I deeply regret my inability to join in the adulation being heaped on the late Senator from Arizona, John McCain, on the occasion of his demise. I have followed his life and career for much of my adult life and find too much in it that is repugnant to the values that his education at the United States Naval Academy and mine at the Military College of South Carolina should have taught us. His greatest and most admirable accomplishment appears to have been his conduct as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam during the ill-fated Vietnam War. As the son of the commander of United States forces in the Pacific during that conflict he was offered early release and favorable treatment which he appears to have refused and there can be no doubt of his injuries, those suffered when he was shot down and captured and those suffered during his confinement. That conduct is laudable in the highest terms, as is the similar conduct of the other men and women who were captured and held by the North Vietnamese during that conflict. It is laudable on the same basis as the conduct of prisoners of war in all conflicts deserves to be lauded, they who pay the price for their leaders all too often callous political decisions, payments usually made with the lives and bodies of other people’s children, husbands and fathers.
But that is the only thing I have found to laud. He was a poor midshipman at the Naval Academy, graduating at or near the bottom of his class despite having a father and grandfather who had risen to the rank of admiral, and there he was not, as I understand, above seeking special privileges. As a naval officer he seems to have been at best mediocre (see, e.g., “Investigating John McCain’s Tragedy at Sea”) and his claim to fame and war hero status are based on having been shot down during his twenty-third mission. In my mind his claim to infamy is stronger and that is based on his conduct with respect to his first wife, the former Carol Shepp. They’d been married for a little over two years when then lieutenant commander McCain was captured. The following information excerpted from Wikipedia are examples of true nobility:
During his captivity, she raised their children by herself in Orange Park, Florida, with the assistance of friends and neighbors in the Navy-oriented community. She sent frequent letters and packages to him and … became active in the POW/MIA movement while those around her wore bracelets with her husband’s name and capture date on them. While visiting family and friends in the Philadelphia area on Christmas Eve 1969, Carol McCain skidded and crashed into a telephone pole as she was navigating an icy, snowy, isolated portion of Pennsylvania Route 320 near Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania while driving alone. She was thrown from her car into the snow, going into shock [thinking] she would never be seen and would die there. Hours later she was found and taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital. She had two smashed legs, a broken pelvis, broken arm, and a ruptured spleen. She spent six months in the hospital and underwent 23 operations over the following two years in order to rebuild her legs with rods and pins as well as undergo extensive physical therapy. During this time her daughter stayed with her parents in Landsdowne while her sons stayed with friends in Florida.
She did not tell her husband about the accident in her letters, believing he already had enough to worry about. The U.S. State Department contacted her surgeon the next day with a warning; as the doctor later said: “ They told me [the person I had operated on] was Carol McCain, her husband is a prisoner of war in Hanoi, and her father-in-law [is] supreme commander of the Pacific Fleet. They said don’t give any info to anyone, because they were concerned that he would be subjected to more torture. ”
Businessman and POW advocate Ross Perot paid for Carol’s medical care and she remained grateful, later remarking: “The military families are in Ross’s heart and in his soul…There are millions of us who are extremely grateful to Ross Perot”. …. Carol was interviewed on CBS Evening News in 1970 and said Christmas had no meaning for her without her husband but that she carried on with it for their children.
Her reward for such exemplary conduct was that, upon his release and return, John McCain, perhaps due to the fact that Carol’s injuries had deprived her of the attributes that had once made her a beauty queen, found other feminine interests. He cheated, that which a midshipman is honor bound to neither do nor to tolerate in others, and eventually, he abandoned selfless Carol for his beautiful and very wealthy second wife, Cindy Lou Hensley, a Hensley & Co. heiress able to fund his political career.
As a politician he was very ambitious but rarely loyal. To me he always seemed bitter, a combination that to others, especially in the media, made him seem like a political rebel, something which if I’d perceived I’d have admired. I did not, I perceived selfishness and petulance instead, and all too often incoherence. While he fought against the torture of those we made prisoners of war (unsuccessfully), there seemed hardly any military action he did not advocate, especially against Muslims, and of late, he seemed all too eager to restart the Cold War regardless of how many lives, ours and of those he labeled our adversaries, it might cost. How many other prisoners of war and broken marriages it might create.
I am privileged to know many, many real military, naval and air force heroes, most were my classmates at the Citadel and at Eastern Military Academy, men whom I love and admire. Some of them also “served” as prisoners of war during the Vietnam “conflict. Today, I see veterans committing suicide in record numbers, I see too many homeless and forgotten with no Carols to care for them, they are my heroes as well. The enemy to me is not the adversary they faced on the field, too often men exactly like them, but the politicians, like John McCain, who place them in harm’s way for no real reason at all, no reason that helps the bulk of us, but rather, to maintain the wealth and privilege of those who oppress so many of us on a daily basis.
To me, the bipartisan outpouring of sorrow at Senator McCain’s passing says nothing positive. Rather, it saddens me to realize that as usual, Leo Durocher was right. Nice guys really seem to finish last.
So, for me, I do not grieve for Senator McCain’s passing.
There is no eulogy for him in this heart.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé and Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia; Manizales, 2018; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com. Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia is a Colombian social communicator and journalist who collaborates with Dr. Calvo on diverse civic, social and political projects.