Let’s Have the President for Dinner
Political news, like many other things, seems to run in cycles that are more related to the solunar tables or the phases of Venus than to anything pertinent to our lives. There are days when there is no meaningful news at all on which to voice an opinion. On the other hand, there are times when the wonkiness and skullduggery of our ruling class (that is the elected politicians and the unelected bureaucrats who rule both them and us) completely overwhelms us to a point that our editorial thoughts are completely impotent. For me, the last couple of weeks have been such a time. I am still sorting through the trash heap of pandering, political correctness, and downright criminal behavior recently promulgated by the political elite in an effort to find a modicum of common sense and a meaningful opinion to offer you. So far I have failed. In such times I tend to fall back to one of my great erudite loves, presidential history. Hopefully, within the next few days I will be able to assemble an evocative discourse on some particularly shameful aspect of American political life. In the mean time, here is a story of which I’ll wager none of you were informed in history class, even if you were listening closely.
Throughout our national history, the men we have elected to be President have previously been employed in a wide variety of professions. They have been farmers, soldiers, sailors, diplomats, rail splitters, duelists, and so on. At least one had been a famous actor (Ronald Reagan), and one had served in the capacity of hangman (Grover Cleveland), so I think it would be fair to say that previous presidential positions represented a pretty wide cross-section of American life.
But did you know that one of our Presidents had previously been considered to be dinner? I don’t mean the chef, waiter, or maitre d’. I mean the main course, the entree, the enchilada…I mean dinner!
Several months ago, while rummaging through the shelves of a used book store and trying to decide how many pounds of bargain books I could carry out of the store to clutter my own shelves, I came across a book by James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, with which I was not familiar. Flyboys is, at least in part, a history of the battle for the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima, which is located just north of the more famous island, Iwo Jima. If you have any interest at all in the history of WWII, this is a wonderful book that tells a small part of the story of the war in the Pacific on a personal and shocking level that guarantees you will have nightmares for weeks.
I won’t ruin the entire story for you, but I feel it is my duty as a presidential historian to report to you the mini-drama that plays out as a minor tidbit in just a few pages of the story. A young George H.W. Bush was a navy pilot during the battle for Chichi Jima and, as such, regularly buckled himself into “a 1940s-era tin can with a bomb strapped under his feet,” to use Bradley’s words, and was slung off of the deck into howling winds to bomb the Japanese stronghold.
On one such mission, the future President and his entire flight were shot down by the island’s formidable defenses. Some pilots were killed; others, including Bush, were able to ditch into the ocean within sight of the island. Japanese defenders watched as the pilots floated in their life jackets or rafts just a few miles from shore, and launched boats to capture their enemies before they could be rescued. Bush later remembered that the current was pushing him toward the island, and the Japanese were coming out in boats to capture him, when an American submarine suddenly surfaced near his position. He was saved from capture by the Japanese at the last moment.
Other downed pilots were not so lucky. Several pilots and crew members were captured during the air attacks, but two pilots, in particular, were captured and later executed. One of the Japanese officers then demanded a bizarre ritual in which he ate pieces of the downed pilots’ organs. Speculation is that Bush, had he been captured by the Japanese, would have been delivered to the same demented officer, and would likely have been executed and eaten in ritualistic fashion. Was it luck, fate, or God’s grand design that decided a twenty-year-old Navy aviator would become President of the United States rather than lunch?
American forces eventually took the island of Chichi Jima. I like to think, at least in part, the capture was facilitated by the fact that one Japanese Major was hungry and cranky after missing his ritual meal, and raised the white flag of surrender in disgust!
I remember a time late in President Bush’s term when he vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister during a formal dinner. News reports of the time insisted the event was brought on by an illness and medications taken by the President. I wonder, though, if the Prime Minister might have said something to make the former Navy pilot remember how close he came to being an entre’ himself! That would certainly be enough to make me barf.