Goodbye to Pete McCloskey, an Antiwar Hero

From Richard Nixon to the Israel lobby, the late Republican Congressman Paul Norton “Pete” McCloskey Jr. challenged the most powerful elements of the ruling class on the American people’s behalf.

On September 29, 1927, McCloskey was born in San Bernardino, California. He was raised in South Pasadena. After graduating high school in 1945, McCloskey joined the Navy and attended Occidental College as well as the California Institute of Technology. In 1950, he graduated from Stanford with a Bachelor’s degree.

When the Korean War began, McCloskey joined the Marines where he led a rifle platoon in a bayonet charge to take a strategic hill. He won the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts. He remained a Marine Reserve officer for several years thereafter. In 1953, McCloskey earned his law degree from Stanford and became a deputy district attorney in Alameda County until 1954.

Subsequently, from 1955-1967, he practiced general and environmental law in Palo Alto, while giving lectures on legal ethics at the Santa Clara and Stanford law schools. He was inspired to enter politics after he saw President Jack Kennedy give a speech in 1963 during a conference regarding civil rights.

In a 1967 special election necessitated by the death of Rep. J. Arthur Younger, McCloskey won his seat representing the San Mateo district in Congress. With the Vietnam War already raging, McCloskey ran as an antiwar candidate defeating the beloved film star and his fellow Republican Shirley Temple Black along with the Democrat Roy Archibald.

While serving seven terms in Congress, McCloskey became the first GOP representative to both oppose the war – including by calling for a repeal of the despicable Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which ostensibly authorized the unconstitutional war – and demand Nixon’s impeachment.

In 1972, he fought a quixotic battle attempting to unseat Nixon for the GOP nomination for President, arguing “I’ll probably get licked, but I can’t keep quiet.” He won 19.7 percent of the vote against Nixon at the New Hampshire primary. McCloskey was emphatic, “To talk, as the president does, of winding down the war while he is expanding the use of air power is a deliberate deception.”

He was prevented from speaking against Nixon and the war at the Republican National Convention that year as a result of a rule written by John Ehrlichman, his old friend and law school debate partner, stating a candidate could not get to the floor with fewer than 25 delegates. McCloskey only had one.

In 1975, he traveled to Cambodia to observe the mass destruction left by the massive US bombing campaign. Yale’s Ben Kiernan, a leading historian on Cambodia, estimates the US dropped approximately 500,000 tons of bombs on the country between 1969-1973. According to the BBC, “the number of people killed by those bombs is not known, but estimates range from 50,000 to upwards of 150,000.”

Then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger approved nearly 4,000 bombing raids on Cambodia between 1969-1970. He infamously stated during a declassified 1970 telephone conversation “It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?”

McCloskey condemned the atrocities committed in Cambodia, declaring that Washington had unleashed “greater evil than we have done to any country in the world, and wholly without reason, except for our benefit to fight against the Vietnamese.”

In the early 1980s, McCloskey began criticizing the immense power and pervasive influence of the Israel lobby on American foreign policy. He supported then-chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat. His position was that Palestinian militancy and resistance, including the use of terrorism, was a reaction to the brutality of the illegal Israeli occupation, ongoing since 1967, in the West Bank and Gaza.

He vehemently opposed Israel’s expansion of Jewish-only colonies in the territory intended by the United Nations as land for a future Palestinian state. He advocated for the implementation of UN resolutions which declared the so-called settlements illegal. McCloskey even put forward a resolution to withhold $150 million in US aid to Israel in order to pressure Tel Aviv to remove the settlements.

Facing intense backlash from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), McCloskey ultimately withdrew his amendment. After Israel, under the leadership of Likudnik Prime Minister Menachem Begin, passed its 1981 Golan Heights annexation law, he denounced the move as an “aggressive and imperialistic action.” In response to this violation of Syrian sovereignty, McCloskey also implored Congress to rescind the $2.2 billion in US taxpayer money Tel Aviv was due to receive in 1982-1983.

“Until Congress is willing to stand up to Israel, every time that we step back and deliver them F-16s, or accept the bombing of downtown Beirut, we will accept whatever they want to do,” McCloskey thundered. AIPAC poured money into his opponents’ campaigns and he was unseated during the 1982 election.

“In 1982, McCloskey lost to future governor Pete Wilson in a primary election for the U.S. Senate. He told The Times that his controversial positions on Israel might have contributed to his defeat,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “He has been supportive of the Palestinian people’s plight since the late 1970s,” Helen McCloskey, his longtime press secretary whom he married in 1982, told the outlet. “Of course, now that is very relevant,” she added.

