Deserter at the Helm!

Ian Williams

On Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, I lived in down­town Man­hat­tan near the World Trade Cen­ter. After I heard the bang, I was stuck on the phone for sev­er­al hours report­ing from my fire escape for CBC and BBC. And then, as soon as I could, I head­ed toward the tow­ers, zigzag­ging round low­er Man­hat­tan to evade the police lines and get as close as possible.

Lots of reporters were behav­ing in sim­i­lar ways, and so were thou­sands of cit­i­zens who want­ed to help, from iron­work­ers to doc­tors, nurs­es to fire­men. And where was George W. Bush? He was zigzag­ging across North Amer­i­ca on Air Force One, try­ing to stay away from any poten­tial tar­gets. Satel­lite pic­tures show it clear­ly. With all oth­er flights ground­ed, his con­trails left a metaphor­i­cal yel­low streak across the con­ti­nent. And now, we are invit­ed to vote for him for his stead­fast­ness in the face of ter­ror and because he is a res­olute Com­man­der-in Chief in the war against it.

But in real­i­ty he is the leader who pulled the troops from the hunt for Osama- bin Laden, the self-pro­claimed per­pe­tra­tor of Sep­tem­ber 11, and sent U.S. and allied armies after Sad­dam ‑Hus­sein, who is indeed guilty of many things but is indu­bitably inno­cent of any involve­ment in the World Trade Cen­ter attacks.

At the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion in New York, Bush was com­pared to Churchill and to FDR — as if the war lead­ers in 1945 sud­den­ly called off the war in Ger­many, leav­ing Hitler run­ning free in the Bavar­i­an Alps, and sent the Allied Forces chas­ing after Juan Per­on in Argentina.

This should come as no sur­prise to any­one who has looked at the mil­i­tary record of George W. Bush. With a can­dor that has since dis­ap­peared, he told the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle in 1994: I was not pre­pared to shoot my eardrum out with a shot­gun in order to get a defer­ment. Nor was I will­ing to go to Cana­da. So I chose to bet­ter myself by learn­ing how to fly airplanes.”

At the height of the Tet Offen­sive, when Amer­i­can troops were up against the wall, when the Viet Cong had tak­en Hue and the Amer­i­can Embassy in Saigon, Bush Clan clout got him into the Texas Air Nation­al Guard, despite lousy scores on his pilot apti­tude test. Iron­i­cal­ly, the unit was known local­ly as Air Cana­da because it offered all the ben­e­fits of a flight north of the bor­der, with­out the weath­er and legal prob­lems. To make dou­bly sure, he ticked the box say­ing No” to over­seas service.

In 1972, he went to Alaba­ma and in effect did the same as fir­ing a shot­gun next to his ear. After sev­er­al years of high­ly expen­sive flight train­ing, he failed to accom­plish” his flight med­ical exam, ground­ing him­self as a pilot.

Of course, hun­dreds of thou­sands of young men were try­ing to get out of Viet­nam. But Bush then Younger was dif­fer­ent. He not only sup­port­ed the war, he active­ly cam­paigned for polit­i­cal can­di­dates who sup­port­ed it as well. As with Dick Cheney, he had oth­er pri­or­i­ties.” In fact, Bush’s career is an elo­quent depic­tion of the pow­er that class wields in Amer­i­can soci­ety — and the pow­er the class system’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries use to delude peo­ple into believ­ing it does not exist.

As Col­in Pow­ell said in his mem­oirs — before join­ing Bush’s cab­i­net — I can nev­er for­give a lead­er­ship that said, in effect: These young men — poor, less edu­cat­ed, less priv­i­leged — are expend­able (some­one described them as eco­nom­ic can­non fod­der’), but the rest are too good to risk.”

Pow­ell added, pre­scient­ly and incon­ve­nient­ly, I am angry that so many of the sons of the pow­er­ful and well placed … man­aged to wran­gle slots in Reserve and Nation­al Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Viet­nam, this raw class dis­crim­i­na­tion strikes me as the most dam­ag­ing to the ide­al that all Amer­i­cans are cre­at­ed equal and owe equal alle­giance to their country.”

