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John McCain: A Man of Honor or Disgrace?

We should not let the death of John McCain prevent us from honestly scrutinizing his past politics and claims to status as a war hero.

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By Atilla Sulker | United States

Society often uses death as an excuse to exempt the deceased individual from criticism. This is especially true in the case of a person of honor, a statesman, or in the case of John McCain, a war hero. To come to a consensus of truth, however, we must remove this lens and never lose sight of the individual’s shortcomings.

We can all agree that the death of any individual is sad and doesn’t warrant us to insult their character, especially considering that they are no longer in this world to defend themselves. But at the same time, we must break out of this idea that once an individual has died, they are vindicated of all shortcomings. In the case of John McCain, I don’t use the term “shortcomings” lightly.

What is a hero? First, consider the context of the question. In the case of a tall tale, a hero could have otherworldly attributes. In the real world, a hero could be considered someone with great achievements and courage. Of course, contemporary society places the titan Arizona Senator in this category.

Then presidential contender Donald Trump found himself in hot water in 2015 for proclaiming that the Arizona statesman was not a war hero. Before addressing this point, it is important to know as to how that whole debacle started. Trump infamously questioned McCain’s valor in an interview in which he was criticized for calling John McCain a “dummy”. It is important to understand that Trump referred to McCain as a “dummy” before he questioned McCain’s heroism.

Looking back at the interview, it appears that the interviewer immediately brought up McCain’s war hero status in an attempt to invalidate Trump’s comment. This well exemplifies the elitist fabric of society’s perception of statesmen and “heroes”. Their hero status exempts them from any criticism, even if the criticisms have nothing to do with questioning valor. When Trump referred to McCain as a “dummy”, he was responding to McCain referring to Trump’s supporters at a Phoenix rally as “crazies”.

In regards to Trump’s latter comment that McCain’s capture was not an act of heroism, one must reassess the attributes of a hero. Does POW status necessarily align with hero status? Can hero status also include POW status?

Vicente Lim is an example of an unsung WWII hero who also happened to be a prisoner of war. Lim not only was a general, but also helped in the Filipino resistance against the Japanese. The Japanese captured and executed him in 1944. McCain does not fit this description, even though he was a POW. Yes, it is true that he endured great torture and pain as a POW, and this deserves a badge of courage, but it should not give him automatic hero status.

Additionally, this discounts the importance of the many other POW’s who were captured alongside McCain. There are countless other individuals, such as Senator Tammy Duckworth, who have sacrificed much more and even shed blood. To call McCain a hero and not recognize the actions of those who have sacrificed far more is an insult to these unsung heroes. Perhaps it was McCain’s background that lead to his fame, particularly the fact that his father was a navy admiral.

Heroism depends on context. If the context is an undeclared, unjust war, would we refer to our troops as heroes, or rather servants of the state? This question is especially important during the eras of the military draft.

Dr. Phillip Butler, who was a fellow POW alongside McCain, notes an important attribute of the great maverick: his infamous volatile tendencies. Butler describes McCain’s volatile character as being linked to his policy proposals, for example, the continuation of American empire through the provocation of further conflicts. Unfortunately, as Senator, this volatile mind already helped shape a substantial amount of U.S. foreign policy, including helping to supply the supposed “freedom fighters” in Syria. Ultimately, though, the Islamic State either defeated or converted many of the rebel groups.

Among other things, McCain is no friend of civil liberties. After all, he, along with co-sponsor Russ Feingold, put into effect the McCain-Feingold Act, which placed further limits on speech in an attempt to supposedly implement “campaign finance reform”. McCain also voted in favor of the Patriot Act, among other bills that limited privacy. Dr. Ron Paul has always stated that a common problem in the way we solve things is we treat the symptoms rather than cure the disease. McCain did exactly this throughout his career. Increasing size of government has led to the phenomenon of “dark money” and cronyism in politics. The “dark money” is simply a symptom of the expanding nature of government.

What strikes me most about McCain is the public perception of him being a “maverick” for standing up to his party. This may seem like an honorable quality, on the surface. But looking closely, it is simply another way of saying that McCain represents the epitome of failing bi-partisanship in Washington. There is certainly nothing of “maverick” quality in someone who is so cozy with the establishment that he embodies this bi-partisan spirit. Being a sort of mediator between the two parties does not make someone a “maverick”, especially when the establishment bases of the two parties are virtually identical. Both parties are in favor of gradually curtailing human individualism and free will. It is simply a matter of picking your color of poison, and John McCain picked both red and blue.

McCain was indeed an enigmatic character in many ways. His experience in Vietnam shaped his stance on torture, and he wasn’t afraid to cross the aisle in search of allies. But McCain’s public perception absolves him from blame from his many clear faults. Labels such as “war hero” should not immunize an individual from criticism, for under the immunity lies a man whose policies have killed thousands, civilian and soldier alike. And so henceforth, the question then becomes: “On August 25th, 2018, did America lose a hero, or just another dangerous arm of the state?”


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