The McCain Death Tour Reaches Its Imperial Apotheosis

Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgement, God is calling
On their knees, the war pigs crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan, laughing, spreads his wings, oh lord yeah!

— Black Sabbath, “War Pigs,” 1969

You’re going to have to shut up or I’ll call the police…Get out of here you low-life scum.

John McCain’s statement to peace activists calling for the arrest of epic imperial war criminal Henry Kissinger, January 29. 2015

I hate to break this news flash, but the United States was already Orwellian before Donald Trump shat his way into the White House.

Has there ever been a public high-imperial church-and-state ritual more nauseating than the nationally televised (on CBS, FBC, ABC, WGN, FOX, CSPAN, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, FNC, FBN) funeral of the mad dog killer and longtime Roman-, I mean US-Senatorial warmonger John McCain?  I suppose there has, but I am hard-pressed to remember it.

I ran across the funeral by accident, looking to see if I could watch some Premier League Soccer from England on NBC.

Death Becomes Him

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the seemingly endless memorialization of McCain still in full-swing, reach its Monty Python-esque apotheosis at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  I knew in the back of my mind that the national send-off had still not occurred. It’s just that the airwaves had already been dominated by the 2018 John McCain Death Tour for at least the last three days, already.

But there it still was, plugging along for yet another day like the Energizer Bunny.

I didn’t want to watch but I couldn’t look away from the opening and angry-sounding oration from McCain’s daughter. I was like the gawkers on the freeway.  I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the hideous bloody car-wreck.

At one point in her unhinged speech, Meghan McCain denounced the “cruelty of my father’s Communist captors.” She was referring to the Vietnamese authorities who detained and forcibly interrogated McCain as a prisoner of imperial war during the late 1960s.

Recall that the newly anointed national messiah John McCain was captured after he lost control of his plane over “enemy” territory while participating eagerly as a legendarily fast-living and reckless Fortunate Son U.S. Navy flyboy (the son of a top Navy Admiral) in the mass-murderous U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia (the so-called Vietnam War). Meghan said that his treatment “ensured he would never raise his arms above his head for the rest of his life.”

McCain himself admitted that the North Vietnamese had saved his life, telling Newsweek:

“I hit the water and sank to the bottom. I think the lake is about 15 feet deep, maybe 20. I kicked off the bottom. I did not feel any pain at the time and was able to rise to the surface. I took a breath of air and started sinking again. Of course, I was wearing 50 pounds, at least, of equipment and gear. I went down and managed to kick up to the surface once more. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t use my right leg or my arm. I was in a dazed condition. I went up to the top again and sank back down. This time I couldn’t get back to the surface. I was wearing an inflatable life-preserver-type thing that looked like water wings. I reached down with my mouth and got the toggle between my teeth and inflated the preserver and finally floated to the top.”

“Some North Vietnamese swam out and pulled me to the side of the lake.”

A Ringing Endorsement of Vietnamese Socialist Health Care

As McCain himself graciously explained later, in a 1969 Tokyo Rose-like North Vietnamese radio broadcast intercepted by the CIA and advertently placed and then found in the U.S. National Archives:

“I as a US Airman am Guilty of Crimes against the Vietnamese country and people. I have bombed their cities, towns and villages and caused many injuries, even death to the people of Vietnam.”

“I was captured in the Capitol of Hanoi while attacking it. After I was captured I was (taken to) the hospital in Hanoi where I received very good medical treatment. I was given an operation on my leg which allowed me to walk again and a cast on my right arm which was badly broken in three places. The doctors were very good and they knew a great deal about the practice of medicine. I remained in the hospital for some time and regained much of my health and strength.”

“Since I arrived in the camp of detention, I have received humane treatment. I received this good treatment and food, even though I came here as an aggressor and the people who I injured have much difficulty in their living standards. I wish to express my deep gratitude for my kind treatment and I will never forget this kindness extended to me.”

A curiously forgotten endorsement of revolutionary socialist forgiveness and health care!

Personal Dedication to War and Empire

Just to be clear, McCain flew 23 missions in which he participated in the bombing of Vietnamese civilians.  He was likely responsible in a very hands-on way for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people. He would later unapologetically and publicly describe (as late as 2000) the Vietnamese forces who (doing their national, revolutionary and anti-imperial duty) captured and interrogated him as “Gooks.”

