Peck: John McCain Was Not A Hero
Watching the Republicans and Democrats fight it out is like watching a sad orgy between sluggish and withered pensioners. Morally bankrupt conservatives and ineffectual liberals have rendered the great American experiment in democracy a laughing stock, and consensus is near impossible to find. Even the infantile moral conundrums of yesteryear, such as whether healthcare and housing should be provided as a right, become sad squabbles that offer no relief from America’s drive towards the uncivilized world.
But, consensus is not impossible: God, capitalism, and empire rule supreme in the land of the free. If you want to unite the two bitterly opposed political factions, invoke one of these three and get everybody on your side.
Following the death of Senator John McCain in August 2018, the whole political establishment started singing from the same songbook, praising the late senator for his service to this filthy trinity. God, capitalism, and empire: three societal stains that any decent society would sneer at. In America, however, someone who embodies them is deemed a hero.
For the more rational, John McCain was anything but.
The John McCain: Hero argument stems from his service in Vietnam, when he was shot down, injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese during operation Rolling Thunder. That was 1967, nearly 50 years before then-candidate Trump questioned his heroism. “He was a war hero because he was captured” he said characteristically extemporaneously, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
In Trump’s world, it seems, it would have been better for McCain to partake in the systematic rape and plunder of a whole society and not pay any price for his crimes. Better to murder and avoid conviction, rather than be captive to the people you killed. Those who replied to Trump’s attack did so similarly ignorantly. What completely escaped everyone’s mind, it seems, was that McCain was shot down while bombing and murdering from above.
At least for the young McCain, whose father was an admiral in the same war, his name was soon on the front page of every national newspaper. The young men and women who died at McCain’s hands were never offered the same treatment. No one remembers their names, spare the grieving families they left in their wake.
The way in which McCain’s service is remembered, labelled in terms of sacrifice and bravery, demonstrates exactly how flawed America’s collective memory of the Vietnam war is. 950,000 North Vietnamese people died, compared to the comparatively inconsequential 58,000 Americans who suffered the same fate. This number alone does not even begin to illustrate the geographic and economic devastation the war enabled. Decades later, John McCain was still able to walk down the halls of the United States’ Congress, uninhibited by lasting effects of the Agent Orange that crippled the children and grandchildren of the people he bombed.
There were some admirable figures from the Vietnam era, some you may even call heroes, but they were the ones who stood up against the draft and did not to travel to a foreign land to kill near indiscriminately. Maybe if the tables were turned, if Vietnamese soldiers were reigning bombs on Arizona and McCain fought to defend his country, he might deserve the title of hero, but certainly not for his crimes in southeast Asia.
Despite the suffering he endured during America’s imperial endeavors, he was clearly not dissuaded by the notion of it. In 2003, the similarities to Vietnam were clearly lost on the late senator when he voted for the invasion of Iraq. After a million Iraqi citizens died, it became hard to avoid the cliché that American politicians had blood on their hands, McCain included.
McCain’s heroism is hard to find on the field of battle, and his work in domestic affairs are hardly more enlightening. He was praised by Democrats in July 2017 when his famous “thumbs down” allegedly saved Obamacare. In reality, however, his opposition to the Republican replacement bill was grounded in objections to procedure, rather than the ultimate goal. In the years following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, McCain voted dozens of times to repeal it. Even if he was genuinely supportive of Obamacare, an argument for which evidence does not provide, it would hardly render him a hero. Unwillingness to take away healthcare from millions of people is not a heroic act, but merely the sign of a moral person.
One of McCain’s greatest contributions to American healthcare was his near fascination with the female body, specifically whether women should have independence over it. In his 31 years in the Senate he voted against abortion 115 times. The apex of which was his co-sponsorship of a constitutional amendment banning abortion in all cases bar rape, incest, and risk to the mother. By any rational view, McCain reeks more of a demagogue than a tolerant man.
The unified way in which Democratic politicians lined up to praise McCain is as great an indictment of their party as any. Instantly, every Democratic politician acted as if he didn’t vote to repeal Glass-Steagall, and didn’t vote against Dodd-Frank. He worked tirelessly throughout his life to lower the federal minimum wage, which would have left fully employed people starving in their homes. McCain showed nothing but contempt for the working people of America. At best he did not consider that his actions would hurt society’s most vulnerable; at worst he knew Americans would go to bed hungry, and squandered his power regardless.
Often McCain is praised by some for his votes to solve global warming and the gun crisis, but if acceptance of basic facts and their solutions are all that are necessary to be a hero, most people are as qualified as McCain. As the American political class lines up to defend the man, one sycophant after another, they bring shame to themselves. When the history books are written, McCain will be viewed as a hero of capitalism, a hero of empire, but little else.