Thursday, September 18, 2008

What Bothers Me the Most

Graphic by The Dark Wraith

About John McCain's Story of His Capitivity

Finally hit me. I was reading a well written (as always) and brutally reasoned (as usual) essay by the Wraith using as his foundation an article written by McCain's cousin, in the St. Petersburg Times.

Like me, the the cousin and the Wraith were set to wondering:

What happened to John McCain?

All have their own theories. Instead, I was focused into something I've been trying to organize in my head and write for a while.

McCain's tale of being a POW is pervasive and a centerpiece to his self-proclaimed qualifications for the job of President. His behavior while a POW, under extreme and brutal circumstances is a story of endurance, stubborn resistence, patriotism, and just about every exemplary behavior in the range of human conduct.

That's that part that was bugging me though. It's too consistently good.

Three tours of Vietnam, and most of those tours spent in areas of pretty hot action. (LRRP's, Search and Rescue, Aerial bombardment spotting, and some pure ass sanctioned murders with a long rifle) One thing I've come to understand is that when the circumstances for me were extreme, my behaviors and conduct were also in the extremes.

Consistency was not something I saw much. A perfect example is the battle at Dong Ap Bai right at the beginning of Tet. I received the Silver Star for something I did there. Please though, do not judge my conduct, or my behavior, or my worth as a human being, or even my competence as a soldier, citizen or warrior by that decoration. The actions surrounding that award took about 15 minutes out of a three day fight. Yes, the events pretty much happened the way they were reported. I did run out and expose myself to some pretty heavy fire and bring a wounded officer to a place of shelter, I did, while still under fire, do my level best to treat his wounds. I did have to stop twice while rendering aid to devote my full attention to the fight that didn't call time out for me to do any of this. Oh, yeah, the officer in question was a good guy. He was also the son of a Marine Brigadier General. We had gone through BUDS together and we were a bit more than close. He was also a lousy but habitual poker player and I always liked that in an officer. There were acts of heroism and gallantry going on all over the place that day. Mine was noticed because of who else was involved. It really is that simple. If the guy I helped hadn't been who he was, I probably would have been another nameless grunt in another nameless action out in the boonies. Over the full course of that fight my conduct ranged to encompass just about every exteme of human behavior, from base to sublime, from noble to shameful. Fifteen or so minutes was singled out and after that it was the approved and accepted norm.

Oh, yeah, I was also pretty high on pot and dexamils the whole time.

To hear John McCain talk about his conduct as a POW you get this stable and consistent narrative of nobility that rings very false with me. When pressed he will admit to one time when he broke and delivered the signed confession that his captors were demanding. I'm not ever going to hold that against him. McCain, while a captive, possessed eyewitness knowledge to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which had he divulged would have been very damaging to American interests and the negotiations that eventually ended the war. He never gave up anything important, but then, that wasn't what his torturers wanted. They wanted their bullshit confession, and a badly beaten, terribly degraded and humiliated John McCain co-operated with them because he had been tortured to the absolute limits of his endurance.

If John McCain had told his story to sound something like "I was young, cocky and arrogant, (which are not unusual qualities in Naval Aviators or Admiral's kids) and I did the very best I could. I often failed in living up to my own standards and insignia, but, I did my level best every single day." That's something I would buy willingly. To suggest that his behavior under those unimaginably extreme circumstances was anything approaching consistent beggars my imagination.

I wasn't even able to predict my own behavior accurately from moment to moment. In combat, each moment is a discrete little universe, apart from all the other little moments. I had times of gallantry, but also of terror. Times of courage and times of fearful despair. Like I said before, there was a little of everything in that mix.

A few hours after the actions which were cited to give me my medal I was in a muddy trench berm trying to dig myself a little further down with my bare hands to get another fraction of an inch safer from the goddamned mortars and rockets that were flying in. Great. Big. Fucking. Hero. Right? I saw guys who had been incarnations of Hector, Achilles, and Ajax break up and down over silly shit like news from home. I saw guys that fell apart, and pulled themselves back together again. Just like I did over and over.

It might be that McCain's construction of memory around his captivity is cruicial to his psychological survival. It might be that remembering only the times when he was doing shit right is the only way he's able to get through the days.

If his experience is anything like mine, there are probably some things he remembers vividly that if you asked the folks to his right or his left were not perceived in the same way by other folks that were right there with him.

I will, with confidence, call Bullshit on the consistency. John McCain is all too human. Like the rest of us. I will forgive him his lapses and failures in that situation if he promises to forgive mine.

Thing is I don't want my President to be somebody who has, at the very core of their consciousness, a vested interest in keeping a fiction alive. We've had enough of that kind of crap over the last seven years.