The “Maverick” would kill far more people around the world indirectly, as a Congressman in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. The rabid imperialist McCain championed the vicious and arch-reactionary Islamist mujahedin in Afghanistan as part of the U.S. effort to collapse the Soviet Union. He enthusiastically supported the murderous right-wing Contras and right-wing death squads across Central America, many of whose leaders were trained in torture in the “School of the Americas” (now called WHINSEC). He strongly backed U.S. economic sanctions that killed at least a million Iraqis including over 500 000 children under the age of 5, according to a 1995 United Nations report. He championed the criminal U.S. bombing of Serbia.

He eagerly pushed for and backed George W. Bush’s monumentally criminal and imperial invasion of Iraq on thoroughly false pretexts. He voted for legislation that helped make torture seem legal to Bush. He cultivated Al Qaeda allies and affiliates in Libya and Syria. He fervently backed massive U.S. arms sales to the butchers atop the Saudi Kingdom, perpetrators of horrific war crimes in Yemen (the poorest country in the Middle East)– crimes perversely denied by McCain. He was a booster of Al Qaeda allies and affiliates in Libya and Syria, met with jihadi rebel groups, posing for photos with militants, called them his “heroes” and advocated for more material support and resources for these terrorist organizations, in violation of United States Code. (His 2008 running mate Sarah Palin chided Obama for “palling around” with “terrorists” but said nothing about McCain’s own mingling with mercenaries.)

He wooed and abetted flat-out neo-Nazis in Ukraine, consistent with his service on the board of the World Anti-Communist League – an organization that included fascists, neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites.

Pit-Bull McCain never saw or smelled an imperialist war or adventure he didn’t love. He contradicted his repeated declared opposition to Pentagon waste by advocating giant wars that poured billions of taxpayer dollars into wasteful death and destruction. “There were few figures in recent American life,”  Max Blumenthal writes, “who dedicated themselves so personally to the perpetuation of war and empire as McCain… He was uniquely ruthless when it came to advancing imperial goals, barnstorming from one conflict zones to another to personally recruit far-right fanatics as American proxies” and turning his “Senate office [into]…a clubhouse for arms industry lobbyists and neocon operatives.”

How Much Should We Give?

McCain’s necrophilia wasn’t limited to inflicting death and torture on poor people abroad. Along the way, McCain managed to consistently assault the economic and social security of U.S. working and poor people by pushing for brutally regressive and plutocratic neoliberal policies that matched his status as a super-opulent multi-millionaire by inheritance. His ruling class corruption even earned him Senate censure for his unseemly role in the “Keating Five” savings and loan scandal in 1989.  His upper-class pedigree and loyalties were evident in how the supposed people’s “maverick” McCain supported Donald Trump and the GOP’s sickening 2017 tax cut for the rich in a nation where the top tenth of the upper 1 Percent already had as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent.

John Fogarty and his Credence Clearwater Revival had rich people and militarists like John McCain in mind when they wrote and performed their classic, three chord song of class-conscious anti-war sentiment “Fortunate Son”:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
ooh, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays ‘Hail to the Chief’
ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no senator’s son, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, yeah
But when the taxman comes to the door

Lord, the house look like a rummage sale, yeah
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes

ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em how much should we give
ooh, they only answer ‘more, more, more’ yeah
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no military son, son, no no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no fortunate one, one
It ain’t me, it ain’t me… I ain’t no fortunate son, no, no, no

Lock the Doors: A Hideous Crash Site I Couldn’t Turn Away From

How surreal yet appropriate it was to see the camera swing shot of the front rows listening politely to Megan McCain’s psychotic paean to the Fortunate and Military Son War Pig/Master of War by whom she had the material fortune and moral misfortune to be fathered. The bipartisan US establishment, replete with Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, and our beloved Dr. Strangelove Henry Kissinger, the Congressional mis-leadership, Pentagon brass, and who knows how many “defense” (empire) contractors read and sang from holy texts as if their twisted ritual could magically wash way the sins of the American Empire, responsible for the murder and maiming of millions upon millions the world over.

Noting the death panel assembled to mourn one of their own, Jeremy au Barca on Twittersuggested: “Somebody lock the doors at McCain’s funeral and just start a war crimes tribunal.”

I could hardly listen to the imperial, American-exceptionalist hosannas lavished on the McCain coffin.  The Orwellian memory hole madness of it all was almost too much to bear. I walked away but kept coming back, not being able to turn completely away from the hideous crash site.

