IDOL OF THE MEDIA
image of John McCain has been burnished so brightly by the
adoring media that its shining light is blinding to the casual
observer. McCain is universally depicted as a war hero who
endured years of torture at the hands of the Vietnamese Communists,
and who bravely refused to be released while others were not.
This living saint is often lauded by his media cheerleaders
as having "taken the high road," not only for his
stance on campaign finance but especially for his denunciation
of Pat Buchanan.
has made a point of going after Buchanan in the ugliest and
most confrontational way, demanding that Pat hurry up and
leave the GOP and sanctimoniously declaring that Pat had "dishonored
the memory" of World War II veterans by writing A
Republic, Not an Empire, a book that champions
a revisionist history of World War II and calls for a noninterventionist
foreign policy for the U.S. In his kickoff speech, McCain
not only indirectly rebuked George Bush for lack of foreign
policy experience, he also directed an insult at Buchanan
and the vehemence and venom in his voice was as unmistakable
as his target:
Americans are a strong confident people. We know that in open
competition our ideals, our ingenuity, and our courage ensure
our success. Isolationism and protectionism are a fool's errand.
We should build no walls in a futile attempt to keep the world
at bay. Walls are for cowards, not for us."
clearly McCain was saying that Buchanan is a coward. Buchanan's
foreign policy of America First, a noninterventionist and
peaceful foreign policy, in McCain's view amounts to
hiding behind "walls" the stance of a coward.
With his allies in the media gang egging him on, just as they
no doubt once egged on the class bully, the macho McCain thinks
he can easily take out Buchanan, who is already taking heavy
incoming fire from all sides. But everyone knows that if you
scratch a bully, you are likely to find a real coward
and, as it turns out, McCain is a textbook example
of the species.
usefulness as the liberals' favorite "conservative"
makes him popular with the media elite, but it is his story
that makes him interesting: from a prison cell in Hanoi to
the US Senate. It almost sounds like a made-for-television
movie, and one can only wonder when McCain will sell the movie
rights to his book or have they already started to
speculate on what Hollywood macho man will get to play McCain?
The aura of nobility and military authority that hovers over
him like a halo, a veritable aurora borealis of virtue, has
so far blocked any inquiries into his "war hero"
bona fides. Draping himself in the flag, he wears his status
as a War Hero like a protective cloak. But he can't hide his
face, and on that subject I can't outdo Camille Paglia, with
her ex-ray eyes and razor-sharp tongue, and so I won't even
her Salon column, she writes:
TV camera does not lie: Just as it showed from the get-go
that ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was a nervous shifty,
sweaty, petulant mental adolescent, so has it exposed McCain
over time as a seething nest of proto-fascist impulses. Despite
his recent flurry of radiant, P.R.-coached grins, McCain has
the weirdly wary and over-intense eyes of Howard Hughes and
the clenched, humorless jaw line of Nurse Diesel (from Mel
Brooks' Hitchcock parody, 'High Anxiety'".
said, Camille but there is more to it than that. The
wariness and over-intensity mask a seething guilt that threatens
to erupt, at any moment, like a stream of hot lava boiling
up to the surface. The clenched jaw, and tightened facial
muscles, the eyes that look far away into some unimaginable
distance: there is something not quite right here,
both in the rigid planes of his face and in the details
of his story.
interviews, he looks away at crucial moments, as if distracted
by some random memory perhaps the memory of his time
spent in a Vietnamese prison, where he reportedly endured
the most excruciating tortures. In deference to his obvious
pain at the memories, and in their eagerness to accept at
face value what McCain's publicists are dishing out, reporters
have not really delved too deeply into the details of his
experience after being shot down over Hanoi. If they had,
they would have long ago come to suspect that the shining
war hero is holding something back, a shameful secret that
reveals and perhaps explains the dark side of John McCain.
was shot down on October 26, 1967, over Truc Bach Lake, near
Hanoi. As I pointed out in my last column about McCain, he
claimed in a US News and World Report article [May
14, 1973] that he languished in a cell for several days, his
injuries untreated. Confronted with a North Vietnamese officer
who was "a psychotic torturer, one of the worst fiends
we had to deal with," as McCain put it, he decided to
cooperate. According to his own account, McCain said: "OK,
I will give you military information if you will take me to
the hospital." While there are some conflicting stories
about how long he was actually in that cell, he gave his first
interview on October 31, with French television reporter Francois
Chalais for Beirut's L'Orient, who wrote:
WITH A PRISONER OF WAR
John Sidney McCain is not an ordinary prisoner. His father
is none other than Admiral Edmond John McCain, Commander-in-chief
of US naval forces in Europe. In a weak voice, he relates
his story to me: 'I was carrying out a bombing mission, my
twenty-third raid over Hanoi. It was then that I was hit.
