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The Reason Why


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By George McGovern

The Nation

From the April 21, 2003 issue


"Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die."

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"The Charge of the Light Brigade"

(in the Crimean War)

Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the

Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully

limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation's

true greatness. Appearing to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of

the armed forces above all other functions of his office, and

unchecked by a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court,

a largely subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy,

George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule.

He treads carelessly on the Bill of Rights, the United Nations and

international law while creating a costly but largely useless new

federal bureaucracy loosely called "Homeland Security." Meanwhile,

such fundamental building blocks of national security as full

employment and a strong labor movement are of no concern. The nearly

$1.5 trillion tax giveaway, largely for the further enrichment of

those already rich, will have to be made up by cutting government

services and shifting a larger share of the tax burden to workers

and the elderly.

This President and his advisers know well how to get us involved in

imperial crusades abroad while pillaging the ordinary American at

home. The same families who are exploited by a rich man's government

find their sons and daughters being called to war, as they were in

Vietnam--but not the sons of the rich and well connected. (Let me

note that the son of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson is now on duty

in the Persian Gulf. He did not use his obvious political

connections to avoid military service, nor did his father seek

exemptions for his son. That goes well with me, with my fellow South

Dakotans and with every fair-minded American.)

The invasion of Iraq and other costly wars now being planned in

secret are fattening the ever-growing military-industrial complex of

which President Eisenhower warned in his great farewell address. War

profits are booming, as is the case in all wars. While young

Americans die, profits go up. But our economy is not booming, and

our stock market is not booming. Our wages and incomes are not

booming. While waging a war against Iraq, the Bush Administration is

waging another war against the well-being of America.

Following the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center and the

Pentagon, the entire world was united in sympathy and support for

America. But thanks to the arrogant unilateralism, the bullying and

the clumsy, unimaginative diplomacy of Washington, Bush converted a

world of support into a world united against us, with the exception

of Tony Blair and one or two others. My fellow South Dakotan, Tom

Daschle, the US Senate Democratic leader, has well described the

collapse of American diplomacy during the Bush Administration. For

this he has been savaged by the Bush propaganda machine. For their

part, the House of Representatives has censured the French by

changing the name of french fries on the house dining room menu to

freedom fries. Does this mean our almost sacred Statue of Liberty--a

gift from France--will now have to be demolished? And will we have

to give up the French kiss? What a cruel blow to romance.

During his presidential campaign Bush cried, "I'm a uniter, not a

divider." As one critic put it, "He's got that right. He's united

the entire world against him." In his brusque, go-it-alone approach

to Congress, the UN and countless nations big and small, Bush seemed

to be saying, "Go with us if you will, but we're going to war with a

small desert kingdom that has done us no harm, whether you like it

or not." This is a good line for the macho business. But it flies in

the face of Jefferson's phrase, "a decent respect to the opinions of

mankind." As I have watched America's moral and political standing

in the world fade as the globe's inhabitants view the senseless and

immoral bombing of ancient, historic Baghdad, I think often of

another Jefferson observation during an earlier bad time in the

nation's history: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God

is just."

The President frequently confides to individuals and friendly

audiences that he is guided by God's hand. But if God guided him

into an invasion of Iraq, He sent a different message to the Pope,

the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the mainline Protestant National

Council of Churches and many distinguished rabbis--all of whom

believe the invasion and bombardment of Iraq is against God's will.

In all due respect, I suspect that Karl Rove, Richard Perle, Paul

Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice--and other sideline

warriors--are the gods (or goddesses) reaching the ear of our


As a World War II bomber pilot, I was always troubled by the title

of a then-popular book, God Is My Co-pilot. My co-pilot was Bill

Rounds of Wichita, Kansas, who was anything but godly, but he was a

skillful pilot, and he helped me bring our B-24 Liberator through

thirty-five combat missions over the most heavily defended targets

in Europe. I give thanks to God for our survival, but somehow I

could never quite picture God sitting at the controls of a bomber or

squinting through a bombsight deciding which of his creatures should

survive and which should die. It did not simplify matters

theologically when Sam Adams, my navigator--and easily the godliest

man on my ten-member crew--was killed in action early in the war. He

was planning to become a clergyman at war's end.

Of course, my dear mother went to her grave believing that her

prayers brought her son safely home. Maybe they did. But how could I

explain that to the mother of my close friend, Eddie Kendall, who

prayed with equal fervor for her son's safe return? Eddie was torn

in half by a blast of shrapnel during the Battle of the Bulge--dead

at age 19, during the opening days of the battle--the best baseball

player and pheasant hunter I knew.

I most certainly do not see God at work in the slaughter and

destruction now unfolding in Iraq or in the war plans now being

developed for additional American invasions of other lands. The hand

of the Devil? Perhaps. But how can I suggest that a fellow Methodist

with a good Methodist wife is getting guidance from the Devil? I

don't want to get too self-righteous about all of this. After all, I

have passed the 80 mark, so I don't want to set the bar of

acceptable behavior too high lest I fail to meet the standard for a

passing grade on Judgment Day. I've already got a long list of

strikes against me. So President Bush, forgive me if I've been too

tough on you. But I must tell you, Mr. President, you are the

greatest threat to American troops. Only you can put our young

people in harm's way in a needless war. Only you can weaken

America's good name and influence in world affairs.

We hear much talk these days, as we did during the Vietnam War, of

"supporting our troops." Like most Americans, I have always

supported our troops, and I have always believed we had the best

fighting forces in the world--with the possible exception of the

Vietnamese, who were fortified by their hunger for national

independence, whereas we placed our troops in the impossible

position of opposing an independent Vietnam, albeit a Communist one.

