Should July 19th become America’s annual Benchmark for Apologies Day?
Former South Dakota Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern celebrated his 85th birthday this past July 19th. As McGovern’s personal reputation is not an issue (he is, by all accounts, a considerably decent man) one certainly wishes him well. It is his politics that are very much still at issue some 35 years after his landslide loss to Richard Nixon. His emergence in a recent interview by a reporter for the Washington bureau of the Harrisburg Patriot-News shows him unrepentant still for his famous anti-Vietnam War stance. He is, but of course, advocating an American withdrawal from Iraq.
If that is how the latest turn in the War on Terror unfolds — a McGovern-style withdrawal in defeat from Iraq modeled after the funding cut-offs that induced the American defeat in Southeast Asia’s struggle against Communism — this time things will be different. There will be very little for the supporters of “McGovernism” to celebrate.
When the American left, led by McGovern and others, secured what they loudly proclaimed was “peace” in Southeast Asia in the mid-1970s — a “peace” that came to pass by cutting off the funding for the war — events proved them horrifically wrong. Disaster followed. There was never even the remotest kind of planning for the “peace” that would follow an American withdrawal from the area. But before the days of the New Media — before talk radio, Fox, the Internet and conservative bloggers and vloggers — not only were no apologies forthcoming, no one in the Establishment media was much interested in asking for them, either.
Led by CBS’s Walter Cronkite, the media in fact infamously took sides in this dispute — the “end the war and there will be peace” side. What kind of peace? How would the carnage predicted by conservatives and others be prevented? McGovern never had to worry about having answers to these kinds of questions because they were never asked. And once the degree of error in their assumptions about “peace” became reality, McGovernites had no interest whatever in admitting their mistakes after Americans departed Southeast Asia. McGovern himself, his trademark naivete on full display in his 1977 autobiography Grassroots, blithely says he was assured by Vietnamese Communist officials in a post-war visit to Hanoi that there had been “very few” executions and that only “some” Vietnamese were in “re-education” camps. Of the holocaust that was unfolding in Cambodia even as he was writing his book, McGovern brusquely dismisses it by blaming the American bombing, which Congress had halted by de-funding in August of 1973. As others have noted, it is a curious premise considering that the relentless bombings of Japan and Germany in World War II, the latter in which McGovern himself participated, did not ignite the same furies. Nor was there any interest in the media of actually holding the politicians, church leaders, academics and “intellectuals” who had finally held sway over U.S. foreign policy to any accountability for the peace that was in fact a mirage.
In 1980, South Dakota voters did finally hold McGovern to account. Along with other prominent Senate leaders of the anti-war movement like Idaho’s Frank Church, his political career was washed away in the Reagan landslide. But by and large those who, like McGovern, inflicted such massive damage on so many human beings got away historically unblemished. Their words and deeds as they led America and the world to a wildly untrue belief that ending the war would bring peace were just quietly ignored.
So the constant conversation about “benchmarks” to mark progress in the Iraq War begs another question altogether for those who, like McGovern, look at Iraq and see Vietnam. The question?
What are the benchmarks for an apology to both Iraqis and the American people when the last American leaves Iraq in defeat — and instead of the promised peace and an end to the killing a bloodbath overwhelms Iraq and the larger Middle East? Should America set aside a national “Day of Apology” on George McGovern’s birthday that reminds Americans through the ages what actually happens when America abandons people desperate for freedom to the mercy of brutal killers?
Since liberals like former Senator McGovern are so fond of using what happened in Southeast Asia in the 1970s as a template for Iraq and the Middle East, perhaps it’s time to take them at their word and pinpoint precisely a few of the moments where they should have been held to account — when the events happened — for their false promises and mind-boggling policy misjudgments. The moments that would be “celebrated” on McGovern’s birthday. Perhaps we should think of these moments as “apology benchmarks,” moments that benchmarked the real horror behind McGovern’s Peace, a horror that many believe will be magnified immeasurably in the Middle East and throughout the world if American policy in Iraq is “McGovernized.”
With the help of The Black Book of Communism, the international bestseller that is based on the opened archives in the former Soviet bloc, the benchmarks of a McGovern-style “peace” are easily on view. “Peace” as McGovern promised turned out instead to mean a series of brutal horrors that encompassed executions, massacres, re-education camps, slavery, and famine. Here’s a few “apology benchmarks” that should have been flagged as they happened if the media of the day had applied the same tough standards to McGovern and the so-called “peace movement” that it now applies to military success in Iraq.
* 1973 — “Massive deportations of civilians” in Cambodia begin, initially numbering 40,000.
* 1974 — “Tens of thousands” of Cambodians massacred after the capture of Oudong, the ancient royal capital.
* 1975 — The forced and total evacuation of Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities begins. Hospital patients, the old, the sick and the infirm were the first to die.
* 1975 — Saigon falls, the Vietnam War “ends.” In the aftermath, according to The Black Book, “from 500,000 to 1 million” are sent to “reeducation camps,” a far cry from McGovern’s tale from his 1977 trip to Vietnam that this was a fate reserved for only “a few.” A testament “signed” orally by 48 daring prisoners that was circulated through the prisons of Ho Chi Minh City protested harsh and cruel conditioners, with inhabitants dying from “hunger, lack of air, or torture, or by their own hand.” In 2001, the Orange County Register, published in an area with a considerable population of Vietnamese refugees, did a detailed and award-winning study showing that an estimated 1 million people were “imprisoned without formal trials.” The Register also revealed that 165,000 Vietnamese died in these camps as a result of “a pattern of neglect, persecution and death.” They died “suddenly…violently” while others “slowly wasted away from malnutrition and disease.” Inmates were “shackled in painful positions for months…their skin slashed by bamboo canes studded with thorns, their veins injected with poisonous chemicals,” and forced to endure tales of relatives who had been killed.
* 1975 — 1979: The “peace” left behind by Americans at the insistence of McGovern and friends produces a Cambodian “killing field” totaling between 1 million to 2 million.
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