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By HAL BROWN
In 1968 George W. Bush was coasting into adulthood with a new Yale B.A. and plans for a Harvard MBA. All the perks of two Ivy League degrees and of being his father’s son were within his reach.
Unfortunately an inconvenient war got in the way. For George W. Bush, as for so many others, the draft notice could come in the mail any day.
So he chose to use privilege to get into the Texas Air National Guard.
In the Air National Guard, Bush became a fighter pilot. He could have asked to be trained as a transport pilot and still gotten his wings and flown a military aircraft. He still could have worn an aviator jacket like his father did in World War II.
Instead he applied for and was accepted in the fighter pilot training program, the most dangerous Air National Guard job going.
In the Texas Air National Guard George W. Bush learned to fly a jet, became a second lieutenant and got his wings. He flew the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger fighter.
He was a fighter jock with enough of the fabled right stuff to fly a plane with flames coming out of its ass.
If George W. Bush wanted to outdo his father who was a true war hero,* he couldn’t do it stateside. He could only achieve the external trappings of being a hero. Real heroes were being made in Vietnam.
Perhaps if he knew then what he knows now about politics, he might have even volunteered for Vietnam duty. After all, some contend that John Kerry choose a combat assignment because he knew it would look good on a future political resume.
But at the time George W. Bush chose the safest path which was a stint on the home front, featuring irregular attendance at training schools, a transfer to Alabama to assist in a senatorial campaign and finally, an departure for Harvard six months early.
Flash forward forty years. No longer a mere National Guard second lieutenant, George W. Bush is at the pinnacle of the military hierarchy. He is the true “decider” of all things military. 2nd Lt. George W. Bush has gone from wearing a single shiny brass bar on his uniform to being the commander of a bevy of four star generals.
Tragically for Bush and the nation, hero status still eludes the father’s son. However, his quest for it fervently continues.
He finds himself leading a war he is unable to extricate himself from. Listening to the advice of his top military officers and other experts as to how to get out of Iraq, for him, equals an admission of defeat.
George W. Bush’s quest for heroism is inextricably linked to his shaky self-identity. In order to achieve goals he thinks are heroic he must prove a cadre of experts wrong and defy his critics by bringing democracy to Iraq.
I think that Bush’s admitting defeat would be truly heroic because it would mean he was accepting a crushing blow to a self-image composed of repressed feelings of inadequacy.
The young pilot who flew a fighter jet in Texas and Alabama during the Vietnam War can’t accept that there’s another kind of heroism that comes with admitting when you’re wrong.
*Papa Bush flew in World War II, engaged in heavy air combat, and even had to bail out when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He flew 58 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
(Hal Brown is a clinical social worker and former mental health center director who is mostly retired from his private psychotherapy practice. He writes on the psychopathology of public figures and other topics that pique his interest. He can be found online at www.stressline.com)