Thomas Knock

2013 - 2014 Writing Fellow

The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern

(1 March 2016, Princeton University Press)

Thomas Knock utilized the semester-long fellowship to complete his manuscript biography of Senator George McGovern, a former historian, the leading critic of America’s war in Vietnam, and the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. Knock's work has now been published as The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern, the first major biography of McGovern. In it, Thomas Knock traces McGovern’s life from his rustic boyhood in a South Dakota prairie town during the Depression to his rise to the pinnacle of politics at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as police and antiwar demonstrators clashed in the city’s streets.

Drawing extensively on McGovern’s private papers and scores of in-depth interviews, Knock shows how McGovern’s importance to the Democratic Party and postwar American politics extended far beyond his 1972 presidential campaign. Parts of this story, set in the era of Cold War liberalism, contain elements of the Wilsonian narrative. For McGovern preferred “the peacekeeping actions of the United Nations over freewheeling unilateralist interventionism” and proposed instead a foreign policy, at once internationalist and non-interventionist, as well as a resumption of the domestic reform movement, which had been brought to a standstill by the Vietnam War.

Ironically, his campaign theme, “Come Home, America,” opened him up to the charge that he was a “neo-isolationist.” Yet, his was a search for practical alternatives to the cumulative perversions of containment, grounded in his faith in the possibilities for national redemption through authentic internationalism, education and intercultural exchange, and humanitarian endeavor.