John McCain: prisoner of war and non-conformist of the senate who gave himself a place in the story of America & # 39;

The American senator John McCain, the son and grandson of four-star admirals, was bred for the fight. He endured more than five years of imprisonment and torture by the North Vietnamese as a young naval officer and went into battle with enemies left and right in Washington, driven by a code of honor that both described and haunted him.

Sen. McCain, 81, died on August 25 at his ranch near Sedona, Arizona, his office announced in a statement. The senator was diagnosed with a brain tumor last July and his family announced this week that he stopped the medical treatment.

During three decades of Arizona's representation in the Senate, he ran twice unsuccessfully to president. He lost a bitter primary campaign against George W Bush and the Republican establishment in 2000. He then came back to win the nomination in 2008, but was defeated in the general election by Barack Obama, a charismatic Illinois Democrat who was less than one had served as a senator.

A man who seemed sincere himself when he was furious, Sen. McCain enjoyed to go against orthodoxy. The word "misfit" became practically a part of his name.

Sen McCain regularly struck the canons of his party. He ran against the GOP grain by advocating reform of campaign funding, liberalized immigration laws and a ban on the use of "improved interrogation techniques" by the CIA – widespread as torture – against terrorist suspects.

To win his most recent re-election fight in 2016, for a sixth term, he positioned himself as a more conventional Republican, which troubled many in his political fanbase. But in the era of President Donald Trump he became an outlier again.

The agreement between the two was decided shortly after Mr. Trump became presidential candidate and Sen McCain remarked that the famous real estate magnate & # 39; had frightened the crazies & # 39 ;. During a demonstration in July 2015, Mr. Trump – who avoided the draft of Vietnam with five postponements – spoke contemptuously of Sen McCain's military bona fide: "He was a war hero because he was captured, I love people who are not committed." # 39;

When Mr. Trump was working, Sen McCain was one of his most vocal republican critics and said the president had weakened the United States' position in the world. He also warned that the dissemination investigation on Mr Trump's ties with Russia "reached the point that it is of Watergate size and scale".

Sen. McCain's most dramatic break with Mr. Trump came nine days after the Arizona Senator announced on July 19, 2017 that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He returned to the Senate chamber, an incision of surgery still fresh above his left eye, and beat a GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Sen. McCain's no-vote, along with those of two other Republicans, sent his party's distinctive legislative purpose to oblivion.

In both of his own presidential races, Sen McCain had called his campaign bus the "Straight Talk Express." To the delight of reporters who traveled with him in 2000, he was accessible and unfiltered, a scrappy underdog who loved to disrupt the republican order.

"He was always ready for the next experience, the next fight, not only ready, but impatient," said his assistant Mark Salter, who, along with the senator, wrote more than half a dozen books, including three memoirs, the final of which is a provocative criticism. to Mr. Trump. "He enjoyed fighting, not winning or losing, as long as he believed he was fighting for a good cause."

So broad and party-bending was his appeal that Senate Democrats in 2001 quietly tried to persuade him to become one of them. In 2004, the Democratic President-President John Kerry, a Senate Colleague who later became the Secretary of State for Obama, considered putting Sen McCain second on his ticket.

Sen McCain's presidential campaign in 2008 turned out to be a much more conventional operation than his first offer at the White House. He kept his speaking points and came up with the status quo he had once promised to drop.

One move, however, would be considered a reckless political contest. Sen. McCain, as his vice-presidential running mate, chose the little-known, barely twisted governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Her well-received convention speech initially gave the weak Republican nominee a lift, and her independent streak strengthened the message and reputation of Sen. McCain. Looking back on the decision in 2012, Sen McCain said he was looking for "a way to stimulate and stimulate our campaign".

But the performance of Palin in interviews and on the stump raised doubts as to whether she was prepared to stand in line for the presidency the next day and on polling day polls indicated she had become a victim of his candidacy.

When he behaved like an ordinary politician, cut off principles in the cause of ambition and purpose, it was all the more shocking because of the standard he had set. In the years that followed, the question was often asked: what is the real John McCain?

He represented the end of an era in which the nation considers the military experience in wartime as practically mandatory for those who aspire to a high function. "McCain was part of the tradition of being able to say:" I've done public service when I was young, "said historian Douglas Brinkley.

