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.