I wanted to eject but while doing so I broke both arms and
my right thigh. Unconscious, I fell in a lake. Some Vietnamese
jumped in the water and pulled me out. Later I learned there
must have been about 12 of them. They immediately took
me to a hospital, in condition two inches away from death.
A doctor operated on my thigh. Others at the same time dealt
with my arms."
"WAR HERO" FOR OUR TIMES
which is it, Senator McCain did you trade military
information for medical treatment, or did they take you to
a hospital immediately and operate? Either way, you don't
look so good at least, not like any war hero I ever
THEY SERVE COFFEE AT THE HANOI HILTON?
the course of being interviewed by Monsieur Chalais, McCain
is described as smoking a cigarette and sipping a cup of coffee
amenities most American prisoners of war did not enjoy.
While he was obviously acting under great duress, in this
interview McCain seems just a little too eager to please
his captors and the Commie Frog sent to interrogate him. Chalais
asks: "How are you treated here?" McCain answers:
"Very well. Everybody is very nice to me." "How
is the food?" McCain grins "feebly. Obviously, the
least reaction hurts him. 'This isn't Paris. But it is alright.'"
Hanoi correspondent of Cuba's official Prensa Latina news
agency cited an article in the Vietnamese Communist Party
newspaper, Nhan Dan [November 9, 1967], which has McCain
saying: "There is not any doubt for me, things are taking
place in a favorable way for North Vietnam. In particular
world opinion. At present the United States is standing [virtually]
alone." No one can blame McCain for succumbing to torture:
but there is some reasonable question as to whether McCain
wasn't given preferential treatment from the very beginning,
from the moment the Vietnamese fished him out of the lake
and discovered his identity. At the very least, the popular
image of McCain as the icon of the veterans and the virtual
embodiment of the military virtues is challenged by the record.
the shores of Truc Bach Lake, a monument now stands, inscribed
with these words: "Here on 26 October 1967 at Truc Bach
Lake in the capital city of Ha Noi, John Sidney McCain was
shot out of the sky in his A4 aircraft by local citizens'
militia defending Yen Phu. There were 10 other planes shot
down on the same day." The monument is in the rough shape
of a plane, or the severed head of a crucifix, with the kneeling
figure of John McCain at its center. Head bowed in penitence,
knees buckling, eyes hooded in shame, he looks like a man
quite capable of saying, even some thirty years later, "I
am a war criminal; I bombed innocent women and children"
as he did in an interview with Mike Wallace on Sixty
Minutes in 1997.
WAR CRIMINAL FOR PRESIDENT
we want a self-described "war criminal" as the next
President of the United States? Well, he wouldn't be the first.
But what is so shocking is not the bland alacrity with which
he admits to his alleged war crimes, but his expressed eagerness
to commit them all over again this time as the nation's
Commander-in-chief. Remember, it was McCain who demanded that
Clinton stop shilly-shallying around and start bombing Yugoslavia
back to the Stone Age. "We're in it, and we've got to
win it!" He always said it with that rictus smile, his
eyes glowing with warlike fire, his voice resonant with the
moral authority of a certified war hero. But as the truth
about the nature and extent of his collaboration with the
North Vietnamese comes out, as it inevitably will, he may
find that he's in it, alright and highly unlikely
to win it.
THE COWARD, NOW?
American people have had it up to here with phonies
and hollow plaster saints. As the official story of John McCain,
the heroic and altruistic War Hero begins to unravel, the
American people and perhaps even some in the American
media will take a closer look not only at the man but
also at what he stands for. The dark secret at the core of
his psyche, and his politics, is sure to come out and
then, perhaps, John McCain will not be so quick to call other