Bush's Possession of Saddam's Gun Both Freudian and Traditional

Roundup: Media's Take

From the New York Times (June 21 2004:)

The story of how President Bush ended up with Saddam Hussein's pistol mounted in his private study off the Oval Office has dribbled out in the last few weeks, and it is a good one.

As first reported in Time magazine, the soldiers who captured Mr. Hussein in December presented the mounted sidearm as a gift to Mr. Bush in a visit to the White House. They were members of the Army's Delta Force team, Mr. Bush later told reporters, and they had confiscated the unloaded pistol from Mr. Hussein's lap when they pulled him out of his spider hole near Tikrit.

"It's now the property of the U.S. government," Mr. Bush said at a news conference this month in Savannah, Ga., when asked specifically about the pistol and whether he would return it to the people of Iraq. What the gun tells us about the president, the war and the relationship of the Bush family to Mr. Hussein is another story entirely. It is in many ways better, or at least more interesting, than the first.

The Iraqi dictator, after all, tried to assassinate Mr. Bush's father in 1993, when he was only a year out of the White House, as payback for the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which the first President Bush had waged on Mr. Hussein. In other words, the gun is more than a gun, at least according to the Freudians.

"It's the phallic equivalent of a scalp - I mean that quite seriously," said Stanley A. Renshon, a psychoanalyst and political scientist at the City University of New York who has just completed a book, to be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in September, called"In His Father's Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush."

In Mr. Renshon's view, Mr. Bush went to war for geo-strategic reasons, but there was a powerful personal element as well. In short, Mr. Hussein's gun is a trophy that symbolizes victories both military and psychic.

"There are a lot of different levels at which this operates," Mr. Renshon said."The critics say this is all about finishing up Daddy's mess. I think that is way too off base to be serious. But psychology operates regardless of party line, and this seems to me to be a case in which psychology can't help but express itself, because it's a natural outgrowth of what he's been through and how he feels about it. It's perfectly normal to me."

Michael Sherry, a military historian at Northwestern University, noted that there was a long record of soldiers seizing the weapons of vanquished enemies as the ultimate symbols of defeat. (Even so, it is illegal for American soldiers to take guns off an enemy and keep them for themselves, which is almost certainly why the president declared that the pistol was United States government property rather than his own.)

Relinquishing weapons has historically been part of surrender ceremonies, even though Ulysses S. Grant chose not to ask for Robert E. Lee's sword at Appomattox Court House in 1865 and excluded officers' sidearms from the weapons that the Army of Northern Virginia was expected to turn over to him.

Mr. Hussein's pistol, which Mr. Bush shows off to visitors, is a different matter altogether, Mr. Sherry said, because it was presidential acquisition by force."Whatever specific symbolism Bush may privately attach to this token, it does make it look to the external viewer that he sees this in very personal terms," Mr. Sherry said. In the end, he said,"I'm left feeling that it sounds kind of childish...."

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