Today, John Sidney McCain III has died. The Republican Senator from Arizona held office for thirty one years before succumbing to glioblastoma, a rare and extremely aggressive form of brain cancer. He leaves behind a legacy of bloodshed, bigotry, and ruination which overshadows any sympathy he may have otherwise received.
Military Career and Capture
Son of the eventual Commander-in-Chief of all US Pacific forces, McCain enrolled in the US Naval Academy in 1954. As he would later recall, his parents neither pushed him into nor discouraged him from military service. “I remember simply recognizing my eventual enrollment at the Academy as an immutable fact of life, and accepting it without comment.” Despite scoring high on the entrance exam, McCain skated by, “barely passing,” and graduated ranking 894th out of a class of 899.
Overall, McCain’s military career is remarkable only due to bad luck. Stories of his bravery and perseverance as a prisoner-of-war ignore the mediocrity which preceded it. As a junior officer, he earned a reputation as serious partier and a sub-par pilot. As biographer Robert Timberg would write: “His performance was below par, at best good enough to get by. He liked flying, but didn’t love it. … McCain was an adequate pilot, but he had no patience for studying dry aviation manuals.”
McCain spent most of his time drinking, womanizing, and generally dicking around. As the son of an admiral, he faced few, if any, consequences for his actions. Records show the young hot shot displayed a reckless disregard for his own safety and the safety of others. He nearly died in 1958 while stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas after stalling out his engine. A mistake he’d make yet again in 1965 while flying over Norfolk, Virginia in a solo trainer. In 1961, while stationed in the Mediterranean, he collided with power lines, causing widespread black outs across southern Spain. This wouldn’t have happened at all if he wasn’t flying so dangerously low.
His first serious brush with death, however, came during the deadly 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal which claimed the lives of 134 people. In his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers, McCain claims that the accidentally launched missile which started it all struck him and his plane directly, though this has been contested. Unverified and largely politically motivated accounts claim McCain started the fire himself after a prank of his went awry. These are, of course, unverified and largely politically motivated. Official records shed very little light on the subject.
He first saw action during Operation Rolling Thunder. The sustained aerial bombardment, meant to crush the morale of the Vietnamese people, was ultimately a dismal failure. Though it did succeed in killing over 2 million Vietnamese, most of them civilians, and at least fourteen pilots from the DPR of Korea.
It was during Operation Rolling Thunder that McCain was thankfully shot down over “the heart of Hanoi.” Hanoi, of course, is the sprawling urban capital of Vietnam, a bustling city filled, then and now, mostly with civilians. McCain had just finished raining death upon thousands of horrified noncombatants when “a Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up … and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber.”
McCain described his descent and capture in detail in an interview with US News.
[The plane] went into an inverted, almost straight-down spin.
I pulled the ejection handle, and was knocked unconscious by the force of the ejection. … I didn’t realize it at the moment, but I had broken my right leg around the knee, my right arm in three places, and my left arm. I regained consciousness just before I landed by parachute in a lake right in the corner of Hanoi.
I hit the water and sank to the bottom. I think the lake is about fifteen feet deep, maybe twenty. 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 and immediately started stripping me, which is their standard procedure. Of course, this being in the center of town, a huge crowd of people gathered, and they were all hollering and screaming and cursing and spitting and kicking at me.
About this time, a guy came up and started yelling at the crowd to leave me alone. A woman came over and propped me up and held a cup of tea to my lips, and some photographers took some pictures. This quieted the crowd down quite a bit. Pretty soon, they put me on a stretcher, lifted it onto a truck, and took me to Hanoi’s main prison.
He was sent to the nearest prisoner-of-war camp, Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Lapsing in and out of consciousness, he spent the next few days being interrogated by a man he referred to as “The Bug.” Mark Salter, a top aide to the Senator and co-author on many of McCain’s books, told the Phoenix New Times that McCain admitted “Other guys had it a lot worse. I think they took it easier on me because of who my dad was.”
