McCain and His Wars: Just Tell Us the Part Where You're a Hero
A bit of truth slipped out of the mouth of Senator Jay Rockefeller, for which he immediately apologized. "McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet," he said. "He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they get to the ground? He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues." There were cries of foul from the schoolyard. It isn't sporting; it isn't done, to bring up what John McCain was doing in the skies above Vietnam when those nasty torturing "gooks" caught and schooled him in sadism at close range.
There are topics in every culture that cannot be discussed, like a sore tooth that we learn to avoid. Evidently it is now taboo to suggest that acts of war are immoral. We are all supposed to pretend that all American soldiers in every war are either just trying to do their job, answering their "call to service", or hapless dupes in the thrall of wicked politicians, with no moral responsibility of their own.
A senator isn't allowed to talk that way, so I'll say it. I have no trouble with killing someone; this is where Gandhi and I part ways. I can imagine situations in which it may be necessary, even commendable. I do have a problem with signing my conscience over to someone else for the duration. It is moral abdication of the worst sort to let someone else tell you who must live and who must die. There is no guarantee that the person making those decisions will be another Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, or someone as silly as G.W. Bush-- or a war lover like McCain's Teddy Roosevelt, who came to the peace table only after the death of his gentle son Kermit. I am offended by the naivety of anyone who signs up for a war, discovers too late what General Sherman tried to tell them, and then comes back with their feelings hurt, their comrades dead and their balls blown off. (A tear welled up in the President's eye last week as he granted the Medal of Honor to a dead Navy Seal who threw his own body onto a grenade to save his comrades. What did the President think would happen in war? Oh, right, bad things happen to other people. The grieving family should have slapped his face.)
In today's America one cannot say "the war in Iraq was a stupid idea" without adding the qualifier, "but we DID remove Saddam and Uday Hussein and the threat of their nut sack shocker. Saddam Hussein was a BAD man." It's like the invocation in a religious ceremony. Our taboo, the thing that cannot be said in polite society is that we have killed thousands of bystanders in the process of removing a couple of Stalin wannabes. Oops.
Apparently the only part of John McCain's war service open for discussion is the suffering he endured as a torture victim and prisoner of war from October of 1967 to March of 1973. What cannot be discussed-- on television, anyway-- is what he was doing when he was captured by the Vietnamese. He was flying his 23rd combat mission over Vietnam. Not his first, not his second, his twenty-third. The photo, from the Library of Congress , shows McCain being captured by civilians in Truc Bach Lake near Hanoi. What kind of reception was expected on the ground? Oh, right, Geneva Convention, unqualified condemnation of torture... Do we lack the imagination to wonder what it was like to be a non-combatant underneath his silver wings? If John McCain must have "war hero" added to his name, let it be with an asterisk.
I have a tendency to see suffering as redemptive. This might have made John McCain a better, broader-minded man, who came to realize that his war was of a different nature than the anti-imperialist wars his father and grandfather fought. Alas, McCain is preoccupied with not losing the misbegotten war in Iraq to the detriment of all else, and he insists that we join him.