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What McCain Thought Upon Re-Entry

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In 1973, after returning from five and a half years of captivity in Vietnam, John McCain spent nine months at the National War College, engaging in what he has described as "a private tutorial on the war, choosing all the texts myself, in the hope that I might better understand how we came to be involved in the war and why, after paying such a terrible cost, we lost." Thinking that this could be a Rosetta Stone for McCain's foreign policy evolution, and for his potentially conflicting feelings about his own arduous service in Southeast Asia, I sought his thesis paper via Freedom of Information Act. The results (which came too late for my book, though I write about it in the forthcoming paperback) were different than advertised: It was basically a meditation not on How We Got Involved in Vietnam, but rather on the practical efficacy of the military's code of conduct governing prisoners of war. I wrote about the paper briefly for reason here, and more expansively for the L.A. Times here.

The New York Times asked me for a copy of the paper a while back, and I handed it over. You can read the Gray Lady's write-up here.

Another interesting artifact of his thinking at the time can be found in this 12,000-word U.S. News & World Report essay he wrote in May 1973.

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  1. Heckling from the cheap seats: “Holy Mixed Metaphors Batmans!”

    It’s more like the Olduvai gorge for his foreign policy evolution.

  2. And a quibble with a throwaway line in the LAT article

    Today, like most of the world, McCain no longer believes in the domino theory.

    1st, a lot of dominoes did fall when we pulled out of SE Asia.

    2nd, isn’t Eastern Europe ’89-’91 also an example of the domino theory?

    Last, the prime neocon reason for invading Iraq was to create a stable Arab democracy for the purpose of the getting the region’s illiberal regimes to fall. And one could say that our helping Mussarif is in part a prevention of fundamentalist dominoes expanding their power and influence.

  3. isn’t Eastern Europe ’89-’91 also an example of the domino theory?

    Much of Eastern Europe was a hotbed of socialist activism during the first half of the century, just as the US was. At the time, socialism was considered the wave of the future. It wasn’t a domino effect that made Eastern Europe communist, it was modernization. We now know that central economic planning doesn’t work, but at the time it was considered a scientific fact.

    The reason most of the west didn’t succumb to totalitarian communism is that we found a third way first: authoritarian interventionism. We still ended up implenting all of the Communist Manifesto.

  4. He’s talking about the fall of Communism, not its rise. And it was a domino effect once Gorbachev refused to send in the Soviet Army to prop up the satellite regimes.

    Another domino-type effect was the disintegration of Austria-Hungary.

  5. It wasn’t a domino effect that made Eastern Europe communist, it was modernization.

    (rolls eyes)

    Dude, you do know that communism was imposed upon Eastern European countries by the occupying Red Army, right ?

    Eastern Europeans never wanted communism and it was overthrown as soon as the Soviets let go of the leash.

    But hey, nothing like lecturing people on a subject you know nothing about.

  6. Sorry about the dates, I read to fast. Oh, and sorry for shitting on people’s religious belief that the Russia was history’s only voluntary communist state. Silly of me not to know that all human beings are natural free-market libertarians, and that communism can only be imposed on them by force.

  7. thats all fine and dandy but in all honesty, how can anyone with an ounce of common sense consider McBush for President? I mean really, what does he bring to the table? Other than of course another four years of Bush which we surely dont need!

    JT
    http://www.Ultimate-Anonymity.com

  8. John, hes not Barack Obama. From what I gather thats where 95% of his support comes from.

  9. Kolohe — I was referring to the Domino Theory specifically as it referred to Vietnam (and to the quoted “generals” in McCain’s 1973 piece who mysteriously vanished in his 1999 memoir). In later years, McCain himself has said, basically, that “the Domino Theory didn’t turn out to be true,” or a variation close to that.

  10. Brandybuck,

    I guess when reality doesn’t fit your narrative of “Eastern Europeans = communists” it’s easier to dismiss reality than to change your beliefs.

    I never said that Eastern Europe was a libertarian paradise before World War 2.

    I just said that the communists gained power through force. And that includes Russia, by the way.

    And you should know that Eastern Europeans never saw communism as the wave of the future, mainly because they (correctly) saw it as just another disguise for Russian imperialism.

    If anything, they were more into fascism at the time.

  11. Sorry about the dates, I read to fast. Oh, and sorry for shitting on people’s religious belief that the Russia was history’s only voluntary communist state. Silly of me not to know that all human beings are natural free-market libertarians, and that communism can only be imposed on them by force.

    Well, in the strictest tachnical sense, no form of government is “volunary” since there are some people who would prefer not to live under it but have no choice. But I don’t think thats the sense in which you mean it. I’m guessing that by “voluntary communist state” you mean something like “communists came to power in free and fair elections in that state”. But that is also not an accurate description of post-world-war-2 Eastern European countries (or the Soviet Union). Generally, non-communist candidates were kept off the ballot.

