Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
With this weekend’s Advent festivities came the sad news that the 41st President of the Unites States, George Herbert Walker Bush, died at the age of 94, eight months after his wife Barbara passed away. This president is already the stick by which many current ones and those in the future will be judged. If you weren’t already aware, his duty as a soldier was heroic, his career as a public servant was eventful, and his time in the Oval Office made for positive affects on the U.S. and numerous other nations. In his 94 years, he saw and did more than the best of fiction novelists could conjure about a single man. I invite you to read his biography online, but here’s some amazing highlights. This is all true.
Like many in his generation, Bush joined the U.S. military in the months after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, becoming a pilot in the Navy. He participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1943, one of the largest air battles in history. Months later his plane took flack and was ditched in the ocean, where he stayed in an inflatable raft prior to being rescued by the USS Finback. By bailing out over the ocean, he barely escaped the gruesome cannibalized fate of others in the raid who diverted to land. Months later, Japan surrendered.
As soon as he got back, he pursued the offer made to him by Yale University to turn a four-year program into an accelerated two-years, and married Barbara Pierce. He used his degree in economics to develop business in oil after moving his family to Texas. He progressed with success in business until he launched a career in politics in 1963. After serving various roles in local and national legislation, Bush was elected to a seat in the House, was defeated in a race for the Senate, appointed by Nixon to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, then to the Chairman of the RNC, and then to the Director of the CIA.
Seventeen years after Gaudium et Spes exhorted world leaders to disarm themselves of weapons that cause mass casualties—“the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity”—Bush as Vice President made significant strides on the nuclear disarmament plans of his future predecessor, Pres. Ronald Reagan.
In 1982, still acting as the Vice President, it became apparent that he had a talent for foreign diplomacy as a positive outcome of his talks with leaders in Africa emerged. Months later he toured Western Europe and assured its leaders of the U.S. response in a would-be aggression by Russian forces. Then in 1983 he traveled against the advice of his aides to El Salvador?where just three years previous, the Archbishop, Saint Óscar Romero was assassinated?to call for an end to the “death squads” that had claimed the lives of tens of thousands. It is reported that, again against the advice of his aides, Bush asked to attended a meeting where blood stained the floor and men with semi-automatic weapons lined the walls. Not to be intimidated, Bush attended the talks with the country’s leaders, later saying, “It is not just the President, it is not just me or the Congress. If these death-squad murders continue, you will lose the support of the American people and that would indeed be a tragedy.”
He became president in 1989. The single-term administration accomplished much in four years. He ignited hope throughout the country with his often-mentioned analogy of “one-thousand points of light” in which each person can be a force for good in the world. Through his leadership and wit, his negotiations also brought a peaceful end to the Cold War in 1991 with a multifaceted strategic partnership with Russian President Boris Yeltsin (prior to this, he also made a significant reduction in nuclear arms in an agreement with USSR’s Mikhail Gorbechev). This time also brought forth a time of intense international change with the fall of the Soviet Union and different crises in the Middle East.
On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq was led by Saddam Hussein to invade its oil-rich neighbor Kuwait. Bush rejected half-cooked proposals for negotiation by Iraq and began planning an offensive headed by General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. Early on the morning of Jan. 17, 1991, allied forces launched the first attack, which included more than 4,000 bombing runs by coalition aircraft over the next four weeks. A ground invasion was launched on Feb. 24 for only 100 hours before it was clear that the mission achieved its goal: drive out Iraqi forces. Receiving criticism that his move was premature and that he should have pursued Iraqi forces into Bagdad to overthrow Hussein, Bush explained that he did not give the order to overthrow the Iraqi government because it would have "incurred incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."
In his final years he made headlines. Skydiving, fishing trips with Wounded Warriors, and shaving his head to raise money for a young boy fighting Leukemia (Bush’s daughter, Robin, died from the blood disease). In April 2018, his wife of 73 years died. Read that back to yourself, one more time: His wife of 73 years. Most people don’t get to live that long, or to love that long. Bush did both.
My first images of the news was during his presidency. I remember the sight of salvos firing into the night. I remember asking my father, a soldier at the time, what I was seeing on television. “That’s the war,” is all he said.
A wonderful story of Bush’s final words is circulating. The night he died he received a phone call from his son, George Bush Jr., who told him he was “a wonderful father.” His final words were, “I love you, too.” We should all be so lucky as to have our fathers around for this long.
Pray for his soul. Pray for our country.