A Letter to President George W. Bush
Dear Mr. President, or can I call you George, or GW for short? Nine days ago, you celebrated your 75th birthday – HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mr. President!!! Your presidency has always amazed and intrigued me. You campaigned hard and fought a marvelous battle, and through one of the closest and toughest election in history, you were victorious – congratulations sir!!!
After such a demanding campaign, you must have been anxious, refreshed, and exited to accomplish many of your great objectives when you took office. A strong Christian man, with down-home values, and plain talk, you were just what we needed in this office and we, like you, were all looking forward to the next fours years of progress, common sense, and meaningful achievements. We were equally excited that you pledged to improve education, provide quality health care for every family, cut taxes, strengthen Social Security, strengthen our military, and help charities and faith-based groups serve those in need.
Unfortunately, all of this new energy and excitement changed just 234 days after you took the oath of office. On this particular morning, you were visiting Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla…I know you remember it well. The school was named after Emma E. Booker, an African-American educator who began teaching at Sarasota County's first black school. Ms. Bookers’ story is quite incredible, which is likely why you chose this school to visit, but we will have to visit Ms. Bookers’ story at another time. Anyway, on this morning, a somewhat rare but not unheard-of event, occurred.
The event seemingly began very simple with what was thought to have been a small plane crash. This plane crash, at the World Trade Center, happened about ten minutes before you arrived at the school. Mr. President, I’m so sorry if this brings up very difficult memories. Anyway, after arriving at the school, you entered the second-grade classroom of teacher Sandra Kay Daniels where you introduced the class to Education Secretary Rod Paige and shook hands with Mrs. Daniels. Then you and the teacher sat down, facing the seated students, and read a children's story, titled “The Pet Goat.” It was Tuesday morning. The date was September 11, 2001.
I’m guessing you can recall every detail of this morning. While the kids were picking up their books to begin reading, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, entered the room, walked to the president, and whispered in your ear. Card would later tell ABC News that "I made the decision I would pass on two facts, make one editorial comment and do nothing to invite a comment." It was about 9:05 a.m. and what would forever be etched in your mind, I am sure, was what Andy whispered into your ear, "A second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack." ABC White House Reporter Ann Compton would later say; "The minute that I saw Andy Card walk into that classroom, lean over and whisper to the president, I knew something was direly wrong, nobody interrupts the president. Not even in front of a classroom of second graders."
Many in the press said you appeared tense, and I say rightfully so. But you remained seated for roughly seven minutes and continued to listen while the children read in unison through the story, sometimes repeating lines to meet Mrs. Daniels's standards. The reading concluded with the phrase "more to come" and you asked the class, "What does that mean - 'more to come'?" After a student replied, you praised the students' reading skills and encouraged them to continue practicing, before you excused yourself and left the room. To your credit, you did not react alarmingly as many might have, but you stayed calm and embraced the moment with those young students – we are so proud of you for the way you handled this in front of those young eyes.
Some ten years later, those very students whom you so thoughtfully put their emotions and feelings, their innocence, above the ensuing chaos, were interviewed, also by ABC news. These students, now seniors in high school but just 7 years old at the time, knew then that something had happened. They could see it in your face Mr. President. They would recall; "He looked disconcerted, anxious," recalled Lazaro Dubrocq, one of the former students. "He was looking at the cameras, and the walls. I remember him being all happy and joyful," said Mariah Williams. "And then his expression changing to very serious. And concerned."
I’m sure you learned this later but Daniels, the teacher, was also aware of a change in the room. "He left the room. Mentally he was gone.” She wondered; “Just what had Card whispered in the president's ear?” As you know, you were later criticized for not leaving immediately, but to the young people in that classroom, you made the right decision. "I think if he would have panicked that was the tone he was setting for the whole country," said student Chantal Guerrero. "If he wanted the country to stay calm, he needed to show that he was calm."
After you had left the room to be briefed and address the nation, teacher Daniels was informed by a member of the Secret Service of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Then she had to explain it to her young students. "I told them something terrible had happened and President Bush needs to go," she said. "Remember they were in second grade. They were only 7 years old so I wasn't going to give them every piece of information."
I don’t know if you have read the book “Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the White House?” But according to author Bill Sammon, Ari Fleischer was in the back of the classroom holding a pad on which he had written, "Don't say anything yet." Sammon contends that, although you were not wearing your glasses, you were still able to read this message, and it went unnoticed by the media. Was this true? Actually, I don’t think it matters because even if you had said something, I’m sure it would have been appropriate and focused on not upsetting the children.
The book also tells us that you were understandably worried and wondered whether or not you should excuse yourself and retreat to the holding room, where you might be able to find out what was going on. But what kind of message would that send—if you, the president, abruptly got up and walked out on a bunch of inner-city second-graders at their moment in the national limelight? You handled this perfectly!!!
What an emotional swing it must have been for you to be so caring, loving, and thoughtful of these young people and then have to immediately turn yourself into a great leader with a national crisis on your hands. You scheduled a short press conference in the school library after spending about 20 minutes total in the classroom. However, the press conference got delayed by several minutes, as you and your team collected as much information as possible. At this point, your emotions had to be jumbled all over the place; anger, concern, sympathy, compassion, and yet strength and leadership were crucial. When you finally were able to appear, you announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America …" and instead of the planned topic, you addressed the country for several minutes about the plane crashes and the government's immediate response.