John McCain stops supporter by saying that Obama & # 39; an Arab & # 39; is

Sen. McCain, who stood up to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was one of the most aggressive leaders of the republicans in the field of military affairs and foreign affairs.

It was a mindset that came partly from his conviction that the Vietnam War, in which he had suffered heavily, was a noble and profitable undertaking. The real failure, he believed, was that of a weak political class.

During the war in Iraq, often compared to Vietnam, Sen McCain was an early and ardent supporter of a "strong increase" of troops in 2007. President Bush eventually adopted that strategy and it was generally credited to the stabilization of Iraq, albeit temporarily.

Sen. McCain was also a persistent critic of Obama's foreign policy.

"The demand for our leadership in the world has never been so great, people do not want America less – they want more," Sen McCain said in 2012. "Everywhere I go in the world, people tell me they're still have confidence in America, what they want to know is whether we still have confidence in ourselves. "


John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone and became a family whose military origins consisted of an ancestor who served as an adjutant to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War.

He was named after the first father and son in the history of the navy to complete admirals: John S "Slew" McCain Sr, a top commander of the Pacific theater in World War II, and John S McCain Jr, commander for all forces in the Pacific Ocean during the Vietnam War.

The middle of three children, Sen McCain, showed his famous warm mood early: as a toddler he held his breath until he darkened. His tantrums were so severe that a naval doctor advised his father and mother, the former Roberta Wright, to dress him, completely dressed, in a bathtub with ice-cold water at the first sign of an eruption.

After transient early years spent mostly at military bases, in 1954 he graduated from a Virginia boarding school, Episcopal High School in Alexandria. Following the path of his father and grandfather, and his parents' often-anticipated expectations, Sen. McCain signed up at the US Naval Academy, which he later called as "a place where I belonged but feared for & # 39; 39 ;.

In Annapolis he revolted against the hazing and the rules and picked up so many mistakes that he ran the risk of deporting him. (Ook dat was iets van een familietraditie.) Zoals Sen McCain vaak opschepte later in zijn leven, studeerde hij af als vijfde van de laatste klas van de 899-er van 1958.

Vandaar ging hij naar Pensacola, Florida, om te worden opgeleid als marinepiloot en het rumoerige bestaan ​​van zijn dagen op de academie voort te zetten.

Een vriendin in die tijd was een stripper die de professionele naam Marie, de vlam van Florida, gebruikte. Sen McCain herinnerde zich dat hij haar als date had genomen voor een groep jonge officieren en hun eigenaardige vrouwen. Marie raakte verveeld, haalde een switchblade uit haar tas, deed hem open en veegde haar nagels schoon.

Hij deed een stint als vlieginstructeur in Meridian, Mississippi, bij McCain Field, vernoemd naar zijn grootvader. Het was daar, herinnerde Sen McCain zich, dat hij volwassen werd en zich erop toelegde onderscheid te maken als piloot.

"Als een jongen en een jonge man, heb ik misschien gedaan alsof ik niet beïnvloed werd door de familiegeschiedenis, maar mijn onverschilligheid was een transparant masker voor degenen die me goed kenden," schreef de senator in een memoires uit 1999 over zijn vroege leven, " Faith of My Fathers ", co-auteur van Mr Salter. "Zoals het was voor mijn voorouders, de geschiedenis van mijn familie was mijn trots."

Sen McCain raakte ook betrokken bij een serieuze romance, met Carol Shepp uit Philadelphia, die hij kende sinds zijn dagen aan de academie. Ze trouwen in juli 1965 en hij adopteert al snel haar twee zonen uit een vorig huwelijk, Douglas en Andrew. Het echtpaar kreeg later een dochter, Sidney.

Sen McCain verzocht en kreeg orders om een ​​Vietnam-gevechtstour te doen, door lid te worden van een squadron op de supercarrier Forrestal in de Golf van Tonkin. Op 29 juli 1967, na vijf saaie bombardementen over Noord-Vietnam te hebben gevlogen, bereidde hij zich voor op het opstijgen toen een raket die per ongeluk werd afgevuurd door een nabijgelegen jager de benzinetank van zijn A-4 Skyhawk trof, schreef Sen McCain in zijn memoires. Het veroorzaakte explosies en een brand waarbij 134 bemanningsleden werden gedood, meer dan 20 vliegtuigen werden vernietigd en het schip zo ernstig werd uitgeschakeld dat het twee jaar duurde om het te repareren.

