Sarah, Piper, John -- photo credit: Huffington Post
During the recent RNC Convention, John McCain's treatment as a POW in Vietnam was discussed at great length--though ripped completely out of context.
We were instructed that Americans ought to feel great pride when we ponder our involvement in Vietnam--and that the compassionless robots of Hồ Chí Minh responded with shocking ingratitude in the face of our high-mindedness.
Bullshit. Thinking people ought to cry foul in the face of this Republican narrative, since it is stupid and ahistorical--and dishonorable.
If we are going to publicly recall John McCain's experience as a POW, we should remind ourselves that
- The devastation and suffering inflicted upon Vietnamese civilians during the war was beyond comprehension: At least 1.5 million Vietnamese civilians were killed, many by aerial bombardment.
- North Vietnamese soldiers captured by the RVN also report mistreatment.
- In one US military operation in 1968-69 in Vietnam, we killed 5,000 or more Vietnamese civilians.
During the Vietnam War, gentlemanly niceties were jettisoned by both sides. We killed many times more--probably thousands of times more--Vietnamese civilians than they killed US POWs. Any honorable discussion, by Americans, of John McCain's suffering in captivity ought to acknowledge the above. Our hands were anything but clean.
In taking a sober, adult look at war heroism, we should also note the extreme anti-traditionalism involved in according John McCain First-Tier War Hero status. Traditionally, one didn't attain such status by being the guy who suffered the most. (Indeed, once you were removed from the field of battle, you were nearly irrelevent, concerning heroism.) You rose to First Tier War Hero by being the guy who inflicted the most severe harm [within the rules] upon the enemy's military--by filling up their caskets, or by accomplishing strategic objectives in-theater. We live in the age of Oprah, in the cult of the exalted sufferer, in the epoch of the optional war, in a period in which technology has greatly disrupted the way warriors organize and fight. Historically speaking, the McCain narrative is quite unusual fodder for hero-creation, let alone the HONOR PERSONIFIED status the GOP now assigns him.
How we speak about the Vietnam War speaks volumes about our national honor at this moment. The Republican Party--we saw in St. Paul--equates its supposed Virtue with its willingness to lie, distort and tell self-flattering fables, concerning the Vietnam War.
That is the very opposite of honor.