If you have no idea what war is about, thank your gods. It is not what you see in Mel Gibson movies, nor is it hidden within the Big Lie Big Brother tells you about Pat Tillman’s heroic “Army of One” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When my father was in New Guinea with the 32nd Division in 1942, his fellow American soldiers would point their long Springfield rifles skywards and shoot at American pilots flying overhead.
“Glory Boys,” the long-suffering ground troops called them.
The pilots had comfortable quarters beside the airstrip in Port Moresby. When orders for a mission came down, they’d climb in their planes, rattle down the runway, and soar over the Owen Stanley Mountains with the clouds in spotless uniforms, breathing fresh clean air. The Glory Boys weren’t trapped in the broiling jungle, in the mud and pouring rain, their skin rotting away, chewed by ghastly insects, bitten by poisonous snakes, stricken with cerebral malaria, yellow fever, dysentery, and a host of unknown diseases delivered by unknown parasites.
If the Fly Boys perished, it was in a blaze of glory, not from a landmine, or a misdirected American mortar, or a Japanese bayonet in the brain.
One day my father and his last remaining friend, Charlie Ferguson, were walking through the jungle up to the front line. One the way they passed a group of bare-chested Aussies in khaki shorts sitting round a grindstone sharpening their knives. Every once in a while one of the Aussies would hoist his rife and casually put a bullet into a Japanese sniper who had tied himself into the top of a nearby tree. Not in any place that would outright kill him, but some place painful enough to make the point.
A little further toward the front line, my father and Charlie came upon Master Sergeant Harry Blackman, an adult man in his forties, regular army, a grizzled combat veteran. A few days earlier in a fight with the Japanese, a young lieutenant, a “90-Day Wonder,” had curled up in a fetal position when he should have been directing mortar fire. As a result, US mortar rounds landed on several US soldiers. Blackman, in front of everyone, took the lieutenant behind a tree and blew his brains out.
As my father and Charlie waked through the jungle they saw Harry Blackman perched on the lower limb of a huge tropical tree, babbling incoherently among the butterflies and flowering vines, driven stark raving mad by sorrow and jungle war with the Japanese.
Several days later my father was sent on a patrol into Japanese held territory. He was the last man in a formation moving single file through the jungle. Plagued by malaria and exhaustion, he kept falling behind. Around noon, a group of Japanese soldiers sitting high up in trees dropped concussion grenades on the patrol. As he lay on the ground, unable to move, my father watched the Japanese slide down the trees. Starting with the point man on patrol, they pulled down the pants and castrated each man, before clubbing him to death with their rifle butts or running a bayonet into his gut.
War. If you’re a Glory Boy like John Sidney McCain III, you really have no idea what it is. You drop bombs on cities, on civilians, maybe on enemy forces, maybe on your own troops. Glory Boys like John McCain rarely get a taste of the horror they inflict on others. Their suffering rarely extends beyond the high anxiety that they might get shot down and that some bombarded mob on the ground might take its revenge.
Magically, my father was spared that day when his patrol was slaughtered. Against regulations, he had stolen a cross-swords patch and sewn it on his shirt sleeve. At the age of 16, he thought it looked cool. On the morning of the patrol, when the new “90-Day Wonder” told him to take it off, my father said “Sure.” He and the lieutenant stared at each other for a while and then the lieutenant moved away. Insubordination was the least of anyone’s worries. No one expected to survive the patrol, anyway.
When the Japanese who had ambushed the patrol got to my father, they stood poised to mutilate and kill him. Then they saw the cross-swords patch. They apparently felt that dear old dad was an important person with inside information about American forces. Instead of killing him, they took him prisoner. When they realized he was just a stupid kid, the Japanese sent him to a POW camp in the Philippines.
Being a POW is what my father and John McCain have in common; although their experience as POWs was as different as their class and their character.
