By Quentin Choy
June 29, 2021
Former Senator Mike Gravel has died at age 91. Gravel served as U.S. Senator for the state of Alaska from 1968 to 1981, where he fought for environmental issues in Alaska and attempted to end the draft for the Vietnam War.
Gravel read hundreds of pages from the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record. Released by Daniel Ellsberg, the papers revealed the atrocities being committed by American troops in Vietnam and were one of the factors in the war’s growing unpopularity among the American public. For this act alone, Senator Gravel and Daniel Ellsberg became American heroes.
In 2008, Gravel ran for President of the United States in the 2008 Democratic primary. Gravel lost the primary to Barack Obama who would become president that year. However, Gravel played an important role in the primary in regards to his criticism of the primary’s top-tier candidates Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton.
He stated that they worried him and that they were too hawkish in terms of American foreign policy in Iran and Iraq, which was one of the campaign’s most prominent issues. Serving as the unapologetic voice of reason and conscience for the other candidates, Gravel knew that his odds of winning the primary were slim, but he took advantage of his time on stage to convey to the other candidates what the American people truly wanted from them.
Gravel always acted in good faith and was consistent on his antiwar stances, whether he was discussing the Vietnam War in the 1970s or the Iraq War in the 2000s. Gravel ran for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 primary as well, but he had no plans to win, saying: “the goal will not be to win, but to bring a critique of American imperialism to the Democratic debate stage.”
While I don’t agree with all of Gravel’s stances, he was one of the politicians who inspired me with his critique of the existing system and his willingness to denounce the Democratic Party’s role in continuing a hawkish, detrimental U.S. foreign policy. His consistent antiwar legacy makes him a progressive icon, and I hope that more libertarian leftist politicians like Gravel become more mainstream within the Democratic Party and that the party can purge itself of its war hawks.
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