Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An American Hero: George McGovern, RIP

To the conservatives of my generation--those who held Ronald Reagan in high regard well before it became fashionable to do so--the great embodiment of liberalism was George McGovern. The public had not really heard of him until the 1972 presidential campaign. What people remember about him is that he ran against the Vietnam War, won the Democratic nomination, and lost to Richard Nixon in a landslide.

That Nixon was the conservative face of the era seems strange today in the post-Reagan political world, but that McGovern should have been its liberal face does not seem strange at all. In fact, McGovern defined modern liberalism and continues to do so, even though our memory of the man himself has receded into the mists of the political past.

I grew up in a family of conservative Democrats who were increasingly at odds with their party, and who mostly abandoned it on election day in November of 1972 to vote for Nixon. They voted for the crook: it was important. None of them liked McGovern's politics, a dislike that overshadowed anything they felt about him as a man. His personality was lost in the distaste for his political positions.

But there were two things that later rehabilitated him in my mind, and brought me to an appreciation of him that has stayed with me ever since. The first was seeing him speak when I was in college. He co-taught a class at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the early 1980's. As part of that class he gave a lecture at Campbell Hall which my girlfriend (who was later to become my wife) and I went to see. The stereotypes that I had formed over the years were exploded when I saw a man who was incredibly intelligent, witty, and well-informed. This was not the political demon I had been raised to revile. We attended a number of lectures during my junior and senior years, and the three that stood out as truly outstanding were those by Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jr., and George McGovern.

The second was a book I read about 5 years ago; it was a book that anyone who wants to make a judgment of George McGovern the man should read. I began reading The Wild Blue, by Steven Ambrose with no idea who it was about. Its subtitle, The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45, gave no hint that it concerned anyone other than a group of mostly unknown men. Ambrose tells the story of a number of B-24 pilots, but, in fact, much of the book is about McGovern.

I had no idea (and don't remember it ever being discussed during the '72 presidential campaign although I'm sure it must have come up) that George McGovern was a war hero.

McGovern became a B-24 pilot when he was only 22. He was a member of the 741st bomber squadron which was based in Cerignola, Italy. He flew 35 missions over Germany and every mission was a journey into Hell. Flying a B-24 was like flying a large metal chicken coup, and the pilots maneuvered them through harrowingly intense anti-aircraft fire from German batteries that resulted in gruesome casualties for those who were hit. They returned back to their bases to land, having to put all their strength into manipulating the primitive manual controls in order not to suffer the fate they had just avoided over Germany. So difficult was it to manage these planes that the pilots were often drenched in sweat when they got to the ground, despite cockpit temperatures that could reach as low as 50 below zero.

The 35 missions that George McGovern flew were the maximum number a pilot could fly. After 35, you were done: They sent you home. Very few reached that number. When I read this, I thought back on his opposition to the Vietnam War, a position I strongly disagreed with as a very confident but fairly ignorant adolescent. It took on a completely different color. A man who flew 35 missions in a B-24 over Germany, I concluded, has won the right to say anything he wants to about war and he has earned the right to be listened to.

Ambrose's book doesn't stop at the events of the war, it tells the story of McGovern's courtship, marriage, and later life. Out of this story comes the picture of a fundamentally decent and religiously devout man who cared deeply for his family and his country.

I have said before that the problem with liberals is not that they're evil; the problem is that they are good, too good. They are so good they are a danger to themselves and others. As a true liberal, McGovern possessed the fault characteristic of his political tribe: he projected his goodness onto his fellow men and assumed that they would what he would do under the same circumstances. Modern American liberalism (messianic, meliorist, and utopian) fundamentally rejects the Christian doctrine of original sin, and premises its policies on human beings that do not exist. Liberalism is a prelapsarian political philosophy for a postlapsarian world.

We forgive dead men for their badness. Can we forgive them for their goodness?

One story about McGovern from the book particularly struck me. On one of their missions, they had to turn back from their target without releasing their load of bombs. So McGovern turned the plane out into the Italian countryside to drop their load of explosives in order to allow them to land the plane. When they thought they had gotten to a safe place where they could release the bombs without harming anyone, McGovern gave the command to release them. But just as the last bomb had left the bomb bay, McGovern looked down and realized there was a farmhouse right in the path of the explosives. There was nothing he could do.

After washing up from the mission, a downcast McGovern entered the canteen, where he found one of his crew members laughing about the farmhouse they had just destroyed. I can't remember exactly what McGovern did, but I recall that he grabbed the airman's collar and slugged him. If he didn't, he should have. In any case, the guy got the message, and everyone in the canteen saw the righteous indignation of a good man.

McGovern carried that guilt for years.