McCain met frequently with the commandant of Hoa Lo Prison, Colonel Tran Trong Duyet, even giving him the occasional English lesson. Colonel Pham Van Hoa, then in charge of filming US prisoners, described McCain as acting “superior to other prisoners. … Superior in attitude towards them.”
Sitting in a fairly large cell, unable to eat without assistance, McCain recalled “Being a little naive at the time.” The capture of the son of the Commander-in-Chief of all US Pacific Force was a major propaganda victory for the North. He had not considered this when he agreed to be filmed by the French reporter Francois Chalais.
After I had been there about 10 days, a gook … came in one morning. This man spoke English very well. He asked me how I was, and said, “We have a Frenchman who is here in Hanoi visiting, and would like to take a message back to your family.”
I didn’t know at the time that my name had been released in a rather big propaganda splash by the North Vietnamese, and that they were very happy to have captured me. They told a number of my friends when I was captured, “We have the crown prince.”
Following the interview, he was visited numerous times by Vietnamese officials, including General Vo Nguyen Giap. Often, people came simply to speak to him personally, this admiral’s son. He was later moved to a smaller camp within Hoa Lo known as “The Plantation” and from here was moved periodically to different cells, both with other prisoners and in solitary confinement.
He would look back on his days here as deeply transformative. Both his patriotism and his faith in God were renewed and elevated. His allegiances, he would later write, were his the greatest comforts and strengths.
In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but … It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.
“He was a real hawk,” says Colonel Duyet, noting that “He never gave up on his support for America’s bombing of Vietnam.” Moreover, he was determined not to aid the communists in any way. When offered early release, he eventually declined. “The North Vietnamese were always putting this “class” business on us. They could have said to the others “Look, you poor devils, the son of the man who is running the war has gone home and left you here. No one cares about you ordinary fellows.” I was determined at all times to prevent any exploitation of my father and my family.”
He would eventually be released in 1973. Then thirty six years old, he had spent nearly five and a half years in Hoa Lo before boarding a plane for the Philippines and, finally, Florida.
His years in prison, however, had little effect on his temper or his appetite for debauchery. Once home, he returned to a life of drinking and partying. His wife, Carol McCain, had been in a tragic accident four years earlier which left her struggling to walk and completely unable to keep up with her husband. McCain paid this no mind, instead turning to pretty much every woman who wasn’t his wife. Of their divorce, Carol would later be quoted as saying “My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be forty, he wanted to be twenty five.” Though she feels “no bitterness” towards him, acquaintances have been less forgiving, describing him as a “self-centered womanizer who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to play the field.”
Even the woman he eventually left her for, Cindy McCain, was treated with equal callousness. She faced the brunt of his notorious temper.
At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt!
Worse still, some have accused McCain of only marrying the beer heiress for the money. McCain made very little as an officer and, despite war hero status, lacked the aptitude to ever become an admiral like his father and grandfather. His father-in-law, on the other hand, Jim Hensley, was one of the richest men in Arizona.
Hensley, a mafia connected businessman, implicated in the murder of Don Bolles, a reporter with The Arizona Republic looking into said connections, set up his new son-in-law as Vice President of Public Relations for Hensley & Co., a gig which gave him the connections needed to secure his first Congressional election in 1982.
Political Career and War Crimes
The first real step of his political career was being named the Navy liaison to the Senate. Building off of his celebrity as a former prisoner-of-war, he was thrust onto Capitol Hill in 1977 to lobby on the behalf of the Navy to some of the most powerful politicians in the country.
It was then that he set his sights on Congress. Once he was hired by Hensley & Co., he made connections with the extremely influential Arizona bourgeoisie. He would replace longtime Republican Senator John Jacob Rhodes in the hotly contested 1982 election. Some of his connections, however, would come back to haunt him.
Charles Keating Jr., a rabid conservative and mobbed up real estate mogul, nearly cost McCain his career in 1987 when the Keating Five scandal revealed that he and four other senators lobbied by Keating used their influence to keep him from being audited. McCain was able to sweep the scandal under the rug, though Keating would not be as lucky. Once the stymied investigation was able to commence, he ended up being convicted for fraud and serving five years in a federal penitentiary.