Class indeed has privileges, and while the government refused to provide my combat-veteran father with medical benefits for his malaria, McCain, who spent ten hours of his life in mortal danger, was decorated with the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
And thus the “war hero” myth was born.
In the fall of 1967, Navy pilot John McCain was routinely bombing Hanoi from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. On October 26, he was trying to level a power plant in a heavily populated area when a surface-to-air missile knocked a wing off his jet. Banged-up John McCain and what was left of plane splashed into Truc Bach Lake.
A compassionate Vietnamese civilian left his air raid shelter and swam out to McCain. McCain’s arm and leg were fractured and he was tangled up in his parachute underwater. He was drowning. The Vietnamese man saved McCain’s sorry ass, and yet McCain has nothing but hatred for “the gooks” who allegedly tortured him. As he told reporters on his campaign bus (The Straight Talk Express) in 2000, “I will hate them as long as I live.” (1)
Americans have to hate people, and dehumanize them as “gooks” or “rag-heads” in order to drop bombs on them. Stirring up such hatred is the forte of the US government, as witnessed by its Israeli-driven PR campaign against Arabs and Moslems. That’s why Bush and his media minions tied “brutal dictator” Saddam Hussein to 9/11 – so Americans would hate Iraqis enough to kill and abuse them in a thousand ways, everyday, for five years. Or, according to McCain, for 100 years if necessary.
The flip side to the equation is that people generally hate those who drop bombs on them. When the Germans dropped bombs on London, the Allies called it Terror Bombing. The French resistance especially hated the Germans, especially after the Gestapo set up shop in occupied France in 1940.
Likewise, Iraqi and Afghani resistance fighters hate the Americans (who more and more resemble the Germans of 1940) for occupying their countries. They especially hate our Gestapo – the CIA – and its torturers. But that’s War for you, and John McCain is lucky the locals didn’t eat him alive – like Uzbek nationalists trapped in a horrid prison camp in Afghanistan nibbled on CIA officer John “Mike” Spann shortly after Spann summarily executed a prisoner. Spann was killed in the ensuing riot, shortly before the CIA and its Afghan collaborators massacred the remaining Uzbek prisoners on 28 November 2001.
The Vietnamese had good reason to hate McCain. On his previous 22 missions, he had dropped God knows how many bombs killing God knows how many innocent civilians. “I am a war criminal,” he confessed on “60 Minutes” in 1997. “I bombed innocent women and children.” (2)
If he is sincere when he says that, why isn’t he being tried for war crimes by the U.S .Government?
In any event, the man who rescued McCain tried to ward off an angry mob, which stomped on McCain for a while until the local cops turned him over to the military. McCain was in pain, but suffering no mortal wounds. He was, however, in enough pain to break down and start collaborating with the Vietnamese after three days in a hospital receiving treatment from qualified doctors – something no other POW ever enjoyed.
War is one thing, collaborating with the enemy is another; it is a legitimate campaign issue that strikes at the heart of McCain’s character…or lack thereof.
There are certainly degrees of collaboration. As a famous novelist once asked, “If you’re a barber and you cut a German’s hair, does that make you a collaborator?”
Being an informant for the Gestapo, or its stepson the CIA in Iraq, and informing on the resistance and sending them to their death, is different than being a barber. In occupied countries like Iraq, or France in World War Two, collaboration to that extent is an automatic death sentence.
The question is: “What kind of collaborator was John McCain, the admitted war criminal who will hate his alleged torturers for the rest of his life?”
Put another way, how psychologically twisted is McCain? And what actually happened to him in his POW camp that twisted him? Was it abuse, as he claims, or was it the fact that he collaborated and has to cover up?
Covering-up can take a lot of energy. The truth is lurking in his subconscious, waiting to explode. A number of US officials, including Andrew Card, have commented on McCain’s inexplicable angry outbursts.
In a July 5 2006 NewsMax.com article, former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), was quoted as having said about McCain: “I have witnessed incidents where he has used profanity at colleagues…. He would disagree about something and then explode.” Smith called it “irrational behavior. We’ve all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act like that.”
