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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 27 Forty years ago, Robert F. Kennedy called George McGovern the most decent man in the U.S. Senate. Today, at age eighty-five, McGovern remains a moral beacon in American public life. The Democratic nominee for president in 1972, McGovern spent many of his post-Washington years tackling world hunger. A bomber pilot in World War II, he based his unsuccessful presidential campaign on his adamant opposition to the Vietnam War; his latest book, Out of Iraq, offers a possible solution to the current quagmire. McGovern’s life work has had two main themes: building sane and sustainable international relations and healing divisions in American society. —DAVID SWICK Much of your work is based in ethics. What is the root of your con- cern for others? GEORGE McGOVERN: I grew up in a Methodist clergyman’s household. I learned early that caring for others is the chief com- mand of the whole Judeo-Christian ethic. Is the heart of that missing in America today? Yes, I think we’re too concerned with self. It’s understandable that one’s first concern is to stay alive, but of equal importance is to take care of others. What is there in life that’s more important than humanity? In surveys, Americans always say that religion is an important part of their lives. And yet we see American society becoming less caring and more materialistic. How do you view this paradox? The trouble with some of the religious emphasis we have today is that it is divorced from some of the real teachings of the great religious leaders, including Jesus Christ, who taught us to care for others with as much concern as we care for ourselves. I find that the so-called hard-right Christians are not only hard-right in their political views, they are pretty hardhearted about religion and its role in our lives. It is now considered politically risky to talk about helping the poor, foreign aid, services for minorities, and so on. What will it take for the United States to put caring for people back on the political agenda? Well, we might begin by not unnecessarily killing people. We have been slaughtering people in Iraq—it is now estimated that some 600,000 Iraqis have been killed in the five years we’ve been wrecking their country. I think as long as a country is at war, and has leaders who are governing by fear, people are not going to be attuned to those in need, either here or abroad. War is a big enemy of compassion and service to others. What is the biggest problem in America today? The biggest problem is the fixation on national security, and the belief that the best way to advance national security is by spending hundreds of billions on military systems to kill people. There probably hasn’t been a time since World War II that we weren’t spending twice as much on the military as was necessary. That’s such an enormous blunder that it’s unbelievable. We are now spending $500 billion on a war that we never should have entered to fight an enemy that was no threat to us. The biggest problem is foolish judgments like that. If their policies are so problematic, why are conservatives so success- ful at talking to Americans? They appeal to real simple things, like “vote for us and we’ll elimi- nate your enemies abroad” and “vote for us and you will be more secure in your home.” It’s nonsense, but it’s so simple that probably the average person can grasp it. I’m for an authentic conservatism, but that’s not conservatism—that’s extremism of the worst kind. What do you think is the point of a human life? The point of a human life is service. It’s to make life better for ourselves and for everybody. That’s what’s always driven me in Q&A Still America’s Conscience GEORGE Mc GOV ERN e e Well, we might begin by n have been slaughtering peop PHOTOBYJOERAEDLE/GETTYIMAGES.CAMPAIGNBUTTONCOURTESYOFRONWADE,WWW.RONWADEBUTTONS.COM SEPT 18-35.indd 27 SEPT 18-35.indd 27 6/25/07 4:47:15 PM 6/25/07 4:47:15 PM