By Andrew Walden,
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
"Do we sit on the sidelines and watch a population slaughtered, or do we marshal military force and put an end to it?" -- Senator George McGovern, August 21, 1978
The "it" McGovern wanted US troops to put an end to was the killing of millions of Cambodians in the late 1970s by the communist Pol Pot dictatorship. Three and a half years after congressional Democrats made that slaughter possible by cutting off all US aid to anti-communist forces with their so-called December, 1974 "Foreign Assistance Act", their leader McGovern had made a complete reversal and was suddenly calling for a new US war in Southeast Asia.
Why is this little-remembered footnote in history relevant today? Congressional Democrats' March vote for phased withdrawal from Iraq is a replay of McGovern's treacherous thirty-five year old script with McGovern consulting from the sidelines. Last November, the sixty-two members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) sat down with McGovern to work out a strategy for withdrawal from Iraq. Those discussions led to the mis-named "Iraq Accountability Act", now heading for a veto from President Bush after passing the House and the Senate in March.
With Congressional Democrats, and a few Republicans, dancing to McGovern's tune, it might behoove them to break out of their December, 1974 mind frame and take a look to August of 1978--forty-four months down McGovern's Southeast Asia timeline.
Passage of the December, 1974 "Foreign Assistance Act", had lead quickly to the collapse of anti-communist forces in Cambodia on April 17, 1975, and in South Vietnam on April 30, 1975. This marked the end of the US war, but the killing was just beginning. The communist forces controlling Vietnam are credited with the killing of 1.8 million people (not counting war casualties) as they warred to take power from 1945 to 1987. In Cambodia anybody appearing 'educated' was killed and the cities were emptied. Thousands starved or were beaten to death in slave labor camps. Pol Pot's death toll is estimated at 2 to 3 million killed between 1975 and 1978.
Needless to say, McGovern's August, 1978 turnabout raised many eyebrows. The Wall Street Journal wrote August 23 of that year:
"There is a truly mind-boggling quality to a statement like this. Nearly 20 years ago, American liberals came to power in this country exhorting us to take a more vigorous and expansive view of our role as leader of the free world. They came complete with a theory of counterinsurgency, 'winning the hearts and minds of the people.' When the then-existing government of South Vietnam failed to fully adopt this prescription, they blithely arranged its overthrow. Upon discovering the price of the commitment thereby sealed, they set about toppling the American President, who inherited the aftermath of the coup. Not content when American troops were finally withdrawn, they set about slashing, on the grounds that the South Vietnamese government was 'immoral,' the aid funds it needed to maintain any pro-Western presence in Indochina. Now, having finished the task of destroying that presence, they are shocked and dismayed by the news of the grim and brutal world that resulted."
It would be pleasing to write about an anti-American war Senator who finally saw the light. But McGovern was not actually flip-flopping. He was consistently representing the interests of what he described in an August 25, 1978 speech on the Senate floor as, "Ho Chi Minh's popularly-based revolution for independence in Vietnam."
Pol Pot's genocidal brutality was well-known. The New York Times had denounced the new Cambodian dictatorship as early as July, 1975. McGovern's call for US-led international military intervention against Pol Pot did not come at the beginning or even in the middle of the genocide, it only came as his comrades in Hanoi prepared to capture Phnom Penh and replace Pol Pot with communists loyal to Vietnam and the Soviet Union.
Dripping with sarcasm, the Washington Star editorialized on August 23, 1978:
"Presumably the senator's theory is that except for American influence, Cambodia might have been controlled by the kind of 'popularly supported revolution' that is now rearranging things in Vietnam. If boatloads of refugees fleeing Cambodia can be found floating side by side with boatloads of refugees fleeing Vietnam, that's a coincidence. Naturally there would be former lackeys of the Americans who would try to get out of doing their share in building the new Vietnam.
"The senator's faith in the Hanoi regime is central to his thinking about the rest of Southeast Asia. …To have Cambodians fighting Vietnamese makes people of the McGovern point of view readier to wax indignant about human rights in Cambodia.