Even after leaving politics, McCloskey continued to oppose the Israel lobby and its depredations against the American people. As Paul Findley, the former Illinois congressman and McCloskey’s co-founder of the Council for the National Interest, has written,

AIPAC’s endeavors did not stop McCloskey from seeking out justice in issues related to the Middle East. In 1993, the district attorney of San Francisco released 700 pages of documents implicating the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, a major Jewish organization that calls itself “a defender of civil rights,” in a vast spying operation. The targets of the ADL operation were American citizens who were opposed to Israel’s repression of Palestinians and to the South African government’s policy of apartheid. The ADL was also accused of passing on information to both governments. After experiencing “great political pressure,” the district attorney dropped the charges, prompting victims to file a suit against the ADL for violation of their privacy rights. They chose Pete McCloskey as their attorney.

McCloskey and his clients, two of whom were Jews who had been subjected to spying after criticizing Israeli policy in the occupied territories, revealed an extensive operation headed by ADL undercover operative Roy Bullock, whose files contained the names of 10,000 individuals and 600 organizations, including thousands of Arab Americans and national civil rights groups such as the NAACP. Much of Bullock’s information was gained illegally from confidential police records. In April 2002, after a nine-year legal battle, McCloskey won a landmark $150,000 court judgment against the ADL.

During the second Iraq War, McCloskey also highlighted the heavy influence of the Likud as well as the neoconservatives in spearheading the push for Washington’s illegal and disastrous invasion.

In a 2005 interview with Scott Horton, host of Antiwar Radio and now editorial director of, McCloskey rebuked the arguments for the war and excoriated the neocons proliferating throughout the George W. Bush administration,

We killed a lot of people [in Vietnam], we killed a million Vietnamese, 55,000 Americans, and wounded four or five times that many in a war we shouldn’t have fought in the first place… [And in the case of Iraq,] it’s the same problem. I don’t know how you earn the love and affection and the minds and hearts of the ordinary Iraqi when you’re blowing up his houses and killing his relatives… [Paul] Wolfowitz, and [Douglas] Feith, and this man [Richard] Perle, and John Bolton appointed to the UN [ambassadorship], those men have considered Israel almost as the 51st state. I don’t think there’s any secret that we’ve gone to war in Iraq, not to protect against the Iraq threat to the United States, but to stop the Iraq threat to Israel, the same men that have taken us into this policy and this war… [including] Perle [had been] advising the Israeli government in 1996 to take out Iraq [in the “Clean Break” document written for then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu]. Of course, now they’re pushing to take out Iran. Well why are we wanting to take out Iran? Because it represents a threat to Israel.

During the interview, McCloskey continues to rail against the iron grip of the Israel lobby in American politics and warns of the consequences of the extraordinary deference to Israel regarding Washington’s relations with the Middle East,

And this whole policy over the last 20 years has ignored [UN Security Council] Resolution 242 which… allowed the creation of the state of Israel but said it should be side by side by a Palestinian state made up of the West Bank and Gaza. And our refusal to comply with the United Nations and now trying to appoint Bolton as our representative to the United Nations sends a signal to the world that whatever Israel does the United States is going to support, including Israel’s known possession of atomic weapons… And the only reason we take these policies is because the [lobby] through AIPAC has scared every congressman into fearing they’ll lose their seat if they in any way vote against Israel.

In a sense, McCloskey’s antiwar career came full circle in 2014 when he visited North Korea. While there, he met with a fellow veteran from the opposite side of the battle, a retired three-star general who had also been wounded. “I told him how bravely I thought his people had fought, and we embraced… We ended up agreeing that we don’t want our grandchildren or great-grandchildren to fight, that war is hell, and there’s no glory in it,” McCloskey said.

Last week, the former congressman passed away at his home in Winters, California as a result of congestive heart failure, according to family friend Lee Houskeeper. McCloskey was 96 years old.

American congressmen seldomly, if ever, conduct themselves with any honor or courage. Too often we see our supposed representatives in the legislature shamelessly carrying water for the war party, lying to their constituents, regurgitating propaganda from foreign lobbies and arms-industry funded think tanks. With well over $30 trillion in debt, most of our lawmakers happily continue robbing the American people to fund the American Empire.

McCloskey’s example and legacy is one to emulate if we desire to avoid full-scale war with any of the current White House’s favored targets: Beijing, Moscow, Pyongyang, or Tehran. Given that we already stand on the precipice of nuclear conflict with Russia and soon China, concurrently committing mass slaughter in Palestine, and edging towards war with Iran and its allies across the Middle East, we could use a great man like former California Congressman Pete McCloskey.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.