George McGovern Legacy Will Not Die: McGovern Bucked the Establishment to Bring Americans Home

George McGovern was a man of the people.  In his hometown of Mitchell, SD, McGovern he was known as address Senator George or simply George. Because he was incredibly well loved and respected, his funeral services will be held this Thursday at the Mary Sommervold Hall at the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences in Sioux Falls, SD, one of the few venues to accommodate the anticipated large number of attendees who will honor McGovern one last time.

McGovern’s influence is also seen on PolicyMic. Pundit Douglas Goodman states, “There are those of us who remember these times. We voted for him, then watch[ed] the events unfold.  Over the years, our positions may have changed, but our respect for the man never did. We have lost another great statesman.”

Right before Johnson’s inauguration in 1965, McGovern made national headlines when he went public with his concerns about the war. On the Senate floor, McGovern delivered his speech and point blank told his fellow senators, “We are not winning in South Vietnam…We are backing a government that is incapable of winning a military struggle or governing its people.” McGovern then laid out a 5 point plan that included diplomacy, an autonomous Vietnam, a UN peace keeping presence, a venture to harness the Mekong River Valley, and a gradual elimination of foreign troops and military advisers.

McGovern’s headline making speech caught the eye of CBS News and McGovern was invited to participate in a prime-time special debate, “Vietnam – The Hawks and the Doves,” McGovern being the lone Dove who was outnumbered 3-1. New York Times military editor, Hanson Baldwan, was the most hawkish on the panel. He argued that massive bombing and a navel blockade of North Vietnam. Should China intervene, Baldwan stated that the, “upper limit,” of the response would not exceed 1 million men. 

McGovern’s realistic response was, “Even if we could obliterate North Vietnam, with the kind of massive bombing attacks that you suggest, the war would still continue in the South, the guerillas would continue to fight, the political situation would continue to deteriorate … I think there will be a staggering loss of life out of all proportion to the stakes involved [with] no guarantee that … the situation out there will be any better. In fact, I think that there will be such enormous political instability … that indeed we invite a much worse situation than the one that exists … Its far better for politicians to take political risks than for us to risk a course that might cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.”

A few days after the CBS broadcast, McGovern met with Johnson, in the Oval Office, to negate Johnson’s believe that Ho Chi Minh was an ally to China who envisioned a world take-over. Professor McGovern advised Johnson that the Vietnam and China has been enemies for over one thousand years and Ho might prove useful in stopping Chinese expansion efforts. McGovern’s words fell flat with Johnson who countered, “Goddamn it, George, don’t give me another history lesson. I don’t have time to be sitting around this desk reading history books.” In July 1965, Johnson escalated the war efforts.

In response to the escalation, rebuked Johnson for, “preaching that the fate of the human race and the cause of all mankind center in Saigon.” In November 1965, McGovern took his first trip to Vietnam. The seasoned WWII vet was not prepared for what he was about to see when he visited a military hospital – 18-year-olds with their arms, faces, legs, and feet blown off. Flying over the jungle, McGovern thought to himself, “How are we going to fight in this?”

When McGovern returned, he became more vocal in his opposition to the war, to the dismay of President Johnson.  Johnson’s chief speech writer once disclosed, “The boss gets wild about him [McGovern] sometimes.” McGovern’s constant dissent over the war eventually got him banned from all White House functions, thus joining the ranks of Fulbright and Frank Church of Idaho. By 1967, McGovern, Church, and Fulbright had become the most ardent critics of the war within the Democratic establishment. 

By the time spring rolled around, Vietnam had endured more air assaults than any other country in the history of war. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than were dropped in all of WWII. North Vietnam’s infrastructure was all but decimated and Agent Orange destroyed half of South Vietnam’s forest. One in four South Vietnamese peasants had become homeless. 1967 ended with 16,000 dead American soldiers and over a half million troops stationed in Vietnam. America was spending $2 billion per month to support the war effort. 

Yet, North Vietnam’s resolve remained intact.

This is the sixth segment in the legacy of George McGovern.  To learn more, click on part one, two, three, four, and five.