Lieberman: “City on a Hill”

I wrote down a few of the most relevantly repellant things I picked up, though I’m pretty sure I many of the most preposterous utterances. I heard the noxious Zionist Iraq invasion criminal Joe Lieberman (a right-wing ex-Democrat for whom the Eisenhower Democrats could be never be sufficiently Reaganesque, and who had mentored Obama in the Senate) praise McCain for embracing a “moral, engaged, and strong” U.S. foreign policy —- Lieberman’s description of McCain’s image of U.S. foreign policy. That must have been comforting for the survivors of the millions of people victimized by the direct and proxy U.S. wars McCain helped foment across the planet.

Lieberman said that McCain’s soul is now headed to “that City on a Hill…Jerusalem.” Did anyone notify the Israel Defense Forces?

Kissinger: “During the Negotiations to End the Vietnam War”

America’s living Strangelove, Henry Kissinger praised McCain as “one of those gifts of [American] destiny” – a “great personality” who “inspired us to fulfill our sustaining values.”

“I first met John for the first time in April 1973 at a White House reception for prisoners returned from captivity in Vietnam. He had been much on my mind,” Kissinger recalled, “during the [1973] negotiations to end the Vietnam War, partly also because his father, then commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command, when briefing the president [the subsequently disgraced Mafia Don Richard Nixon], answered references to his son by saying only ‘I pray for him.’”

“During the negotiations to end the Vietnam War.”

Which ones? The blood-soaked imperial monster Kissinger effortlessly elided the fact that he had worked for Richard Nixon before the 1968 presidential election to undermine the Lyndon Johnson administration’s peace negotiations with Hanoi (see Greg Gandin’s 2015 book, Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman.) Kissinger’s interference helped Nixon win and helped prolong the mass-murderous U.S. campaign in Southeast Asia.  Fittingly enough, at least in a perverse Orwellian sense, Kissinger helped prolong McCain’s captivity in Hanoi.

You’ve got to hand it to sociopathic war criminals like Kissinger: they’re slick.

(Kissinger, like McCain benefits from a celebrity status created in part by the media. Recall the “New York Miracle” ad from the Office of the Mayor of New York[at the time, Rudy Giuliani] in which Kissinger’s body double cracks the bat in an empty Yankee Stadium, runs the bases, and slides headfirst into home plate.)

For what it’s worth, for as long as Kissinger still manages to suck undeserved oxygen from the atmosphere, it’s not too late to hang him for his war crimes and other crimes against humanity in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, Argentina, East Timor and elsewhere. (It was only 51 years ago that the Russell Tribunal found the US “guilty on all charges, including genocide, the use of forbidden weapons, maltreatment and killing of prisoners, violence and forceful movement of prisoners” in Southeast Asia.)

Don’t forget how our recently departed and supposedly Christ-like Senator McCain referred to Code Pink activists who had the common decency to call for the arrest of Kissinger for those crimes during a U.S. Senate hearing on “global security” in January of 2015. Out-Trumping Trump, McCain called them “low-life scum.”

Dubya: “An Unrivalled Power for Good”

George W. Bush said McCain’s life was “too vivid to imagine [it] ended” and called McCain’s “absence tangible like a silence after a mighty roar.” The man who ordered the monumentally criminal and mass-murderous invasion and occupation of Iraq on thoroughly false pretexts praised McCain for “respecting the dignity inherent in every life.”

McCain’s respect for everyone’s dignity apparently didn’t stop him from directly and indirectly helping end millions of lives on the wrong side of the guns of the US Empire and its proxies.

Bush reached new heights of Orwellian, truth-butchering eloquence by referring to “The American military” as “something new in history: an unrivaled power for good” and to the United States as “an advocate of the oppressed.”

The mauler of Mesopotamia said that “John would probably not want us to dwell” on McCain’s life. That washilarious.  By all accounts, McCain planned his miserable protracted 2018 Death Tour down to the smallest detail. He told Meghan to “show your fire.”

Obama: “Serving His Country in a Time of War”

Then came Barack Obama, the Drone King champion of targeted assassination. The first technically Black president couldn’t be bothered to attend the funeral of the legendary, genuinely great and life-giving Black Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in Black Detroit on Friday, but here he was on Saturday to confer sainthood on war master McCain.

With Bill Clinton (who befouled the Franklin funeral) looking on in transparent sneering jealousy, Obama praised McCain as “a warrior, statesman, patriot who embodied so much that is best in America,” who “made this country better,” and who nobly “answered the highest of callings by serving his country in a time of war”- that is, by enlisting in the US Navy to bomb Vietnamese women and children.

