Something even Barak Obama has been doing this primary season has been irritating the heck out of me, and I wonder if I’m the only one. For context, I should say that I’m of an age to have the dubious pleasure of already loathing a US president so intensely that I don’t have enough room in my loathing heart to loath W as I know he should be loathed. I could only be talking about Richard Milhous Nixon. You know, the ex-Quaker president from 1968-1974?
Georgie is a frat boy whom They let have a little war to distract him while They were busy ripping us all off blind. By comparison, Nixon was They. Sure, not the Real They (after all, he was originally a poor sniveler from Whittier, California). But whereas one catastrophe at a time is enough to keep W occupied, Dick Nixon could manage both the contemptuous attitude as well as the serious felonious activity all at the same time. And actually give enough people the impression that he was a statesman.
Sure Dick didn’t start the Vietnam war, but he lied through his teeth to get elected on a peace platform and then let it go on and on and on. All this in the face of years of well organized and vociferous opposition from a wider and wider spectrum of even the US World of Whitepeople. Nixon certainly didn’t flip the voters off in public like W (and his henchman and handler, the other Dick) routinely does, but I was not in the least surprised when I heard the tapes he made of his Oval Office ramblings, full of psychotic threats and compensating profanity. (Pretty funny in a macabre way to hear Henry the K egging him on in his hyper-intellectual Mittleuropa diction.)
Besides over a million Vietnamese, who mainly did nothing to deserve annihilation beyond living in Vietnam, a lot of guys got wasted out there in the jungle. Everyone knew that the Navy was one thing, firing the big guns from some miles offshore (though swiftboats like Kerry’s were extremely dangerous) but boots on the ground totally another. If you were a Marine or in the Army, you not infrequently got to go through some unimaginable hell. And there were flyers who chose to get as crazy as the river boat patrols, and fly choppers into battle zones to deliver troops or extract them and the wounded, guys so nuts that even the soldiers thought they were beyond it, despite their gratitude.
High above it all, there were the the B-52s. These guys had a truly remote-control war. Somewhat closer to the fire, Navy carrier-based pilots flew (after the early part of the war when A-1s were used) the A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft. These had a couple of 20mm cannons, and could mount 4 Sidewinders, an air-to-air heat-seeking missile, although an official Navy history lists only one air-to-air victory by an A-4 in the entire war.
What they mainly carried were ASMs (air-to-surface missiles) and bombs. Missiles included Shrikes (anti-radiation missiles that homed on antiaircraft radars); Mavericks (air-to-ground missiles for use in close support of ground troops) as well as the Bullpup and Walleye glide bombs that the Mavericks replaced; a variety of anti-personnel cluster bombs; and a massive number of Mk. 81 and 82 “dumb” bombs. The Skyhawk could carry up to almost 5 tons of bombs on five external hardpoints. They flew close enough support to be vulnerable to North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, which around places like Hanoi and Haiphong created reputedly the most heavily defended airspace in the world.
This is where John McCain got shot down in late October 1967. Thus began for him a truly harrowing captivity including two years of solitary and frequent torture, on top of extensive and untreated injuries from his downing and subsequent beatings. Refusing to be released in a propaganda ploy ahead of those in longer captivity, merely because his father was named commander of all US forces in Vietnam, shows his enormous self-control in the situation.
So when Barak honors McCain for this military service, to which service is he referring? The self-sacrificing captivity? Or the 23 bombing missions?
McCain’s calvary was a part of an infinitely larger catalog of horrors and inhumanity. Nothing about this diminishes his suffering or his manifestation of a perhaps unusual level of self-abnegation. Neither does retelling the story of this famous white man warrior’s captivity recall to us the hundreds of thousands of equally horrific maimings, burnings, killings, rapings, tortures, mass conflagrations, poisonings of land, air and water, starvations and unimaginably painful deaths from pestilence and random fire amongst Vietnamese and fellow US servicemen alike. A feast, an overload of death that McCain fully and enthusiastically participated in delivering.
This is the contradiction we’re all carefully avoiding this primary season. Barak (and Hillary, who in any case has carefully constructed her White Warrior persona since becoming a Senator and at the same time Presidential candidate-in-training) feels compelled to “honor” McCain’s “service”. Why? Why was he in Vietnam?