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George H.W. Bush and the Vietnam Syndrome

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Nowhere in the so-called print/online major media was there any hint that the late George H.W. Bush was a bit of a public predator. The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Guardian lauded the late president as a man who guided the U.S. through a difficult transition of becoming the world’s sole superpower with the demise of the former Soviet Union. What was missing was any critique of how Bush set the stage for unbridled U.S. militarism and jettisoning the Vietnam Syndrome, something that his predecessor, The Great Communicator Reagan, had chipped away at with his low-intensity wars in Central America and his massive nuclear arms buildup that culminated in the insane pursuit of Star Wars space weapons and nuclear shields.

Bush began the endless wars with his attack against Iraq in 1990-1991, for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm… the Gulf War… (Aren’t the names of ruthless wars comforting?) was yet another in the long line of wars to support repressive regimes in nations like Kuwait that the U.S. has little strategic interest in, save its spot in the oil rich Middle East. Bush oversaw what would be called a “turkey shoot” by a U.S. flyer: the mass targeting of Iraqi troops from the air as they fled Kuwait. In any case, Bush gave his former ally Saddam Hussein a diplomatic wink and a nod, later reversed, to begin Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait, where Iraq claimed ownership of oil fields. The story of Iraqi soldiers throwing infants from incubators onto the floor of a hospital in Kuwait proved to be completely unfounded. Indeed, while there is absolute proof that Bush grabbed women’s asses publicly on several occasions over the years, there is no proof that Iraqi soldiers ever threw babies on the ground.

The Watson Institute at Brown University recently published a report that U.S. wars in the so-called War on Terror have cost U.S. taxpayers $5.9 trillion dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of programs of social uplift left in the dust by the penchant for wars and war profiteering that began under Reagan, but was made acceptable in Iraq by Bush. And then there was the attack on Panama that left an untold number of civilians dead in another bogus U.S. war, the failed war on drugs.

But it was Bush’s destruction of what was left of the Vietnam Syndrome that bothers most. Reagan began the long militaristic march to eradicate Vietnam Syndrome by declaring the Vietnam War a “noble cause.” Forget the three million or so dead in Southeast Asia and the 58,000 U.S. soldiers. The Vietnam War was revised into something noble and good, and that set the stage for the bellicose Bush to end it once and for all in the Middle East.

Since the U.S. government says that I developed Vietnam Syndrome while in the military during the Vietnam era, I’m a little sensitive about someone who destroyed the hesitancy of the people of the U.S., or at least those not asleep at the wheel, to balk at approving or endorsing wars of aggression. I still don’t understand how both a nation and individuals can suffer from the same affliction as the Vietnam Syndrome, but I’m somewhat satisfied that I’ve still got it, even though wars seem to be one of the only ways that people can still come together or have some consensus as a society.

None of this discussion goes to the role that Bush played as director of the C.I.A., a government agency that has spread U.S. hegemony and spying in the name of empire. Neither does it address Bush’s role as second in command for the The Great Communicator. But what is important here is how the U.S. got enough people to go along with the premise that war is a positive action on the part of the government and that trillions of dollars is a good way to spend the national treasure of empire while human needs go unmet and a relatively small number of the power elite are enriched beyond imagination.

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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