John McCain seems to be running for president
on the basis of his status as a former North Vietnamese prisoner of war. Rudy
in his speech at the Republican National Convention that McCain's refusal to
accept early release showed he's a man "who believes in serving a cause greater
than self-interest." In his speech, Fred Thompson said
McCain's time in the "Hanoi Hilton" revealed "the kind of character that civilizations
from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders: strength, courage,
humility, wisdom duty, [and] honor."
McCain wrapped up his speech
in St. Paul with his own analysis of how that ordeal prepared him for the job
of running the United States. "I was never the same again," he said. "I wasn't
my own man anymore, I was my country's."
Democrats have shot back, arguing that McCain's "heroism" nearly 40 years
in the past in no way qualifies him for president. Left-wing filmmaker Robert
a new TV ad featuring Philip Butler, one of McCain's fellow POWs. In it, Butler
argues that the Arizona senator "was well-known as a very volatile guy" and
not somebody he wants to see "with his finger near the red button." In a separate
published widely on the Internet, Butler (who was held as POW two years longer
than McCain) wrote, "John's views on war, foreign policy, economics, environment,
health care, education, national infrastructure, and other important areas
are much the same as those of the Bush administration."
As a journalist who has reported extensively from both Iraq and Vietnam, I
see a third picture of John McCain, one who is quickly abandoning many of the
lessons he learned in that hellish prison cell as part of his increasingly
unprincipled quest for the presidency. It's sad to see, because John McCain
should know better.
Freed by Peace Talks
More than any other leading politician, McCain
should know that peace talks can be stronger and smarter than bombs, that withdrawing
American soldiers can be the best way to achieve stability, and that the best
way to protect American troops is to bring them home from the war zone.
John McCain should know, because he has lived this experience. After being
held for nearly six years and tortured in a North Vietnamese prison, Lt. Cmdr.
McCain was freed – not by a daring commando raid on an enemy compound but by
a negotiated settlement arrived at in peace
talks in Paris. President Richard Nixon agreed to remove U.S. troops from
Vietnam within 60 days, and the North Vietnamese government agreed to release
American POWs like McCain as those troops were withdrawn.
John McCain should know that no one wins in the destruction of war. As Michael
out, the four-year-long carpet-bombing of North Vietnam, which John McCain
engaged in, resulted in the destruction of bridges, power plants, homes, schools,
and hospitals. "In the midst of the campaign, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
estimated that we were killing 1,000 civilians a week," Moore noted. "That's
more than one 9/11 every single month – for 44 months."
As a young man on the front lines John McCain questioned the morality of
this destruction.. Even before he was shot down during a bombing run over Hanoi,
the admiral's son had questioned the human costs of armed conflict. In 1967,
after McCain nearly died following a massive weapons malfunction and fire in
the Gulf of Tonkin, the young Navy man told
New York Times reporter R.W. Apple: "It's a difficult thing to say.
But now that I've seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our
ship, I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam."
Renewing Relations With Vietnam
McCain should know that yesterday's enemy can
be tomorrow's ally and that alliances can be struck even after the United States
is defeated on the field of battle. During the 1980s, McCain was one of the
strongest advocates of establishing diplomatic relations with Communist Vietnam
at a time when leaders of both political parties feared an angry backlash for
simply talking to the other side.
In 1985, John McCain traveled to Hanoi to see Communist Vietnam for himself.
He understood the value of putting the past behind him.
"When I arrived in Hanoi, I was excited to learn that my hosts had arranged
for me a night's rest at Ho [Chi Minh]'s villa in exotic Ha Long Bay," McCain
wrote in his 2002 memoir, Worth
Fighting For. "As I … laid my head on the pillow in the bed, in the
house where Ho had slept, I knew I had received all the recompense I was likely
to get for the nights in Vietnam I had spent in less comfortable circumstances
many years ago. There was nothing more I could gain revisiting the war with
my former enemies. Better to enjoy the evening and in the morning see to more
promising pursuits, among which was helping to build a relationship with Vietnam
that would serve both our peoples better than the old one had."
The John McCain of the 1980s and 1990s was a true warrior for peace. Working
together with another Vietnam vet, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, he
helped disprove the saber-rattlers' contention that Hanoi still kept thousands
of American POWs in secret camps. He did this by bridging the gap between high-ranking
Pentagon and Communist officials, people who had been shooting at each other
just a few years before.
In 1994 the Senate passed a resolution,
sponsored by Kerry and McCain, which called for an end to a U.S. trade embargo
against Vietnam. "The vote will give the president the kind of political cover
he needs to lift the embargo, and I expect that relatively soon," McCain told
the New York Times. "I think it's a seminal event in U.S.-Vietnamese
In 1995, when President Bill Clinton normalized diplomatic relations with
Vietnam, John McCain was in the room.
Where's That Maverick Spirit Now?
Where is that John McCain today? He now talks
about keeping the United States in Iraq for 100 years and seems to have no
clue about the hardship and pain American bombing raids have on the Iraqi people.
Where's the maverick's spirit of truth-telling when it comes to the lies the
Bush administration told to get us into this war?
Today, McCain angrily calls out his Democratic rivals, arguing
that they advocate an "arbitrary timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq "which
recklessly ignores the profound human calamity and dire threats to our security
that would ensue." John McCain should know better, because the history of the
Vietnam War (and his involvement in it) shows that while peace takes time,
it starts with the withdrawal of the U.S. military.
When the U.S. left Vietnam in 1975, the situation was indeed tragic; more
than 400,000 people were rounded up by the victorious Communists and thrown
into "reeducation camps." More than a million didn't await that fate and fled
by boat as refugees. The country's economy remained a shambles and was isolated
from the outside world for years. The same seems in store for Iraq when we
But Vietnam's setbacks were temporary and could not have been prevented by
additional bombing runs or a "surge" of U.S. troops. Indeed, the main thing
that triggered economic progress in Southeast Asia was the courage of people
like John McCain – those who understood that the United States can achieve
more through trade than it can through war and that tough diplomacy can achieve
what a thousand bombing runs cannot.
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in