whom we may not always have agreed with, or understood, or applauded, but who would never by us be denied. Who among us could deny a man who did a parachute jump at age 90 ? Who with his prep school accent so incongruously loved baseball, country music, and barbecue ? Who summered in everyone’s ideal summer corner, Kennebunkport ? (Lobstah ! Chowdah ! An ocean cold enough to chew !)

Bush ’41 was an un-self-conscious child-man who hated broccoli and said so. Doubtless they won’t dare serve him broccoli in heaven; but they will allow him parachute jumps — upwards this time.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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