"… (This) just shows how well Senator McGovern knows the difference between repressive totalitarian communists and popularly supported people's democracies that may have to slap a wrist once in a while.
"We hope this clears up any misunderstandings about Senator McGovern's consistency as a thinker in the foreign policy area. And we are glad he noticed what's been going on in Cambodia."
In 1974 it was easy for Democrats to serve America's enemies. Vietnamese communists had limited territorial ambitions and no matter what happened on Southeast Asian battlefields, their Soviet overlords were kept in stalemate by American nuclear weapons. Their physical combat operations never reached American soil.
This is not 1974. Democrat gains in the November, 2006 elections were called, "…an obvious victory for the Iranian nation" by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As the Progressive Caucus prepared to sit down with McGovern, al-Qaeda in Iraq promised, "We will not rest from our Jihad until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have destroyed the dirty black house -- which is called the White House."
These threats are underlined by the ongoing jihadi war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and over a dozen other countries, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the September 11, 2001 attacks, and numerous terror attacks claiming hundreds of lives going back to the Iranian hostage crisis which began November 4, 1979--just over a year after McGovern called for the US to lead an invasion of Cambodia.
McGovern's parroting of the Hanoi line echoes that of a less-well-known servant of foreign communism, Earl Browder. As General Secretary and Chairman of the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) from 1932 to 1945 Browder led his socialist slaves in a series of "mind-boggling" reversals. The CPUSA's intense anti-fascist propaganda activity focused on the events in Europe suddenly became anti-war agitation on August 23, 1939--the day the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed.
Browder again whipsawed his party on June 22, 1941 as Hitler broke his pact and invaded the Soviet Union. Communists who, for the last 22 months, had been fervent anti-war activists suddenly supported US entry into the war. They joined the military and the diplomatic corps and worked within the unions to maximize war production by blocking strikes. The CPUSA even dissolved itself in 1944 into the Communist Political Association. As a result of communist support of the war effort, World War Two did not face significant organized domestic anti-war propaganda or agitation. The party again sharply reversed, reverting to true pro-Soviet, anti-American form after the Soviet capture of Berlin on April 30, 1945. At each reversal of policy, hundreds of communists resigned from the party, many of whom eventually made their way into the American cultural elites. Browder himself was stripped of all party position in 1945 and soon tossed out of the then-re-founded CPUSA.
It is neither useful nor accurate to label as communist McGovern, or his modern-day allies in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Nonetheless, his life contains many parallels to the political life of the CPUSA. McGovern volunteered for the Air Force serving with distinction in North Africa and Italy. His first entry into politics was to campaign for the pro-Soviet Progressive Party ticket in 1948. The CPUSA endorsed Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace and communists were thick in the ranks and leadership of the campaign which garnered only 3% of the vote. McGovern was elected delegate to the Progressives' first national convention. Four years later McGovern joined the Democrat Party where he eventually made his mark as a US senator serving, "Ho Chi Minh's popularly-based revolution…." McGovern and his ilk are better understood as favoring an America submissive to "progressive," "enlightened" foreign powers with which they share a utopian ideological affinity.
What will it take for those opposed to American victory in Iraq to wake up? The jihadis are not a progressive force. Today's anti-war leftists are motivated not to strengthen jihad but to weaken America in order that "progressives" around the world might once again have their day. This key element of the "progressive' value system must be recognized by writers working to defeat them. The examples of McGovern and Browder provide an answer: a reversal will require the jihadi threat to "progressivism" to outweigh the American threat.
Jihadis have a long history of co-opting allies and then turning around to eat them alive. Somewhere--perhaps, as in the 1930s, in the streets of Europe--"progressives" may come to see the Islamic fascists as more threatening than America. As that point arrives, even without a centralized CPUSA or Soviet Union to lead them, many anti-war leftists can be led to change their tune, declare a truce with America and, as in WW2, join the war against the fascists. Until then, Americans will need to continue rhetorical combat in a domestic political war with those "progressives" amongst us who believe that America is more dangerous than jihad.