Hush,Hush, Silent Democrats
tags: George McGovern; Thomas Knock; Dietrich Bonhoeffer;Murray Polner
"Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land-- young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes."--Senator George McGovern's denunciation of senators of both parties who refused to condemn the Vietnam War. 9/1/70.
I've been reading Thomas Knock's new biography of George McGovern, "The Rise of a Prairie Statesman." Yes, the same George McGovern who was a real life WWII war hero who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the super-dove who was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in his run for the presidency in 1972. And for decades before and after, McGovern and McGovernism were dismissed by Democratic Party VIPs upset by his efforts to develop a seriously restrained foreign policy and maintain limits on our military empire and its unwinnable wars. It was the hallowed era of our celebrated "bipartisan foreign policy," whose basic principles were rarely challenged and those who tried to do so were often denounced as irrelevant, even dangerous, by a sycophantic press and politicians. All the same, before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 McGovern warned about America's latest brainstorm on WABC's "John Batchelor Show": "Mark my words: this is a tragic error that will haunt us." And still does.
Years later, in 2015, three think tanks, the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs turned to Ukraine and issued a report, "Preserving Ukraine's Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do," after Putin's Russia annexed Crimea. It urged the sending of "lethal defensive arms --- so that Ukraine is better able to defend itself" and concluded, "The West has the capacity of stop Russia. The question is whether it has the will." Somehow they failed to mention Moscow's thousand-plus nukes, even as it reminded me of Mark Danner's obliging, classic phrase, "Marooned in the Cold War."
McGovern's long-term legacy is that the party which rejected his views needs an alternative approach to war and peace and not another Hillary trying to show they're tougher than the Republicans.
After all, our generals haven't won much since their heroic victories over mighty Grenada and Panama. And, incredibly, the Democratic primary campaign in 2016 had little or nothing to say about foreign policy, neither from Hillary the Hawk nor Bernie the Dove. Since then hardly a word from Democrats about NATO threatening nuclear Russia by provocatively moving ever closer to its borders with planes, ships and troops. Not a word about Yemen where a vicious civil war is armed by the U.S. and bombed by its Saudi and its Middle Eastern friends. There is a quietness from prominent Democrats about exploring possible diplomatic solutions with North Korea, or Trump committing us to yet another generation of war in Afghanistan, or our empire's 80 or so military bases, and of course little or nothing said about the soaring profits earned by weapons makers hard at work turning out killing machines.
If George McGovern was too radical for Vietnam-era Democrats, I hope some present-day Senator will echo him on the floor of the Senate and remind his colleagues about the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who warned his fellow Germans that "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil" and that "Not to speak is to speak and not to act is to act."
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