John McCain

We're Not in 2000 Anymore, Toto

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There are two big new articles about John McCain that, despite their many flaws, break some new ground, particularly on the pressing national issue (not) of his imprisonment in Vietnam.

First up is this weekend Washington Post feature dedicated to precisely that topic. While its interpretations about how the Vietnam experience affected his foreign policy are off-kilter (in my judgment, etc.), the article painstakingly reconstructs the details and timeline of McCain's capture and finds some of the senator's narration unreliable:

In his memoir, McCain says he was denied medical treatment for four or five days until his captors discovered that his father was "a big admiral" and took him to a hospital. In fact, it seems likely that the Vietnamese understood the propaganda value of their new prisoner even earlier. Radio Hanoi was boasting about the capture of "John Sidney McCain" within hours of his shootdown. By the following day, Oct. 27, American news agencies had confirmed that the son of Adm. John S. McCain II, the commander of U.S. forces in Asia, had been taken down over Hanoi.

There is another ball-advancement on that slice of McCain's bio in this 11,800-word piece of Rolling Stone invective, which you've probably seen if you have a bunch of lefty friends. The piece constantly assumes the worst, is bizarrely sourced (reading it, you'd almost never know that whole swaths of the supposed gotchas came from the pen of John McCain himself); starts with a maximally lurid account of McCain's post-Vietnam tail-chasing … and also includes quite a few damning on-the-record interviews, including with fellow ex-POWs

Soon after McCain hit the ground in Hanoi, the [military] code [of conduct governing prisoners of war] went out the window. "I'll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital," he later admitted pleading with his captors. McCain now insists the offer was a bluff, designed to fool the enemy into giving him medical treatment. In fact, his wounds were attended to only after the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a Navy admiral. What has never been disclosed is the manner in which they found out: McCain told them. According to [John] Dramesi, one of the few POWs who remained silent under years of torture, McCain tried to justify his behavior while they were still prisoners. "I had to tell them," he insisted to Dramesi, "or I would have died in bed."

I'll repeat what I said during the brief cross-in-the-dirt flap: McCain's Vietnam story has a few holes in it, which are mostly meaningless to me (except for his weird Domino Theory tale), but he's a candidate for president so let's see those medical records, Joe Biden!!! The Post also has a piece today about McCain's first wife, so I guess it's officially let's-write-the-articles-we-wouldn't-write-in-2000 season.

My top 10 non-reason articles about John McCain here; link to my paperback here, and the late David Foster Wallace's 2000-era Rolling Stone McCain tongue-bath here.

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  1. Of course his narrative is blurry. Between the trauma, the confusion, the physical injuries, and the days happening the same way over and over, combined with the ordinary passage of time, nobody could keep that all straight. Same thing with Kerry.

    In “D-Day,” Stephen Ambrose writes about the false memories of veterans. He says that he met all sorts of American veterans who recalled, with complete certainty, that they landed on the beaches of Normandy, and later that day went inland and fought tanks. The problem is, not a single American who landed on the beaches at Normandy fought tanks that day. They were combining different episodes into one memory. That’s how our brains work.

  2. Joe–

    That’s also why people have confused memories of 9/11 (it was a missile! no, a small plane! no, a 747!) that are ruthlessly exploited by Troofers.

  3. Whew. Good to get my weekly agreement with joe out of the way Monday morning. I can devote the rest of this week’s anti-joe posting to nit-picking and snarking.

    What has never been disclosed is the manner in which they found out: McCain told them.

    But I thought they knew about it from the American radio broadcasts (see previous paragraph).

    a maximally lurid account of McCain’s post-Vietnam tail-chasing

    To the Rolling Stone readership, this reflects well on McCain, not poorly.

  4. RC,

    I guess it’s a good thing that you didn’t agree with me when I made exactly the same point about a certain veteran’s wartime memories four years ago, or else you wouldn’t be able to use it as your weekly agreement now.

  5. By the following day, Oct. 27, American news agencies had confirmed that the son of Adm. John S. McCain II, the commander of U.S. forces in Asia, had been taken down over Hanoi.

    And someone has proof that his guards knew that, and had received orders to treat him better in consequence? Or are we just relying on the famous efficiency of Communist dictatorships?

  6. In “D-Day,” Stephen Ambrose writes about the false memories of veterans.

    For instance, John McCain believes he suspended his campaign back in late September.

  7. Radio Hanoi was boasting about the capture of “John Sidney McCain” within hours of his shootdown.

    I guess McCain was too busy being tortured to listen to the radio.

  8. Dear Reason, please do not ever use the phrase “McCain tongue-bath” again or I will be forced to cancel my subscription. Thank you.

  9. I guess it’s a good thing that you didn’t agree with me when I made exactly the same point about a certain veteran’s wartime memories four years ago,

    Remember what, again?

  10. Whether he heard the “No troops in Cambodia” speech from Nixon on the patrol he described in his December 25, 1968 journal entry.

    He remembered those events as the same episode, when they couldn’t have been.

    Let me guess: when the Democrat does it, it’s different, and I’m being grotesquely partisan for giving both candidates the same benefit of the doubt.

  11. Joe,

    It’s different because McCain didn’t take his Vietnam War experience and cynically use it as vehicle to gain political office. 🙂

    [smiley captioned for the sarcasm impared]

  12. Point taken, joe. Point well taken. In retrospect, I will magnanimously grant that Kerry may have been merely mistaken, rather than actually lying, about Christmas in Cambodia.

    Because there really isn’t any doubt that it never happened the way he said (over and over again), is there?

  13. It couldn’t have, RC. Richard Nixon wasn’t president in December 1968. As Kerry acknowledged in 2004.

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