    Now to be sure, there were a significant number (though not a majority of the population), of Eastern European communists who voluntarily participated in establishing communist governments in those countries. But, if thats what you mean, then thats a low bar for calling something a “voluntary communist state”.

    The reason most of the west didn’t succumb to totalitarian communism is that we found a third way first: authoritarian interventionism. We still ended up implenting all of the Communist Manifesto.

    The main item of the marxist program, establishing the control of all economic capital by the “proletariat class”, has not been implemented in western countries.

  12. I can think of only a few instances where Communism grew from an indegenous movement and was not imposed by the Red Army or funded by the USSR or China.

    1) Russia
    2) China
    3) Cuba
    4) Yugoslavia

    Thats about it.

  13. Well, the U.S. hasn’t completely implemented the Communist Manifesto in every detail, but we’re getting there, bit by bit:

    http://www.uhuh.com/nwo/communism/10planks.htm

  14. Strangely, Marx also favored free trade and the right to bear arms.

  15. McCain on Gallipoli: I think Churchill was made a scapegoat for the mistakes and irresolution of others.

    I once went waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy over the top – I thought – on a thread, and told an Iraq War supporter, “If you were Prime MInister of Britain, they’d still be landing troops at Gallipoli. Hardy-har-har, humorous exaggeration.

    Uh, I guess not.

  16. Kolohe,

    I don’t think it’s accurate to claim that a lot of dominoes did fall when we pulled out of SE Asia.

    First, they didn’t fall “once we pulled out.” Both the Laotian and Cambodian communist movements that took over those countries developed and expanded while we were actively engaged in hostilities there. In both cases, it was our decision to expand the war into those countries that softened them for their communist takeovers.

    Second, at least in the case of Cambodia (I don’t know much about Laos), the communist movement was actively hostile to Vietnamese communism. So much so that the Vietnamese military we had been fighting overthrew the Khmer Rouge – an action they probably would have undertaken earlier if they had not been beaten up fighting us.

    In short, communism didn’t spread the way the Domino Theory postulated, and our efforts to prevent the dominoes from falling helped cause those two countries to go red.

  17. Joe, my friend, have you been to Gallipoli? Have you talked to Lord Kitchener? I’ve been there, and the troops gave me one message–let us win.

  18. I’ll take your word for it, Senator. You DID outrank Kitchener back then.

  19. Gallipoli was actually not a bad idea. It was, however, bungled early on. Then, like a lot operations in WW1, they just piled on the failure instead of cutting their losses and moving on. The initial bungle was probably not Winston’s fault, but refusing to pull the plug afterward was.

  20. Well, the U.S. hasn’t completely implemented the Communist Manifesto in every detail, but we’re getting there, bit by bit:

    http://www.uhuh.com/nwo/communism/10planks.htm

    Prolefeed

    The website you link to espouses an absurdly broad understanding of what constitutes implementation of Marx’s 10 planks. Of course, it has to in order to argue for the thesis that the US is communist. For example, they somehow argue that the combination of: the 14th amendment(!), school & property taxes, and the Land Management Bureau; constitute the “Abolishion of all private property”.

    For those few areas where there does seem to be a match between US policy and Marx’s proposals (eg. a progressive income tax), the policies in question had (and still have) significant support from liberals and others outside of the Marxist movement (including some people who supported them before Marx arrived on the scene).

  21. BG-

    “Those few areas?” Please.

    The income tax is, in and of itself, an enormous coup for marxism. THe tax comes with other added benefits for the communist. IN order to collect the tax, a commissariat, the IRS, is hatched. THe commissariat needs good comrades, prefarably party members, to advance the goals of the commissars and the Supreme Soviet. THe comrades toiling for the IRS are given a broad license to meddle in the affairs of not only those who make and produce, but, as is typical of Marxist dogma and practice, also in the minutiae of the mundane sheeple. All of us know that there is a certain terror benefit reaped by the commissars precisely because of the power given to the IRS to meddle into the private business affairs of others.

  22. BS-

    How about the myriad ways that private property has been usurped? Look at upteen areas of the law and see how little respect is paid for private property by all three branches of government.

    Example 1. Income tax.

    Example 2. The treatment accorded so-called “tax-protesters.” Why have federal judges been so quick to condemn those who challenge the legality of the income tax. THere are just dozens of cases where the federal courts have deemed such challenges as frivlous without actually examining the claims of the challenger. Do I need to point out that when courts deem a claim to be frivolous that they invariably impose monetary sanctions?

    Example 3. Collective Bargaining. Marx thought that the growth of collective bargaining and compulsory unionism was essential to the success of communism. In a free society, an employer, even one operating a sweat shop with child laborers, does not have to submit to this totalitarian abomination. How about the college kid who wants to work for the summer at the plant (god knows where that exists in the us) but must join the union?

