Bush, George H. W

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George H. W. Bush

Born June 12, 1924

Milton, Massachusetts

President of the United States during the 1991 Persian Gulf War

"Everyone has his place in the sun—large country or small, they should be consulted, their opinions considered. Then when the United States makes a move and I make a decision [about going to war against Iraq], we are more apt to have solid support."

George H. W. Bush quoted in All the Best.

George Bush was the forty-first president of the United States, serving one four-year term from 1989 to 1993. One of the highlights of his time in office was the victory of American-led military forces in the Persian Gulf War, which forced the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq to end its nine-month occupation of neighboring Kuwait. Bush was the world leader most responsible for convincing the international community to oppose Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and the swift and decisive defeat of Iraq's army marked the United States' biggest military triumph since World War II (1939–45).

In 2000 Bush was proud to see his eldest son, George W. Bush (see entry), elected as the forty-third president of the United States. The former president supported his son's decision to launch a second war against Iraq in 2003, which ultimately succeeded in removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (see entry) from power.

Leaves life of privilege for military service

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. His parents were Prescott Sheldon Bush, a banker and U.S. senator, and Dorothy Walker Bush. One of five children, Bush was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, in wealthy and comfortable surroundings. His parents ensured that he received a fine education, enrolling him in Phillips Academy, a private school in Andover, Massachusetts. "[Our parents] were our biggest boosters, always there when we needed them," recalled Bush in his 1987 autobiography Looking Forward. "It taught me to be the same way with my own children."

Bush excelled at Phillips Academy. He was a fine student and top athlete who captained the school's soccer and basketball teams. He also was named class president his senior year. After graduating from Phillips in 1942, he was accepted at Yale University, a prestigious school located in New Haven, Connecticut. As soon as he turned eighteen years old, however, Bush decided that he needed to offer his services to his country in World War II. "The country was unified," Bush recalled in a letter published in his memoir, All the Best. "It seemed that everyone wanted to do his part—do his duty. Having said that I did not really have any idea when I enlisted what kind of experiences lay ahead. I had never flown before, though I knew I wanted to be a Navy pilot. I had always loved the sea and the idea of flying off a carrier really appealed to me."

Triumph and tragedy in the U.S. Navy

Eager to be a fighter pilot, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve. After completing flight training school, he became a member of the navy's Torpedo Bomber Squadron. He was stationed in the war's "Pacific Theater," a geographic region encompassing the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands, where American forces were engaged in a fierce struggle against enemy forces from Japan.

By the end of 1943, Bush was the youngest fighter pilot in the entire U.S. Navy. He performed bravely throughout his tour of duty, enduring dangerous fire from enemy forces on numerous occasions. His closest brush with death came on September 2, 1944, when the plane he was piloting was raked by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. "It felt as if a giant fist had crunched into the belly of the plane," Bush wrote in a letter later published in All the Best. After being hit, Bush dropped all four bombs that he was carrying on their intended targets, then steered the burning plane out to sea. As flames spread throughout the plane, Bush ordered the other two crewmen in the plane to bail out, then he ejected from the plane himself. He never saw the other two crewmen again.

Bush spent the next several hours floating alone in the sea. He was greatly concerned that he might still be captured by Japanese forces in the region, who had a reputation for torturing prisoners. But after several anxious hours, he was instead rescued by an American submarine. Bush eventually received the Distinguished Flying Cross medal from the U.S. government in recognition of his ordeal.

In December 1944 Bush was released from further military duty. Shortly after returning home to the United States, on January 6, 1945, he married Barbara Pierce, his longtime sweetheart. But even as he began a new stage in his life, the memories of his World War II experiences stayed with him. "I experienced great joy and great sadness," he recalled in a 1998 letter included in All the Best. "I laughed a lot, and when my squadron mates were killed, and quite a few were, I wept.... When I look back at my life I put my experience as a 'combat Navy flier' right up at the top of the list of experiences that truly shaped my life."

Successful careers in business and politics

In 1945 Bush enrolled at Yale University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics in three years. He then moved to Texas and established a successful business developing offshore oil drilling equipment. George and Barbara Bush also started a family around this time. They eventually had six children, but one of them—daughter Robin—died from leukemia, a form of cancer, in 1953 at age three. "To this day, like every parent who has lost a child—we wonder why," Bush wrote in Looking Forward. "Yet we know that whatever the reason, she is in God's loving arms."

During the 1960s Bush became a leading activist in the Texas Republican Party. In 1964 he earned the Republican nomination for a seat in the United States Senate, but he was defeated in the general election. Two years later he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. He easily won reelection in 1968, but in 1970 he abandoned his Congressional seat to make another bid for a spot in the U.S. Senate. Despite active support from Republican President Richard M. Nixon, however, Bush lost to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen.

