Is John McCain a Hero?

John McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down and he was taken to the Hanoi Hilton. After some time in solitary confinement, relocation, and episodes of torture he was offered release. He refused it, stating that he would only leave once everyone who’d been there longer was released.

That’s the official story from the McCain “camp” and you can verify it on Wikipedia. Naturally Wikipedia is watched and edited carefully by McCain’s “camp” so we know that’s the official story – just check out the Cultural and Political Image section.

McCain’s public persona is very much steeped in the idea that he is an American hero. He leads with his character out front and his service to his country right along side. So, what makes him a hero?

That sacrifice of refusing early release is a strong case. The Stolen Thunder blog agrees, specifically listing McCain’s refusal and his resistance to torture as heroic. Mike Benge says he was just following orders – everyone had been ordered not to accept early release.

McCain’s focus on character first is another possibility for claiming the hero status. His own words describe a desire to act as an example of honour and service for everyone, especially his children. Those same words describe some quiet, everyday heroic behaviour from one of his captors. And yet many would tell you McCain lacks those very qualities. In general, the POW/MIA activist community hates him as pointed out in depth in the Phoenix New Times. Patty O’Grady of University of Tampa lays the cards on the table with some open questions. Her father was in both prison camps that McCain was in. Eric Wattree says, “A hero is one who acts with nobility of purpose, and selflessly sacrifices his life, or places his life in imminent danger to promote the interests of the nation or his comrades. That doesn’t define McCain…”

Michael Moore (even less neutral than Wikipedia) wrote in his recent Mike’s Election Guide 2008:

John McCain is already using the Vietnam War in his political ads. In doing so, it makes not just what happened to him in Vietnam fair game for discussion, but also what he did to the Vietnamese … I would like to see one brave reporter during the election season ask this simple question of John McCain: “Is it morally right to drop bombs and missiles in a ‘heavily populated’ area where hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians will perish?

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately an American presidential election is not the place to look for the truth about people. There is too much effort put into spin on both sides of the table – one of the sad parts about only having two sides to the table.

If John McCain sacrificed his freedom for solidarity, then I would label him a hero. If John McCain lives with honour and service, then I would label him a hero. I wonder if we’ll ever know.

, , , , , , ,

10 Responses to Is John McCain a Hero?

  1. jeremy September 1, 2008 at 5:54 pm #

    “one of the sad parts about only having two sides to the table.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I don’t think we’ll ever know unless we were there, but that’s the nature of reality in a nutshell. Oh who to trust.

  2. Matt Langdon September 1, 2008 at 7:05 pm #

    Thanks for reading Jeremy.

    It looks like Kevorkian may well have been a better VP choice than Palin… Time will tell.

  3. Charles Leibrand September 3, 2008 at 10:23 am #

    I don’t think it so simple a thing to say any one individual is a hero. You have discussed on your blog the qualities of heroism, those necessary ingredients for making an action an act of heroism and by extension the person who caused that action a hero. Is that reasonable extension however? If an individual commits one act of heroism enough to grant them the moniker of hero for eternity. What of a person the commits acts of evil and acts of heroism? What of the individual whom is hero in one culture and evil in another? Is it unreasonable to expect people to act heroically every single moment of every single day? I’m forty years old and I do not think I have ever committed an action that could be fairly labeled as heroic. How then do I measure another individual’s heroism? Is it a summation of the good and bad that they have done? That’s assuming I could ever know everything about any one individual. So then a summation of what I do know and hope that a snap shot of persons life, the heroic deeds and the evil ones, is enough to make a fair evaluation? What about how and where I get my information? Is it accurate? Is it fair? How easy is it to judge the behavior of another person if I have not been in the same situation? I don’t know the answers to these questions, as I don’t know if John McCain is a hero. I don’t know what he did in Viet Nam. I don’t know if what people say about it is true. I don’t know if the sources for information about him are tainted. I personally believe that most of the stuff out there about him are being peddled by right and left wing propagandist and is probably mostly distortion and outright lies. Not very heroic if the purpose is to promote there own agenda rather then shine a light on truth. I personally feel it’s not very heroic to run around and call your self hero every five minutes, seems like it lacks some humility. So in the end I don’t know if McCain is a hero. I probably can’t know and won’t ever know. So where does that leave me? I guess it’s probably more important to forget about McCain and focus on being a hero myself.

    Charles Leibrand

  4. Matt Langdon September 3, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    You bring up a lot of good questions. I plan to answer them in a post so others can easily join the conversation. I’m off to an assembly now, so don’t let me forget to do this. You know how my memory is.

  5. Charles Leibrand September 3, 2008 at 11:48 am #

    Fairdinkum. I’ll remind you.


  6. Ernie Weiss September 25, 2008 at 9:17 pm #

    As a survivor of the Holocaust makes me a hero? No! I was a victim just as John McCain was. A hero is someone who performs a heroic act regardless of danger to his/her life. This never happened.
    John McCain is a victim of war, Not a hero! Let us call a spade a spade!

  7. Matt Langdon September 25, 2008 at 9:57 pm #

    Thanks for the input Ernie. I agree completely.

