Sunday, October 21, 2012


In the Senate chamber, George McGovern stood to promote a bill co-sponsored by Mark Hatfield of Oregon to stop the funding of the American war in Vietnam.  He wanted to start bringing American troops home.

September 1, 1970

Mr. President, the vote we are about to cast could be one of the most significant votes Senators will ever cast.

I have lived with this vote night and day since last April 30 - the day before the Cambodian invasion - the day this amendment was first submitted.

I thank God this amendment was submitted when it was, because as every Senator knows, in the turbulent days following the invasion of Cambodia and the tragedy at Kent State University, this amendment gave a constructive rallying point to millions of anguished citizens across this war-weary land.

I believe that, along with the Cooper-Church amendment, the pending amendment helped to keep the Nation from exploding this summer.  It was the lode-star that inspired more mail, more telegrams, more eager young visitors to our offices, more political action, and more contributions from doctors, lawyers, workers, and housewives than any other initiative of Congress in this summer of discontent.  

Now this question is about to be resolved.  What is the choice it presents us?  It presents us with an opportunity to end a war we never should have entered.  It presents us with an opportunity to revitalize constitutional government in America by restoring the war powers the Founding Fathers obliged the Congress to carry.

It gives us an opportunity to correct the drift toward one-man rule in the crucial areas of war and peace.

All my life, I have heard Republicans and conservative Democrats complaining about the growth of centralized power in the Federal executive.

Vietnam and Cambodia have convinced me that the conservatives were right.  Do they really believe their own rhetoric?  We have permitted the war power which the authors of the Constitution wisely gave to us as the people's representatives to slip out of our hands until it now resides behind closed doors at the State Department, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the basement of the White House.  We have foolishly assumed that war was too complicated to be trusted to the people's forum - the Congress of the United States.  The result has been the cruelest, the most barbaric, and the most stupid war in our national history.

Every Senator in this Chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave.  This Chamber reeks of blood.

Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land - young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces, or hopes.

There are not very many of those blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious venture.

Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor, or courage.

It does not take any courage at all for a Congressman or a Senator or a President to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed.

But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes.

And if we do not end this damnable war, those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day:

A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.

(July 19, 1922 – October 21, 2012)

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