So, you say, McCain has a short fuse behind the plastered TV smile. So he calls his colleagues assholes and shit-heads. In high school they called him “McNasty.” That’s just how he is. Always was, always will be.
Well, maybe. And maybe it’s not a quality we want in a president. And maybe that repressed anger actually has its roots in a Vietnamese POW camp, where John McCain betrayed his forefathers and his country.
The Admiral’s Bad Boy
In the forced-labor camp where my father was tortured by the Japanese, the POWs killed anyone who collaborated. Indeed, the ranking POW in my father’s camp, an English Major, made a deal with the Japanese guaranteeing that no one would attempt to escape. When four prisoners escaped, the Major reported it. The Japanese sent out a search party, which found the POWs and brought them back to camp, where they were beheaded on Christmas morning 1943.
The POWs held a war council that night. They drew straws, and the three who got short were given a mission. A few hours later, under cover of darkness, they crept to the major’s hut. My father had gotten one of the short straws and kept watch while the other two POWs strangled the Major in his sleep.
That’s how it happens in real life.
McCain, in his carefully prepared statements, claims he was tortured while in solitary confinement, and that is why he signed a confession saying, “I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate. I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors.” (3)
However, on March 25, 1999, two of his fellow POWs, Ted Guy and Gordon “Swede” Larson told the Phoenix New Times that, while they could not guarantee that McCain was not physically harmed, they doubted it.
As Larson said, “My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he was at The Plantation, to the best of my knowledge and Ted’s knowledge, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that camp. It was the camp that people were released from.”
Guy and Larson’s claims are given credence by McCain’s vehement opposition to releasing the government’s debriefings of Vietnam War POWs. McCain gave Michael Isikoff a peek at his debriefs, and Isikoff declared there was “nothing incriminating” in them, apart from the redactions. (4)
McCain had a unique POW experience. Initially, he was taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp, where he was interrogated. By McCain’s own account, after three or four days, he cracked. He promised his Vietnamese captors, “I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital.”
His Vietnamese capturers soon realized their POW, John Sidney McCain III, came from a well-bred line of American military elites. McCain’s father, John Jr., and grandfather, John Sr., were both full Admirals. A destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, is named after both of them.
While his son was held captive in Hanoi, John McCain Jr., from 1968 to 1972, was the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Pacific Command; Admiral McCain was in charge of all US forces in the Pacific including those fighting in Vietnam.
One can only wonder when the concierge at the Hanoi Hilton started taking calls from Admiral McCain. Rather quickly, one surmises, for the Vietnamese soon took John Boy McCain to a hospital reserved for Vietnamese officers. Unlike his fellow POWs, he received care from a Soviet doctor.
“This poor stooge has propaganda value,” the Vietnamese realized. The Admiral’s bad boy was used to special treatment and his captors knew that. They were working him.
For his part, McCain acknowledges that the Vietnamese rushed him to a hospital, but denies he was given any “special medical treatment.”
However….two weeks into his stay at the Vietnamese hospital, the Hanoi press began quoting him. It was not “name rank and serial number, or kill me,” as specified by the military code of conduct. McCain divulged specific military information: he gave the name of the aircraft carrier on which he was based, the number of US pilots that had been lost, the number of aircraft in his flight formation, as well as information about the location of rescue ships. (5)
So McCain leveraged some details to get some medical attention. That’s not anything too contemptible. And who among us civilians is to judge someone in the position?
On the other hand, according to one source, McCain’s collaboration may have had very real consequences. Retired Army Colonel Earl Hopper, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, contends that the information that McCain divulged classified information North Vietnam used to hone their air defense system.
Hopper’s son, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Earl Pearson Hopper was, like McCain, shot down over North Vietnam. Hopper the younger, however, was declared “Missing in Action.” Stemming from the loss of his son, the elder Hopper co-founded the National League of Families, an organization devoted to the return of Vietnam War POWs.
