Don’t believe the week-long, 24-hour hagiography/funeral coverage cable news has aired since George Herbert Walker Bush died. Bush was a bad president and America rejected him. His accomplishments only seem decent when compared with the disaster of his son.
But Bush can rightfully be credited with at least one unalloyed triumph: he was the source of the vocal samples for a one of the greatest work of ‘90s alternative music, “N.W.O.” by Ministry. The song and the sample offer more insight into Bush’s role in American history than any of CNN’s funeral coverage.
On September 11, 1990, Bush spoke before a joint session of Congress to urge the United States to declare war on Iraq following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. While the vastly outnumbered Kuwaiti forces suffered 420 casualties, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein didn’t expect repercussions, especially not from America. After all, Hussein had long enjoyed a cordial and fruitful relationship with the United States. We were so chummy, in fact, that America even gave Saddam a pass when an Iraqi missile hit the U.S. Navy destroyer The USS Stark and killed 37 crewmen in 1987. Surely America wouldn’t care if he invaded a little speck of desert, especially after that little speck of desert drank his milkshake by siphoning off Iraqi oil through slanted drilling.
But Hussein didn’t realize how personally former oilman Bush would take the incursion.
After the invasion, Bush and his Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (yes, that Dick Cheney) sold America on an unnecessary war with a long string of lies and a focus group-tested and public relations group-approved campaign of patriotic fervor. Americans wouldn’t agree to go to war over two Arab oil states with a long history of tangled economic and political conflicts. Few Americans knew Kuwait existed and even fewer cared about its existence. The Kuwaiti pro-war astroturf group Citizens for a Free Kuwait gave the shady public relations firm Hill & Knowlton $10 million to manufacture a human rights crisis and Bush convinced America we’d be the good guys riding in to rescue imperiled victims. The war, Bush said, would create a humane and compassionate “new world order” where “diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind: peace, security and the rule of law.”
Bush would later be far less quick to intervene in the genocide that erupted after breakup of Yugoslavia but there’s no oil in Herzegovina, so what’s the rush, really.
The grandfatherly “New World Order” speech was terrifying pablum. As such, it was the perfect voice for Ministry’s 1991 industrial metal magnum opus Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs. Psalm 69 was Ministry’s fourth album. On it, Ministry’s culminated its evolution from the synth-driven pop of their 1983 debut With Sympathy into full-throated industrial metal, a mission statement obvious from the album’s opening song, “N.W.O.” Over a devastating and guitar riff and throbbing machine percussion, Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen sample Bush’s “new world order” to usher in an unforgiving, dehumanized new world of blaring sirens and unrelenting danger. Jourgensen’s distorted vocals were indecipherable but the intent was clear: the world was becoming punishing and strange and the people in charge were delighted with the transformation. Bush’s voice comes in at the four minute mark, dividing the dystopia into simple teams, saying “what we are looking at is good and evil, right and wrong. His “a new world order” repeats over and over for the duration of the song. The jagged rhythm of the phrase, paired with the squeals and brutal metal guitars becomes a unique mix of pop hook and low-key psychological torture.
While Jourgensen’s words were mostly too distorted to discern, when the “N.W.O.” music video aired on MTV, the song’s intent was impossible to miss. Splicing images of the then-recent L.A. riots with footage of the band walking through and performing in city streets covered in a fog of smoke, it created an image of a used-up world that had been set on fire. Despite the presence of the word order in the title and sample, the world was a landscape of terrifying chaos.
By sampling of Bush over images of the riots, Jourgensen was juxtaposing the president’s lofty international rhetoric against the industrial decay and unrest of America’s cities. Jourgensen’s an outlier one-of-a-kind genius but he wasn’t the alone in that opinion. The widespread perception that Bush was indifferent to or incapable of solving America’s domestic issues (and the third-party spoiler presidential candidate Ross Perot) kept Bush to a single presidential term.
But revisiting “N.W.O.” in 2018 reveals something surprising. Jourgensen accidentally created a brutally accurate preview of Bush’s ultimate foreign policy legacy. Bush’s Iraq invasion was the original sin of American middle east intervention and would eventually lead to a new world order of ISIL brutality and failed states. Jourgensen’s vision of streets thick with smoke and violence would come to life in Aleppo, Baghdad and Tripoli.