There are those whom history has called “great” who derived their greatness from their physical strength, their tactical military brilliance, their penchant for economic modernization, or their sheer strength of will. Men and women as described above loom large in the history of the United States, and indeed the World.
There is, however, another category of those whom history will rightfully call great: those who derive their greatness from their goodness. Those who spend their life not in service of their own ego or in search of personal aggrandizement, but in service of their country. George Herbert Walker Bush was such a man.
As the son of a prominent American family, the young Bush was positioned as well as any in the nation to be able to avoid having to serve in World War II, but rather than withdraw to a comfortable college career and the life of simple prosperity that followed, George H.W. Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday, become the nation’s youngest Naval Aviator, and flew 58 combat missions over the Pacific by the time he was 20.
Called on again and again to serve his country—as a Congressman, an Ambassador, the Director of Central Intelligence, and as Vice President and President—George H.W. Bush’s influence on American foreign policy and, more broadly, the course of our nation is undeniable. Presiding over the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dawn of the Internet, President Bush always sought to serve his country by finding the right answer—not necessarily the most politically convenient or expedient answer—but the right answer.
In these days of ever-increasing turmoil around the world, with authoritarian governments on the rise, revisionist powers in Russia and China feeling newly emboldened, and cyber adversaries lurking around every corner, we could all do well to think of what the late President would have done. The answer may not always be right, but by approaching our challenges head-on with solutions based in the national interest, intelligent debate, and perhaps, most importantly, on a common civic morality, our answers will always be on a stronger footing.
Earlier this year, at the funeral of Senator John McCain, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger spoke of McCain’s passing and proffered that “henceforth, the nations honor is ours to sustain.” As that was true of Senator McCain, so it is also of President Bush.
Fair Winds and Following Seas, Sir.