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Issue Date:  February 22, 2008

A war bully, not a hero


-- CNS/Mike Segar, Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona greets supporters during a rally in Nashua, N.H., after winning the state's primary Jan. 8.

John McCain pledges to unite the Republican Party. That’s doubtful, but what isn’t beyond question is how artfully he has united much of the media into the John McCain Adoration Society.

He rolled reporters eight years ago in his try for the presidency, gaming them with full access as he cruised the campaign trail in his Straight Talk Express bus. He came on as a regular guy, not programmed, seemingly candid. A real charmer. Best of all, he was a war hero -- and it was bad form for scribes not to mention it right away.

I can’t claim to have read all the stories about Sen. McCain in recent years, but in the several dozen I have gotten to, nowhere were questions raised about the less glamorous moments in his warrior days in Vietnam. We are left to wonder how many Vietnamese peasants he killed as an agent of U.S. operations in his 23 bombing runs. From the cockpit of his Skyhawk dive bomber, did he ever think about the impoverished and terrorized women and children in the villages below? Did he even see them as human beings, or only what he called “gooks” -- his noun of choice in his memoirs when describing Vietnamese people.

As a pacifist, I see John McCain as a war bully, not a war hero. What’s heroic about hit-and-run bombing? What’s heroic about being part of an invading military carpet-bombing a populace that was no threat to the United States, had nothing but tunnels in which to hide and had its farmlands ruined by land mines, Agent Orange and tens of thousands of bomb craters?

In October 1967 Mr. McCain was shot down. Following that moment of bad luck, he suffered in prison for five years, but unlike the uncounted Vietnamese people who died, he survived, driven no doubt by the basic instinct to live rather than by aspirations to be called a hero. It’s true that as a POW, Mr. McCain declined an offer to be released before other imprisoned pilots. It was an honorable decision, for which he deserves praise.

Of the 23 times he took to the air to slaughter poor people, Mr. McCain has written: “I had no remorse about what I did, and I would do it over again if the same opportunity presented itself.”

The opportunity may well come, should the senator work his way into the White House as nimbly as he did into the hearts of the media. Instead of being a lieutenant commander in the Navy, he’ll be the commander-in-chief ready to carry out his well-trumpeted plans to keep the U.S. military in Iraq for 100 years, ready to delude himself into thinking the United States can win in Iraq and ready to war-whoop his way into any future Vietnam.

What might head off a disastrous McCain presidency and its likely continuance of the Bush bring-’em-on foreign policy is a less fawning media this time around. Small signs of scrutiny appear. In late December, The Washington Post took a harder-than-usual look at Mr. McCain, who has long preened as the archenemy of special interests and a model of financial purity in fundraising. It’s a fraud.

“As a presidential candidate this year,” the Post reported, “McCain has found himself assiduously courting both lobbyists and their wealthy clients, offering them private audiences as part of his fundraising. He also counts more than 30 lobbyists among his chief fundraisers, more than any other presidential contender.”

He follows the cash, whether staging a “fireside chat” with a pack of CEOs at a Utah ski resort or grubbing for bucks at the mecca of money, Wall Street. Predictably, Mr. McCain denies doing any favors for his lobbyist pals, which is as believable as his fantasy that “the surge is working” in Iraq.

Colman McCarthy teaches peace studies at four universities and three high schools in the Washington area.

National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2008

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