In 1971 Bush was named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he spent the next two years working at the UN's New York City headquarters. In 1973 he was named chairman of the Republican National Committee, an organization dedicated to helping Republicans in elections and policy discussions. His biggest challenge as chairman was dealing with the Watergate scandal, in which it was revealed that President Richard Nixon and members of his staff engaged in numerous illegal activities during and after his re-election campaign of 1972. Nixon's personal involvement in the scandal eventually convinced most Americans, including political figures such as Bush, that he was unfit to hold public office. On August 9, 1973, Nixon resigned and Vice President Gerald R. Ford took the oath of the presidency.

In October 1974 President Ford named Bush his chief diplomat to China. Bush and his family enjoyed their time in China. They were fascinated by Chinese culture and loved traveling throughout the country. But in December 1975 Bush was called back to the United States to take over the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA is responsible for gathering information, often through spying, on the activities of other countries and organizations that might affect the United States. Bush served as director of the CIA until Ford lost to Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.

After leaving the CIA, Bush and his family returned to Texas. In 1980 Bush ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. He was a popular choice among many Republican voters but was eventually defeated by former California governor Ronald Reagan. Mindful of Bush's popularity, Reagan asked him to be the party's vice presidential nominee, and Bush accepted. A few months later, the Reagan-Bush ticket easily defeated President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale to claim the White House.

Reagan and Bush took their respective oaths of office on January 21, 1981. They kept these positions for the next eight years, for Reagan-Bush easily won reelection in 1984, winning forty-nine of the fifty states. Throughout Bush's eight years as vice president, he publicly defended all of Reagan's positions, even when he privately disagreed with the president.

In 1988 the Republican Party chose Bush to be their candidate to succeed Reagan, who was nearing the end of his last term in office. Bush had campaigned hard to be the Republican candidate, and he was delighted to earn the nomination. "I may not be the most eloquent [candidate]," he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. "I may sometimes be a little awkward. But there is nothing self-conscious in my love of country. I am a quiet man—but I hear the quiet people others don't. The quiet people who raise the family, pay the taxes, meet the mortgage. I hear them, and their concerns are mine."

Bush easily won the 1988 presidential election, defeating Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. He took the oath of office to be the forty-first president of the United States on January 20, 1989. Bush's highest priorities as president included improving education, helping businesses, and reducing the huge federal budget deficit that he inherited from the Reagan administration. In 1990, however, he was forced to turn his attention to a brewing crisis in the Middle East.

The Persian Gulf War

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ordered his military forces to invade the neighboring country of Kuwait. Hussein argued that Iraq had a historical claim to Kuwait's territory. He also wanted to control Kuwait's oil reserves and to gain access to Kuwait's port on the Persian Gulf. The United States and many other countries expressed outrage about Iraq's attack and demanded that Hussein give up his claim on Kuwait. When he refused, the United States organized a military coalition against Iraq that eventually grew to include five hundred thousand U.S. troops and two hundred thousand soldiers from other nations. In addition, the Bush administration successfully lobbied the United Nationsto pass a tough resolution approving the use of military force to free Kuwait from Iraq's army.

According to Bush, the United States played a vital role in shaping the decisive international response to Iraq's aggression. "The importance of the United States leadership is brought home to me clearly," he wrote in a September 7, 1990, letter reprinted in All the Best. The letter went on to say:

It's only the United States that can lead.... But it is my theory that the more they [smaller, less powerful countries] are included on the take-off, the more we get their opinion, the more we reach out no matter what is involved, in terms of time involved, the better it is. Everyone is proud. Everyone has his place in the sun—large country or small, they should be consulted, their opinions considered. Then when the United States makes a move and I make a decision [about going to war against Iraq], we are more apt to have solid support.

The stalemate between Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition forces continued through the end of 1990. Bush admitted in a December 31 letter to his family reprinted in All the Best:

I have thought long and hard about what might have to be done.... As I write this letter at Year's end, there is still some hope that Iraq's dictator will pull out of Kuwait. I vary on this. Sometimes I think he might, at others I think he simply is too unrealistic—too ignorant of what he might face. I have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that we have tried hard for peace. We have gone to the UN; we have formed an historic coalition; there have been diplomatic initiatives from country after country.... I guess what I want you to know as a father is this: Every human life is precious. When the question is asked, 'How many lives are you willing to sacrifice'—it tears at my heart. The answer, of course, is none—none at all. We have waited to give sanctions a chance, we have moved a tremendous force so as to reduce the risk to every American soldier if force has to be used; but the question of loss of life still lingers and plagues the heart.

On January 16, 1991, Bush approved the launch of Operation Desert Storm, a major bombing campaign against Iraqi military positions in Kuwait and Iraq. "I have never felt a day like this in my life," he wrote in All the Best. "My mind is a thousand miles away. I simply can't sleep. I think of what other Presidents went through. The agony of war. I think of our able pilots, their training, their gung-ho spirit. And also what it is they are being asked to do." But despite his anxiety about the lives of American soldiers, he expressed a deep conviction that he had made the right decision. "For me this [conflict against Iraq] is good versus evil," he wrote in a January 22, 1991, letter included in All the Best. "It is right versus wrong. It is the world versus Iraq's brutal dictator, with his cruelty, his international arrogance, his thumbing his nose at the rest of the world."