McCain would create controversy again when in 1983 he voted against establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day and then backed Arizona Governor Evan Mecham in refusing to observe the holiday in 1987. He voted four times against the Civil Rights Act of 1990 which sought to ban racial discrimination in employment. He’s also toed the “heritage not hate” line in regards to the Confederate flag.
He’s worked tirelessly to overturn Roe v. Wade, supporting a “Human Life Amendment” which would extend the Fourteenth Amendment to include fertilized eggs, thus making abortion legally murder in all fifty states. The Amendment also calls for a global gag rule, rejects the ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and calls for increased funding for abstinence-only education. He’s also opposed several equal pay bills which make it easier for women to sue for workplace discrimination.
He has firmly and unflinchingly opposed same sex marriage, as well as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill which would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, citing some nonsensical fear of “reverse discrimination.” He did, however, support the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ policy right until the bitter end, both of the policy and of his life.
But what was most egregious was his hawkishness. One would imagine a former prisoner-of-war wouldn’t be so eager to send young people to the meat grinder that is unwinnable and unending imperialist war. This was never the case with him.
It goes without saying that McCain, a neoconservative à la W. Bush, supported entering and then escalating the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. What deserves mentioning is that, just in 2017, he unveiled his own personal plan to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan and surrounding areas significantly. His biggest criticism of Trump administration is merely that it isn’t bloodthirsty enough.
Where Bush was unable to go after Assad, McCain’s had a target on his back for years. Him and fellow war criminal Lindsey Graham have been some of the most vocal supporters of military intervention in Syria. McCain specifically supports the Free Syrian Army, a group of “moderate” rebels which have something of a love-hate relationship with ISIS, fighting them here and there while supplying them with a steady stream of weapons and food, all courtesy of good old Uncle Sam. McCain very clearly wanted to make Syria the next Libya, another nation whose destruction he vehemently supported before quietly forgetting about the whole thing once the open slave markets became known.
Gaddafi on his way out, Bashar al Assad is next.
Though he “prays there will never be a war with Iran,” he causally jokes about bombing the place. His hawkishness there even earned the ire of the CATO Institute which has pretty consistently come out in support of imperialist war.
In solidarity with his Nazi brethren and in line with his Russophobia, the outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin has called numerous times for drastic measures to be taken concerning Russia. McCain foamed at the mouth trying to get the US and NATO involved in Russia’s war in Georgia and, following that failure, has continually hoped to ignite conflict with Russia, calling the alleged 2016 election interference an “act of war.” He also made vague threats towards China, remarking that “the Arab Spring is coming to China.”
And, of course, who can forget the time he called for Trump to nuke the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a country he’s been gunning for since September 12, 2001?
McCain’s final days were spent battling both with cancer and with President Trump. The “maverick” Republican, when he wasn’t voting exactly along party lines, butted heads with the President in late 2017 when he came out against Trump’s plan (or rather his lack thereof) to replace Obamacare, saving the Affordable Care Act at the eleventh hour. Upon returning to do so, the news of his cancer already known, he was given a standing ovation by his colleagues.
In December of 2017, he left Washington for the last time to be treated in his home state of Arizona. Thankfully for McCain, the Senator with his multi-millionaire wife was able to afford the best care available. This is not something most other Arizonians can say. Arizona has some of the worst healthcare access in the country. Worse yet, the state has seen insurance premiums skyrocket in recent years. For the average worker, the diagnosis of such a rare and aggressive form of cancer would’ve brought about only a quick but painful death and financial ruin. Instead, this ghoul got an extra year of life to advocate bombing brown people.
Yesterday, with death on horizon, the McCain family announced that they would be ceasing treatment. Less than twelve hours later, on August 25, 2018, McCain had died.
I think I can speak for all empathetic and freedom-loving people when I say my sympathy is with the victims of McCain’s imperialist blood lust.