Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John McCain Is a War Hero for Being Captured During a War We Had No Business Fighting

This is the classic picture of McCain's time as a POW. It shows him in bed with
injuries suffered while ejecting from his his plane. Why always this picture?

Yes, why always that picture? Aren't there pictures of him after he recovered from his injuries sitting around bored and eating crappy rice or something? Just asking.

On a serious note, this Business Insider Malaysia article features some of McCain's own words on his time in a Hanoi prison. It's harrowing. I don't know if it makes him a hero or not. Just surviving his imprisonment is a testimony to both his determination and, I imagine, dumb luck.

We tend to glorify war and the soldiers that fight them. We take it for granted that those who fight for us deserve a special status. Just surviving combat renders soldiers heroes of a sort. I don't begrudge them that status. But I also believe we take it too far, especially regarding wars we had no business fighting. We should fight fewer wars and produce fewer wounded warriors and anoint fewer war heroes.

John McCain has done alright for himself, given that he came from a celebrated Navy family, barely made it out of Annapolis (fifth from the bottom of his class, 894th out of 899), crashed his plane twice, ditched a third, was shot down in a fourth, and was involved in a shaky incident in Spain (flying too low, he sliced some power lines). A fifth plane he was in blew up on the deck of his aircraft carrier, which led to a fire that killed 134 sailors. He barely survived the disaster and was not to blame in any way. Just bad luck.

Still, it's hard to say he was a war hero, though he did manage a few good missions over Vietnam, two of which earned him commendations. Only his days as a POW gained him his war hero status. I suppose it's as it should be.

Still, Vietnam was a cooked up war that didn't need to happen. So were Afghanistan and Iraq, and we grant war-hero and wounded-warrior status to thousands of young men we never should have sent into battle.

I don't begrudge them their status, but I question a country that cannot stop fighting wars of choice. We lost 50,000-plus lives in Vietnam while killing over 3 million Vietnamese. Remind me why? Most Americans couldn't say off the top of their heads, except communism or something.

Back to McCain. This Rolling Stone article in 2008 puts a lot in perspective. He and George W. Bush share a lot in common, mostly that, because of their families, they failed up. Bush's failures were, obviously, far more consequential, and one of my favorite presidents, LBJ, is largely responsible for the catastrophe that was the war in which John McCain gained his war-hero acclaim. Funny how that works, and funny how I can admire and condemn Johnson in the same breath.

This all started because Donald Trump questioned John McCain's heroism. Frankly, Trump should be allowed to do just that. The outrage is all bullshit. Was McCain a hero? Did he have to keep crashing planes? Did we even belong in Vietnam? That last question is what we should be talking about, not whether a plane crasher should be a hero for, in the end, being shot down and living to tell about it.

Donald Trump is the current frontrunner in the GOP race for the nomination. What that says about the GOP in more important than whether or not John McCain should be a somebody who built a career on his misfortune.

Or should John McCain be a somebody who picked Sarah Palin for his running mate?

Thanks, McCain. Was Sarah Palin a better choice for the White House
than, er, the Donald? Luckily, we'll never know.

A serious note. While trying to gauge American attitudes toward the Vietnam War, I found this Jim Webb piece on the subject. While I disagree with his conclusions, I was impressed by his broad knowledge of the subject. Webb, now a Democratic candidate for president, makes a strong case for the war and says he'd fight it again. He blames the loss of the war -- yes, we lost the Vietnam War -- on political incompetence, a manipulated press, and the "dissent movement," which he clearly feels was unpatriotic.

I grant that he remembers a different war from the one I chose not to fight in. Yes, I protested the war on my college campus -- was suspended for a term because of my participation, wrongly singled out as a leader (I wasn't) -- and remain proud of my dissent. As for patriotism, I remain deeply skeptical of patriotism. Like religion, it causes more death than life, more destruction than redemption. 

I support Hillary Clinton for president and had privately mentioned Jim Webb as my favorite for the veep slot. I still expect it to happen. But reading Webb's reflections on war -- and knowing Hillary's hawkish side -- I wonder if a pacifist like myself should support a team that embraces war as an essential option available to resolve international disagreements. Right now, I prefer the diplomatic Barack Obama. He came into office willing to expand in Afghanistan. That didn't work, and he's resolved not to make a similar mistake in Iran. I commend him for it.

Did we need to fight in the Middle East to stop the spread of radical Islam? No, we fought in the Middle East and helped expand and sustain the radical Islamic movement, just as our failure in Vietnam may have led to the killing fields of Cambodia. Webb believes the West worked together to prevent communism from overtaking the whole of Southeast Asia, whereas I believe our meddling in various countries since World War II has fomented more war and misery than if we let history run its course while we pursued diplomatic solutions. We may never know if George Kennan's containment policy -- one that Truman embraced and Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson pursued, on which Kennan later reversed himself -- was a mistake. Did we really need to fight the Cold War? It's unknowable, but it's worth reflecting on.

Finally, I want to remark on the Wikipedia entry on George Kennan that I linked to above. I've read through it more and find Kennan and his evolving positions and recommendations to be very wise indeed. It's a great read about a great and long career. Read though as much as you have time for. It's enlightening.

No comments:

Post a Comment