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Think Trump’s as Tough as McCain?

You probably already know what happened. In October of ’67 McCain was himself still a Young Voter and flying his 23rd Vietnam combat mission and his A-4 Skyhawk plane got shot down over Hanoi and he had to eject, which basically means setting off an explosive charge that blows your seat out of the plane, which ejection broke both McCain’s arms and one leg and gave him a concussion and he started falling out of the skies right over Hanoi. Try to imagine for a second how much this would hurt and how scared you’d be, three limbs broken and falling toward the enemy capital you just tried to bomb. His chute opened late and he landed hard in a little lake in a park right in the middle of downtown Hanoi. Imagine treading water with broken arms and trying to pull the life vest’s toggle with your teeth as a crowd of Vietnamese men swim out toward you (there’s film of this, somebody had a home-movie camera, and the N.V. government released it, though it’s grainy and McCain’s face is hard to see). The crowd pulled him out and then just about killed him.

John McCain being pulled out of Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi and about to become a prisoner of war, on October 26, 1967. (click to enlarge)

US bomber pilots were especially hated, for obvious reasons. McCain got bayoneted in the groin; a soldier broke his shoulder apart with a rifle butt. Plus by this time his right knee was bent 90-degrees to the side with the bone sticking out. Try to imagine this. He finally got tossed on a jeep and taken five blocks to the infamous Hoa Lo prison – a.k.a. the “Hanoi Hilton,” of much movie fame – where they made him beg a week for a doctor and finally set a couple of the fractures without anesthetic and let two other fractures and the groin wound (imagine: groin wound) stay like they were.

Then they threw him in a cell. Try for a moment to feel this. All the media profiles talk about how McCain still can’t lift his arms over his head to comb his hair, which is true. But try to imagine it at the time, yourself in his place, because it’s important. Think about how diametrically opposed to your own self-interest getting knifed in the balls and having fractures set without painkiller would be, and then about getting thrown in a cell to just lie there and hurt, which is what happened. He was delirious with pain for weeks, and his weight dropped to 100 pounds, and the other POWs were sure he would die; and then after a few months like that after his bones mostly knitted and he could sort of stand up they brought him in to the prison commandant’s office and offered to let him go. This is true. They said he could just leave. They had found out that McCain’s father was one of the top-ranking naval officers in the US Armed Forces (which is true – both his father and grandfather were admirals), and the North Vietnamese wanted the PR coup of mercifully releasing his son, the baby-killer. McCain, 100 pounds and barely able to stand, refused, The US military’s Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War apparently said that POWs had to be released in the order they were captured, and there were others who’d been in Hoa Lo a long time, and McCain refused to violate the Code.

The commandant, not pleased, right there in the office had guards break his ribs, rebreak his arm, knock his teeth out. McCain still refused to leave without the other POWs. And so then he spent four more years in Hoa Lo like this, much of the time in solitary, in the dark, in a closet-sized box called a “punishment cell.”

Maybe you’ve heard all this before; it’s been in umpteen different media profiles of McCain. But try to imagine that moment between getting offered early release and turning it down. Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would have cried out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer. Can you hear it? If so, would you have refused to go? You simply can’t know for sure. None of us can. It’s hard even to imagine the pain and fear in that moment, much less know how you’d react.

But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, in a dark box, alone, tapping code on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he’s capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest. So that when he says the line in speeches in early February you can feel like maybe it isn’t just more candidate bullshit, that with this guy it’s maybe the truth. Or maybe both the truth and bullshit: the guy does – did – want your vote, after all.


    • izzy August 30, 2018

      Strange bedfellows? Much has already been written about the reality behind the myth. Wallace covered McCain’s 2000 presidential bid. Wikipedia offers this:

      Some writers have found parts of Wallace’s nonfiction implausible. Franzen has said that he believes Wallace made up dialogue and incidents: “those things didn’t actually happen”.[48] John Cook has remarked that “Wallace encounters pitch-perfect characters who speak comedically crystalline lines and place him in hilariously absurd situations…I used both stories [in teaching journalism] as examples of the inescapable temptation to shave, embellish, and invent narratives”.[49]

  1. Walter September 1, 2018

    Pretty much most of what Americans believe is false…as CIA director Casey said was the goal of his agency. (look it up – eye witness accounts)

    It may not be a coincidence that Rhetoric is not taught to the multitude, as this makes it possible to use this Science to create a vast mythic fantasy.

    Thus the People are made like Sheep.

    “implausible nonfiction” is a wonderful way to express in polite terms the reality of Wallace’s cheap rhetoric. The blunt term might be simply “lies”…


  2. Pat Kittle September 1, 2018

    If all you’ve heard about McCain is flattering, here’s (some of) what you haven’t heard:


    “10 countries McCain wanted to destroy”:

    (Jonas Alexis, Veterans Today; 8-27-2018)

    — [ ]


    “The Passing of an Israeli Shill and Rothschild Puppet”:
    (McCain was paid to act on the political stage, and he never ceased to be a puppet until his dying day. McCain’s masters will certainly miss him dearly.)”:

    (Jonas Alexis, Veterans Today; 8-25-2018)

    — [ ]


    “John McCain’s Family Ties to Jewish Organized Crime Syndicates in Arizona
    (His support for pro-Israel, anti-Russian American foreign policy was zealous, verging on fanatical. This explains part of that puzzle.)”:

    — [ ]


    “On the Death of McCain: Not an Epitaph”:

    (VT Senior Editors, Galima Galiullina; September 1, 2018)

    — [ ]

  3. Jonah Raskin September 2, 2018

    David Foster Wallace wants readers to empathize with McCain. Over and over again he asks readers to “imagine” McCain’s plight, McCain’s ordeal, McCain’s hell, McCain’s wounds and scars. Not once does he invite or ask readers to “imagine” the Vietnamese who lived under the bombs from U.S. planes. Not once does he ask readers to imagine the millions of Vietnamese who died in the war. Not once does he invite readers to imagine the plight of Vietnamese who were tortured by U.S. troops. Not once does he ask readers to imagine the hell of the Vietnamese who suffered because of Napalm. Not once does he ask readers to imagine the environmental destruction caused by the U.S. military. Not once does he urge readers to imagine what might have been if McCain never got into a U.S. plane and never chose to bomb Vietnam. Wallace does not seem to have an imagination at all. Too bad. Give that man an imagination, please. And ask him to empathize with the millions of humans who died in South East Asia for decades because of French, Japanese and U.S. military intervention and genocide.

    • Pat Kittle September 2, 2018


      Your imagination (predictably) comes up a bit short too.

      Imagine if McCain was never an avaricious shabbos goy for Israel lobby war criminals.

      (See my previous comment if you choose to play dumb.)

  4. Walter September 4, 2018

    McCain collaborated with his captors…listen to the man confess his crimes (some of them)

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