One of the many problems with Obama’s statement is that the United States in the 1960s was not going through “a time of war.” There was no “Vietnam War.” There was a massive, one-sided U.S.-imperial assault on Vietnam and Southeast Asia. It’s not for nothing that the Vietnamese call it “the American War.” A superior name for the conflict would be “The AmericanImperial War on Vietnam.” Noam Chomsky’s phrase at the time, the U.S. “crucifixion of Southeast Asia,” was even better. It captured the savage depth of the American destruction,and broadened the geographic lens to include Laos and Cambodia in describing how history’s most powerful industrialized state and military empire viciously attacked a small peasant nation and some of its neighbors with massive force for more than a decade. As the Detroit-based writer and activist Frank Joyce noted on AlterNet last year:

“Did Vietnamese troops invade the United States? Did the Vietnamese air force spend years spraying millions of tons of Agent Orange onto forests and crops in California and Ohio? Are there pictures of naked girls fried with napalm in Alabama that we haven’t seen? Were hundreds of thousands of civilians in Canada and Mexico killed to pursue Vietnamese military objectives in the U.S? Did Vietnamese troops massacre women, old people and babies and dump their bodies into mass graves in Missouri, Montana and Michigan?…The United States government invaded Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; not the other way around. Before that, the U.S. provided financial and military support to the French war to keep Vietnam a colony. Any suggestion that the U.S. was somehow the victim of the war is not just wrong, it is yet another example of the moral confusion for which our nation pays a far greater price than we are willing to admit.”

The United States lost just 58,000 soldiers in an imperial invasion that killed as many as 5 million Southeast Asians between 1962 and 1975. The massive U.S. onslaught laid waste to vast stretches of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. It spread disease and birth defects across the region.

The Vietnamese did not kill a single American soldier – much less a U.S. civilian – on U.S. soil. No, the Americans died on Vietnamese soil.  They’d been sent to Vietnam to crush a national independence movement and a social revolution in a poor peasant nation. Washington was determined to prevent the threat of a good example – a nation developing outside and against the control and norms of the U.S.-managed world capitalist system – by any means the Superpower deemed necessary, including “bombing them back to the Stone Age” (Curtis Lemay).

Just one joint CIA and U.S. military operation alone, The Phoenix Program, killed 40,000 South Vietnamese, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the total U.S. body count in Vietnam.  “Sponsored by the CIA,” The New York Times acknowledgedlast December, “Phoenix used paramilitary teams to target undercover Communist operatives in villages throughout South Vietnam….members of the program’s teams and their American advisers routinely carried out torture, murders and assassinations, accusations that American officials denied.”

Flying two dozen missions that killed hundreds if not thousands of Vietnamese civilians and then finally and thankfully losing control of your bomber plane does not make you a “war hero.” It makes you a murderous imperialist gendarme.

As nobody at any of the endless McCain Death Tour events would ever acknowledge, the “war heroes were the Vietnamese who fought back against the French and then the U.S. killers who came from across the world to stop national independence and social justice. Like war heroes? Watch this remarkable video “Vietnam War: The Face of the Enemy (Vietnamese Perspective).”

The ridiculous ruling-class pet and newly minted oligarch Obama praised McCain for “kn[owing] how to laugh at himself.” Great. McCain surely never undertook any honest and fearless moral self-inventory about the criminality of the systems of class rule, racial oppression, and imperial domination he so zealously advanced.

Same for Obama, by the way. Same.

How loathsome these fake public servants are!

Societal Gaslighting

Thrilling his admirers who have also been subject to a Beltway media campaign of manufactured nostalgia, Obama scored some cheap and easy points on the tangerine monstrosity Trump. Like the rest of the speakers, however, he couldn’t bring himself to go beyond veiled shots over the decline of civic discourse by mentioning the Trumpenstein by name or office.  In office, Obama was portrayed in the media as a philosopher-king, the “smartest guy [or only adult] in the room”, unflappable, the quintessential liberal who welcomed a “team of rivals”.   Now, he was transformed into one of the great priests, canonizing St. McCain from a pulpit in what was by far the longest speech not given by Meghan McCain.

One thing very much NOT on display at McCain’s funeral was the United States’ supposed and vaunted “separation of church and state.” The event featured a chilling merging of American Exceptionalist/City on a Hill doctrine with aggressive Christian white nationalism, replete with holy men in robes praising McCain as a “just man” and praising the “God [who] gave us this warrior.”

As much as this macabre gathering was specifically about rehabilitating and falsifying the legacy of McCain, it was also yet another example of how the national and Western Public Memory is deliberately distorted and how lies and falsehoods are implanted in the collective unconsciousness – a kind of society-wide Gas Lighting. The unsuspecting viewers never had a chance with the incessant and inescapable coverage.

