Arguably, the most interesting “human” story unfolding in the U.S. is the revival of an old canard that John McCain is not the heroic survivor of Vietnamese prison camps, but one who sold out his comrades.
Allegations are not new that he campaigned against investigations and disclosures that the U.S. abandoned missing prisoners at the end of the Vietnam War, but the reports had no traction and were largely ignored.
That they have arisen again, seems largely because McCain is in a serious fight to retain the Arizona Senate Seat that he’s held since 1986. The threat is not from a Democratic contender, but from the right — ultra-conservative J.D. Hayworth whom admirers describe as a “patriotic immigration reformer,” and critics call “one of the ten dumbest members of Congress.”
Hayworth is challenging for McCain’s Senate seat after losing his own seat in the House of Representatives. By all accounts, Hayworth is something of a blowhard, who put his wife on the government payroll when he was in office. A McCain campaign video has Hayworth saying America never “formally” declared war on Germany in WWII, juxta-positioned with a newsreel of President Roosevelt declaring war on Germany.
Leading the attack on McCain is the VDare.com website, run by Peter Brimelow, who argues: “Might MIA Issue Finally Finish McCain in Arizona?” Brimelow clearly hopes it does, mainly because McCain is seen as soft on immigration which Brimelow and others see as America’s greatest threat.
Brimelow says that McCain, in his bid to secure the Republican nomination, is in “a desperate primary battle” and has done “a much-derided, vertigo-inducing, 180-degree turn on illegal immigration (from Mexico) and the need for a border fence.”
The only chance Hayworth has of unseating McCain is if the present primary rules change. If Arizona drops its “open primaries” and rules that only registered party members can chose the Republican candidate, the aggressive, conservative Tea Party movement could well oust McCain for Hayworth.
If the present “open primary” prevails, independents will assure McCain of his seat, especially since native Americans — Hopi and Navajo Indians — solidly support him.
That a genuine American hero like McCain is once again suspect by rightwing sources, is disturbing to many. Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative is reprinted by VDare.com, opining that McCain’s “much-touted POW record will boomerang just like John Kerry’s Swift Boat service” (in the Vietnam War) eventually undermined Kerry’s claims of heroism.
Unz says “hundreds of American POWs had been condemned to death at enemy hands by top American leaders” after the Vietnam War because they’d be “a major political embarrassment” if brought home after decades of cover-ups.
McCain is accused of being part of the cover-up. This is also the theme of Sydney Schanberg, whose Killing Fields book about genocide in Cambodia won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Academy Award movie. Schanberg is described as “one of America’s foremost Vietnam War journalists” with unmatched credibility.
If missing POWs were abandoned after the war, it would constitute an “act of monumental treachery” and McCain’s participation in official denials would be unforgiveable. McCain’s reluctance to raise false hopes among relatives of the missing is dismissed as part of the cover-up. Some 591 POWs were released by Hanoi after the war – including McCain – while some 600 are unaccounted for.
McCain’s observation that there is “some evidence though no proof,” that Hanoi might have held back some POWs, is rejected by Schanberg: “No one could meet McCain’s standard of proof as long as he is leading a government crusade to keep the truth buried.”
By way of response, Schanberg has a dubious record as a reporter. As the only Western journalist in Cambodia after its collapse, he initially didn’t believe reports of Khmer Rouge genocide. “It is difficult to believe how their (Cambodian) lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone,” he wrote in the New York Times.
The Khmer Rouge killed some 2 million Cambodians – anyone educated, or who wore glasses, read books, etc. In the midst of massacres, one Schanberg story was headed “Indochina without Americans: for most a better life.” Noting that life in Cambodia might be “hard and inflexible” under Communism, he wrote that it would be “tendentious” to forecast that a communist government might implement genocide as a national policy. So much for Schanberg’s analytical acumen.
As for McCain betraying fellow ex-POWs, the most effective rebuttal is other ex-POWs. To a man, they admire his refusal to be released early because his father and grandfather were admirals. He was relentlessly tortured and abused.
By his own admission he “broke” under torture, and feels guilt to this day. For five years he remained resolute.
He’s also a man who puts country ahead of political ambitions- witness his support for the “surge” in Iraq when colleagues were urging capitulation. It is not those who endured what he endured who attack his integrity – but those who see political gain by undermining him.
Personally, I’d argue that allegations of McCain’s betrayal of fellow POWs are mindful of conspiracy theories about President Kennedy’s assassination – without substance. None of us knows, of course, but evidence is overwhelming that John McCain, human frailties and all, is a man more worthy than those who would undermine him.