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On April 25th the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and General Rehabilitation Project will be dedicated in Dallas, Texas. It takes up 23 acres at Southern Methodist University, 23 acres that neither humanity nor any other species may ever reclaim for anything decent or good.
I’ll be there, joining in the people’s response with those who fear that this library will amount to a Lie Bury.
“The Bush Center’s surrounding native Texas landscape,” the center’s PR office says, “including trees from the Bush family’s Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas, continues President and Mrs. Bush’s longstanding commitment to land and water conservation and energy efficiency.”
Does it, now? Is that what you recall? Bush the environmentalist?
Well, maybe you and I remember things differently, but do we have a major educational institution that will effectively repeat our corrections of the Lie Bury’s claims for decades to come?
According to the Lie Bury, Bush was and is an education leader, saving our schools by turning them into test-taking factories and getting unqualified military officers to run them. This is something to be proud of, we’re told.
The Lie Bury’s annual report shows Bush with the Dalai Lama. No blood is anywhere to be seen. The Lie Bury’s website has a photo of a smiling George W. golfing for war. “The Warrior Open,” it explains, “is a competitive 36-hole golf tournament that takes place over two days every fall in the Dallas area. The event honors U.S. service members wounded in the global war on terror.”
Now, I actually know of some soldiers wounded in what they call by that name who don’t feel honored by Bush’s golfing, just as millions of Iraqis living as refugees within or outside of the nation he destroyed find Bush’s liberty to walk outdoors, much less golf for the glory of war, offensive. But none of them has a quarter-billion dollar “center” from which to spread the gospel of history as it actually happened — as it happened to its losers, to those water-boarded, shot in the face, or otherwise liberated by Bush and his subordinates.
When Bush lied about excuses to start a war on Iraq — as with everything else he did — he did so incompetently. As a result, a majority of Americans in the most recent polls, still say he lied to start the war. But few grasp the lesson as it should be applied to wars launched by more competent liars. And memory of Bush’s lies is fading, buried under forgetfulness, avoidance, misdirection, revisionism, a mythical “surge” success, and a radically inaccurate understanding of what our government did to Iraq.
I won’t be attending the Lie Bury ceremony for vengeance, but in hopes of ridding our culture of the vengeance promoted by Bush. He based a foreign policy and a domestic stripping away of rights on the thirst for vengeance — even if misdirected vengeance. We have a responsibility to establish that we will not support that approach going forward.
Bush himself is relevant only as his treatment can deter future crimes and abuses. No one should wish Bush or any other human being ill. In fact, we should strive to understand him, as it will help us understand others who behave as he has.
Bush, of course, knew what he was doing when he tried to launch a war while pretending a war would be his last resort, suggesting harebrained schemes to get the war going to Tony Blair. Bush knew the basic facts. He knew he was killing a lot of people for no good reason. He was not so much factually clueless as morally clueless.
For Bush, as for many other people, killing human beings in wars exists outside the realm of morality. Morality is the area of abortions, gay marriage, shop lifting, fornicating, or discriminating. Remember when Bush said that a singer’s suggestion that he didn’t care about black people was the worst moment in his presidency? Racism may be understood by Bush as a question of morality. Mass murder not so much. Bush’s mother remarked that war deaths were not worthy of troubling her beautiful mind. Asked why he’d lied about Iraqi weapons, George W. Bush asked what difference it made. Well, 1.4 million dead bodies, but who’s counting?
I won’t be attending the Lie Bury because Bush’s successor is an improvement. On the contrary, our failure to hold Bush accountable has predictably led to his successor being significantly worse in matters of abusing presidential power. And not just predictably, but predicted. When we used to demand Bush’s impeachment, people would accuse us of disliking him or his political party. No, we’d say, if he isn’t held accountable, future presidents will be worse, and it won’t matter from which party they come.
I helped draft about 70 articles of impeachment against Bush, from which Congressman Dennis Kucinich selected 35 and introduced them. I later looked through those 35 and found 27 that applied to President Barack Obama, even though his own innovations in abusive behavior weren’t on the list. Bush’s lying Congress into war (not that Congress wasn’t eager to play along) is actually a standard to aspire to now. When Obama went to war in Libya, against the will of Congress, he avoided even bothering to involve the first branch of our government.
When Bush locked people up or tortured them to death, he kept it as secret as he could. Obama — despite radically expanding secrecy powers and persecuting whistleblowers — does most of his wrongdoing wide out in the open. Warrantless spying is openly acknowledged policy. Imprisonment without trial is “law.” Torture is a policy choice, and the choice these days is to outsource it. Murder is, however, the new torture. The CIA calls it “cleaner.” I picture Bush’s recent paintings of himself washing off whatever filth his mind is aware he carries.
Obama runs through a list of men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays, picks some, and has them murdered. We don’t know this because of a whistleblower or a journalist. We know this because the White House wanted us to know it, and to know it before the election. Think about that. We moved from the pre-insanity state we were in circa 1999 to an age in which presidents want us to know they murder people. That was primarily the work of George W. Bush, and every single person who yawned, who looked away, who cheered, who was too busy, who said “it’s more important to elect a new president than to keep presidential powers in check,” or who said “impeachment would be traumatic” — as if this isn’t.
In Guatemala a prosecutor has charged a former dictator with genocide, remarking, “It’s sending the most important message of the rule of law — that nobody is above the law.” It’s not so many years ago that the United States had the decency at least to hypocritically propose that standard to the world. Now, we advance the standard of lawlessness, of “looking forward, not backward.”
That’s why the people need to respond to the lie bury. Ann Wright is going to be there. And Diane Wilson. Robert Jensen and Ray McGovern are coming. So are Lon Burnam and Bill McElvaney and Debra Sweet. Hadi Jawad and Leah Bolger and Marjorie Cohn and Kathy Kelly are coming. As are Coleen Rowley and Bill Moyer and Jacob David George and Medea Benjamin and Chas Jacquier and Drums Not Guns.
Also coming will be many familiar faces from the days when we used to protest in Crawford. When we’d go into that one restaurant at the intersection in Crawford, there’d be a cardboard cut-out Dubya standing there. We picked him up and stood him in the corner, facing the corner. We said he needed to stay there until he understood what he’d done wrong. In reality, of course, he was cardboard. The lesson was for everyone else in the restaurant. It’s a lesson that still needs to be taught.
David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.