Who Did McCain Bomb?
Well, I thought I’d surprise everyone and actually write about something I promised to the day before. Yes, who did McCain bomb? First though I looked into McCain’s service record and there are few things to talk about. I guess there was a controversy sometime back when retired general Wesley Clark criticized McCain’s service record. I’m not even going to go there, I don’t know what that was about, and I don’t care what Wesley Clark has to say. No, I’m going on original principles here, like the above photo.
And what, exactly, is the above photo? That’s future presidential candidate John McCain being “rescued” from Tru Bac Lake near Hanoi, after parachuting into it when his plane was shot down on a bombing raid during the Vietnam War. I say “rescued” because after they pulled him from the water, a crowd spat on him, stripped him of his clothes, and severely beat him. It should be noted though that some civilians did help him and worked to keep the crowd calm. His stay in North Vietnam went downhill after that, he spent five and a half years as a POW and was severely mistreated and tortured almost the entire time. (John McCain was the son of the admiral commanding the Pacific Fleet, so he was singled out for especially harsh treatment.)
Proof that the Vietnamese were barbarians? Not really. If someone attacked the USA and started bombing us I doubt we would treat the captured any better. One has to remember that it is the USA who attacked Vietnam, this wasn’t like the Korean War where the north invaded the south. Though amazingly enough lots of Americans believe exactly that, I suppose I should have put it in my Ten American Myths post. No, the North was supporting insurgents in the south, so the USA picked a fight with North Vietnam thinking that a bombing campaign in North Vietnam and American troops in South Vietnam would prop up the unpopular South Vietnamese government. We all know how well that ended up, despite dropping more bombs in Vietnam than were dropped by all of the participants in all of World War Two, Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.
What did all that torture acheive with McCain? Well, he made a filmed “confession” eventually, but he never gave his captors any useful information. Which pretty much once again confirms how useful torture is as an interrogation device. Sooner or late you can torture anyone to “confess” to just about anything, but your chances of torturing useful information from someone is about zero. One would think that this experience would have left Mr McCain firmly opposed to torture, but apparently that’s not quite the case. Well, he says he is opposed to torture, but he’s willing to leave so much slack in his definition of torture that his position on the subject is, well, tortured.
In any event, McCain’s military career is fairly simple. He volunteered for combat duty and flew a number of hazardous missions over North Vietnam. (Unlike a certain other future political figure at the time.) He survived them all, winning several medals in the process. He also survived the Forrestal Fire in 1967, one of the worst accidents in US naval history. An electrical fault fired a missile while planes were lined up below deck preparing for a mission, it struck another plane’s fuel tank and started a fire, and the fire then set off a number of old unsafe bombs (some from the Korean War.) John McCain’s plane was in the very middle of it, he managed to climb out of his plane and aid with rescue efforts before being injured by an exploding bomb himself. He was lucky to have survived, one hundred thirty four sailors and naval aviators didn’t.
McCain’s military career certainly highlights how much luck plays a role in human affairs. He came very close to death on a number of occaisions, but somehow he survived while those around him died. And whatever careers they may have had, whatever role they might have played in human affairs died with them. Certainly McCain’s survival was partially due to his will to live, but if that errant missile on the Forrestal had struck his plane instead of the one next to his, his only contribution to history would be a name carved on a granite wall.
The big question of course, did McCain blow up any babies in his bombing career? The truth of the matter is, no one knows. Probably not though, he was flying small accurate bombers attacking military targets away from populated areas, not B-52s carpet bombing the countryside. His last raid was on a power plant in the centre of Hanoi, so if any of his bombs did go astray and kill innocents, that would be the time. Let’s hope not. Has any of my admittedly cursory research about McCain changed my opinion of him? Not much. His bravery and courage and devotion to duty are unquestionable, but I never questioned that. At least he participated in history and did stuff, but it’s unclear to me what, if anything, he learnt from it all.
Maybe we’ll find out next year.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, and is indisputably an historically important image. Credit and copyright unknown, either an unknown Vietnamese photographer or the government of Vietnam. Since I’m showing the Vietnamese and the war in a sympathetic light, hopefully the copyright holder can excuse my use of the image. For the story of John McCain’s capture and captivity in his own words, click here.)