I was flipping channels the other night and came across what appeared to be a biography of John McCain. My first thought was, "I don't need to see this. I already support the guy, and I know his story." I was more in the mood for some mindless entertainment after a long day.
I watched for a little, and then I couldn't stop watching. It turns out that I was watching the John McCain episode of "Headliners and Legends" on MSNBC. It should be required viewing for the entire country, as a civics lesson and as a profile in courage. I would say that even if he wasn't on the verge of becoming a major party's nominee for President of the United States.
Like most people, I knew that John McCain had endured brutal treatment as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. After so many years of hearing that recited as part of his biography, it became like an afterthought to me--a mere part of his resume, like Hillary Clinton's tenure as First Lady and Barack Obama's service as a community organizer.
It was quite compelling, then, to hear his story told in the way that it should be told, in all its horrifying, grotesque detail. How he was shot down and parachuted into a lake right in the middle of Hanoi, breaking both arms and a leg. How his nearly completely stripped body was dragged through the streets of Hanoi by an angry mob. How his painful injuries were exacerbated by beatings from that angry mob, including someone who smashed his shoulder with a rifle butt. How someone else in that mob lanced him with a bayonet. How he spent four extra years in captivity, including two years of solitary confinement and frequent torture, because he refused to allow himself to be used as a propaganda tool. How his body was so broken that it can never fully heal. How he came inches from death on a number of occasions, including twice by his own hand when things became unbearable. I couldn't begin to do his story justice by describing it here, without the footage, the photos and the emotional testimonials from those who lived through it with him or suffered helplessly at home praying for his return.
The show included interviews with some people I know. I have come to know Orson Swindle, McCain's fellow POW hero, because his wife, Angie Williams, worked for me. Orson, who slept on a concrete slab next to McCain in the Hanoi Hilton when the latter wasn't in solitary, told stories in his interview that brought McCain's heroism to life. It also reminded me of Orson's heroism.
I met John McCain's brother and fellow Navy veteran Joe McCain a couple of times at Orson and Angie's house. I don't know Joe McCain well, but he struck me as a very fun and jovial person. It packed quite an emotional punch, then, to see Joe McCain come to tears during his interview, even after so many years, when he described the pain of seeing his gravely injured brother in a propaganda video taken by his captors.
John McCain's heroism does not entitle him to be President. It does not mean that his views should not be vigorously challenged, on the merits, by those who strongly disagree with him in good faith. I believe that he has more than earned the right, however, to have people refrain from the character-impugning cheap shots that some have launched at him recently.
I've heard it said that John McCain betrays his own party because he craves the approval of the liberal media. Well, I'm no psychologist, but it seems to me that had John McCain been an approval addict, he would have made at least a half-hearted attempt to seek the approval of his sadistic captors during the war. He endured permanent bodily injury and years of extra captivity precisely because he did not seek their approval. And if John McCain was a betrayer, why did he choose to withstand unthinkable cruelty rather than betray his comrades and his country?
I would hate to put uncomfortable thoughts into the minds of McCain's critics, but isn't it at least conceivable to them that McCain takes the positions he takes not because of character flaws, but because he really believes in them? And hasn't the tremendous honor and character that he has demonstrated under unimaginably trying circumstances at least earned him the benefit of the doubt on that score?
I believe that some people may be launching unfair attacks on John McCain's character because they feel threatened by his moral credibility and want to tear it down. This is a free country, and subject only to our defamation laws, anyone has the right under the First Amendment to attack John McCain's character. While McCain's critics may have the legal authority to do so, I have yet to find one with the moral authority to do so.