But I believed then as I do now that the best way to support our

troops is to avoid sending them on mistaken military campaigns that

needlessly endanger their lives and limbs. That is what went on in

Vietnam for nearly thirty years--first as we financed the French in

their failing effort to regain control of their colonial empire in

Southeast Asia, 1946-54, and then for the next twenty years as we

sought unsuccessfully to stop the Vietnamese independence struggle

led by Ho Chi Minh and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap--two great men whom we

should have accepted as the legitimate leaders of Vietnam at the end

of World War II. I should add that Ho and his men were our allies

against the Japanese in World War II. Some of my fellow pilots who

were shot down by Japanese gunners over Vietnam were brought safely

back to American lines by Ho's guerrilla forces.

During the long years of my opposition to that war, including a

presidential campaign dedicated to ending the American involvement,

I said in a moment of disgust: "I'm sick and tired of old men

dreaming up wars in which young men do the dying." That terrible

American blunder, in which 58,000 of our bravest young men died, and

many times that number were crippled physically or psychologically,

also cost the lives of some 2 million Vietnamese as well as a

similar number of Cambodians and Laotians, in addition to laying

waste most of Indochina--its villages, fields, trees and waterways;

its schools, churches, markets and hospitals.

I had thought after that horrible tragedy--sold to the American

people by our policy-makers as a mission of freedom and mercy--that

we never again would carry out a needless, ill-conceived invasion of

another country that had done us no harm and posed no threat to our

security. I was wrong in that assumption.

The President and his team, building on the trauma of 9/11, have

falsely linked Saddam Hussein's Iraq to that tragedy and then

falsely built him up as a deadly threat to America and to world

peace. These falsehoods are rejected by the UN and nearly all of the

world's people. We will, of course, win the war with Iraq. But what

of the question raised in the Bible that both George Bush and I

read: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose

his own soul," or the soul of his nation?

It has been argued that the Iraqi leader is hiding a few weapons of

mass destruction, which we and eight other countries have long held.

But can it be assumed that he would insure his incineration by

attacking the United States? Can it be assumed that if we are to

save ourselves we must strike Iraq before Iraq strikes us? This same

reasoning was frequently employed during the half-century of cold

war by hotheads recommending that we atomize the Soviet Union and

China before they atomize us. Courtesy of The New Yorker, we are

reminded of Tolstoy's observation: "What an immense mass of evil

must result...from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating

what may happen." Or again, consider the words of Lord Stanmore, who

concluded after the suicidal charge of the Light Brigade that it was

"undertaken to resist an attack that was never threatened and

probably never contemplated." The symphony of falsehood orchestrated

by the Bush team has been devised to defeat an Iraqi onslaught that

"was never threatened and probably never comtemplated."

I'm grateful to The Nation, as I was to Harper's, for giving me

opportunities to write about these matters. Major newspapers,

especially the Washington Post, haven't been nearly as receptive.

The destruction of Baghdad has a special poignancy for many of us.

In my fourth-grade geography class under a superb teacher, Miss

Wagner, I was first introduced to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers,

the palm trees and dates, the kayaks plying the rivers, camel

caravans and desert oases, the Arabian Nights, Aladdin and His

Wonderful Lamp (my first movie), the ancient city of Baghdad,

Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent. This was the first class in

elementary school that fired my imagination. Those wondrous images

have stayed with me for more than seventy years. And it now troubles

me to hear of America's bombs, missiles and military machines

ravishing the cradle of civilization.

But in God's good time, perhaps this most ancient of civilizations

can be redeemed. My prayer is that most of our soldiers and most of

the long-suffering people of Iraq will survive this war after it has

joined the historical march of folly that is man's inhumanity to


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The world could give 2 shits about our well being. So you want to know what?? I am glad they follow a in your face diplomacy because pussy footing around beauracracy got us no where in the past.. In the words of FDR... talk softly but carry a big stick...

Did you ever stop to think why this coiuntry is so great? Because we reinvent the mold.. adapt to any obstacle in front of us so to say we are doing it wrong is incorrect and to say we are arrogant is also incorrect because we are confident and confidence always gets the girl;)

This author who is obviously a liberal with ant-republican slanted views.. is stopping him from seeing the success this administartion has accomplished the 2 years in office.. I am proud to be an american again.. it is a good day and in time everything will fall into place.. you'll see! but I bet you would never give credit 4...

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the article, while well written, is a folly.

I think it's foolish to judge God or speak for what "God would do".

Then again, the guy is a Methodist... so i suppose radical views are part of what he's about.

I understand his frustration and bitterness about mankind's need to use God as an excuse or as a crutch for conflict. It's part of our nature unfortunately.

The thing is, I truly believe we have always had good intentions with our military conflicts. It's just that sometimes good intentions aren't enough to stop things from going horrendously wrong. Looking at Vietnam, i'm not about to justify a thing about that war. We could have won that war if we'd WANTED to win it.

The politicians running it got too caught up in diplomacy and made the army move at the speed of the diplomatic effort.

Paris Peace Talks? That means don't bomb Hanoi, because hey if we bomb a country's capital they might not want to sign a treaty.

:rolleyes: Even when we watched russian ships offloading munitions that would kill our troops later on. Couldn't touch em because they were Russian ships. We fought the war at the wrong end.

The point is, we've had good intentions but poor execution. Sending soldiers off to fight means that some of them will not return home. That's part of the job. Being president means those are decisions that MUST be made sometimes, regardless of the consequences. Sometimes sitting on your ass and letting the world take its own course simply means that trouble will grow in your absence. That's a fact history has proven time and time again.and conflict.

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Originally posted by mr mahs

The world could give 2 shits about our well being. So you want to know what?? I am glad they follow a in your face diplomacy because pussy footing around beauracracy got us no where in the past.. In the words of FDR... talk softly but carry a big stick...

that was teddy roosevelt...not fdr...

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