According to the elder Hopper, McCain told his North Vietnamese captors, “highly classified information, the most important of which was the package routes, which were routes used to bomb North Vietnam. He gave in detail the altitude they were flying, the direction, if they made a turn… he gave them what primary targets the United States was interested in.” Hopper contends that the information McCain provided allowed the North Vietnamese to adjust their air-defenses. As result, Hopper claims, the US lost sixty percent more aircraft and in 1968, “called off the bombing of North Vietnam, because of the information McCain had given to them.” 6
The Psywar Stooge
McCain was held for five and half years. Collaborating during the first two weeks might have been pragmatic, but he soon became North Vietnam’s go-to collaborator for the next three years. Given the quality of the military information he allegedly shared, his situation isn’t as innocuous as the pragmatic French barber who cuts the hair of the German occupier. McCain was repaying his captors for their kindness and mercy.
This is the lesson of McCain’s experience as a POW: a true politician, a hollow man, his only allegiance is to power. The Vietnamese, like McCain’s campaign contributors today, protected and promoted him and in return, he danced to their tune.
Not content with divulging military information, McCain provided his voice in radio broadcasts used by the North Vietnamese to demoralize American soldiers.
Vietnamese radio propagandists made good use out of McCain. On June 4, 1969, a U.S. wire service headlined a story entitled “PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral.” (7)
The story reported that McCain collaborated in psywar offensives aimed at American servicemen. “The broadcast was beamed to American servicemen in South Vietnam as a part of a propaganda series attempting to counter charges by U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird that American prisoners are being mistreated in North Vietnam.”
On one occasion, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the top Vietnamese commander and a nationalist celebrity of the time, personally interviewed McCain. His compliance during this command performance was a moment of affirmation for the Vietnamese. His Vietnamese handlers thereafter used him regularly as prop at meetings with foreign delegations.
In the custody of enemy psywar specialists, McCain became what he is today: a professional psywar stooge.
It is impossible to prove exactly what happened to McCain short of traveling to Vietnam and tracking down his captors, and picking up thee trail where it begins. According to The Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain, McCain says he only collaborated when he brutally tortured by his Vietnamese captors and a wicked Cuban he referred to as Fidel. (8)
He says his confession led him to a suicide attempt.
“In the anguished days right after my confession,” McCain said in his autobiography Faith of My Fathers, “I had dreaded just such a discovery by my father.”
But as McCain discovered, dear old dad did know.
“I only recently learned that the tape I dreamed I heard playing over the loudspeaker in my cell had been real; it had been broadcast outside the prison and had come to the attention of my father,” McCain said. “If I had known at the time my father had heard about my confession, I would have been distressed beyond imagination, and might not have recovered from the experience as quickly as I did.”
But wait! McCain did not commit suicide. In fact, he’s alive, running for President on the “war hero” ticket, and promoting more war everywhere. The new McCain feels no distress at having been a collaborator or a war criminal – if he ever did.
According to Fernando Barral, a Cuban psychologist who questioned McCain in January 1970, “McCain was “boastful” during their interview and “without remorse” for any civilian deaths that occurred “when he bombed Hanoi.” McCain has a similar recollection, writing in his [autobiography] that he responded, “No, I do not” when Barral asked if he felt remorse.” (9)
McCain told [Barral] that he had not been subjected to “physical or moral violence,” and “lamented in the interview that ‘if I hadn’t been shot down, I would have become an admiral at a younger age than my father.’”
“Barral said McCain boasted that he was the best pilot in the Navy and that he wanted to be an astronaut.” The Cuban psychologist concluded that McCain was [a] ‘psychopath.’” (10)
“He felt superior to the Vietnamese up there in his plane, with all his training,” Barral recalled.
Psychopath McCain emerges, now, as a contemptible elitist, stewing in the crucible of his class conscience, the ultimate right wing psywar stooge.
