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John McCain – A Brief Criticism

By James Rothenberg

26 September, 2008

Inasmuch as candidate McCain enjoys virtual immunity regarding his national security credentials owing to his Vietnam experience, it might be interesting to lift that immunity and try another perspective. This is important because, from all we can tell, his views on the use of military force have little changed since then.

McCain’s position is that our actions in Vietnam were honorable. This may be a case of the wish being father to the thought, and, if so, it is an understandable one. He does not take issue with our use of deadly military force, instead its implementation. To him, that force was necessary to achieve a desired end (today discredited). On closer inspection, military force was made necessary – as it always is – because we have it at our disposal.

It is considered gauche to criticize someone about war who was severely injured in one and then tortured as a POW, but that is not the source of the hesitation we witness from his political adversaries. Rather, this space is ceded to McCain on the basis of it being very unwise politically to be seen in the seemingly un-American light of being opposed to a genuine, tortured war hero.

No one should confuse empathy with his terrible experience with acceptance of his personal views surrounding it. One could empathize with him just the same if he were to repudiate his earlier statements and claim that what we did to the Vietnamese people was wholly wrong and that if given another chance, no, he would not do it all over again.

In light of his positions on Iraq, Iran, and generally speaking, all that comes under the nebulous heading War on Global Terrorism, such repudiation will not be forthcoming. For him, there is no such thing as a bad display of American power, and he claims the right to speak of that because he survived it.

There are others who share his bona fides, the poor, tortured souls of Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. If we can’t grant them heroic status it must be because we tortured them. Such capriciousness is an unsatisfactory basis for determination.

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