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As Bush loiters - a Christmas toll

By Pierre Tristam - posted Thursday, 21 December 2006

It’s turning into an interesting Christmas season for those mothers, fathers, wives, sons and daughters who might lose a husband, a father, a son in the next few weeks (and of course years) as the American death tally in Iraq “ho ho ho’s” it to 3,000, while our Lord and Saviour president and decider decides not to decide what to decide next for Iraq, until - maybe to please Jenna and the other one - “after the holidays”, as the phraseology of the corporate cruiser goes.

As long as the Dow keeps breaking records, why worry?

This is the man about whom Peggy Noonan, the Bush family publicist, once said that, “eloquence is in his plain-spokenness, in the fact that each word is a simple coin with a definite worth”. What, at this point, is moral bankruptcy worth?


But this is the same man who once explained his style to Bob Woodward this way: “I’m the commander - see, I don’t need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel I owe anybody an explanation.”

This is a man who values the worthlessness of his silence. Who makes the soldiers he never was die for it. And who still struts, with pride, “in his chesty way, with what seems a jarring peppiness” (Peggy Noonan’s words again, four years too late). So for the past few days he’s created his own little parade of generals and experts to give the appearance of receiving advice without needing to consent to anything more than what Laura Bush will suggest he should get Barbara and George Sr. for Christmas, no doubt to pacify them.

Meanwhile, what has happened on this presidential clock, as we near Christmas, if we were to take just a few of the latest 1,350-odd days - a span longer than America ’s involvement in World War II, and soon World War I, combined?

Here’s what:

On Tuesday, Army Sgt Brent Dunkleberger was killed by a grenade fired at his Humvee as he patrolled in Mosul. He was 29. He was the father of four children, none of them older than 11. He was a firefighter back in his hometown of New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, where, as Baby New Year 2000, he’d “played the role for the borough’s New Year’s Eve huckleberry drop at the Perry County Courthouse - complete with sash, cloth diaper and bottle of champagne” (as the Patriot-News described it on Thursday). It was shortly after that role that he announced he’d be joining the military.

On Monday, Marine Lance Cpl Budd M. Cote was killed when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb. He was 21. He’d just married his 19-year-old high school sweetheart back in Marana, Arizona. He’d been a Home Depot stocker before enlisting, but figured four years in the marines would follow in the footsteps of his father, who’d served in Vietnam, and help him get a leg up on joining the sheriff’s department at the end of his tour.


Two other Marines died in the same bombing, one of them 23, the other 25.

Then there’s Marine Master Sgt Brian P. McAnulty. When he was growing up in Vicksburg, Mississippi , he survived a car wreck that killed his best friend and soccer team mate. He was a passenger. It happened just before Christmas, when he was 18. That was 21 years ago. He died in a helicopter crash just after takeoff on Monday. He was a passenger in that one, too.

McAnulty exhibits an enormous smile in his picture, the kind of smile that announces lives and loves, although so far he seems to have had no life back in Vicksburg: no telephone number bearing his or his family’s name. Something will turn up, and his brief history will be recorded in a matter of inches in one newspaper or another, his memorial held, the waste of his life dulled by talk of service and heroism, or talk like this, by the president, after another helicopter crash with many lost lives in January 2005: “We mourn when our soldiers lose their lives. But our long-term objective is to spread freedom.” In case the rest of us didn’t know.

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First published in Candide's Notebooks on December 15, 2006.

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Pierre Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer and editor of Candide's Notebooks. Reach him at

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