Al Sharpton on the Lady Who “Accused Obama of Being an Arab”

My favorite cable television momement last Saturday came when the fake-left power-serving cretin Al Sharpton likened the monster McCain to the glorious, also recently departed (but in her case justly memorialized) Aretha Franklin (“they both told it like it is”) on MSNBC. Sharpton praised McCain for standing up to that wacky old right-wing white lady who, in Sharpton’s words, “accused Obama of being an Arab” at a 2008 McCain campaign town hall.

What did the ridiculous Reverend mean by “accused Obama of being an Arab”?! “Arab” is a real cultural designation. There are hundreds of millions of Arab/Arabic-speaking people in the word. The notion of “accusing” someone of “being an Arab” is of course completely ludicrous and highlights how normalized anti-Arab racism has become in the U.S.

During a town hall meeting in Lakeville, Minnesota in October 2008, McCain responded to a woman who based her distrust of Obama on her erroneous belief that Obama was an “Arab” by saying, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Ah, yes, another in a series of great and supposedly not racist moments in the life of a man who Bernie Huckaebee Sanders calls “a man of decency and honor” who “will be missed not just in the U.S. Senate but by all Americans who respect integrity and independence.”

(There were plenty of good reasons, which I’ve long written about [see this for one of many examples] for not trusting Obama that had nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or culture.)

“It Was a Meeting of The Resistance

Still, the prize for the single most nauseating thing I heard or read after McCain’s funeral goes to The New Yorker’scorrespondent Susan Glasser. Glasser described the event as “no mere laying to rest of a Washington wise man, nor just another funeral of an elder statesman whose passing would be marked by flowery words about the end of an era. It was,” Glasser proclaimed, “a meeting of the Resistance, under vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows” (emphasis added).

“The funeral service for John Sidney McCain III, at the Washington National Cathedral, on this swampy Saturday morning,” Glasser explained, “was all about a rebuke to the pointedly uninvited current President of the United States, which was exactly how McCain had planned it.”

Glass is certainly correct about the not-so-subtle anti-Trump essence of the funeral and, I would argue, of the whole week-long media-politics McCain death extravaganza. The malignant pre-fascist Trump and his Congressional and popular reactionary-white base have elicited wrath from much of the U.S. corporate and imperial establishment (but for different reasons than those behind the pushback from the public). When Bush spoke in the National Cathedral about McCain’s dedication to U.S. global “leadership” and McCain’s hatred of tyrants and their “abuse of power,” the elites assembled for the grand historic performance knew Bush was contrasting McCain’s rhetoric with the Orange Menace’s praise for dictators and behavior as president.

“So much of our politics can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, in phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” Obama said. “It’s a politics that pretends to be brave, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”  Everybody new Obama was talking about Trump without him having to make it explicit.

Mean, petty, bombastic, and insulting – like calling peace activists “low-life scum,” Obama? Like that?

Meghan McCain mourned “the passing of American greatness” that her father represented, different from “cheap rhetoric” that now passes for it.  She said that “The America of John McCain does not need to be ‘made great again,’ because it is already Great.”  The digs against Trump were not lost on anyone in the cathedral or watching at home.

Make no mistake: The Summer 2018 McCain Death Tour was about splits WITHIN the ruling class – the division between traditional corporate-neoliberal globalists and those who support the racism, bigotry, and proto-fascistic white nationalism and isolationism of Trump.

But to call the racist and American-Exceptionalist imperialism and Orwellian nationalism of Lieberman, Kissinger, Bush, the Clintons, Obama, the Council on Foreign Relations, and McCain (a leading friend of fascists in Ukraine and elsewhere, as noted) “the Resistance” is a bit much.  These are competing right wing factions, who vie to be in the driver’s seat, ruling-class corporatists and imperialists, longtime agents and friends of authoritarian power and oppression structures at home and abroad. Glasser gets away with calling them “the Resistance” because of the comic book presentation of intra-elite political conflict as good guys versus bad guys. Glasser’s designation (perhaps partly tongue in cheek) of them as leaders of “the Resistance” is an insult to the real peoples’ anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist Resistance movements of past and present.  Clinton and Company comprise the Fake Resistance at best and they are very much to be included along with the likes of their fellow Orwellian Trump in the list of those against whom any real popular Resistance would struggle and hopefully, if we’re smart, creative, and persistent, triumph. That kind of revolution won’t be televised.

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Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).