The first volume in the biography of George McGovern (1922-2012).
Knock (Foreign Relations, 20th-Century U.S. History/Southern Methodist Univ.; To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, 1992, etc.) depicts his subject as really too good to be true, or at least too good to become president: decent, conscientious, and authentically progressive. Raised in the small, insular town of Mitchell, South Dakota, the product of a Methodist minister and his second wife, McGovern was inculcated by the devout, hardscrabble, patriotic America of the Depression and World War II—indeed, he returned from the war a hero as a bomber pilot. Despite the Republican slant in the state of South Dakota, there was also a strong progressive streak, as most residents admired and benefited from the policies of the New Deal, especially in farming and agriculture. Already a married man with children when he plunged into his graduate work in American labor history and a winning debater since high school, McGovern naturally gravitated toward politics. He was deeply troubled by the red-baiting in the 1948 election between Henry Wallace and Harry Truman. Moreover, as the Cold War hysteria heated up, McGovern began to forge in his writing and speeches the core of his vital beliefs, as Knock unravels chronologically and meticulously. As he writes, McGovern believed that America “erred in attempts to impose its own values and institutions upon other countries” (e.g., in Latin America and China) and that the wasteful and unnecessary military-industrial buildup could better be spent at home on education, mental health facilities, and other programs. Courageously, McGovern went against the normative grain during his stint as a congressman and later senator, especially regarding the Vietnam War. Though the writing is merely capable, Knock delivers an important reconsideration of a significant 20th-century politician.
A fine, steady study sets the stage for the second volume: running for president in 1972.