George H. W. Bush Was A Towering Figure In American Politics. He Was Also A Killer.
When I heard the news on Friday that former president George H. W. Bush had died, I was of two minds. On the one hand, he was a decorated Navy pilot who volunteered for service at age 18 during World War II. He was shot down in the Pacific but was rescued by an American ship.
He remained on that ship and helped rescue other pilots. Many of the pilots who were shot down were tortured, and their livers were eaten by their captors. The experience reportedly shook the young Bush to his core, to the point where he asked “Why had I been spared and what did God have for me?”
So here we have the younger Bush demonstrating incredible courage in defending America in its most just war since the Civil War, and that is something to admire.
Fast forward to Bush’s presidency, from 1989 to 1993, and we see the now elder statesman Bush, in his late 60’s, overseeing the liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet control, followed by the breakup of the former Soviet Union itself. Throughout these momentous events, Bush remained a steady hand on the international stage in an unsteady time.
At the same time, there were blunders, most notably the President’s vomiting on the Prime Minister of Japan, Kiichi Miyazawa, at a state dinner. For those readers too young to remember, this incident was on the order of something that would nowadays go megaviral and spawn a million memes.
Nevertheless, any way you slice it George H.W. Bush contributed a great deal to the security of the United States and its position in the world. He was an important figure.
He was also a killer. Less frequently reported is that Bush was the director of the CIA from 1966–1967, a tumultuous time in American foreign policy. During Bush’s year as Director, the CIA actively supported right-wing military dictatorships throughout Latin America.
But what really gets to me, and burns me in my soul, are the people Bush killed during his years as US President. As a member of Generation X who came of age during the 1980’s, I vividly remember the Bush years, because they occurred just as I was becoming politically engaged and aware.
So I distinctly remember sitting down in the living room with my father and stepmother at age 17 to watch a documentary film on VHS entitled “The Panama Deception.” The film depicted the 1989 US invasion of Panama that was orchestrated by President Bush to oust General Manuel Noriega. The invasion succeeded in its goal of ousting Noriega.
US media and American politicians were mostly supportive of Bush’s invasion, which was codenamed “Operation Just Cause.” The American public was also supportive, with 74% of Americans polled approving of the action.
But Operation Just Cause turned out to be anything but just. The true reason for the invasion, according to many critics, was to destroy the Panamanian Defense Forces, which had become too powerful and now posed a threat to US de facto control of Panama.
What’s really upsetting, however, are the numerous reports of the use of indiscriminate force by the American military. The Panama Deception has actual footage of mass graves uncovered after US attacks and shelling, and of neighborhoods completely destroyed. It is estimated that up to 3,000 Panamanian civilians were killed, and that 20,000 more became refugees.
As a young, idealistic and impressionable 17-year old watching this documentary film with his decidedly left-wing parents, I remember being shocked and appalled. How could this president, or any American president, justify the mass killing of civilians in order to occupy and control a foreign nation?
However, Bush wasn’t done killing people. In 1990, Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, invaded and occupied Kuwait, its neighbor to the south. The incursion was viewed by Bush and the US foreign policy establishment as unacceptable, because Kuwait had a great deal of oil and was a crucial US ally.
Bush assembled a coalition of nations from around the world to oppose Iraq’s invasion. The coalition consisted primarily of troops from the Middle East and Europe. It was the largest military alliance assembled since World War II.
The coalition invaded Kuwait from its bases in Saudi Arabia, and swiftly repulsed poorly-equipped Iraqi soldiers, who fled Kuwait back to Iraq. The coalition then advanced into Iraq.
Some of Bush’s advisors urged him to go all the way to Baghdad and oust Saddam, who they considered a dangerous wild card in a strategically important region.
Bush hesitated, then decided to halt the coalition’s advance short of Baghdad. He was later criticized for not being more “aggressive. ” Many people have theorized that his son George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq 12 years later was undertaken so he could burnish his father’s legacy and restore the family honor.
But the Bush family’s honor and legacy was, is, and always will be stained with blood. Because when George H. W. was done, Iraq had been ousted from Kuwait, but at a terrible human cost.
It is estimated that up to 100,000 Iraqi soldiers as well thousands of civilians were killed by the US action. It was a classic example of asymmetrical warfare, in which Iraqi soldiers sitting in the Kuwaiti desert in outdated Soviet-made tanks were obliterated by US cruise missiles and air attacks.
In America, Bush was serenaded as a hero and a conqueror. In Iraq, he was condemned as an invader and a mass killer.
One event that made a particularly strong impression on me during what came to be called the Persian Gulf War was the infamous “highway of death” battle. Iraqi soldiers, faced with an unrelenting onslaught by the much-better equipped US forces, attempted to flee Kuwait on highway 80 on the night of February 26–27, 1991.
The fleeing Iraqi troops were bombarded by US and allied aircraft for hours upon hours. Up to 5,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed. 2,000 fleeing Iraqi tanks and vehicles were destroyed by US and allied air power.
As I read about this event in the months following the conclusion of the war, I thought to myself, what kind of civilization does this to another country, to another people, to fleeing soldiers heading for safety in their home country?
Of course Iraqi soldiers had been responsible for their fair share of atrocities and violations during their occupation of Kuwait, but somehow I still couldn’t wrap my head around this particular American military action, this “Highway of Death.”
The name says it all really. The United States, and in particular George H. W. Bush, reigned death on the soldiers and civilians of Iraq with impunity. And that is something I will never forgive him for.
George H.W. Bush has a lot of blood on his hands, and he has a lot to answer for if and when he meets his maker.
But he is not alone in the Bush family in dishing out death. His eldest son George W, the 43rd president of the United States, invaded Iraq once again in 2003, and this time went all the way to Baghdad and ousted Saddam. George W. was similary hailed as a conqueror at the time.
In the months and years that followed, Iraq fell to ruins, with rival religious factions and militias battling each other for money and control. Iraq’s infrastructure was completely destroyed. The consensus now is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq created the conditions that allowed ISIS, the horrifically brutal terrorist group, to flourish and spread its malignant tentacles around the world.
What matters to me, however, is the astonishingly high Iraqi death toll that came to light in the years following the invasion. Around 3,500 American soldiers have been killed since the US invaded Iraq in 2003. And tens of thousands more have been injured, lost limbs, or suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain disorder. It’s a tragedy, and one that we can never forget.
But that tragedy is dwarfed by the Iraqi death toll. Various organizations have attempted to count the death toll in Iraq from the 2003 invasion. Some estimate that as many as one million Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and associated collapse of the state, which has led to hunger, disease and deprivation.
Even more shockingly, it is estimated that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. 100,0000! That’s a huge number. Not all of them were killed by the US. But nearly all of them would still be alive if America hadn’t decided to invade a country for the second time, on false pretenses, in order to gain access to its oil and claim a stronger foothold in the Middle East.
So George W. Bush has a lot of blood on his hands, just like his father. And when he meets his maker, he will have to answer for his deeds, just like his father. The whole Bush family, in fact, is stained red with bloody, cancerous infection.
In the end, George H.W. Bush was a complicated figure who made important contributions to America. He also took the lives of over 100,000 people who had families, and who were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and sons and daughters to someone too.
That’s why I won’t shed a tear for George Herbert Walker Bush. When someone kills a multitude of people, I don’t celebrate them.
And neither should America.