  23. BS-

    More examples?

    How about zoning? Can I paint my house any color I want? Can I fly the confederate flag? Can I install an inground pool? Can I add a three car garage? Can I put in a grass tennis court?

    Assume that my property is 10 acres and the nearest neighbor is 3/4 of a mile down the road.

    You know as well as I do that I would encounter some problems wih my plans. At a minimum, I will be forced to navigate through the various rocks in the sea of local commissariats. Even if I get to implement my plans, a lot of private property will have to go to the marxists.

  24. BS-

    Property taxes, income taxes, estate taxes, gift taxes, auto excise taxes, cigarette taxes, sales taxes, the enormity of the total dollars expended by city, county, state and federal governments, the tax collecting agencies, the totality of resources devoted by folks on accountants and lawyers seeking to escape the claws of communism, zoning, environmental agencies and commissions, military keynesianism and on and on and on all add up to what? That there is no debasement of private property? That private property has not veen confiscated by the tens of trillions by our “democratic” rulers?

  25. Liberty Mike

    I like your attitude !! I, too, have suffered under the same things in your 7:25 post

  26. As trolls go, Liberty Mike makes a lot more sense than Dan T. or Eric Dondero.

  27. As trolls go, Liberty Mike makes a lot more sense than Dan T. or Eric Dondero.

    To revise my previous statements, I would call these guys more “agitated and volatile bloggers” than trolls. Dondero also seems to suffer from monomania.

  28. I would call these guys more “agitated and volatile bloggers” than trolls.

    I would admit that Dan T. and Liberty Mike may be sincerely presenting their thoughts. I refuse to believe that anyone can spout as much bullshit as Dondero does unless it is part of some trolling game.

  29. can spout as much bullshit as Dondero does unless it is part of some trolling game.

    He really and truly wants you to look at his website. What sinister reason he has for that (ad revenue?) I can only guess.

  30. Gallipoli was a bad idea. Churchill kept convincing himself that the Mediterranean was the “soft underbelly,” when it was anything but soft. It was mainly a consequence of his ideas about the virtues of northern Europeans vs. people to the south and west.

    He had the same idea during World War 2, and it wasn’t true that time, either. He would have had us invading Greece alongside Italy instead of the channel coast.

  31. liberty mike

    Ok, alot of ground was covered there. Let me respond with a few basic points.

    1) The income tax takes wealth away from people who would otherwise be able to keep it, but that is true of any tax. Similiarly, any tax imposed will require some government agents to enforce it (this is not unique to the income tax with the IRS). Is the income tax really any more marxist than the taxes that existed before it?

    2) It is true that current federal law favors unionization (by comparison to a “laissez-faire” policy towrds unions and employment). But not to the extent that you seem to think. Employment in most jobs doesn’t require joining a union. Also the government does not (that I know of) mandate unions in particular industries, but merely regulates business in a manner that makes it easier for employees to form them. I’m not saying that is necessarily good policy, but lets not exaggerate the nature of this state intervention.

    3) Even when you add up all the regulations and taxes, is it still a far cry from “abolishion” of private property. It is also a far cry from abolishon of the right to obtain private property through trade and investment. I don’t necessarily agree with those taxes and regulations (I probably disagree with most of them but I’d have to research the details further). But it is still very different from a marxist society (whether theory or practice).

    The epitome of marxism is not that, out of the total net income from your factory or store, you have to pay 25% or so (could be more or less depending on your total income) to various levels of government. It is not that you have to pay a fee to a zoning board for a permit to make improvements on your house or yard. It is that the “proletariat class”, or a regime purporting to be acting on their behalf, takes your factory, machinery, store, house, etc. outright with no compensation. Your right to invest your rewards for your previous labor into new capital is also repudiated (not merely taxed) under marxism.

  32. Hey Liberty Mike, you forgot the flouridation of the water supply!

    Seriously though, the link is laughable.

    Let’s take it plank by plank, shall we?

    1. There are many taxes and practices that take much private property. But as the plank clearly calls for the abolition of private property, period, this clearly fails to apply (I’m currently writing this on my private property while sitting in my private property, thanks, so don’t worry, communism ain’t here yet)

    2. This of course depends on what you mean by “heavy.”

    3. The estate tax hardly abolishes ALL rights of inheritance. Those guys with the Attorney at Law: Wills and Trusts out front would feel pretty silly, eh?

    4. We simply do not confiscate THE property of ALL emigrants. Those are important words you know.

    5. All banks are clearly not government banks. I went to one today (BOA). Saying that because they are all regulated is like saying that we all are wards of the state because of speed limits we all must follow.

    6. Again, the fact that transportation is regulated is far different than “Centralization..in the hands of the state.” The state gets a chunk whenever you fly, but the airline and its stockholders get a bigger chunk. That’s communism?