Zijn eigen verwondingen waren relatief – en wonderbaarlijk – minder belangrijk, Sen McCain, toen een luitenant-commandant, bood zich aan voor een gevaarlijke taak op de onderbemande luchtvaartmaatschappij Oriskany. Hij sloot zich aan bij een eskader dat de bijnaam kreeg van de heiligen die bekend stonden om zijn durf; dat jaar zou een derde van zijn piloten worden gedood of gevangen genomen.


Op 26 oktober 1967 was Sen McCain op zijn 23e missie en zijn eerste aanval op de vijandelijke hoofdstad, Hanoi. Hij dook zijn A-4 op een thermische krachtcentrale in de buurt van een meer in het centrum van de stad.

Terwijl hij zijn bommen op het doelwit losliet, blies een raket uit Rusland, zo groot als een telefoonmast, van zijn rechtervleugel. De luitenant-commandant trok aan de handgreep van zijn uitwerpsteel en werd bewusteloos geslagen door de kracht terwijl hij uit het vliegtuig werd geslingerd. Hij kwam naar toen hij het meer raakte, waar een groep Vietnamezen zich had verzameld.

With both arms and his right knee broken, he was dragged from the lake, beaten with a rifle butt and stabbed in the foot with a bayonet. Then Sen McCain was taken to the French-built prison that American POWs had dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton”.

So began five-and-a-half years of torture and imprisonment, nearly half of it spent in solitary confinement. During that time, his only means of communicating with other prisoners was by tapping out the alphabet through the walls.

At first, his family was told that he was probably dead. The front page of The New York Times carried a headline: Adm McCain’s Son, Forrestal Survivor, Is Missing in Raid.

The North Vietnamese, however, perceived that there was propaganda value in the prisoner. They called him the “crown prince” and assigned a cellmate to nurse him back to health. As brutal as his treatment was, Sen McCain later said, prisoners who lacked his celebrity endured worse.

Shortly before his father assumed command of the war in the Pacific in 1968, Sen McCain was offered early release. He refused because it would have been a violation of the Navy code of conduct, which prohibited him from accepting freedom before those who had been held longer.

“I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral’s son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America’s class-conscious society,” Sen McCain recalled. “I knew that my release would add to the suffering of men who were already straining to keep faith with their country.”

His lowest point came after extensive beatings that broke his left arm again and cracked his ribs. Ultimately, he agreed to sign a vague, stilted confession that said he had committed what his captors called “black crimes.”

“I still wince when I recall wondering if my father had heard of my disgrace,” Sen McCain wrote. “The Vietnamese had broken the prisoner they called the ‘Crown Prince,’ and I knew they had done it to hurt the man they believed to be a king.”

In March 1973, nearly two months after the Paris peace accords were signed, Sen McCain and the other prisoners were released in four increments, in the order in which they had been captured. He was 36 years old and emaciated.

The effects of his injuries lingered for the rest of his life: Sen McCain was unable to lift his arms enough to comb his own prematurely gray hair, could only shrug off his suit jacket and walked with a stiff-legged gait.


Sen McCain had hoped to remain in the Navy, but it became clear that his disabilities would limit his prospects for advancement.

In the meantime, he found himself drawn towards the civilian world of politics – and it towards him. Hobbling on crutches in his dress-white service uniform, he shook president Richard M Nixon’s hand. Sen McCain also struck up a friendship with then-California Gov Ronald Reagan, who invited the former POW to speak at an annual prayer breakfast in Sacramento.

He developed a network of political contacts while working in the Navy’s legislative affairs operation in the late 1970s. His office on the first floor of the Russell Senate Office Building was a popular late-afternoon socializing spot for younger senators and their staffs.

Sen McCain’s marriage, meanwhile, frayed and fell apart. That was not an unusual story among returning Vietnam POWs, and in his case, the dissolution was aggravated by his infidelities.