The American-led bombing campaign lasted for thirty-eight days before giving way to a ground assault on Iraqi positions in Kuwait and southern Iraq. This ground attack crushed Iraq's remaining military forces in less than one hundred hours. As Iraq's tattered forces retreated to Baghdad, Iraq's capital city, Bush decided to call off the attack. A short time later, Iraq agreed to all of the coalition demands, including giving up all claims to Kuwait. "I was convinced, as were all our Arab friends and allies, that Hussein would be over-thrown once the war ended," Bush stated in All the Best. "We underestimated his brutality and cruelty to his own people and the stranglehold he has on his country. We were disappointed, but I still do not regret my decision to end the war when we did.... Our mission, as mandated [declared] by the

Texan "Red" Adair Corrals Kuwaiti Oil Well Fires

As Iraqi military forces fled Kuwait in the final days of the Persian Gulf War, they set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells. This despicable act of environmental terrorism created a terrible air pollution hazard for the Kuwaiti people. Smoke and oil carried on the wind from the ruined oil wells poisoned trees and grazing livestock, contaminated fresh water supplies, and threatened the health of people throughout the Persian Gulf. Desperate to deal with this emergency situation, the U.S. government called in "Red" Adair, the world's most famous oil well firefighter. Some analysts thought that the damaged oil wells would burn for years. But working together, Adair's crew and other firefighting companies capped every well within nine months.

Paul N. "Red" Adair was born June 18, 1915, in Houston, Texas. He dropped out of high school to help support his family, and over the next several years took a wide assortment of jobs. In 1945 he was inducted into the U.S. Army, where he achieved the rank of staff sergeant. He returned to the Houston area after completing his military service and secured a job with Myron Kinley, one of the country's early pioneers in controlling oil wells that "blow out," spray large volumes of oil into the air or water, or catch on fire.

Adair worked for Kinley's company until 1959, when he decided to form his own company to control oil well fires and blowouts. Over the next three decades, he gained international fame for his success in controlling major oil well fires and blowouts, both on land and on oil rigs located far out at sea. He also developed some of the oil industry's most effective machines for controlling underwater oil wells that catch on fire or blow out.

One of the notable achievements of Adair's career was his role in neutralizing oil field fires in Kuwait following the Gulf War. Adair and his team extinguished 117 oil well fires across Kuwait, including many wells located in the country's most valuable oil fields. When the crisis first erupted, some analysts thought that it might take up to five years to cap all of the burning wells. They pointed out that shortages of water and equipment posed tremendous challenges to Adair and the other firefighting companies arriving in Kuwait. But Adair's company worked tirelessly to put out the fires, and the legendary firefighter and his crews completed their task in only nine months. A few months later, President George H. W. Bush sent Adair a Special Letter of Recognition thanking him for his help.

In 1994 Adair sold his business for an estimated $10 million and retired, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. Even after retiring, however, he continued to advise the oil industry on a wide range of oil well safety issues.

Sources: "Paul N. 'Red' Adair." Available online at http://www.redadair.com/bio.html (accessed April 2, 2004); "Red Adair." Contemporary Newsmakers 1987. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003; Singerman, Philip. Red Adair: An American Hero. New York: Bloomsbury, 1989.

United Nations, was clear: end the aggression. We did that. We liberated Kuwait and destroyed Hussein's military machine so that he could no longer threaten his neighbors."

Loses 1992 election

The U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf War made Bush enormously popular with the American people. But as time passed, the weak U.S. economy eroded his standing with American voters. In addition, Bush struggled to erase a widely held public perception that he was out of touch with the challenges facing average American families. As a result, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton was able to defeat Bush in the November 1992 presidential election.

Bush held office until January 20, 1993, when Clinton took over. On his last day as president, Bush felt a range of emotions. "And so time goes on and I'm sitting here now alone, the desk is clear and the pictures are gone," he wrote in a diary entry that appeared in All the Best. Bush's diary entry continued:

I leave a note on the desk for Bill Clinton. It looks a little lonely sitting there. I don't want it to be overly dramatic, but I did want him to know that I would be rooting for him.... I feel the same sense of wonder and majesty about this office today as I did when I first walked in here. I've tried to serve here with no taint or dishonor; no conflict of interest; nothing to sully [stain] this beautiful place and this job I've been privileged to hold.

After leaving the White House, Bush retired from public life. He and his wife Barbara divided their time between homes in Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine. In 2000 he was delighted to see his son George W. Bush defeat Democratic candidate Al Gore in the most closely contested presidential election in U.S. history. In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and seized control of the country within a matter of weeks. President George W. Bush thus succeeded in removing Saddam Hussein from power nearly a dozen years after his father had defeated Hussein in the Persian Gulf War.

Where to Learn More

Bush, George. All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Bush, George, with Victor Gold. Looking Forward. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1987.

"George Bush." American Decades CD-ROM. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003.

Price, Sean. "The Mother of All Battles." New York Times Upfront, March 28, 2003.

Sufrin, Mark. George Bush: The Story of the Forty-First President of the United States. New York: Dell, 1989.