I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972. They both concern George McGovern, the Democrat who ran against Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election.
1. On page 628, Ambrose quotes a sobering statement that McGovern made about the Vietnam War:
“McGovern, himself a bomber pilot in World War II, spoke with great depth of feeling about the bombing. ‘The reality of this war,’ he said, ‘is seen in the news photo of the little South Vietnamese girl…fleeing in terror from her bombed-out school…That picture ought to break the heart of every American. How can we rest with the grim knowledge that the burning napalm that splashed over [her] and countless thousands of other children was dropped in the name of America?”
This reminds me a 1989 two-part TV movie that I watched back when I was a child, Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North. Near the end of the movie, someone is talking to North (played by David Keith), referring to the sale of arms to Iran. He exclaims to North, “Shame on us!” That was a powerful scene in the movie. North in the movie sincerely believed that he was supporting freedom, and, when his wife showed him a newspaper story about Iran-Contra, he dismissed that as liberal propaganda. But this guy near the end of the movie firmly expressed his conviction to North that selling arms to a regime such as Iran was wrong. From what I remember, the movie ended with North looking crestfallen. The quote of McGovern had the same effect on me as I was reading it: McGovern was confronting what he deemed to be an immoral war, saying (in effect) that Americans should be ashamed at what is occurring in the name of America.
2. I read something on page 637 that was interesting: “McGovern had a Ph.D. in American history from Northwestern University. His mentor had been Ray Allen Billington, one of the greatest historians of the American West and a student of the legendary Frederick Jackson Turner.”
I did not know that. Wikipedia’s article about McGovern provided more information (and you can check the article itself for the footnotes): “McGovern earned a PhD in history from Northwestern University in 1953. His 450-page dissertation, The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913–1914, was a sympathetic account of the miners’ revolt against Rockefeller interests in the Colorado Coalfield War. His thesis advisor, noted historian Arthur S. Link, later said he had not seen a better student than McGovern in 26 years of teaching.”