While he and his wife were separated, Sen McCain visited Hawaii, where he met Cindy Hensley, the daughter of a wealthy Arizona beer distributor. A few months after his divorce became final in 1980, he married Ms Hensley. Then-Se. William Cohen, R-Maine, later to be a defence secretary, was his best man, and then-Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., a future presidential contender, was an usher.

The couple had three children: Meghan McCain, who became a media personality and blogger, and sons Jimmy McCain and Jack McCain, both of whom served in the military. They also adopted a daughter, Bridget McCain, whom Cindy had met while visiting an orphanage in Bangladesh.

Besides his mother, his wife and seven children, survivors include a brother, Joseph McCain of Washington; a sister, Jean McCain Morgan of Annapolis, Maryland; and five grandchildren.

Sen McCain retired from the Navy at the rank of captain and moved to Arizona in 1981, with an eye towards running for Congress. The opportunity presented itself the following January when a longtime Republican congressman, John Rhodes, announced his retirement. That same day, the McCains bought a house in Rhodes’s Phoenix district, and John McCain was soon in a race against three other candidates.

He was called an opportunist and a carpetbagger – accusations he dispatched with a single answer at a candidate forum.

“I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and spending my entire life in a nice place like the 1st District of Arizona, but I was doing other things,” he replied to one critic. “As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

He won the primary by six points and breezed through the general election. Four years later, in 1986, he was elected in a landslide to the Senate, replacing the retiring Barry Goldwater, one of the most influential conservative politicians of the 20th century.

John McCain was a Capitol Hill celebrity from the moment he was elected to the House.

In many areas, he was a reliably conservative voice and vote. But from the beginning, he showed what became a trademark streak of independence. He called for the withdrawal of Marines from Lebanon in 1983 after a terrorist bombing left 241 US service members dead; he voted to override President Reagan’s veto of sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa in 1986.

And – surprisingly to many – as a member of the Senate, he worked to normalize relations with Vietnam.

Sen McCain crusaded against pork-barrel spending, the practice by which lawmakers direct taxpayer money to projects in their districts. He was also the only Republican to vote against the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a deregulation measure he said had been “written by every [special] interest in the world except the consumers.”

Acclaimed by the media, he was not popular in the Senate. Many of his colleagues were put off by his certitude.

“John puts things in terms of black and white, right and wrong,” then-Sen Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., told The Washington Post in 2000. “If you disagree with him, you’re wrong. He doesn’t see that there could be legitimate differences of opinion that deserve respect.”

One of the greatest setbacks for Sen. McCain, who had styled himself an idealist and a reformer, came in 1989, when his name became associated with a scandal. He and four other senators – all Democrats – were accused of trying to pressure federal bank regulators to back off an investigation of Charles Keating Jr, a high-living Arizona businessman whose savings and loan collapsed and cost taxpayers more than $3bn (£2.3bn).

Over the years, Keating had contributed heavily to Sen. McCain’s House and Senate campaigns. The senator’s family had taken at least nine trips, at Keating’s expense, to the Bahamas, where Keating had a luxurious vacation estate.

Sen McCain and the four Democrats – Alan Cranston of California, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, John Glenn of Ohio and Donald Riegle Jr. of Michigan, all of whom had also benefited from Keating’s largesse – became known as the “Keating Five”.

The Senate Ethics Committee finally determined that Sen McCain had not done anything more serious than showing “poor judgment” by attending two meetings with the regulators and the four other senators. It was the lightest reprimand the committee gave in connection with the scandal. The others were rebuked but were not charged with crimes.

Sen McCain felt that he bore a permanent taint. “It will be on my tombstone, something that will always be with me, something that will always be in my biography,” he said, “and deservedly so”.

The experience also lit the fire for what would become his signature issue and biggest legislative achievement: an overhaul of campaign finance laws. Sen. McCain teamed up with one of the Senate’s most liberal members, Russell Feingold, D-Wis., to author a measure that called for the most dramatic change to the system since the post-Watergate reforms of 1974.

It took them more than seven years to get the legislation through. The 2002 law’s main thrust was to ban unlimited, unregulated “soft money” donations to parties, which were used as a means of skirting the contribution limits to individual candidates.

In less than a decade, however, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision opened the money floodgate and led to the rise of super PACs, which can spend unlimited sums, as long as they do not coordinate directly with candidates. Sen McCain called it “the worst decision of the United States Supreme Court in the 21st century.”


