"If Only" by James Armstrong, Book Review
By James Armstrong
This important book by Dr. James Armstrong shares a familiar story of a nation divided by partisan politics. Sides are drawn in heavy black lines between the way it had always been and the wave of the future. Here is a look at a country embroiled in the issues of racial unrest along with an unpopular war overseas.
The sixties was an era that witnessed a wave of change that swept our nation into despair when the President of the United States was accused of wrong doing, and worse, that it proved to be true. Those times of unrest come flooding back in reading these notes about a Senator from South Dakota. He set his goals for the Presidency and after a triumphant effort lost in a landslide election that put “Tricky Dick,” Richard Nixon in charge of the country.
This slender ninety-seven page volume, written by the former President of the National Council of Churches, reveals the deep rooted character of the man whose values stood strong among his best qualities. Dr. Armstrong cautions us to learn from these past choices and wisely put to use the valuable lessons of those who have served our country well.
President John F. Kennedy and George McGovern
Men of Integrity
George Stanley McGovern was a man of integrity, albeit, one who brought controversy in a nation thrown into the depths of fighting an unpopular war. The author writes, “Senator McGovern first came to national attention as a strident, vocal opponent of the Vietnam War.”
The book compares our present situation in Iraq with the choices made in the days of Mr. McGovern’s bid for the White House, when the war in Vietnam was being termed a “Police Action”.
Life Magazine’s contributor, Larry Burrows, wrote in the January edition of the same year, “By early 1963, the number of American military personnel in Vietnam had grown from several hundred to more than 10,000 in a few short years”...” America’s growing role in Vietnam was not even close to the all-encompassing, divisive issue it would become by the middle of the decade.”
Senator George McGovern, 1972
A Proponent of Peace
George McGovern suffered the indignity of being called a “spineless peacenik, an unrealistic dreamer, unpatriotic and un-American.” His senatorial opponent in the elections of 1980, inferred that George McGovern was a communist sympathizer and a weak candidate.
For a fact, he was a war hero who piloted a B-24 Liberator Bomber on thirty-five missions over enemy territory, the maximum allowable missions overseas. His bravery and fortitude of service was recognized when he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at the age of twenty-two having piloted his bullet-ridden aircraft to safety after a completed mission over Germany.
Mr. McGovern’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention was no accident; it was a direct result of the tireless and ongoing work together with his wife, Eleanor, to whom he referred as his “most devoted campaigner.”
McGovern on Childhood Hunger
From Obscurity to the Senate Floor
The book details the fortitude which drove the meager son of a farmer whose meager beginnings in the dirt fields of South Dakota took him to within a view of gaining the Oval Office. It sets out his lifetime of service in his role as a Senator, of his efforts at the Paris Peace talks, his fight against world hunger, of his deep rooted beliefs and his viable call to public service. His alliance with those who believe that the United States should not be solely responsible for policing the world made him vulnerable to those who wish to guide others before taking control of our own faults as a nation.
"McGovern once wrote, 'To remain silent in the face of policies that one believes to be hurting the nation is not patriotism, it is cowardice. ...Criticism of public policy does not weaken the nation; rather it serves to refine, correct or strengthen our national course' (Response 1971)."1
Whether you agree with the political views of the former Senator or not, his actions over a lifetime are those which demonstrate integrity, determination and deep rooted character built on a strong faith and passion for the common man.
Characteristics of a Patriot
After the passing of George McGovern, October 21, 2012, world leaders who spoke at the prayer service exemplified his life with a memorable tribute of words which characterized him – “Our nation has lost …an unwavering clarion voice for peace, justice, compassion and decency… The world community has lost a champion and friend of the poor and hungry.”2
President Obama said, "George was a statesman of great conscience and conviction", "a leading voice in the fight against hunger." 3
Throughout his life, Mr. McGovern demonstrated the qualities of “humility, grace, dedication, hard work, uncanny vision”; values we would wish to see imbued in those who serve our country.
"George always worked to advance the common good and help others realize their potential. Our friendship endured for forty years...Of all his passions he was most dedicated to feeding the hungry, at home and around the world." Bill and Hillary Clinton 4
Mr. Armstrong pleads with the reader to consider the character of any candidate who seeks to serve and represent “We the People” as important and essential if we are to carry forward in a positive direction.
If Only is a quick read and a fascinating study of a true American patriot. Within these few pages, the author provides a taste of things and events which are sure to inspire further study.
Why Study About McGovern?
I am grateful for the opportunity to review this early edition of If Only, George McGovern and the America That Might Have Been, by James Armstrong, former United Methodist Bishop of North and South Dakota who was "the McGoverns' bishop". His lifetime association with the former Senator from South Dakota gives the author keen insight to the actual character of one of our most outspoken political leaders.
This is a volume filled with lessons to be learned, which if we are students of history, we will review to "bring essential parts of (McGovern's) reality back to life", and serves as a guiding light to shape the nation's political leadership.
This beautifully written tribute to the 1972 Presidential Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern, serves as a boilerplate to guide our choices in future elections. It emphasizes the importance of choosing wisely, when it comes to our leaders; the importance of selecting a candidate whose values are based on doing the right thing in all circumstances, whether it results in personal gain or loss. It details the values with which this senator, professor, religious leader and politician guided his journey while here on this earth.
- George McGovern, pg. 19
- Bishop Bruce Ough, United Methodist Bishop, S. Dakota, at the funeral service,pg. 86, If Only
- President Obama, pg. 85
- Bill and Hillary Clinton, pg. 85
© 2014 Peg Cole