George McGovern, a former U.S. lawmaker and the Democratic presidential candidate who lost to Richard Nixon in 1972, has died at the age of 90. He made his mark as both a soldier and an activist for peace.
George McGovern’s experience as a bomber pilot in World War II earned him military honors and changed the future politician’s views on life and death.
After the war, McGovern returned to his home state of South Dakota to teach history and political science. In 1956, he ran successfully for Congress and became known as an advocate for the American farmer. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962.
In 1972, as the Vietnam War entered its seventh year, Senator McGovern was nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President. He ran against President Richard Nixon on a platform advocating the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in exchange for the return of American prisoners of war. It was not a widely popular platform at the time, and it contributed to his lopsided defeat at the polls.
He lost his Senate seat in 1980, but remained active in politics, working hard for liberal causes and candidates. He traveled the world, teaching and lecturing, and served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations’ Agencies for Food and Agriculture. He left that post with a commitment to combating hunger in the United States and around the world. In 2000 President Bill Clinton awarded McGovern the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and he and former U.S. Senator Robert Dole shared the 2008 World Food Prize.
McGovern remained a standard bearer for the American peace movement, speaking out against the invasion of Iraq, pointing to parallels between that conflict and the war in Vietnam.