You were asked about your demeaner and reaction, in a National Geographic Channel interview, and you explained your thoughts as such: “My first reaction was anger. Who the hell would do that to America? Then I immediately focused on the children, and the contrast between the attack and the innocence of children.” You went on to say you; “…could see the news media at the back of the classroom getting the news on their own cellphones, and it was like watching a silent movie.”
You added that you quickly realized that a lot of people beyond the classroom would be watching for your reaction, “So I made the decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn’t want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm. I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a leader has to do is to project calm.”
After the attacks, you spoke for an angry and mourning nation, and you became a rallying point for the American people. As you recalled in your autobiography, Decision Points, “In a single morning, the purpose of my presidency had grown clear: to protect our people and defend our freedom that had come under attack.”
After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., you addressed a joint session of Congress, on September 20, 2001, and laid out what became known as the Bush Doctrine: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” You added, “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." This was one of the most brilliant, memorable, and moving speeches I have ever heard. If you readers are interested, a 34 minute video copy can be found here: President Bush speech to congress SEP 20 2001 (Thanks to YouTube for this video)
You and congress then commissioned our troops to go into Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban regime, which had supported the al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. The Taliban was quickly driven from power, and members of al Qaeda fled into the mountains or across the borders to find refuge. What seemed like a quick and easy war against a Third World nation and terrorist group, however, would become the longest war in American history. The U.S. mission evolved from one of dismantling terrorist cells in the region to bolstering civil society and installing a new democratically elected government in Afghanistan.
You also helped congress establish a new Department of Homeland Security, passed the Patriot Act, and authorized war against all those who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks or who might plan future attacks.
Once the Taliban was in retreat, you and your advisers returned to long-standing concerns about the dangers of Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein. Your Vice President, Dick Cheney, summed up the case in a speech on August 26, 2002, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention. Cheney declared, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use them against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”
As you know, on March 19, 2003, U.S. and British forces launched a series of strikes on government instillations and other targets in Iraq. A ground invasion followed soon after. The regime collapsed quickly and the United States won decisive victories on the battlefield. All of this would lead to likely another monumental challenge that you would face when the press would attack these actions as baseless even though just 15 years earlier, almost to the day (March 16, 1988) Saddam Hussein used Sarin and Mustard Gas to kill 5,000 of his own people. You and your administration knew of this man’s brutal regime and acted. Not just because of his known historical actions but also based on intelligence from the world’s spy agencies. However, the press boldly proclaimed “no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.” It amazes me how the press conveniently ignores, and/or uses history, but only when it benefits their story’s. Are Sarin and Mustard gases not weapons? I think the 5,00 people who died would disagree. And what number of deaths is considered “mass” 2…10…100…1000? I think 5,000 clearly meets the “mass” definition.
GW, being the strong man of faith and love, that those people who truly know you, can attest, you had to be a bit in shock as you started your mission to improve and grow our country, only to be blind-sided by the attacks on that beautiful, quiet, innocent Tuesday morning in September. But those lessons and that infamous day have left a lasting impact on the students with whom you spent that morning. "It opened my eyes really fast," Guerrero said. "I wanted to know what was going on and so I guess it kind of matured all of us a little bit faster."
Although he felt proud to be in the classroom that day, student Lazaro Dubrocq also felt sad. "You feel sorrow for the thousands of families who were destroyed that day," he said. A decade later, the teacher and students from that second-grade classroom, continued to share a special bond from being together on 9/11 in such a public way. "What happened to us made us part of history," teacher Daniels said. "And no matter where they go in life, they will always be my babies."
It was also an experience they shared with the president of the United States, as you wrote in a letter to former student Natalia Jones-Pinkney. George, I am so touched that you wrote a personal letter to these students. You wrote: "You and I will never forget Sept. 11, '01. "But remember out of the evil done to America will come good."
George, your presidency began with conservative reform goals, such as lowering taxes, which you did accomplish. But unfortunately, became better known as the presidency that led America’s war on terror. The September 11, 2001, attacks changed the entire focus of your administration. You said you would improve education, which you did with “No Child Left Behind.” You said you would provide quality health care for every family, which you tried very hard to do but could not get congress to agree. You did in fact cut taxes. You tried to strengthen Social Security, through privatization, but again congress would not agree. You did strengthen our military, and you most certainly did help charities and faith-based groups serve those in need. All of this …AND… add the real terrorists’ threats that attacked us on that September day and now had to be genuinely considered every minute of every day!!!
Thank God – you were our president through all of this!!!
To steal a phrase you uttered, from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, when declaring we had overthrown Saddam Hussein, but that the press would later criticize you for; MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! You completed nearly all the campaign promises you made, and you clearly made our country a better place to live and prosper. You protected the loved ones around you, which were not just your family or administration, but every citizen of this country. You immediately jumped to action, and led our country, in that moment of crises, and through the following months of fear, sorrow, and trepidation. And you did it far better than many could or would have – I say again MISSION ACCOMPLISHGED!
Thank You so very much George, for not only being our president and leader, but for your faith, love, and caring, for those students on that horrible day, but also for each and every one of us who call this great land our home!
Most Sincerely, Kent.