George McGovern, the staunch liberal Democrat who challenged Nixon in 1972 and lost in a landslide, has died. He was a warrior and a champion of peace, a bomber pilot who laid the groundwork for a movement known as Food not Bombs, and a liberal environmentalist who won over conservative farmers to the fight against world hunger.
How does a true warrior feel about war? Unlike the neoconservatives who crafted Bush’s Iraq war, and are now crafting Romney’s Iran war policy, McGovern volunteered for the US military, fought bravely – and thought about the real human cost of war.
McGovern knew that bombing is not the answer to every problem.
McGovern volunteered for World War II, and at the age of 21 piloted a B-24 liberator bomber for 35 missions over German occupied Europe. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. But it was as an anti-war candidate that he made his mark on the nation, and though he lost to Nixon in a landslide, he was vindicated by the US withdrawal from Vietnam – and by Nixon’s impeachment and resignation in 1974.
McGovern also gave us our current presidential nominating process – it was the McGovern-Fraser commission that took the decision-making out the hands of the party bosses and put it in the hands of the people, through an expanded schedule of caucuses and primaries. Although the system remains imperfect, it is far more Democratic and participatory than it was for most of America’s history.
On the next page, read an brief excerpt from Stephen Ambrose’s The Wild Blue about McGovern’s squadron, a tale of bravery and sadness and – after many years – reassurance.
Because sometimes war is necessary, but it should always be understood for what it is.
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