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The Reason Why | The Nation

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The Reason Why

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Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
      --Alfred, Lord Tennyson
      "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
      (in the Crimean War)

About the Author

George McGovern
George McGovern, senator from South Dakota from 1962 to 1980 and Democratic candidate for President in 1972, is the...

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A challenge to the President's moral integrity, wayward policies and strategies as he leads the American people deeper into war.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the murders of four American
churchwomen in El Salvador, George McGovern and Representative Jim
McGovern journey to El Salvador to assess what has changed and how the
legacy of the churchwomen affect human rights worldwide.

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 President.

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.

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