Randy's Corner Deli Library

30 June 2008

John McCain's War Record

I am not one to question records of or in war. I am among the fortunate sons who did not get carted off to war. Now, I fear only that my son may not be so fortunate, what with the popularity of wars based on politics and not of absolute, dire necessity. Yes, I know the old saw about war being politics by other means, but I've also seen and read first hand accounts of the results of war: broken and missing limbs and spirits. So much gore and blood that after awhile, one starts to look at mangled bodies bodies like they were tomatos smashed on concrete.

I know of no-one in my father's WWII generation who would have thought that being taken prisoner and being tortured would qualify you thereafter for anything but a Section 8 discharge. It could cause a person to call their wife a c**t in front of reporters. Or to drop f-bombs on Senate colleagues. It could make a person angry for the rest of their lives. It could be what present day psychiatrists call "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" or what the WWII generation called "shell shock". It would make anyone a little crazy or something. Is there a reason the WWII generation -- or even Holocaust survivors had not, until they were quite advanced in age, been willing to talk about their experiences? They were so horrible that they did not want to remember what they experienced by talking about it.

I were to ask you to accept the proposition that being captured and tortured does not qualify you for the highest elected office in the United States, you would probably not disagree with me. But that is what General Wesley Clark is being raked over the coals for. By pointing out the obvious: that John McCain's harrowing experience at the Hanoi Hilton does not qualify him to be President. And he's right.

What this shows, more poignantly, is that the entire topic has been taken off the table for McCain by, among others, Bob Schieffer of CBS News who yesterday was stunned, literally, by Gen. Clark's comment. The rest of the Washington Press estasblishment is now up in arms and there are the now ubiquitous calls for Mr. Obama to "distance, reject, renounce, denounce" General Clark and his statement.

Mr. Obama should do no such thing. As a General, Wesley Clark knows about military service just a wee bit more than the Press Corp in Washington which seems to be bent on cutting the curmudgeonly Mr. McCain every bit of slack available, even if they have to make it up themselves.

It is no dishonor (even among politicians) to state the truth. And the truth is that Mr. McCain's time in Hanoi does not, of itself, qualify him to do anything more than what he was trained to do before he got shot down and what he trained to do thereafter.

General Clark's comment, while fair, was not thought out well enough. He stated a conclusion without offering up the reasons that would support it. He would have done better to give a more full accounting of what exactly he meant by what he said. And in that regard, General Clark needs a little more polish.

Lest you think that it is only a certain sector of the population who thinks that Mr. McCain's "war record" does not qualify him to be president, a large amount of Conservatives have been letting it be known that Mr. McCain, while he was in captivity, made propaganda videos, albeit under duress, for the North Vietnamese. I am not saying this to paint Mr. McCain as a collaborator. He most assuredly was not that. But it does show that he was only another in a line of POWs whose treatment and life could not be assured and who suffered horribly under their captors. But suffering under the North Vietnamese: the physical pain, the humiliation, embarrassment, the shame and the loneliness that he must have suffered does not qualify him to be President. The experiences qualify him to be a human being. Not better than one or one that cannot be questioned about his life. And if the Washington Press Corps wants to keep John McCain's life off-limits to questions, then at least give some reciprocity to Mr. Obama. That circumstance is not likely to happen, given that some of the themes of the race are (besides race) the alleged naivete and inexperience of Mr. Obama. If it is fair to question inexperience, then it is fair to question the value of experience on some reasonable level. And questioning exactly how, taken in a vacuum, Mr. McCain's time locked up in a POW camp makes him more qualified than someone else who was fortunate enough to escape that fate, is fair.

Randy Shiner

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