Trump is right (but only on this): McCain is no war hero

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
US Senator John McCain © Ints Kalnins
Probably the only thing on which I will ever agree with Donald Trump is that Senator John McCain is no war hero, an opinion the candidate for the Republican nomination for US president voiced during a recent televised interview.

Trump is currently shaking up the US political landscape with his politically incorrect and outrageous habit of saying exactly what he thinks and believes to a media and public long accustomed to practiced politicians and political candidates whose every utterance is analyzed, dissected and rehearsed umpteen times before leaving their mouths. Reputedly a billionaire, Trump wears his wealth and success as a badge of honor, stressing that because he is independently wealthy he is not beholden to the special interests and lobbyists that have traditionally enjoyed disproportionate influence and weight when it comes everything from economic to foreign policy.

Of John McCain, Trump said: "He's not a war hero. He's a war hero – he's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?"

READ MORE: ‘No war hero, loser’: Republicans outraged after Trump’s attack on McCain

Though his motivation for lambasting McCain’s war record was not anything to do with the morality of the Vietnam War in which the senator served, the flamboyant and maverick billionaire did nonetheless remind us that McCain’s legend, if you can call it that, and the basis for his entire political career was his role in an imperialist war that saw the full economic and military might of the most powerful nation on earth unleashed against one of the poorest. It lasted 10 years, during which a large part of Vietnam was laid waste by a mass bombing campaign that was completely indiscriminate in its targeting of civilian targets, including with chemical weapons. Over a million people were killed, many more were left injured, and the country’s development was put back decades.

John McCain flew ground-attack aircraft from carriers in the US Navy. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and spent the next six years as a prisoner of the Vietnamese, whom he alleged tortured him. His mission when he was shot down was the bombing of a light bulb factory, a civilian target prohibited under international law. This means that rather than a “war hero” John McCain is in fact a “war criminal.”

In the United States, however, the two have long been easily, conveniently and often confused.

Against all odds, the Vietnamese prevailed in their war against US imperialism, delivering the superpower one the most humiliating and emphatic military defeats of modern warfare. The news footage of a North Vietnamese tank, supplied by the Soviet Union, smashing through the gates of the US Embassy in Saigon just hours after the last of the embassy’s personnel escaped from the roof in a helicopter, is among the most iconic ever captured – and a cause for celebration for all freedom- and justice-loving people.

Helicopter Evacuation at 22 Gia Long Street © Hubert van Es

For people such as John McCain, though, the Vietnam War was a struggle between good and evil in which the US were, as ever, the good guys. Such a perverse outlook is the product of a mind weaned on a diet of cowboy movies whose purpose is to reinforce the very lie that informs mainstream American history.

McCain views himself, it is clear, as a character straight out of one of those cowboy movies, a poor man’s John Wayne swaggering around the world putting those pesky foreigners in their place. Whether it’s in Kiev, where he extended himself in whipping up anti-government protesters who occupied Maidan prior to the coup that toppled the last legitimately elected Ukrainian government at the beginning of 2014; or whether in the Middle East, where he performed a similar role in offering his personal support to anti-Assad rebels as foreign jihadists were flocking to the country to unleash mayhem and murder, John McCain’s quest for another Vietnam War never ends.

Where does such an addiction to war and conflict stem from? Surely it must be fueled by some kind of psychological disorder. In the US, his status as a war hero has long been considered sacrosanct, beyond question or dispute, which is why Trump’s words to the contrary caused such controversy.

The really frightening thing is that McCain was the Republican candidate for the White House in 2008 in a presidential campaign that ended in defeat at the hands of the Obama campaign. Just imagine, though, if the Republican senator had won that election and entered the White House, afforded the opportunity to give free rein to his passion for conflict. He would have been like a child let loose in a toy store.

No, when it comes right down to it, if Senator John McCain is the answer, we need to rethink the question. A war hero and a warmonger are two entirely different things. And heroism does not only describe acts of physical courage but also moral courage.

The latter is distinctly lacking in the character of a man who belongs to the Yee-ha! school of US foreign policy.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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