When Sen McCain announced in September 1999 that he was running for the Republican nomination for president, it was yet another assault on the political establishment, which had put its chips on then-Texas Gov. Bush, the son of a former president.

“In truth, I had had the ambition for a long time. It had been a vague aspiration,” he later wrote. “It had been there, in the back of my mind, for years, as if it were simply a symptom of my natural restlessness. Life is forward motion for me.”

He ran as a truth-telling reformer, held a record-setting 114 town hall meetings in New Hampshire (while effectively ignoring the Iowa caucuses) and pulled off a stunning 18-point victory over Bush in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary. But his campaign ran aground in South Carolina in what came to be regarded as the nastiest primary in memory.

Sen. McCain was the target of rumours: that he had fathered a black child (twisting the facts about his dark-skinned adopted daughter); that his wife had a drug habit (she acknowledged having been addicted to painkillers and stealing them from a charity she ran); that his years as a POW had left him brainwashed and insane.

One of his regrets, he later said, was getting tangled up in South Carolina’s emotional debate over flying the Confederate flag at the capitol in Columbia. After describing the banner as “a symbol of racism and slavery,” Sen. McCain bowed to the pleas of his panicked strategists and issued a statement saying he could “understand both sides” of the question.

Later, he wrote that he regretted not having told the truth, which was that he believed “the flag should be lowered forever from the staff atop South Carolina’s capitol”.

“I had not been just dishonest. I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interests from my country’s. That was what made the lie unforgivable,” he recalled. “All my heroes, fictional and real, would have been ashamed of me.”

Bush handily defeated Sen McCain in South Carolina, beginning the end of the senator’s insurgent campaign. In April, a month after he dropped out of the 2000 race, Sen McCain returned to the state and publicly apologised for having chosen “to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.”

The bitterness of that campaign lingered for much of Bush’s presidency. Sen McCain was, for instance, one of only two Senate Republicans to vote against Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. He said they were fiscally irresponsible and benefited “the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief.”

But by the time he ran again in 2008, Sen. McCain had come to terms with Bush and the Republican Party, and they with him. He not only voted to extend the tax cuts in 2006, but also advocated making them permanent.

Whereas Sen McCain had lashed out at evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance” during his first presidential bid, he delivered the commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University in 2006. Falwell introduced him with lavish praise, saying, “The ilk of John McCain is very scarce, very small.”

The shift rightward caused a breach with a constituency that Sen. McCain had long counted as in his corner: the media.

“Are you going into crazy base world?” comedian Jon Stewart asked Sen McCain during an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” a few weeks before the speech at Liberty.

“I’m afraid so,” Sen McCain deadpanned.

His campaign all but collapsed in the summer of 2007, but Sen. McCain battled back and won the nomination.

Still, he was flying into head winds in the general election. The war in Iraq, which he had supported, was unpopular, as was the Republican incumbent in the White House. Palin’s erratic, unprepared performance became a story in itself.

Most important, he was up against a Democrat who seemed tailor-made for that moment in history: Obama was better financed, ran a better campaign, had opposed the Iraq War and offered the captivating prospect of putting an African American in the White House for the first time.

Nonetheless, the race looked as if it could be close until the final weeks, when the financial system went into a meltdown. Sen McCain, so sure of himself on national security issues, seemed less than savvy at handling economic ones. Even as the crash was building into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the senator declared that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

Returning to Congress, Sen McCain became a frequent antagonist of the man who had defeated him for president. He contended for instance that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea was a result of “a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”

When Sen McCain got the gavel of the Armed Services Committee in 2015, he told The Post that he was having more fun than at any time since his 2000 presidential campaign. That same year, he announced plans to run for a sixth term in the Senate.

Sen. McCain won handily, and in his victory speech to supporters, he predicted that campaign “might be the last”.

“Thank you one last time,” he added, “for making me the luckiest guy I know.”

In his final book, reflecting on his life as it came to an end, Sen McCain wrote: “It’s been quite a ride. Ik heb grote passies gekend, geweldige wonderen gezien, in een oorlog gevochten en vrede helpen sluiten. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.”

The Washington Post

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