Wednesday, June 18, 2008

At Arlington

Today I attended the interment of a former colleague from the Center for Defense Information (CDI), Captain (Ret.) James Bush, USN.

Jim was tall – well over six feet – and big boned. His hands were huge and powerful; I could see him as an actor in the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello or perhaps a concert pianist, one of a limited number with the hand span to play Rachmaninoff’s piano works.

And then there was that gravelly voice – so loud was it that when he spoke it was truly like the roar of a lion. But behind that roar was a very gentle person –at least by the time I first met him in 1993 at CDI.

One last bit of biography. Jim was a submariner. He commanded a “boomer,” one of the Ohio-Class nuclear powered subs that carried nuclear tipped Trident intercontinental ballistic missiles. In fact, this experience and the cant from the policy hawks in Washington that the U.S. could fight and actually “win” a nuclear war was one of the reasons Jim joined CDI when he retired from the Navy. Like the two retired admirals who oversaw CDI’s efforts, Gene LaRoche and Gene Carroll, Jim Bush knew that no one would win.

Jim had a full life – a wonderful family, many friends, and many others who, although perhaps not sharing his post-Navy views, nonetheless respected his principles. I doubt that any in the latter category were at the full-honors ceremony at Arlington, which included an effort at the Navy Hymn by the 35-40 people present, and the traditional honor guard, the playing of “Taps,” and the presentation of the folded flag to the surviving family members.

Right now, this ceremony is being repeated across the land, not for the grizzled Vietnam War and Cold War veterans but for the young who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was grief today for Jim’s passing, tempered by the knowledge that he had contributed not once but twice, in almost diametrically opposite ways, to safeguarding the soul of the nation from the folly of politicians who seem ever ready to plunge into war. The young dead of today also evoke grief from their families and friends, but there is for them the additional void of talent unrealized and possibilities never fulfilled simply because every man and woman's untimely death steals the future from us all.

And it is precisely the enormity of the loss of all those “what might have beens” that the George W. Bush (no relation to Jim) White House and Pentagon sought to hide from the public these many years by banning press coverage of returning caskets at Dover Air Force Base.

Never again.

God speed, Jim.

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