“Hero” John McCain

John McCainYesdayday, Martha Jackovics of Beach Peanuts wrote, It’s Time To Stop Pretending John McCain Is A “Hero.” She is talking about his political career and how he once was a hero, but he isn’t anymore. It’s a good article. I have one minor complaint, however: I’m not so sure that John McCain was even a hero before he went into politics. Okay, let me explain.

John McCain did win a couple of medals during his service in Vietnam. He won the Bronze Star and the much less prestigious Navy Commendation Medal. But you have to put these things in context. His father was a Navy Admiral and even Commander of the United States Pacific Command. So somehow, I just don’t think medals came out of nowhere.

Now, we can call John McCain a hero because he was in the military at all. A lot of famous future Republicans managed to stay out of the war: George Bush Jr and Dick “I had other priorities” Cheney. But it is hard to take any Republican’s claim of being a hero, after the party allowed a clear war hero, John Kerry, to be dishonored publicly during the 2004 election. There was not a peep of complaint. And do you know why? Because Republicans care about political power more than care about anything else—certainly more than they care about honor.

So I don’t think much of John McCain. He was a privileged young man and he is a privileged old man now. He doesn’t stand for anything. And he never has. He’s a hero in the sense that every person who was ever in the military is a hero. But otherwise, not so much. Or at all.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on ““Hero” John McCain

  1. The word "hero" has become very indefinite. Is someone a hero when they endure danger or pain for the sake of others? For themselves? What about taking on responsibilities which might have a risk of incurring danger/pain? Where’s the cutoff point on that risk level? If an action contains a 20% chance of deadly danger or injury, is that heroic, and 19% not?

    To be contentious — everyone, ever, who served in the US military is now considered one of "America’s Heroes." Which is preposterous. And yet even the most anti-imperialist left-wing peacenik like myself will readily grant that someone running into fire to save a fellow soldier (or wounded enemy) committed an action worthy of being called "heroic" (I shudder at calling anyone a "hero.")

    But where do I draw the line? Many service veterans signed up thinking they were at risk for serious bodily harm (even though the vast majority are not.) That’s brave, surely. Many "heroes" who wouldn’t lift a finger to save an asshole do so for someone they care about. Sometimes assholes incapable of caring for others make grand, noble gestures for some abstract principle of "patriotism" or "faith" which they couldn’t bother to do for someone real in their lives who needed a much simpler demonstration of loyalty.

    I used to know a smokejumper (a forest-firefighter who parachutes out of planes.) He loved his work and loved being good at it. He found the reception he and his colleagues received in mountain forest bars as "heroes" to be stone ridiculous, but didn’t mind the sex that came with it.

    McCain was captured in action, and mistreated, and has had a pretty principled stance against the US use of torture ever since. I’d call that stance far more "heroic" than getting mistreated in Vietnam ever was — but that doesn’t lead me to call McCain a hero by any stretch, and I’d easily call him a coward on several other fronts.

    That’s the thing. There’s no such thing as a "hero." There are actions which are more selfless and actions which aren’t. Almost anyone is capable of each. Almost everyone has committed each. I’ve saved lives in a burning building. Yay, me. I did so because I was upstairs in a burning building where I couldn’t get down without jumping and I pounded on the locked downstairs door screaming at the passed-out landlords to wake the fuck up. If I hadn’t, they’d be dead now, the world would probably be a better place without them, and I’d have broken my leg jumping from the balcony. (As it was I vastly regretted spending money to fix damage I’d done to my rented room, as the fire gutted everything.)

    As far as words go, I’d replace "heroism" with "bravery." At least we can acknowledge bravery without necessarily admiring the motivations for it. Or, better yet, "courage" — but that is often more moral than physical, and moral courage is not something Americans admire. Perhaps because we are all, all of us, all the time, moral cowards far more often than not, and very few people like to think of themselves as less than capable of Awesome, if they only were at the helm of that jetliner landing in the Hudson.

  2. @JMF – I’m getting at something a little more specific in the article. Ever since 2004, I’ve thought that the Republicans have lost their rights to the word "hero." A conservative who I worked with at that time made a comment about Kerry’s Purple Hearts, "Yeah, what was he? Shot in the ass?" I don’t remember, but I think that was more or less one of them. But the comment was so disrespectful. I’m the first to criticize the military (and I’ve gotten flack from people who normally like me). But I won’t belittle what these people go through–especially those who were drafted.

    I’m not so convinced about McCain’s creds regarding torture. Most of that was just him (once again) getting back at Bush for all that "black baby" stuff in the 2000 election. I never see principle in McCain.

    Now for the more general issue! I don’t like the word "hero" either. People just are. A serial murderer could be the most heroic person in the world under the right circumstances. So what is he? Serial murderer or heroic life saver? There is nothing so good that it will make up for the worst you can do. And vice versa. But as a culture, we sure want to believe that.

    Look at Lance Armstrong: he was once a hero but now he just a cheater. To my mind, he is just a guy who did much the same thing as I would have in the situation. But most people don’t think that way. Most people think that under the same circumstances, they would behave better. It is a cultural thing and it is dangerous as hell. For one thing, it allows us to lock up criminals for unconscionable periods of time. And on the other end, it allows us to look the other way when "heroes" are not so secretly raping our children.

    I would probably go further than you have here. I don’t think we should hold the brave man above the coward, at least not on an individual level. As a society, we want to celebrate bravery. But I don’t think people’s actions at any given time are something to be proud of or ashamed of. We simply are, and there isn’t anything we can do about that.

    But it is always great when you save people from burning to death!

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