Then, decades later, McGovern and his wife visited Europe, where, in the midst of sightseeing, he appeared on a radio show where they discussed his service flying B-24s. He told the story of the farmhouse, and expressed his sorrow to no one in particular for a family he never intended to harm. A few minutes later, a man called in: It was the owner of the farmhouse the bombs had destroyed. The man explained that he and his family had heard the plane coming and had sought shelter in a nearby ditch. When the bombs hit and destroyed the house, the family was safe. They had survived. Not only was the man not angry, he said he hated the Nazis, and that, though his house was destroyed, he would gladly give it up in order to see the destruction of the Germans and what they stood for.

George McGovern was not only a hero: He was one of the greatest men of the Greatest Generation. May he rest in peace.

4 comments:

Lee said...

Martin, that was beautiful and beautifully written.

LUIGI ROTUNNO. IMOPLANET. PORTO SEGURO. BRASIL. said...

OCCHIO ALL'ASSASSINO, LAVA SOLDI ASSASSINI, GIA' PLURICONDANNATO AL CARCERE: PAOLO BARRAI DI MERCATO LIBERO... COME ANCHE .. PAOLO BARRAI LAVANTE SOLDI ASSASSINI DI COSA NOSTRA, CAMORRA, NDRANGHETA... COME PURE PAOLO BARRAI RICICLANTE SOLDI RUBATI O FRUTTO DI MEGA MAZZETTE DI LL = LEGA LADRONA, PDL = POPOLO DI LADRONI E BERLUSCONI PEDOFILO ( COME ANCHE BERLUSCONI MAFIOSO, DITTATORE NAZIFASCISTA, STRAGISTA, FALSONE, PAGLIACCIO, BANCAROTTIERE DI STATO E MEGA MANDANTE DI OMICIDI... PUR SE I SUOI.. SONO " OMICIDI CON MASCHERINA" DI CUI PRESTO SCRIVEREMO GIORNO E NOTTE.. ALIAS OMICIDI CON MASCHERINA DI FINTO SUICIDIO, FINTO MALORE, FINTO INCIDENTE)!!!

LEGGETE, PLEASE, QUESTO SCIOCCANTE COMMENTO SU TRUFFATORE, MEGA LAVA SOLDI MAFIOSI, CAMORRISTI, NDRANGHETISTI, RUBATI E/O FRUTTO DI ENORMI MAZZETTE DI LL = LEGA LADRONA E PDL = POPOLO DI LADRONI, COME PURE, VI ASSICURO, MANDANTE DI OMICIDI: PAOLO BARRAI (VARIE VOLTE IN CARCERE E NON SU WIKIPEDIA). LEGGETE, PLS, E POI, IO, PIERO BARAGETTI DI VIA HAUSSMAN 11/A PRESSO LODI, PURE TRUFFATISSIMO DA CRIMINALE EFFERATO PAOLO BARRAI, MI SCATENERO'. SI, MI SCATENERO´!!!

CIAO DI NUOVO, SONO PIERO BARAGETTI DI VIA HAUSSMAN 11/A IN LODI, E SONO STATO RAGGIRATO, MI HAN FATTO PERDERE PURE LE MUTANDE, VIA LADRATE, INCOMPETENZE E PRESE IN GIRO, PRESSO MALAVITOSA, MEGA LAVA SOLDI MAFIOSI, LADRONA, CRIMINALISSIMA BSI ITALIA SRL DI VIA SOCRATE 26 MILANO. IN MANO A TOPO DI FOGNA MALAVITOSO VINCENZO BARRAI, ABITANTE IN VIA PADOVA 282 A MILANO E NATO A MILANO IL 3.5.1938. ED ANCOR PIU', IN MANO A SUO BASTARDO FIGLIO AVANZO DI GALERA, GIA' 3 VOLTE IN CARCERE, PARREBBE, ANZI, DI CERTO, PURE PEDOFILO PAOLO BARRAI!

LUIGI ROTUNNO. IMOPLANET. PORTO SEGURO. BRASIL. said...

Gruppo di risparmiatori truffati da criminale Paolo Barrai. Da incapace, delinquente, ladro e vigliacchissimo Paolo Barrai di Mercato Libero (malavitoso spietato, nato a Milano il 28.6.1965 e, prima di ora, scappare come un ratto vile, in Svizzera, facente sue mega delinquenze in cravatta, da Via Ippodromo 105 Milano).

