George W. Christ?
by William Rivers Pitt
May 6, 2003
In the 835 days Americans have passed since the inauguration of George W. Bush, we have come to know him as a man who wears many masks to suit a variety of political purposes. Even before he won the lawsuit that put him in his lofty position, we saw a man who cloaked his vision in terms that smacked of humility. "Ours will be a humble nation," Bush said during the Presidential debates. There are a number of words which can be applied to the actions of this administration, but "humble" is not one of them. At the time, however, it suited his purposes to make Americans believe he saw himself as unassuming, perhaps even small.
This was the same man, however, who mocked Texas death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker so viciously before she rode the lightning to whatever awaits us on the Other Side. He was asked, in an interview for Talk Magazine during the campaign, what Tucker might say to him if she were given the chance to plead for her life. "Please," said Bush with pinched face and lips drawn down in a quivering bow as he imitated the woman about to die, "don't kill me." Then he laughed.
You would think we'd have known better 835 days ago. We didn't, mostly because the news media decided such stories were without merit. Now we are a humble nation that brazenly disregards the entire planet as we seek military solutions to diplomatic problems. Now we are a humble nation that breaks treaties by the boatload and 'punishes' nations that foolishly believe they can make decisions for themselves. One is forced to wonder if Bush sat in front of a television as the 'Shock and Awe' firebombing/cluster-bombing of Baghdad began, face pinched and mouth drawn down, saying "Please, don't kill me" in the voice of an Iraqi civilian. One is forced to wonder if he laughed afterwards.
We have come to see a new mask in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11. In the 18 months that have passed since that dark day, we have been introduced to Bush the Soldier. Draped in flags and the veneer of patriotism, Bush has spent a great deal of time and energy identifying himself with the very military he described as unfit for service during the 2000 campaign. The metastasizing of Bush into some sort of military hero reached a crescendo during this past week when he landed on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot's seat of a Navy S-3B Viking combat aircraft. According to the lore that has been rapturously reported on every hour by cable television news services, Bush took the stick "momentarily" to pilot the craft. He hopped out, garbed in the flight suit of a Navy pilot, and flashed a thumbs-up sign across the deck. This, we were told by the media, harkens back wonderfully to Bush's service piloting F-102 fighters for the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
The problem, as with any mask, is that whatever is underneath bears little comparison to the mask itself. According to the reports, it was appropriate for Bush to don the gear of an actual military pilot, because it mirrors the reality of his experience back in the Texas Guard. In reality, Bush may as well have put on the standard attire of a Mongolian yak herder from the Asian continental steppe. That would have been fitting, too, because neither the Navy suit nor the yak gear have anything at all to do with Bush the Actual Person. Neither has anything to do with history, or with fact.
An article by David Corn entitled "Bush's Top Gun Photo-Op," which appeared in The Nation magazine's online publication this past week, described the disturbingly under-reported facts behind Bush's dalliance with the Texas Air National Guard:
Enlisting in the Guard was one way to beat the draft and avoid being sent to Vietnam. Is this why Bush signed up? During the campaign, Bush said no. Yet in 1994, he had remarked, "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Not was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes." That sure sounds like someone who was looking to avoid the draft and pick up a skill. Obtaining a slot in the Guard at that time was not usually easy--for the obvious reason: lots of young men were responding to the call of self-preservation. (Think Dan Quayle.) Bush, whose father was then a congressman from the Houston area, has said no strings were pulled on his behalf. Yet in 1999, the former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives told The New York Times that a Houston oilman who was a friend of Bush's father had asked him to grease the skids for W. and he obliged.
What Bush did in the Guard. In Bush's campaign autobiography, A Charge To Keep, he wrote that he completed pilot training in 1970 and "continued flying with my unit for the next several years." But in 2000, The Boston Globe obtained copies of Bush's military records and discovered that he had stopped flying during his final 18 months of service in 1972 and 1973. More curious, the records showed Bush had not reported for Guard duty during a long stretch of that period. Had the future commander-in-chief been AWOL?
In May 1972, with two years to go on his six-year commitment to the Guard, Bush moved to Alabama to work on a Senate campaign. He asked if he could do his Guard duty there. This son-of-a-congressman and fighter pilot won permission to do "equivalent training" at a unit that had no aircraft and no pilots. The national Air Reserve office then disallowed this transfer. For months, Bush did nothing for the Guard. In September 1972, he won permission to train with a unit in Montgomery. But the commander of the unit and his administrative officer told the Boston Globe that they had no recollection of Bush ever reporting for duty. And when Bush returned to Texas after the November election, he did not return to his unit for months, according to his military records. His annual performance report, dated May 2, 1973, noted he had "not been observed at this unit" for the past year. In May, June and July of that year, he did pull 36 days of duty.. And then, as he was on his way to Harvard Business School, he received permission to end his Guard service early.
