COLUMN: We don't have to eulogize George H. W. Bush

Former President George H. W. Bush died Nov. 30 at age 94. Politicians and public figures everywhere are memorializing him, no matter their political affiliation. He is scheduled to have multiple memorial services this week.

Enough people have written about his demeanor and grace. The Washington Post called him “honorable, gracious and decent.” The New Yorker even published a piece titled “The Irreducible Niceness of George H.W. Bush,” which, at this point, is just tone-deaf.

There is nothing wrong with pointing out the flaws of an important public figure right after his death — in fact, it is necessary. It is imperative that we are aware of the crimes of the past so we do not repeat them in the future. Looking at Bush with rose-colored glasses just washes his misdeeds into the void.

I propose that instead of eulogizing Bush, we eulogize the AIDS victims and the civilians in Iraq and many other nations who died due to his decisions and actions.

Bush served as president from Jan. 20, 1989 to Jan. 20, 1993, taking over from where Ronald Reagan left off in the AIDS crisis, which was not only a devastating tragedy but a deliberate slaughtering by the U.S. government of mostly gay men. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1989 there were 21,628 AIDS deaths in the United States. The total kept rising throughout his presidency, and in 1992 there were 32,407 deaths.

Bush was not only inactive in funding AIDS treatment but took a public stance against the victims of AIDS, offering them incredibly homophobic remarks.

“Here’s a disease where you can control its spread by your own personal behavior,” Bush said in 1991. “You can’t do that in cancer.”

He did sign the Ryan White Care Act into law in 1990, but this was after immense pressure from ACT UP and other activist groups. Prominent AIDS activist Larry Kramer was later asked by the Washington Blade if Bush deserved credit for that, at the very least. His response was succinct and appropriate.

“I will not give him credit for anything,” Kramer said. “He hated us.”

Overall, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. died of AIDS during his presidency. Of course, his numerous war crimes only add to this list of deaths.

During the Persian Gulf war, 88,500 tons of bombs were dropped on Iraq and Kuwait in 43 days. Seventy percent of these bombs missed their targets, killing innocent civilians. The Bush Administration did not release this information until after the war was over.

Iraq’s infrastructure was completely destroyed due to these bombings and the subsequent ground attacks. UNICEF reported 4,000 more children under 5 died every month in Iraq than would have died before Western sanctions.

There is not any remorse on Bush’s part for any of these crimes. In 1988, when the USS Vincennes mistakenly downed an Iran Air commercial flight and killed 290 civilians, his response was “I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are.”

This does not even begin to list all of the horrific war crimes for which he is responsible, but it is a start. 

Unsurprisingly, he also has a racist history. He opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Bill while running for Senate, then vetoed another civil rights bill in 1990.

His presidential campaign even featured the disturbingly racist “Willie Horton” ad in response to his opponent Michael Dukakis being, in his own words, “soft on crime." The advertisement featured black convict Willie Horton that left prison for a weekend furlough program and raped a woman and stabbed her husband. The victims were white, so naturally Bush’s advertisement played directly into racist stereotypes of black-on-white crime in an attempt to scare racist white people into voting for him.

Of course, I understand the sentiment of only mentioning the positive aspects of someone’s life when they die, but I believe this is a sentiment reserved more for private citizens. You wouldn’t mention the fact that your great uncle had an affair at his funeral, but it is different when the person was the president and responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people.

This is not to say people cannot grapple with the death of a public figure in their own way. I simply want to present the facts and make sure people are aware of the victims of Bush’s administration, policies and actions. When thinking about Bush in the midst of all of his memorial services and events, spare some thoughts for all of those victims, too.

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