McJekyll and McHyde
There are no public records from other POWs to confirm McCain’s self-aggrandizing claims, but his detractors, like fellow POWs Ted Guy and Gordon “Swede” Larson, and Colonel Hopper, have yet to be discredited or silenced by McCain’s PR team.
Hopper, Guy and Larson are part of a larger movement concerned with the fate of the 2,000 American veterans still missing in Vietnam. They’ve been pressing McCain to own up to his POW experience, drop the “war hero” posturing, and do more to provide a full accounting of the POWs and MIAs who were not as fortunate, privileged, or willing to collaborate as the would-be president.
McCain’s supporters are trying to quiet detractors by ignoring them. “Nobody believes these idiots. They’re a bunch of jerks. Forget them,” said Mark Salter, McCain’s chief mythologist. Salter is credited by casting McCain as a modern Teddy Roosevelt, “the war hero turned domestic reformer.” (11)
By in large the Salter strategy has worked. The American media accepts McCain’s “war hero” myth as gospel and, in so doing, bolsters the “straight talk” image so essential to his success in politics. In a recent TV interview with John Kerry, victim of the Swift Boat Heroes for Truth Movement in the last election, another “fortunate son,” Chris Wallace, actually took umbrage when Kerry criticized McCain. Son of media admiral Mike Wallace, Chris made Kerry admit that McCain was a hero.
When it comes to psywar, the Vietnamese have nothing on the good old USA.
McCain learned his lesson well from the Vietnamese propagandists who used him for their psywar projects. But it’s not the collaboration that makes John McCain unfit for office; it’s the fact that he has managed to rewrite his collaboration into political capital. “He’s a war hero, respect him, or die.”
As a pedigree, the McCain family’s stature rests on the status and prestige of its achievements in the military: rank, medals, and most importantly to John McCain’s presidential campaign, the image of warrior masculinity: the straight talking maverick of the Republican Party, the 21st century rendering of Teddy Roosevelt.
Not exactly. In his current presidential campaign, he’s cozying up to the hate-mongering Christian right he once criticized. He’s reversed positions on so many issues that his Democratic rivals have assembled his contrasting statements into “The Great McCain Versus McCain Debates. (12)
Underlying the Jekyll-Hyde reversals is McCain’s hidden past of collaboration. Somewhere in the unplumbed human part of John Sidney McCain III, he knows his POW experience contradicts the war hero image he projects. This essential dishonesty, this lie of the soul, is a sign of a larger lack of character – like the major in my father’s POW camp, but without the come-uppance.
McCain is not some principled leader, not a maverick cowboy fighting the powerful. He’s a sycophant. He believes in nothing but power and will do anything to attain it. He explodes in anger when challenged because, when a criticism hits to close to home, it goes to straight his deep-seeded shame.
McCain’s handlers have turned his unspeakable reality into a myth worthy of Teddy Roosevelt. No wonder the Glory Boy has stuck around Washington so long.
Doug Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, the story of his father’s experiences in a Japanese POW camp in World War Two. The Hotel Tacloban is available at Mr Valentine’s websites http://www.DouglasValentine.com and http://valentine.sb2.authorsguild.net
Brendan McQuade assisted Mr Valentine by providing timely research for this article.
Mr McQuade can be reached for interviews about this article at: 860-334-3661
2. Ted Rall, CommonDreams.org. February 6, 2008.
3.Ted Rall, CommonDreams.org. February 6, 2008
4. Sydney Schanberg, APBNews.com, 25 April 2000, citing Isikoff, Newsweek, 1 January 2000.
5. Ted Sampley, “Luck Of The Admiral’s Son Not For “Grunts” U.S. Veteran Dispatch, October 1999.
6. Sampley page.
7. See attached PDF version of Eugene Cannon 2 June 69 press release.
9. Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, March 11, 2008; C01
11. Sasha Issenberg, Boston Globe.