The records suggest Bush skipped out on the Guard for about a year. (And during that time he had failed to submit to an annual physical and lost his flight status.) A campaign spokesperson said Bush recalled doing duty in Alabama and "coming back to Houston and doing duty." But Bush never provided any real proof he had. Asked by a reporter if he remembered what work he had done in Alabama, he said, "No, I really don't." A fair assumption was that he had gamed the system and avoided a year of service, before wiggling out of the Guard nearly a year before his time was up. It looked as if he had served four, not six years.
When he enlisted in the Texas Air Guard, Bush had signed a pledge stating he would complete his pilot training and then "return to my unit and fulfill my obligation to the utmost of my ability." Instead, he received flight training--at the government's expense -- and then cut out on his unit. He had not been faithful to the Guard. He had not kept this particular charge.
The problem with masks is that, after wearing one for a very long time, a person might reach a level of self-delusion that tells them their reality is the mask itself, and not what lies underneath. Bush has been skittering around the fact that he went AWOL during his term of military service for over three years now. The spectacle on the Abraham Lincoln suggests he has finally managed to convince himself that he did, in fact, serve the military of his country with honor and in accordance with the oath he took. Either that, or he is so utterly without shame as to be beyond the scope of normal human understanding.
Neither choice is particularly palatable, and never mind the inherent danger in a civilian commander so energetically equating himself with the military. Americans don't have a war leader anymore. They have a leader who is war personified. The fact that this personification comes at the expense of fact and truth is merely an accent in the symphony.
Another mask was donned by Bush on the deck of that aircraft carrier, one whose implications are far more dire and disturbing. Bush was there to tell the world that combat operations in Iraq had ceased. He did not go so far as to declare victory, as such a declaration would have required, under the Geneva Convention, the release of POWs and the withdrawal of American forces. The banner hanging across the control tower -- "Mission Accomplished" -- said all that needed to be said.
In his remarks, Bush closed with a paraphrasing of the Book of Isaiah: "In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'To the captives, 'come out,' and to those in darkness, 'be free,''"
This was a quotation from Chapter 61 of Isaiah, the very book Jesus Christ used when proclaiming that Isaiah's prophesies of the Messiah had come true. Using this passage from Isaiah, Jesus presented himself as the Son of God in Nazareth. Thus it is told in Luke, Chapter 4, Verses 16-22:
"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.""
Under normal circumstances, we could write this off as a President reaching for hopeful Biblical language to frame a particular argument. This has been done before, by many American leaders in many situations. In this case, taken on the political surface, we could see a President using the Bible to define the latest reason for war in Iraq -- the 'liberation' of the people -- in the conspicuous absence of the oft-repeated reason that started the war -- the presence of mass destruction weapons. A further analysis of George W. Bush himself, however, leads to some serious questions.
The passage of Isaiah referenced by Jesus at Nazareth, and by Bush on the Abraham Lincoln, is part of a larger collection of verses known as the "Servant Songs." The specific verse used by Bush, out of Isaiah 61, is most important; it is widely accepted by both Christian and Jewish scholars as announcing the Messiah. For Christians, the Messiah is Jesus, and so this passage refers specifically to Him and His coming. The fact that Jesus Himself used this passage to announce His presence further confirms this. Bush's reading of this passage suggests the possibility that he believes this coming, for the second time, has arrived.
It has been oft-reported that Bush witnessed the attacks of 9/11 and came to believe that God Himself, and not Scalia and the rest, put him into the Presidency for the sole purpose of pursuing this war against terrorism. It has likewise been oft-reported that Bush is an evangelical Christian of the vigorous Billy Graham stripe. We have witnessed the failure of every rationalization for making war on Iraq -- the WMDs, the terrorist connections -- and are left now with the rhetorical argument that we did the whole thing to 'save' the Iraqi people. Ergo, Bush positioned himself on the deck of that aircraft carrier as a savior.
We are talking about a man who wears masks for the sake of political opportunism, and to survive moments when he has to address himself in the bathroom mirror. Does this newest mask have George W. Bush taking on the mantle of Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer?
Here is a man so steeped in self-denial that he can shunt aside his own shameful history in order to pretend he is on the same moral level as the soldiers he abandoned when his time of service came due. Here is a man intent upon making war on as much of the Muslim world as he can put his hands around, while wrapping around himself the image and prophesies of Jesus Christ. What is next? Will we see George W. Bush standing before the American people saying "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing"?
George W. Bush, master of denial. George W. Bush, wearer of masks. George W. Bush, soldier for Christ.
George W. Bush, Christ Himself?
Oh dear God, let there be light.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is author of the bestselling book War On Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know (Context Books, 2002) with Scott Ritter, and The Greatest Sedition is Silence (Pluto Press, 2003), now available at http://www.silenceissedition.com.