Beyond The Pale

“The President is in the war every day.”

Tony Snow, June 14, 2007

One wonders, perhaps, what it must have been like in the affluent retreats of Midland Texas where President Bush grew up.  Did he make “vroom” noises with his mouth as he guided miniature fighter planes through the air, pretending to fly secret bombing runs and winding up in a life or death dogfight?  Did he have slews of Army Men that he would command over his bedsheets, ordering them that they were gonna take the hill at all costs?

And then one wonders if he ever grew out of that phase.

As life would later prove, even if Bush did imagine himself as a grizzled warrior, it was clear that imagination was about as far as he was willing to take those particular fantasies.

From what we’ve seen of the man in his public life, there is a grandiosity of his self image.  He is the decider, and the “commander guy.”  He wants people “dead or alive” and instead of holding modest press briefings to declare an end to major combat operations, he flies in on a fighter jet, jumps out in full fighter pilot gear, and delivers the address beneath a banner that declares, “Mission Accomplished.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Bush informs the Australian Prime Minister that we’re “kicking ass” in Iraq, and as evidenced by his prime time speech last week, it would appear that he’s no longer capable of even acting solemn when talking about Fallen Angels.

One watches all this, and wonders.

Then there’s this:

President Bush wishes that he could be alongside the troops in Iraq — except that he’s too old.

At least that’s what he reportedly told a blogger embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. In the first session of its kind, Bush spent almost an hour on Friday talking with 10 so-called “milbloggers,” including two who participated by video conference from a military base outside Baghdad.


N.Z. Bear,” one of the eight guests sitting around a table with Bush at the White House, reported: “Responding to one of the bloggers in Iraq he expressed envy that they could be there, and said he’d like to be there but ‘One, I’m too old to be out there, and two, they would notice me.'”

I’m sure this would all be very funny except, well, it isn’t.

I want to tell a simple tale.  As many of you know I served in the Navy as a nuclear qualified Engineering Laboratory Technician on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower as a member of the Reactor Department.

During my tenure, I served under three Reactor Officers, the highest ranking Nuke onboard.  The first two couldn’t possibly diverge more than they actually did.

Captain Block was a sailor’s sailor.  He enlisted long before I was ever born as an E-1 fireman.  Back then, sailor’s were not immediately put into the nuclear program and he had to do his time as a conventional mechanic until finally working his way into the program through dilligence, hard work, and attention to detail.

He worked his way up from E-1 to E-9, Senior Chief Petty Officer (the second highest enlisted rank in the Navy excluding MCPON which is held by only one enlisted member at any given time) before being commissioned as an O-1 Ensign.

And again he worked his way laboriously up the ranks.  By the time I met him, he was a full-bird Captain (O-6), and reportedly was senior to the CO of the ship (at the time that would be Captain Starling).  He was the heaviest (read: most knowledgeable) Nuke onboard, and knew every crew member under his command by name.  I was shocked personally when he addressed me by my nickname only weeks after I reported onboard.

Captain Block had dressed me down but good a couple of times, and every time I knew I deserved it.  Yet, I could not feel more proud when such a distinguished and respected officer shook my hand, smiled, and said, “Good Job, shipmate.”

He was replaced by Captain Orlean.  Captain Orlean had graduated from the Naval Academy with a degree in meteorology, which is useless in the Nuclear Program.  He had never served one day as an enlisted sailor, and by most accounts, he got to his position as a Captain by knowing the right elbows to rub and when.

On the day he left the Eisenhower, he had yet to be able to call more than a handful of enlisted personnel without reading their name tags first, and the damage he did to both the department’s morale, and its functionality still persist to this day from word I get to those few sailors I am in contact with that are currently serving on my old ship.

Lines of communication between officers and enlisted folk seem to have been all but permanently severed, and in Orlean’s day, political maneuvering won out over technical skill and knowledge.

But for this story to be applicable to what we are talking about with Bush, we have to discuss the uniforms of the two officers.  Captain Block always wore his khakis; in fact, i don’t think he even owned coveralls.  By contrast, Captain Orlean wore his coveralls much of the time.

The point is simply this.  Captain Block understood.  He had done his time in the plant, quite a few plants actually.  He had been a grunt, and was one no longer.  He was the officer in charge of a four hundred man strong division, and to this regard, he knew he belonged in khakis.  There were no delusions about what his job was; he didn’t work on turbines or change out oil filters, he signed papers.

Orlean, on the other hand, never got it.  When he wore his coveralls and grabbed his flashlight so he could perform cleanliness inspections, it was like he was playing, pretending.  It was like he was playing make-believe that he was down on the deckplates with the rest of us, and in so doing, all he did was distance himself from the men and women who served under him, the same men and women he never understood that he depended upon for the health and well being of the plant and his division.

Bush is still trying to wear a set of coveralls.

While 160,000 troops are in Iraq, their weapons never too far away, death stalking them at every corner, Bush is still playing make believe, and this revelation, this idea that he would deign to profess that he wishes he could be there, it’s just another scrap of evidence that to him, Iraq is little more than the same boyish imaginings he had back when he was a little kid, ordering plastic green Army Men to take the hill that was really just his knee under the sheets.

I would say it goes beyond the pale, but that happened years ago.

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