To the Editor:
News of the recent surprise visit of George H.W. Bush ’42 – 41st President of the United States of America – to campus for All-School Meeting (ASM) last Wednesday quickly reached the young alumni community through a flurry of excited text messages, Snapchats and Facebook posts from our peers still on campus. Considering the social and political atmosphere of Andover’s campus and Bush’s political legacy, student and administrative reactions to his visit, while understandable, were rather uncritical.
It is no secret that Bush is a controversial figure, and, like many political figures, he made choices while in power that stand in direct opposition to the values embraced by members of the Andover community such as Non Sibi and Equity & Inclusion.
Bush’s career is one marred by the stain of his aiding and abetting political administrations known for their significant human rights violations, as well as his own record of atrocities.
Consider the following:
While the Gulf War, a major international conflict of Bush’s presidency, had few implications for the U.S. beyond the protection of monetary and oil interests, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were wounded and killed at the hands of American soldiers and by American weapons. The invasion amounted to nothing short of a violent and devastating instance of neoimperalism whose consequences continue to manifest today. Furthemore, rather than depose Saddam Hussein, Bush looked the other way as the Iraqi despot slaughtered members of ethnic and religious minorities throughout the Gulf region.
As Vice President under Ronald Reagan, Bush also supported the violent, anti-communist Nicaraguan Contra rebels – a group guilty of significant human rights violations and terrorist attacks. As a result of his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, Bush, along with Reagan, facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran (then under a weapons embargo, and whose political leadership was also guilty of human rights violations), giving the resulting funds as aid to the Contras.
Bush, furthermore, has a compromising record on domestic civil rights policy. As a congressman during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, Bush advocated states’ rights over civil rights, and actively opposed Johnson’s landmark ’64 civil rights act. In addition, Bush’s unquestioning support of the death penalty and stricter prison sentences figured prominently into his 1988 presidential campaign, particularly his infamous “Horton ad.” Activists and analysts of popular culture have argued that the ad attained its success by capitalizing on racist associations of black masculinity and crime.
As President, his cabinet failed to employ, over the course of his four year presidency, more than three women, and Bush himself was aggressively pro-life. In response to the AIDS crisis, he advocated “family values” over sexual education. And finally, he was known for his attacks on entitlement programs throughout his political career.
When Bush visited Andover in 1989, over 200 students and faculty gathered to protest his administration’s record of human rights violations, according to a report in “The Harvard Crimson.” Their signs read slogans such as “Fight Racism,” “Andover for Choice” and “Welcome to Phillips Academy / We are: not all rich, not all male, not all white.” Where was this spirit of protest and questioning this time around?
While we challenge current students to raise their voices, to question and to protest controversial speakers and ideas which seem contradictory to values of inclusion and civil rights, we also call on the administration to provide opportunities for such dialogue. The fact that such activism or even dialogue was not a prominent element of Bush’s most recent visit may in part be due to the fact that the administration did not tell students or faculty of his impending arrival. Students had no chance to prepare a response to his ASM appearance.
It seems not only unproductive, but unjust to push students to analyze and challenge the world around them, and then fail to let them actually do so at such crucial moments. And students – those of you who felt strongly, why did you not bring these issues to the attention of your peers? This responsibility is on you, too.
We can’t simply point fingers and hope the world’s conflicts will be resolved. But speakers like Bush present an opportunity for students, facilitated by faculty and administrations, to advance their own personal growth, and come to a greater understanding of and resolution in their own values.
Lily Grossbard ’15 Grace Tully ’15 Margaret Kobelski ’15 Devontae Freeland ’15 Kory Stuer ’15 Corinne Singer ’15 Thea Rossman ‘15 Jaleel Williams ’15 Jason Young ’15