Much of the United States is in mourning for former president George H.W. Bush who passed away on Friday Nov. 30. Many have taken to praising him, selectively forgetting all the lives lost due to his administration’s shortcomings.
While it is important to respect the dead, the only way to properly do so is to memorialize him for everything he contributed to the country, including his failures.
For example, after HIV and AIDS had proceeded to kill twice as many Americans as died in the Vietnam War in its first decade— when Bush was Vice President—according to The Foundation for AIDS Research, any president would have made it a national priority. Bush didn’t. Instead, he made comments about being “compassionate” and begrudgingly approved a Congressional bill that would begin finding a cure.
Although he took the baby step of rhetorically recognizing HIV and AIDS ravaged young men during his time in office, it was not enough to compensate the losses. By Bush’s departure from presidency, the disease was the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 25 and 44, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, we cannot thoughtlessly praise Bush without simultaneously disrespecting the thousands who died senselessly under his administration. This extends to his decisions during the Gulf War.
The Gulf War of 1990-1991 is often remembered as one of the most successful wars in modern American history, but for the good Bush did he also presided over plenty of harm. The American coalition’s actions resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi and Kuwaiti civilians as well as the destruction of huge swathes of Iraqi infrastructure.
These consequences and Bush’s decision to leave Saddam Hussein’s power intact almost certainly placed the United States on course toward his son’s war against Iraq in 2003.
Politicians like Bush hugely impact millions of people. While many certainly saw their lives improve due to actions Bush took as president, society would be irresponsible if it ignored those who Bush—or any president—hurt. It does not dishonor the death of a president to honor the deaths they caused of others.
In comparison to other U.S. presidents, Bush certainly had his strengths, but that does not mean we should deify him in death. Being truthful about someone’s legacy is the greatest honor we can do to someone in their passing.