My favorite story about George Bush the elder is how on the White House tennis court, he would fire himself up when serving by shouting “Unleash Chang!” which, I believe, combined the old 1950s GOP slogan “Unleash Chiang” Kai-shek with the diminutive 1987 French Open champion baseliner Michael Chang.
This clever joke became a lost-in-the-fog legend about a mystical Chinese warrior named Chang among younger Bushes, who passed it on to Marco Rubio.
On the conspiracy theory front, I think it’s pretty plausible that Bush’s oil drilling firm Zapata Off-Shore, which was (illegally) operating in Mexican waters fairly near Cuba, provided logistical support to the CIA during the Bay of Pigs invasion. The nature of Bush’s relationship with the CIA before he became director of the CIA in the mid-1970s, supposedly the first “outsider” director, remains murky. There’s nothing outlandish or sinister about the idea that Bush would have been open to helping his Skull & Bones college buddies in the deep state out with their projects.
Zapata hired Jorge Díaz Serrano to be its front man in Mexico, because after 1938 American oil companies were banned from doing business in Mexico. Diaz Serrano went on to a tumultuous career, becoming head of the Mexican oil monopoly Pemex and then being one of the three Mexican officials sent to prison for corruption when the new Mexican president needed some symbolic scapegoats for all the corruption under Lopez Portillo.
A massive but usually overlooked theme in George H.W. Bush’s career was his goal of reversing 1938 and opening Mexico up to American business interests (in return for which America took some of Mexico’s surplus population off its hands). Thus NAFTA and his son Jeb’s life. Bush was somewhat successful in this stratagem, but at what cost?
It will be interesting to see how much attention is given over the next few days to the central role Mexico played in Bush’s interests.
Update: For example, the lengthy obituary in the New York Times doesn’t include the text string “Mexic”. Mexico just isn’t very interesting to most Americans these days, but it was very interesting to the Bush family.
WWII: Bush joined in the Navy in 1942 upon graduating from prep school. When he finished his training and was commissioned in June 1943, he was the youngest aviator in the Navy at age 18. He flew 58 combat missions in the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, which was much improved over the TBD Devastator torpedo bomber that was wiped out at Midway. Still, any torpedo bomber was a big, slow target, and Bush got shot down by anti-aircraft fire once. He parachuted into the Pacific and was rescued by a sub after 4 hours.
In general, Bush was a prodigy of all-aroundness: e.g., after the war he graduated from Yale in 2.5 years while being captain of the baseball team and making it to the College World Series final twice. Bush was married at 20 and a father at 22. Overall, Bush was a superior individual without being supreme in any one aspect, rather like previous GOP previous Gerald Ford, whose record as the longest lived President he recently exceeded. (Jimmy Carter will likely break Bush’s age record early next year.)
Weird fact: Compton, California, the home of 1980s gangsta rap, was home to two future presidents in 1949.
Another aspect of Bush’s career is that many of the issues he had to make a decision upon still remain arguable. For example, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, President Bush supported West German chancellor Helmut Kohl’s push for German reunification. A decade later in 1999, I sat about 3 feet away while former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Carter-Reagan national security insider Gen. William Odom argued intensely for ten minutes over whether German reunification had been a good idea (Mrs. T arguing against reunification.)
In 2018, 29 years later, German reunification remains arguable. Would East Germany be poorer but happier if it were instead in the Visegrad alliance in central Europe? Did reunification lead to the Brexit vote by making Chancellor Merkel overly powerful? I dunno.
Similarly, who was right about NAFTA and Mexico: GHW Bush or R Perot?
Bush was the kind of guy who felt like he ought to make these tough calls.