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The death of John McCain came as a surprise to no one. He succumbed to terminal illness, a fate that no one deserves. What should come as a surprise is the Democrats’ response to his death: They’ve chosen to wallpaper over the man’s ghastly record. McCain may deserve to be liked on a personal level, but he was no national hero.
McCain’s hero status largely comes from his time during the Vietnam War. The American cultural memory of this war was romanticized by the movie portrayals of it. We remember a war that was psychologically harmful for those we sent, ignoring the toll it took on the Vietnamese. When the Democrats and media praise McCain for his service and time as a prisoner of war (POW), they fail to question why he was there and what he was doing. He was the son of a Navy admiral, and he attended the prestigious naval academy. Upon graduating, he volunteered to go to flight school.
Before the war broke out, McCain the pilot requested a combat assignment: He wanted to drop bombs on Vietnam. During that time, McCain participated in Operation Rolling Thunder, an operation that dropped more ordnance on Vietnam than the U.S. dropped on both Germany and Japan during all of World War II. Civilian deaths from the bombing campaign are estimated at 182,000. Bombings in Vietnam also saw the widespread use of Agent Orange, a chemical used to destroy vegetation. The weapon caused lasting damage to the land and to people’s physical health. Up to 3 million people suffered illness as a direct result of the U.S. military’s use of it.
McCain directly participated in the mass murder of Vietnamese civilians, but he didn’t think the U.S. went far enough. In fact, he wrote, “In all candor, we thought our civilian commanders were complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war.”
If that amount of indiscriminate killing didn’t win, nothing would have. Anyone who advocated for more should never be called heroic.
The focus of the hero narrative surrounding the deceased senator centers on his time as a POW. It’s true that his decision to deny special treatment was commendable. For the rest of his life he advocated against torture; this is also deserving of praise. However, he was, for the entirety of his life, a warmonger. He advocated for the bombing of the Serbians in 1999 and the war in Afghanistan. McCain called for boots on the ground in Iraq in 2003, stating that the country presented a “clear and present danger.” He also supported a troop surge in that country in 2007. When the Arab Spring started, he called for military intervention in Libya and repeatedly criticized Obama for not intervening in Syria and Ukraine.
The senator’s aversion to torture comes only from his personal experience of being tortured. He consistently called for war and bombings that killed civilians on a massive scale and had no problem with it. McCain said that the CIA’s use of torture “stained the national honor.” It’s far less of a stain than the innocent blood shed by the American war machine. He was unapologetic on that front and carried a hatred for the North Vietnamese with him. During the 2000 presidential election, while discussing Vietnam, he said, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”
Throughout his life, McCain was complicit in the taking of innocent lives. Every time the Democrats or the media refer to him as a hero, their suffering is disrespected. When the American Left embraced him, they showed their severe lack of conviction. They continue trying to be seen as centrist enough to win over voters from the Republican base — a strategy that is shameful and has repeatedly failed. Until the Left starts holding people accountable, they will not inspire voters to show up to the polls. We cannot continue the practice of making American heroes out of war criminals.
John C. Duque is a senior theology major from Louisville, Ky. He is a guest writer for the Newswire and co-founder of Xavier Socialists.