Monday, March 28, 2005

George McGovern on patriotism

I realize lots of Republicans and all Bush-Patriotically-Correct war lovers think that George McGovern is a terrible person several times over.  Ask me how much I care.

McGovern, now in his 80s, has a good piece in the Nation (03/24/05; in the 04/11/05 issue; link is to called Patriotism Is Nonpartisan: Challenging a Mistaken War Can Take More Courage than Fighting One.

Patriotism is nonpartisan.  What a quaint notion.  How many of today's Republicans can even process that concept?

McGovern had firsthand experience, especially during the Nixon administration, of confronting the poisonous notion that patriotism equals supporting the Republican Party and whatever its war policies are at any given moment.  Nixon and his vice-president Spiro Agnew propagated this kind of emotionally polarizing politics, in the process inventing such favorite phony chestnuts of the drooling-at-the-mouth superpatriots as the notion that antiwar protesters were hostile to soldiers during the Vietnam War.  The Nixon/Agnew disciples of the Bush administration have carried it to a whole new level.

McGovern writes:

There has not been a day in my life that I would not have proudly sacrificed that life in the defense of America. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, as a college sophomore, I promptly volunteered for the Army Air Corps and flew thirty-five missions as the pilot of a B-24 bomber. Half of the bomber crews flying with me did not survive the war, including my navigator and dear friend Sam Adams of Milwaukee. That was a terrifying, destructive war, but I have never experienced an hour of regret over my part in helping to smash Hitler’s ruthless war machine. America had no honorable course except to halt the worldwide, murderous aggression of the Axis powers—including the unspeakable Holocaust that murdered 6 million Jews. ...

But looking back on those early years after eighteen years in the Senate and as a presidential nominee, I am as proud of my effort to stop the needless slaughter in Vietnam as I am of my participation in World War II. In both cases, I was guided by patriotism and love of my country. But men who had never known a day of military combat worked ceaselessly—especially in 1972—to paint me as a weakling  unwilling to defend the nation. Of course, I did not stand alone in opposing the looming disaster in Asia. Such senators as Fulbright, Mansfield, Church, Gruening, Morse, Nelson and Hatfield were adamantly against the war. But I was also seeking the presidency, which made me a special target of the war exponents. ...

Old-fashioned American liberals such as I are accused not only of being weak on defense but also weak on marriage and the family, the work ethic and reverence for religious faith. I resent such groundless political slurs. After all, I hold the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I have been happily married to the same woman for sixty-one years and am the father of five children and ten grandchildren—all of whom I love dearly, including dear, deceased Terry. As the son of a Wesleyan Methodist clergyman, I dare say that my life has always been enriched and guided by the Judeo-Christian ethic. Nothing has influenced my philosophy more than the Hebrew prophets and the Sermon on the Mount. Beyond this, I have worked hard at useful tasks throughout my life and thank God I still have the health and motivation to continue that work schedule at the age of 82. Of course, I share one of my father’s oft-quoted biblical lines: “All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Unfortunately, the Tom DeLays and Dick Cheneys and Karl Roves of the world don't care at all about sensible observations like this.  And I'm sure that George McGovern knows that better than most of us.  In his 1980 run for reelection to the Senate, he was targeted by Christian Right zealots who used such tactics as leafleting the cars at his church when he was attending services calling him a baby-killer.

But I'm certainly glad to see that he's still making good sense, and that he still cares enough about his country and the world to try to improve things in whatever ways he can.  Whether good sense can win out over fear and hatred and religious fanaticism remains to be seen.

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