Archive for October, 2012

10/21/2012

McGovern 1972: Better Man on Vietnam

Sen. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic candidate for President, passed away today, and he should remembered and honored now for his courageous opposition to the Vietnam War.

McGovern was a combat veteran who enlisted in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and flew 35 missions over Europe, where was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Upon receiving a Phd. in history from Northwestern University, he won a House seat in South Dakota, and later became a U.S. Senator.

McGovern was an intelligent man, who understood most conflict in the second half of the 20th Century was against French, British, Dutch, and Portuguese colonial rule, and not a part of some grand Communist conspiracy to conquer the world. Yes, the insurgents got their guns from the Soviets, but this was only because they couldn’t get them from their colonial masters in Western Europe.

McGovern studied French colonialism, which started in Vietnam in 1843. He knew their modern Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, was a Nationalist, who after WWI petitioned for self-determination. He followed what happened during and after WWII, and was aware Roosevelt’s Office of Strategic Services had funded and trained Ho’s forces to resist the Japanese occupation, beginning in 1944. McGovern never forgot that as Ho declared independence in 1945, U.S. Agents were with him.

The Senator knew President Truman misread the situation in 1950 when he sent aid and advisors to help colonial France in response to Ho’s declaration his government was the only legitimate one.

McGovern knew President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon erred as to their Vietnam policies. Following the 1952 election, Nixon advocated direct U.S. intervention to bail out the French Army, but Ike sent more aid and Air Force personnel to provide additional technical assistance. By 1953, the Eisenhower-Nixon team was subsidizing 80% of France’s war. Sec. of State John Foster Dulles ramped up the anti-Communist hysteria, saying in 1954, if Vietnam fell, the rest of Asia would fall like dominoes. After a 55-day siege at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the French Army surrendered and finally withdrew from Vietnam.

McGovern knew conservatives in the U.S. misconstrued the end to colonial rule as a step towards global communism. They made the major mistake of dividing North and South Vietnam at the 17th Parallel, under the Geneva Accords of 1954, an error that would not be corrected until 1975, by the Vietnamese themselves.

McGovern correctly saw the Vietnam War as a civil war, between the North, led by Ho, and the South, ruled by Diem. He knew Diem used rigged elections to maintain power from 1955 onward.

McGovern would not have increased the number of advisors in Vietnam from 700 to 3,000 in 1961, to 11,000 in 1962, or to 16,000 in 1963, when Diem and then Kennedy were assassinated.

After American ships falsely claimed they were attacked in 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Johnson the authority to wage the American War in Vietnam (1964-73). This caused McGovern distance himself from Johnson and to become more critical. While Johnson pledged to stay until the Vietnamese were defeated, McGovern correctly accepted Ho’s statement that peace would only come when the U.S. withdrew.

McGovern heard Richard Nixon say in 1968 he had a secret plan to end the War in Vietnam. But instead of withdrawing promptly, Nixon tried to win the war, by slowly de-escalating the 543,000 men who were stationed there. His withdrawal was in fact so slow Ho would die before it was completed. Nixon still had 475,000 troops in Vietnam in 1970, when he broadened the conflict into neighboring Cambodia. In Jan. 1971, 234,000 men remained, as Nixon re-escalated into another neighbor Laos, causing the Vietnam Vets against the War, led by John Kerry, to throw their medals away at the Capitol.

McGovern ran against Nixon, because there were still 156,000 men in Vietnam on Jan. 1, 1972. That spring, as the North and the Viet Cong launched an offensive, Nixon ordered the mining of Haiphong Harbor, and resumed the bombing of North Vietnam, following a 3½-year moratorium. When McGovern told the American people it was a mistake to have gone to war, or to stay, he was telling them something they didn’t want to hear. At that time, most were not even close to admitting their country had been wrong. Just before the Nov. 1972 election, Nixon’s Sec. of State announced Peace is at hand, sealing McGovern’s defeat.

Six weeks after the deceptive pre-election statement that peace was at hand, in Dec. 1972, Nixon resumed an unnecessary full-scale “Christmas Bombing” in Vietnam, before ultimately settling for the same terms they could have had years earlier, including a release of prisoners. More than two years after the Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973, the North finally sweep into Saigon in April 1975, and reunited the country, prompting President Ford to declare: “America is no longer at war.”

In the final analysis, McGovern knew there was no good reason for 58,183 Americans to die in Vietnam, or for thousands more to sustain permanent injuries. He was equally as certain there was no justification in killing roughly 2 million Vietnamese. McGovern was clearly the better candidate in 1972, and he will be missed.