  8. Robert Rodriguez October 8, 2008 at 3:07 am #

    How can MacCain be a “war hero’ when in fact, in his own words found in his biography “Faith of My Fathers”, he admits he offered to talk to his captors in exchange for treatment to his wounds. MacCain wrote that he didn’t intend to give truthful info but admits providing military info about his ship, and his squadron. Pick up the book and read it yourself. The US government built him up to look like a hero because of consideration to his Admiral father.

  9. Eric L. Wattree October 12, 2008 at 7:21 am #

    The fact is, while there is no doubt that Sen. McCain paid a heavy price during his service in the military, that doesn’t make him a hero, it simply makes him one among millions of military personnel over the years that have placed themselves in harms way in defense of this country. The only difference between McCain and any other person that’s ever raised his hand in defense of this country is that he was unlucky enough to be captured–and that in itself does not make you a hero– it simply makes you a victim of war.

    A hero is one who acts with nobility of purpose, and selflessly sacrifices his life, or places his life in imminent danger to promote the interests of the nation or his comrades. That doesn’t define McCain–and by that honor being hoisted upon him by his political supporters, it diminishes the sacrifice of the true hero, who with little forethought throws his body on a live grenade to protect the lives of those he’s grown to love. If the simple fact that one has undergone adversity is held as the sole criteria for being considered a hero, then anyone who was born and raised in the ghetto should at the very least be awarded a Silver Star.
    The essence of a true hero, involves character–selflessness, courage, a love of country and his fellow man. I’m sorry, but I don’t see those qualities in McCain. When I look at McCain I see a man immersed in his own self-interest–a man who lacked the character to stand by his first wife when she needed him most, even though she stood by him during his five years of imprisonment; a man who publicly disrespected his current wife; a man who has been willing to exploit the sacrifices of true heroes for personal gain; and a man who’s willing to do or say whatever has to be done or said to promote his own interests. That’s not a hero, that’s an opportunist.

    Take, for example, his lack of loyalty to fellow veterans. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Sen. John McCain used Memorial day to defend his opposition to a Senate bill that vastly expands education benefits for veterans. The bill passed the Senate last week 75-22 over the objections of Sen. McCain, and President Bush, both of whom argued the benefits were too generous and likely to discourage reenlistment.”

    In addition, while he’s always delivering sermons on the necessity of supporting our troops, gives him a failing grade when it comes to actually living his sermons
    1. ” In its most recent legislative ratings, the non-partisan Disabled American Veterans gave Sen. McCain a 20 percent rating for his voting record on veterans’ issues. Similarly, the non-partisan Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a “D” grade for his poor voting record on veterans’ issues, including McCain’s votes against additional body armor for troops in combat and additional funding for PTSD and TBI screening and treatment.”
    You see, while McCain has a sterling record when it comes to voting our troops into battle, that’s not supporting our troops at all, that’s supporting Halliburton, Blackwater, and the military/industrial complex. When it comes to actually supporting our troops–by spending to provided them with the best equipment to help protect their lives while in battle, or paying to take care of the disabled, and many other vets, after they’ve completed their service, his record is atrocious–in fact, given his rhetoric, scandalously so.
    The most cursory review of McCain’s voting record reflects that in September of 2007, McCain voted against the Webb amendment calling for adequate rest for the troops between deployments. In May of 2006 he voted against an amendment (H.R. 4939, S. Amdt. 3704) that would provide 20 million dollars for veteran healthcare facilities. In April of 2006 McCain was one of only 13 Senators to vote against a $430,000,000 amendment (H.R. 4939, S.Amdt. 3642) for the Department of Veteran Affairs to improve Medical Services for outpatient care and treatment for vets. And in March of 2006 he voted against an amendment (S.Con.Res.83, S.Amdt.3007) to increase veteran’s medical funding by 1.5 billion dollars. And of course, he didn’t even show up to vote for the latest veteran’s bill that increased veteran’s education benefits.
    According to USA Today, “The Arizona senator opposes the scholarship measure, as does the Pentagon, because it applies to people who serve just three years. He fears that would encourage people to leave the military after only one enlistment even as the U.S. fights two wars and is trying to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.”
    It is astonishing that McCain would even make such an admission, since the stated rationale suggests that his philosophy is that we can’t afford to improve the standard of living of the poor and middle class, because we need them to fight our wars.

    So, no, I don’t consider John McCain a hero–I consider him a demagogue, of the very worse kind.

  10. Neil Allmark October 25, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    I completely agree with Ernie, I am coming to understand that it is those who have military backgrounds or those who’s family members serve in the military that will band the term “Hero” around when it comes to McCain. My last trip down to Cincinnati I was talking politics with a former work colleague (who’s family is heavily involved in the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan) I made the comment of McCain not actually doing anything heroic during his time serving his country, I promptly had my head bitten off and was told your a hero by just signing up! To which I commented; so those who sign up and dessert or go AWOL are heroes too then? They did sign up after all? They did not take kindly to the comment funnily enough. If you want to know of a real war hero then you should take a look at one Douglas Bader, lost both his legs after crashing his plane. Flew in the Battle of Britain during WWII, captured when shot down in France, repeatedly tried to escape his p.o.w camp thus got him sent to Colditz. A true legend and British hero.