Fond Farewell To 41

CARTOON: RJ Matson, CQ Roll Call 

Jewish Light Editorial

At a time when politics seems to be meaner and harsher than ever before, the loss of a man who sought to turn the United States into a kinder and gentler nation is profound. Born into a family of wealth and political power, George Herbert Walker Bush, the nation’s 41st president, devoted his life to serving his country.  

Just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the nation into World War II, Bush became one of the youngest fighter pilots in American history. He flew 58 combat missions, and his comrades in arms remembered him as always being more concerned about his buddies in uniform than about himself.  

His plane was shot down over the Pacific, and he was the sole survivor of the three-person crew.   Instead of boasting about his exemplary record, he never stopped asking himself, “Why me?  Why was I spared the fate of my fellow airmen?”

Bush governed his life by a principle taught to him by his mother: resist the temptation to boast or brag about your accomplishments.  No matter how lofty his achievements were, he consistently credited others for his success.

ADVERTISEMENT
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra ad

Leaving the White House, Bush continued the tradition of leaving a personal note in the presidential desk in the Oval Office.  Former President Bill Clinton, who had defeated Bush in 1992, cherishes the letter in which his predecessor urged him “not to be thrown off course by your critics” and wished him success in office.  

In addition to sending hand-written notes to presidents, prime ministers and royalty, Bush also penned them to people he would encounter in his daily routine or who

needed a personal morale boost after suffering a setback or tragedy.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, his best friend of 60 years who was at Bush’s bedside when he died, described him as “the most successful one-term president in U.S. history,” and there is ample evidence to support that claim.

Certainly no president in American history was better prepared by experience for the most challenging job in the world. After heroic service in WWII, Bush served as a member of Congress, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the first official diplomatic representative to mainland China, ambassador to the United Nations, vice president and ultimately president.  

In the nation’s highest office, Bush 41 spoke of the need for a kinder and gentler nation, and he encouraged all Americans to support philanthropy as part of “a thousand points of light” to illuminate the nation with the glow of generosity.

Bush also took an Old School approach in his role as a former president.  He avoided criticism of the decisions of his successors, including his own son, George W. Bush, even when the younger Bush took a course of action that the elder Bush was known to oppose. He worked closely with Clinton on aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and former First Lady Michelle Obama recalled her special bond with the elder Bush when official occasions brought them together.

Regarding 41’s relationship to the American Jewish community and to the State of Israel, Middle East expert Dennis Ross describes those relationships as supportive but not a deeply felt emotional attachment like that shown by Clinton or by Bush 43.

In this book “Doomed to Succeed,” in which Ross evaluates presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama in terms of their support for Israel, he gives Bush credit for several key actions important to Israel’s security and standing in the world:

• He maintained U.S. assistance to Israel at $3 billion a year, and in the aftermath of the Gulf War, he furnished another $650 million to compensate for damages Israel suffered from the 39 Scud missiles sent by Iraq into Israel.

• He provided life-saving Patriot missile batteries to Israel during the Gulf War to vastly increase Israel’s ability to deter missile attacks.

• He played a key negotiating role with the government of Sudan to secure the release of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in Operation Solomon.

• He helped secure the repeal of the infamous and odious “Zionism is racism” resolution at the United Nations.

• He played an equally helpful role in negotiating the release of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews who found new lives in Israel or the West.

• He convened the Madrid Mideast Peace Conference that brought Israel and Arab negotiators together to discuss peace in an open international forum.

• In addition to the above, no other president was better qualified to handle the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and persuade Soviet leader Mikhail

Gorbachev to allow the reunification of Germany to go forward and its admission to NATO.

President Bush had close ties to St. Louis, including his brother William “Bucky” Bush, who died earlier this year, and his cousin, businessman George Herbert Walker.

It is significant that Bush 41 made a point of saying that he wanted President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at his state funeral this week, even though he criticized Trump’s campaign and voted for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.  Bush was not a person to bear grudges, and he refrained from speaking harshly about others. 

In these bitterly divisive times, current political leaders on both sides of the aisle should emulate his example. Often, after the death of a world leader, reaction is formal but impersonal. The worldwide and nationwide outpouring of tributes and heartfelt praise of former President George Herbert Walker Bush are well deserved.