We have now sur­passed 1,000 Amer­i­can casu­al­ties in Iraq, and Powell’s com­plaint is even more true. Only eight out of 535 leg­is­la­tors in Wash­ing­ton have chil­dren in the mil­i­tary. Half the gar­ri­son over in Iraq are mem­bers of the Nation­al Guard who did not get the option to refuse ser­vice overseas.

And while Bush failed to turn up for duty in Alaba­ma (he was cam­paign­ing for a Repub­li­can can­di­date), oth­er Guards­men who did not report were dra­gooned off for active duty in Viet­nam. But the congressman’s son was cov­ered, and the records dis­ap­peared for decades.

The scion of East Coast WASP plu­to­crats who pass­es him­self with some suc­cess as a Tex­an cow­boy and self-made busi­ness­men is a draft evad­er and desert­er who parades as a vet­er­an and com­man­der in chief. And in this Bush ben­e­fit­ed from the best affir­ma­tive action pro­gram there is: money.

In Texas, they may call walk­ing” swag­ger­ing,” but they do know when some­one actu­al­ly walks the walk. When he squirmed his way out of his Guard ser­vice ear­ly, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas Law School turned down young Bush because of low grades. He had to go to Har­vard, where the fam­i­ly mon­ey could pro­vide the raw class dis­crim­i­na­tion that Pow­ell used to get indig­nant about.

He has evad­ed and lied his way through life since. In the pub­lic eye he has pre­sent­ed him­self as a self-made entre­pre­neur when at each stage of his life he has been wrapped in the cocoon of the local Tex­an estab­lish­ment and his family’s WASP hives in the Skull & Bones and sim­i­lar covens. They have been there to pick him up when he fell, which was often, and to cov­er for him when he erred, which was frequently.

His most dan­ger­ous cha­rade is his cur­rent one. A gov­ern­ment con­trolled by mil­i­tarists is in some ways more dan­ger­ous than one con­trolled by the mil­i­tary. Since 911, Bush has wrapped him­self in the flag. He con­tin­u­al­ly refers to him­self as com­man­der-in-chief,” and dress­es up, when­ev­er he can, in qua­si-uni­form. Indeed, he prefers to speak to hand­picked mil­i­tary audi­ences, not the to unruly cit­i­zen­ry off base.

It is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the same role he had at his Andover prep school — cheer­leader for the foot­ball team in which his job was to wear fun­ny cos­tumes and lead an appre­cia­tive crowd in shared chant­i­ng. More sin­is­ter­ly, you have to look to Fidel Cas­tro or Sad­dam Hus­sein to see some­one with a sim­i­lar appre­ci­a­tion for mil­i­tary tai­lor­ing and mar­tial backdrops.

After look­ing close­ly at his record and behav­ior, I still don’t know whether what we are see­ing is dan­ger­ous self-delu­sion or ram­pant hypocrisy — or some more per­ilous com­bi­na­tion of the two. One can see why he thinks the Almighty is on his side — so much of the con­crete doc­u­men­ta­tion of his sleazy behav­ior in the Guard seems to have dis­ap­peared into obliv­ion. And who could fail to see God’s hand at work in the way the eas­i­ly rebut­table lies of the Swift Boat Vet­er­ans have been aired inces­sant­ly while the irrefutable facts of Bush’s hypocrisy go with­out mention?

What­ev­er the edi­tors and pro­duc­ers think, the facts of Bush’s ser­vice eva­sion are impor­tant because he has nev­er apol­o­gized, nor has he changed. As his pseu­do-auto­bi­og­ra­phy puts it, his slo­gan is Faith, Fam­i­ly and Friends.” His rich fam­i­ly and friends have indeed been faith­ful to him, and he has returned their favors a hundred-fold.

And mean­while more than 1,000 Amer­i­cans and per­haps 20 times that many Iraqis have died.

Ian Williams is the author of Desert­er: Bush’s War on Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies, Vet­er­ans and His Past, now avail­able from Nation Books.
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