Ciao, sono Antonella di Milano, e faccio parte di un foltissimo gruppo di clienti truffati dall'assolutamente criminale Paolo Barrai di Mercato Libero. Costui è davvero uno spietato delinquente. A tutti noi, uniti ora in una associazione ” risparmiatori truffati dal criminalissimo Paolo Barrai di Mercato Libero ” e siamo gia’ in cinquanta, dico, cinquanta", di tutta Italia e Svizzera, ci fece andare corti ( al ribasso) sul mercato azionario italiano a inizio marzo 2009. Abbiam perso quasi tutti tra il 50 e il 90 per cento dei nostri investimenti. E quando lo telefonavamo per chiedere semplicemente che fare, mentre il mercato saliva rapidissimamente, egli, come un vile ratto, scappava, si faceva sempre negare al telefono. Mandavamo e mails, nessuna risposta. Citofanavamo agli uffici di ultra truffatrice, ultra malavitosa, ultra ladrona Bsi Italia Srl di Via Socrate 26 a Milano di suo padre Vincenzo Barrai, ci vedeva dalla telecamera e nemmeno ci rispondeva.Nemmeno ci apriva il cancello di entrata. Io non sto offendendo, sto dicendo la mera verità. E fra poco la faremo sapere a fior fior di Tribunali di mezza Italia. Che i delinquenti ti debbano fare fessa, e pure non permettano replica, no eeeee. Il neofascismo e la mafia del criminale, del delinquente, del ladro, del truffatore, del professionalmente incapacissimo Paolo Barrai di Mercato Libero alias Mer-d-ato Libero, a noi non fa nessuna paura. Una truffata dal malavitoso falso e vigliacco Paolo Barrai di Mercato Libero. Antonella di Milano. PS Mi ha bruciato 700.000 euro. Tutto quello che avevo. Ma a tanti altri ha bruciato 1,2, 3,10 milioni di euro. Facendo comprare il gas naturale a 5$ e passa, che in poche settimane crollava a 2$. Senza che lui prendesse telefonate, rispondesse ad emails. Senza dare indicazione alcuna a noi clienti terrorizzati! Come uno struzzo, che dalla paura e coscienza di essere incapacissimo a livello di fiuto per investimenti, mette la testa sotto la sabbia. Paolo Barrai, oltre ad essere il peggiore consulente per investimenti borsistici o di qualsiasi altro tipo, ove inesorabilmente sbaglia sempre, ove mai, mai e ri mai ne azzecca mezza, è un irresponsabile, codardo, ladro, truffatore, criminale, falsissimo. E mi dicono che ha pregressi, pure varie condanne al carcere. Aaa, ad averlo saputo prima e non essermi fidata della Lega Nord, di cui ero parte, e che mi ha messo in contatto con sto brucia tutti i risparmi e super truffatore. Ora mi son sfogata qui. Presto lo ri faró in fronte a polizia, carabinieri, magistrati, giudici! E con me, almeno altre 50 persone! Oooo!! Non cascateci, ne scrivo proprio per questo, via dal criminale, delinquente, ladro, truffatore, professionalmente incapacissimo Paolo Barrai di Mercato Libero!!!!! BASTA ANCHE CON STA LEGA LADRONA CAPACE SOLO DI ACCUMULARE MAZZETTE DI FINMECCANICA E GHEDDAFI, PER CENTINAIA DI MILIONI DI EURO! CAPACE SOLO DI FREGARE TONNELLATE DI SOLDI VIA QUOTE LATTE E RIMBORSI ELETTORALI! E POI METTERE TUTTO ALL'ESTERO, PRESSO CRIMINALISSIMA FINTER BANK LUGANO DI MALAVITOSI IN CRAVATTA FILIPPO CRIPPA E GIOVANNI DEI CAS (MA DI CERTO NON SOLO), PROPRIO ATTRAVERSO QUESTO COLLETTO VERMINOSO, DA RINCHIUDERE IN GALERA E SUBITO, DI PAOLO BARRAI ( CHE OLTRE A RICICLARE SOLDI DI LL, LEGA LADRONA E PDL, POPOLO DI LADRONI, PRESSO FINTER BANK LUGANO, CI RICICLA ANCHE CASH ASSASSINISSIMO DI MAFIA, CAMORRA E NDRANGHETA)! FRA L'ATRO, PURE NOTO PEDERASTA PAOLO BARRAI DI MERCATO LIBERO: CHE SODOMIZZA I FIGLI COSTANZA BARRAI E RICCARDO BARRAI DA QUANDO NATI, COME BEN SANNO TUTTI, IN VIA IPPODROMO 105 A MILANO, OVE VIVONO!!!

Dale Husband said...

"I have said before that the problem with liberals is not that they're evil; the problem is that they are good, too good. They are so good they are a danger to themselves and others. As a true liberal, McGovern possessed the fault characteristic of his political tribe: he projected his goodness onto his fellow men and assumed that they would what he would do under the same circumstances."

That's because people all over the world have the same basic needs and desires, including the same potential for good (and evil). We do not constantly divide humanity into "us vs. them" like conservatives do. Plus, this is about a man who fought in World War II, as you detailed, so it seems he experienced plenty of evil and knew how to deal with it. Thus your criticism of him (and most other liberals) is totally unjustified. To put it bluntly, you are wrong about us!

"Modern American liberalism (messianic, meliorist, and utopian) fundamentally rejects the Christian doctrine of original sin, and premises its policies on human beings that do not exist. "

The truth is exactly the opposite. There is no evidence that the fall of man as depicted in the book of Genesis ever happened. Hence, no reason to believe in original sin. Conservatism, in both politics and religion, bases itself on things that do not exist.

It is commendable that you pay tribute to McGovern, but you also need to free yourself from the irrational biases of conservative politics and religion.