“the necessity to forgive.” McCain

7sca2ee16ccagh41qnca6zehudcalsnrb2c Mr. McCain’s 1974 thesis, though, also revealed a welter of other emotions about his years as a prisoner of war, including a deep anger at those he considered collaborators, a tough-minded disdain for public hand-wringing about captives like himself, and a sharp impatience with the American government for failing to “explain to its people, young and old, some basic facts of its foreign policy.” But at the same time, Mr. McCain also urged that any military survival training should include lessons in what he called “the necessity to forgive.”  NY Times


The Senior Service Colleges (War Colleges) are year long mid-career courses for the most promising officers.  Selection for attendance is by national board and the selection rates for officers are very, very low.   McCain as Lieutenant Commander was quite young to go to one of these as a student, but the Navy does things its own way.  There are some civilians from other parts of the government in each class.  They are there for "broadening" and to provide some successful civil servants for the officers to interact with in an educational environment.  Some of the officers have spent their careers to that point in regimental duties and know few civil servants.  Attendance at such a course is a major "gate" in a career and is as much therapy and a chance for familiy repair as a chance to do research.  A War College "thesis" is often as much a way to get things out "on the table" as anything else.  I would judge this one to be that.

He seems to be much the same man now.  There is a certain rigidity about him, and an inability to deal with new paradigms of thought that I find worrisome.  He seems locked into a paradigm made up of World War II, the Cold War and Vietnam.  This is a problem.  That paradigm is no longer supported by reality.

The Soviet Union is no more.  The takfiri jihadis are not the Soviet Union.  They do not have the capacity to destroy the United States. There is no Al-Qa’ida equivalent to the "Red SIOP."  Why is there not such a plan?  Simple.  They lack the weaponry and always will.  They are a regional threat in the Middle East.  They are losing both in terms of physical destruction of their assets and in their appeal to Sunni Muslims.  Muslims are not fools.  Al-Qa’ida’s cause has been demonstrated to be a very expensive adventure in medieval thinking. Iran is not Hitler’s Germany nor Mao’s China re-born.  Once again, Iran is a regional threat which should be dealt with through aggressive diplomacy and minimalist police and special operations.

McCain does not seem to be able to grasp the complexity of that set of ideas.  He often lapses into confusion over the basic facts of the situation regarding the Middle East and sometimes seems to resemble the intellectually isolated souls across the country who insisted during the primary season that Obama is a Muslim because for them he fits neatly into the category of "other" and therefore must be one of them "Ayrabs."  When told that Obama says he is a Christian, such people often replied with something such as, "Well, he’s a Muzlim (sic) to me."

“the necessity to forgive.”

Someone will tell us who it is that he wanted to forgive.  The collaborators?  Some of us are not particularly good at "forgiving."  pl


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24 Responses to “the necessity to forgive.” McCain

  1. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Never in a million years would I vote for McCain. Never.
    Here’s why: back in the 1990’s, by happenstance, I corresponded with an extremely well known Vietnam Vet. We became friends. I asked him about various people, simply to get his insights. For example, I asked him about Sam Nunn. This vet told me that Nunn would make a good prez.
    Then I asked him about McCain. My assumption was that he would favor McCain, as they both were Viet vets. Plus, McCain suffered horribly as a POW and no doubt was a war hero.
    But the exact opposite occurred. The vet did not mince words. He told me flat out that if McCain became prez then we’d probably see nuclear war. He was emphatic — sure enough no kidding around serious. McCain should never become prez under any circumstances.
    And he told me this a couple of years before 9-11.
    Make of it what you will. To play contrarian, I thought maybe this vet’s appraisal resulted from some type of service rivalry. But that is not the game he played. He called it like he saw it and was often very critical of the US Army. So my gut tells me otherwise.

  2. par4 says:

    I was unaware that someone so low in scholastic ranking could still keep getting promotions and advanced schooling. Is this common in all the services?

  3. arbogast says:

    There is only one phrase in The Lord’s Prayer that asks anything of the person who is praying:
    “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
    We are asked to forgive those who trespass against us. That’s it. The rest of The Lord’s Prayer asks for things from God.
    Any progress at all in the Middle East is going to be based on forgiveness.

