and Peacenik: Memorial Day Thoughts with George McGovern
flags are streaming off SUVs on Disney Drive, bonfires are blazing
on the shoreline at Big Corona, and Ralph Lauren solid briefs are
on sale at
the South Coast Plaza Macy’s. Memorial Day weekend in Orange
County, California is abundant with commemoration for those who
gave their lives in service to this country. Yet, in spite of our
21st century patriotic fervor, the words “peacenik
George McGovern” keep playing in my head. Yes, peacenik.
a recent World War II Memorial dedication fluff piece, Los
Angeles Times staff writer Johanna Neuman called George McGovern,
the 1972 Democratic candidate for president, a “peacenik.” You
may remember McGovern.
A World War II bomber pilot, congressman and senator from South
Dakota, his presidential platform promised to end the Vietnam War.
After presiding over the burglary of McGovern's campaign headquarters
Watergate co-conspirator and Orange County native son Richard Nixon
won that election in a landslide. So much for peace, love and understanding.
Can a man who dropped explosives on enemy targets really be purely
peaceable? And isn’t the word “peacenik,” in
this day and age, quaintly pre-Reagan — check that, pre-Ford.
But then again, maybe Neuman is on to something and she’s
just too old to say it right. She’s a smart chick. She taught
at Georgetown University and was Foreign Editor of USA
Today before she moved to the Times Washington Bureau.
Maybe she's got a scoop. I should check this out. So, I call McGovern
on Weekly Signals, a
KUCI radio show I co-host with Mike Kaspar and ask him if he has
any "peacenik leanings."
not a pacifist,” McGovern says. “I was a bomber pilot
in World War II against Hitler and his legions. I’ve never
had one day of regret about that.”
regrets? It sounds like McGovern is trying to hide something. He
may be a crafty peacenik after all — the kind who flew bombing
raids over Germany in the 1940s in anticipation of covering his
anti-Vietnam War activities in the 1960s.
I don’t believe in are unnecessary wars like the kind we’re
involved in Iraq,” McGovern says.
war" talk sounds suspicious. It’s the kind of tactic
you’d expect from a peacenik — especially one, like
McGovern, who spent this Memorial Day weekend exchanging war stories
with Bob Dole at the Smithsonian-sponsored World War II reunion
on Washington DC’s Mall. Hoping for a break, I ask him what
a McGovern administration would do if it were magically transported
into the White House today.
you know there’s an old joke,” McGovern says. “I‘m
sure you’ve heard some version of it. There’s a traveler
who stops in a little village in Illinois one night. He sees a man
standing along the curb and he says, ‘Sir, could you give me
directions to Peoria?’ And the man says, ‘If I was ever
going to Peoria, I sure as hell wouldn’t start from here.’ That’s
the way I feel about the question you just asked.”
just the kind of evasive answer you’d expect from somebody
with something to hide.
says. “We have to work very hard to make a transition government
successful in Iraq, with the United Nations playing a key role. Then,
we need to disengage our troops as quickly as possible. No matter
what, it’s not going to be a happy situation. We’ve pretty
well smashed their country.
best exit strategy is to not go into an area where you’re unwelcome," McGovern
continues. "We had Iraq contained behind its own borders. I
would have maintained the aerial over flights. I would have asked
the UN inspectors to remain. I would have made clear that any move
made by Iraq over its borders would be resisted militarily.”
militarily?” Neuman was right! A non-peacenik leader would
have said, “Smoke ‘em out.” But McGovern is 81 — which,
I think, makes him a member of the peace and love generation — and
he shows it by dropping Wendell Wilkie's name.
United States, through most of its history, has been one of the most
admired countries on the face of the earth,” McGovern says. “In
1940, the Republican presidential candidate Wendell
Wilkie wrote the book, One World, after he traveled
around the globe. In it he said that the defining signs of American
power and influence were the confidence and admiration that people
everywhere had towards the United States. The Bush administration
has dissipated much of that by going into this war.”
I mention that McGovern has a new book coming out this summer called The
Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition. Listen
to this liberal peacenik go:
was in Paris on 911 to enlist the support of the French in a UN food
mission to Africa,” McGovern says. “We were interrupted
at lunch with the news report. Let me tell you, the French people
I met over the next couple of days were in tears with sympathy for
the United States.
did all that good will go?” McGovern asks. “It went down
the tubes in this unfortunate and tragic war in Iraq that no country
in the world supported. A few heads of state supported it, but the
people in those countries — Britain and Spain, for example — were
overwhelmingly against it. Our power and influence in the world has
dissipated because of the arrogance of our public officials in Washington
saying that you’re either with us or against us. We need to
revive Jefferson’s old dictum, ‘A decent respect to the
opinions of mankind.’”
There he goes again dropping names. Why should we, or this Jefferson
guy, respect the opinions of other countries when our power and
influence is much better served by starting preemptive wars?
policy of preemptive war would have had us going to war with Russia
and China 50 years ago” McGovern says. “God knows where
the planet would be today if that had happened. Instead, today we
get along with Russia and China.”
Neuman, you are right and then some. Not only is George McGovern
a peacenik; he’s a communist sympathizer to boot.
is the greatest country on the face of the earth, McGovern says, “but
we’ve got to quit making these tragic mistakes.”
right. Tell it to Johanna, George. We've got you pegged, "Peacenik" McGovern.
So while you're off at some World War II memorial prattling on about
combat missions, the rest of us will be honoring our fallen war
heroes this weekend in true American style — barbecuing, flying
flags and taking advantage of savings of up to 50% off at Macy’s
Memorial Day sale.
— Nathan Callahan,
May 30, 2004