    7. Again, I passed many factories on a long drive today that were all privately owned. They are regulated, but that is far different than “state owned.” Look up the two words…

    8. I love the “woman in the workplace” as the government’s fault bit (especially since laissez-fairers often try to claim it was only the government that held back women until the magic market freed them), but seriously, I myself, in my heady undergrad days, went through periods of no work at all and did not get my draf notice from to join the industrial army…

    9. The abolition of town and country? WTF? Get in your car and drive, brother.

    10. Yeah, I’ll give you this one. Those damned communist have provided the free education that made folks like Bill Gates possible and kept me from employing 10 year olds in my salt mine. Damn them! Damn them all to hell! They RUINED it!

  33. Mr. Nice Guy

    Well done!

    I didn’t even notice the “”woman in the workplace” as the government’s fault bit” until you mentioned it. As further evidence of the nut-jobery involved here, consider that they cite the 19th amendment as one of their greivences.

  34. Those damned communist have provided the free education that made folks like Bill Gates possible

    WTF?

    At thirteen he enrolled in the Lakeside School, an exclusive preparatory school.

    Or is there some other Bil gates who is a foreman at your salt mine, MNG.

  35. My friends, government health care is inferior and inefficient. So is government education.

    Thats why I never accepted either, my friends.

    Except for those four years in the Naval Academy, and the 22 years in the Senate where I received government health care. And….

  36. I don’t think the British bothered doing a whole lot of investigating. They just locked them up on a prison ship.

    Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t want that to serve as precedent to guide US policy in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, or in counter-terrorism operations elsewhere.

  37. SIV
    Gates went to public school up until he was 13.

    A better example could have been Steve Jobs who went to a fantastic public high school.

    Times these examples by hundreds of course.

  38. Gallipoli was a bad idea. Churchill kept convincing himself that the Mediterranean was the “soft underbelly,” when it was anything but soft. It was mainly a consequence of his ideas about the virtues of northern Europeans vs. people to the south and west.

    I thought the problem we kept running into was geographic, not army specific. Those darned Alps get in the way when you’re trying to get to Germany and France by way of Italy and Greece.

  39. A better example could have been Steve Jobs who went to a fantastic public high school.

    Times these examples by hundreds of course.

    Just because public education has produced successful people doesn’t make it not a failure in sum.

  40. In both cases, it was our decision to expand the war into those countries that softened them for their communist takeovers.

    We did not expand the war into those countries, joe, the VC did. We simply declined to allow the VC to have sanctuaries in neighboring countries.

    joe’s formulation does seem to reflect a mindset that only the US is ever an aggressor, though.

    He had the same idea during World War 2, and it wasn’t true that time, either.

    The Italian opposition to the campaign in Italy was notably second-rate, for the most part. The hard fighting in Italy was mostly against the Germans. There are exceptions, of course.

    AS LIT note, the major strategic flaw with the Italian campaign was that in no way could an invasion of the rest of Europe be mounted from Italy, due to geography.

  41. I don’t understand Mr. Welch’s argument… The fact that the specifics of his ‘term paper’ didn’t prefectly reflect his study of the hows and whys of vietnam seems immaterial to me.

    I can go to school to study english lit, but write my thesis on a more limited-scope issue rather than the entire scope of english lit.

    Perhaps he felt passion about the Geneva Conventions issue due to his experiences, and felt he had more to say there, and could might influence readers in a positive way.

    This doesn’t amount to some ‘conspiracy’ to fool voters. He simply wrote a paper that was more limited in scope than his course of self-study.

  42. L.I.T.,

    I thought the problem we kept running into was geographic, not army specific. Those darned Alps get in the way when you’re trying to get to Germany and France by way of Italy and Greece.

    Right, exactly. Despite the fantastic geography Southern Europe provides for defenders, Churchill still conceived of them – even after Gallipoli – as the “soft underbelly.”

  43. We did not expand the war into those countries, joe, the VC did. We simply declined to allow the VC to have sanctuaries in neighboring countries.

    The VC was using trails to move materiel and troops around, not engaging in combat. We, on the other hand, killed a couple hundred thousand people with aerial bombardment.

    The people of Cambodia and Laos didn’t care about your technicalities and jerking knew, RC. They cared about whether they were getting bombed.

    You really do care more about feeling good than the actual consequences of your foreign policy, and that’s why it’s such an unmitigated disaster. I hope “They started it” is a good enough salve for the 3 million Cambodians are actions got killed.

  44. Just because public education has produced successful people doesn’t make it not a failure in sum

    I think US public ed exists somewhere on the continuum between success and abject failure.

  45. Ok, I really have to be more cautious about posting in the morning before the caffeine has taken its full effect.

    My 7:32 am comment belongs on a previous thread.

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