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Monday, October 27, 2008

On this 41st anniversary of John McCain being shot down over Hanoi

My last guest-post of Sunday evening at HughHewitt.com marks the 41st anniversary of John McCain's last mission over Hanoi.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the day John McCain was shot down over Hanoi. He'll be the first to tell you that he got shot down because he screwed up on that day — he committed the human mistake of losing situational awareness because he was so concentrating on his target — and then he had a long, uncomfortable time to reflect on and learn from that mistake.

During the Democratic primary season, Joe Biden's funniest line, a barb directed at former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was to the effect that in every sentence then-candidate Guiliani delivered, you could be sure to find three things: a noun, a verb, and 9/11. Sen. John McCain's opponents have tried to use a variation of that line about him, but with "POW" in place of "9/11." And there was a time earlier this year when I thought that the McCain campaign was in danger of living up to that stereotype.

But both Sen. McCain and his campaign aids reined in that particular rhetoric. Did you notice that no direct reference whatsoever was made to Sen. McCain's time as a prisoner of war in either the first, second, or third presidential debates? Would you ever have predicted that in, say, June of this year or last year?

While being very much a 21st century politician, however, Gov. Sarah Palin is old-school when it comes to respecting our military and its heroes. It's with obvious reverence and appreciation that she has made one of her own campaign stump-speech lines, from the Republican National Convention onward, that "Of the four candidates on top of the two tickets, John McCain is the only one who has ever actually fought for you." This line has the elegance and power that comes from brutal, literal truth combined with simplicity. I'm glad she repeats it.

I too am old-school, and my inclination is to honor and glorify Sen. McCain on this anniversary for his bravery, his toughness, his steadfastness, and his selfless refusal to accept the early release offered because he was the son and grandson of admirals. Old-school or not, corn-ball or not, these demonstrated qualities are not unimportant factors, I would submit, in evaluating his character to become commander in chief.

John McCain and comrades in around a U.S. Navy A-4 attack aircraft

But John McCain himself actually has a very different take on the significance of his time as a POW. And I'm reasonably sure that he'd rather that you or I note this anniversary, if we choose to note it at all, in a markedly different way than what first occurred to me. Consider what John McCain wrote in his memoir of his early life (including his time as a POW), "Faith of My Fathers":

In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans enjoyed and took for granted. It wasn't until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I had loved her.

I loved what I missed most from my life at home: my family and friends; the signs and sounds of my country; the hustle and purposefulness of Americans; their fervid independence; sports; music; information — all the attractive qualities of American life. But though I longed for things at home I cherished most, I still shared the ideals of America. And since those ideals were all that I possessed of my country, they became all the more important to me.

It was what freedom conferred on America that I loved the most — the distinction of being the last, best hope of humanity; the advocate for all who believed in the Rights of Man. Freedom is America's honor, and all honor comes with obligations. We have the obligation to use our freedom wisely, to select well from all the choices freedom offers. We can accept or reject the obligation, but if we are to preserve our freedom, our honor, we must choose well.

I was no longer the boy to whom liberty meant simply that I could do as I pleased, and who, in my vanity, used my freedom to polish my image as an I-don't-give-a-damn nonconformist. That's not to say that I had shed myself entirely of that attribute. I had not, and have not yet. But I no longer located my self-respect in that distinction. In prison, where my cherished independence was mocked and assaulted, I found my self-respect in a shared fidelity to my country. All honor comes with obligations. I and the men with whom I served had accepted ours, and we were grateful for the privilege.

McCain explains how what came to matter most to him was how his fellow prisoners measured his character. "My self-regard became indivisible," he writes, "from their regard for me. And it will remain so for the rest of my life." And the realization changed him:

This is the truth of war, of honor and courage, that my father and grandfather had passed on to me. But before my war, its meaning was obscure to me, hidden in the peculiar language of men who had gone to war and been changed forever by the experience. So, too, had the [Naval] Academy, with its inanimate and living memorials to fidelity and valor, tried to reveal this truth to me. But I had interpreted the lesson, as I had interpreted my father's lesson, within the limits of my vanity. I thought glory was the object of war, and that all glory was self-glory.

No more. For I have learned the truth: there are greater pursuits than self-seaking. Glory is not a conceit. It is not a decoration for valor. It is not a prize for being the most clever, the strongest, or the boldest. Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely, and who rely on you in return. No misfortune, no injury, no humiliation can destroy it.

This is the faith that my commanders affirmed, that my brothers-in-arms encouraged my allegiance to. It was the faith I had unknowingly embraced at the Naval Academy. It was my father's and grandfather's faith. A filthy, crippled, broken man, all I had left of my dignity was the faith of my fathers. It was enough.

Now, I don't doubt that Barack Obama loves America, nor that his own very different experiences and such challenges as he's faced have shaped his character. But gentle friends, I have also read Barack Obama's book, "Dreams from My Father." And in it, you will search in vain for any chapters containing feelings or epiphanies about America that are remotely comparable to what I've just quoted here.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 01:24 AM in 2008 Election, McCain, Obama, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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