Public Service Is an Ignoble Calling
[The Independent Institute, January 2011. An MP3 audio file of this article, narrated by Steven Ng, is available for download.]
Texas A&M University, which is a more or less legitimate institution of higher education, harbors something called the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Don't laugh; it's true. Today, one of my Facebook friends posted a publicity photo, which I take to be part of the school's efforts either to attract students or to entice donors. Whatever the photo's specific purpose may be, it had a profound effect on me. In fact, ever since I saw it, I have had a feeling of absolute emptiness at the very core of my being.
I confess that all such pictures disturb me. The carefully calibrated assortment of bright-eyed, sweetly smiling youngsters, selected to exhibit the officially sanctioned distribution according to race, sex, and ethnicity — you know, the distribution you'd not expect to find spontaneously on display if you simply walked into a campus cafeteria or dormitory unannounced — always stops me in my tracks, as if a well-intentioned left-liberal had just poked me in both eyes.
But let us not indict these naïve young models. Being young, they know not what they do. (Back in 1961, at age 17, I was similarly clueless when I was sworn into service in the US Coast Guard.) Let us instead indict the message that appears in the forefront of the photo in large, bold, black capital letters: "Public Service Is a Noble Calling." A photo and caption on the "About" page of the school's website suggests that these words were uttered by the selfsame former president of the United States for whom the school under discussion is named, George Herbert Walker Bush. Remember him?
A stalwart fellow he was. At one time the Director of Central Intelligence (that is to say, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency) in the Ford administration, his finest public moment found him declaring to the world in no uncertain terms, "This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait." And what decent US leader would have let stand the Iraqis' attempt to lay hands on the oil that Kuwait's billionaire sheiks had been stealing from underneath Iraqi territory by means of diagonal drilling?
Among the Bush School's degree programs is a Masters Program in International Affairs. What training the students in this program must receive! — all in the butt-kicking tradition of George H.W. Bush himself, a man celebrated for not letting a two-bit dispute between despicable Arab tyrants pass by when he could exploit the occasion to launch a senseless war, in which thousands of Iraqi draftees were blown to smithereens by B-52 bombardments or buried alive in their trenches by US military bulldozers. It was the most splendid little war since the Spanish-American War, without a doubt.
Except, perhaps, for the fact that the US military undertook as part of the fun and games to destroy the water supply and sewerage systems (and the electrical-supply system needed to operate them) in Iraq, then to restrict or block for more than a decade the importation of essential materials for restoring these critical public-health facilities, with the ultimate result that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the great majority of them infants and little kids, died from diseases transmitted by contaminated water.
Oh, well, as Ambassador Halfbright famously intoned, the US government considered these children's deaths "worth it." So no one should be surprised if the well-scrubbed graduates of the Bush School emerge from their training prepared to slaughter millions of innocents, in the event that some future president's pleasure or caprice requires such service on their part.
It's difficult to say "Bush School of Government and Public Service" aloud without gagging. When I first espied that publicity photo earlier today, my immediate reaction was to post a comment: "These people will be serving the public only in the sense that the bull will be serving the cow." That quick comment, however, like most instant reactions, failed to express the true enormity of what the Bush School's graduates may end up doing.
Yes, of course, most of them, if they remain in government "service" at all, will be mere flunkies for a fifth-level timeserver or a third-rate political appointee. Yet it is not beyond imagination that some of them ultimately will rise to occupy positions in which they will have at their disposal the means of wreaking substantial death and destruction. Having been trained to accept the workaday character of doing evil deeds, in the reputational shadow of a man renowned for doing evil deeds at the highest level, they may be expected to do their "duty."