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Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Surrounded by a sea of sailors in support of the parallels he drew between World War II and the war in Iraq, President Bush spoke at Naval Air Station North Island on Tuesday.
“We honor your sacrifice by recommitting ourselves to the ideals for which you bled,” said Bush, flanked by troop-laden gunboats, with a dressed-up U.S.S. Ronald Reagan towering in the background.
“Now, as then,” he said, “it is a test of American credibility and resolve.”
The event was held to commemorate V-J Day, when Japanese forces surrendered aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, marking the formal end of WWII. The president likened Pearl Harbor to the events of Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism.
“We have confidence in our cause because we know the U.S. has faced brutal enemies before,” he said. “The terrorists of our century make the same mistakes as the terrorists of last century. They believe democracies are weak and corrupt and can be brought to their knees.”
In a veiled response to growing criticism of the war and the difficulty of establishing a democratic government in Iraq, Bush reminded the crowd that “experts” in the 1940s argued that “Japan was not ready for democracy.”
“It is a mistake to believe that some people are not fit for the equality and freedom that our creator intended for all,” he declared.
That conflict’s “fanatical commanders” and suicidal Kamikaze pilots “were no match for the forces of the United States,” he said, implying a comparison to the fundamentalist clerics and suicide bombers the U.S. faces in the Middle East today.
Tuesday’s speech was the third and last in a recent series of appearances by President Bush aimed at solidifying wavering support for the war in Iraq, where rising human and financial costs are casting a shadow of popular doubt over the effort, according to recent polls.
The president’s arrival at the Hotel Del Coronado Monday afternoon was greeted by a massive anti-war vigil in which thousands lined Ocean Boulevard waving signs and singing songs in protest of the war. A smaller, pro-war demonstration also gathered, holding signs that read “Protest the protesters” and advertising for a local radio station.
The anti-war crowd lined Coronado streets Tuesday in the eerie, early-morning fog, wearing mocking masks of the president’s face, some with their hands painted red to symbolize blood.
Directly in front of them, a continuous stream of cars with out-of-state license plates, many probably carrying veterans or military personnel to Bush’s speech, clogged the murky island grid.
But there wasn’t a hint of dissent during the president’s speech along the haze-shrouded bay when he spoke at 9 a.m. With bleachers of decorated veterans, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the audience of more than 2,000, sentiment for the commander in chief was celebratory, even reverent.
An unidentified sailor next to him agreed.
“A few people die, and they think it’s not worth it,” he said of the anti-war protestors, as the jubilant jazz of the Navy band concluded the morning’s activity.
Outside the base, local residents peppered the idyllic Coronado streets hoping for a glimpse of the president.
“I think it’s important to come out and let him see we’re supporting him,” said retired Navy Capt. Bill Martin, holding a homemade sign as he waited on the corner of Fourth and Alameda Streets for a glimpse of the shiny motorcade.
With Sheriff’s deputies lining the streets, and Highway Patrol motorcycles blocking all intersections, the long, flashing train of trucks, limousines and Suburbans at first appeared slowly, then blazed past flag-wavers with engines revving.
“They weren’t doing the speed limit,” Martin quipped.
Only pro-Bush protesters could be seen around the base after the speech – possibly because local residents wanted it that way. When one anti-war protester set up near the main base gate on a house lawn, a resident decided to “water his plants” by turning on the sprinklers, according to witnesses, encouraging the protester to move on.
After the speech, Bush headed to Naval Medical Center San Diego to visit with patients there, but, according to reports, left early after a briefing on the damage of Hurricane Katrina.
Air Force One took off from San Diego at 11:40 a.m., about one hour earlier than originally scheduled, and about 18 hours after President Bush arrived Monday afternoon.
For that day and a half, Coronado Island was consumed by the president’s visit. None more so than the anti-war and pro-war protesters bent on upstaging each other.
In his speech, Bush commended “the power of freedom to transform the bitterest of enemies into the closest of friends.”
He didn’t say whether that applied to San Diego.
Please contact Ian Port directly at