  4. Patrick Lang says:

    He does not seem to be tuned in to that thought in re the ME. pl

  5. Patrick Lang says:

    The service academiies are undergraduate institutions. They are “gates” through which one obtains an officer’s commission. Once through that gate, the “game” of promotion as a “grown up” starts in earnest. One’s academic record at West Point, Annapolis, etc. has little to do with success or failure in that game other than a reputation for intellectuality. A reputation for having done well at calculus or organic chemistry is irrelevent to success as an officer.
    There have been studies that show that there is some small correlation between how good a student one was as a cadet or midshipman and how high people went as officers. It is a small correlation. An officer’s final rank is dependent on how well he did as an officer not on his report card as a college boy.
    Robert E. Lee was at the head of his class at USMA as was MacArthur. US Grant and George Patton were at the bottom of theirs. opl

  6. par4 says:

    Thanks Col.

  7. Mark Pyruz says:

    “Iran is a regional threat which should be dealt with through aggressive diplomacy and minimalist police and special operations.”–>PL
    Sir, exactly what do you have in mind for police and special operations?

  8. cletracsteve says:

    I am a boomer, and therefore do not really know much through observation much before Kennedy’s death. Johnson was a complicated man so I will start with Nixon. Nixon made his mark with the Alger Hiss trial. From transcripts of the tapes made during his reign, he seemed to relive the trial daily. He relived his political awakening throughout his presidency. Ford was an accidental president, and so I will skip him. Carter analyzed everything. Carter’s training was as an engineer. He could not get past analyzing. Reagan’s awakening was HUAC. His whole presidency was laced with HUAC language, HUAC fears, HUAC policy, HUAC simplicity. Bush senior was a diplomat or administration official with the role to explain and defend the prevailing presidential perspective. His presidency was perpetually doing the bidding of U.S. business. Clinton was a seducer with a quick charm when he was young. Much the same as a president. Bush Jr. grew up politically watching his father’s ‘great’ victory in Iraq and wanted to both relive that and out-do his father. If Gore had been elected, he would have brought the environmental awakening of his college days into his presidency, as it now is the thrust of his assumed ambassadorship.
    So, show me a president that has not significantly relied on formed opinions and actions from his days of political awakening and just relived them again but on a bigger scale as president. McCain will make the whole country a prisoner-of-wars. He gained his fame, glory and merits as a POW. He will make the whole country share in what experience shaped him the most.
    I suppose the following is my bias, but I do feel that Democratic presidents do a better job of evolving perspectives as the world changes and they grow/age. Republican presidents really seem to be stuck with the view of the world when they were 20 or 30.

  9. Dumass says:

    So, what is the real truth here. Did MccCain hold out when tortured and as a result “holds a deep anger towards those he considered collaborators” or did he go along as well. Both versions are available, do we know which is correct and which is false?
    http://www.vietnamveteransagainstjohnmccain.com/cin_declassified_landing.htm supposed PDFs detailing occasions when Mccain “collaborated.”
    P.S. I’m not pushing either versuion, would like to know what’s real and what is not…

  10. Taters says:

    Apparently Sen. McCain was a bit of a hell raiser at Annapolis and was from the ‘by the seat of your pants’ school of thought in getting through with his studies and disciplines at the Naval Academy.
    No human being should should ever undergo the brutality that was imposed upon him. He suffered terribly and I get the impression he may still carry guilt for his confession. I hope he’s forgiven himself for something I believe he deserves no blame for. Sen. McCain has one lifelong injury (I assume there other injuries) which makes it unable to for him to lift his arms over his head which would seem to me a constant reminder of his torture. I respect the man’s fortitude, toughness and his ability to carry on. He is a survivor who endured hell. John McCain is a patriot who loves his country dearly. Yet the man whom I believed would never send the country to hell in a handbasket back in 2000 – quite frankly scares the hell out of me as President of the United States today.
    Excellent assessment and thought provoking Col. Lang.
    I beg your indulgence on the following – on ‘what we carry’…
    Two monks who had taken a vow never to speak or interact with women came upon a swollen stream where a footbridge had washed away. There was a woman hoping to cross but was hesitant and fearful.
    One of the monks promptly picked her up and safely carried her to the other side.
    A few miles down the road, one monk said to the other, “We took a vow never to interact with women yet you carried her across the stream – have you no concern for our vows?”
    The other replied, “When I carried her across, I put her down. It sounds to me as if you are the one still carrying her.”

  11. jr786 says:

    I wonder if there’s any connection between class standing and the ability to write prose. I recently re-read General Grant’s Memoirs, the best book by a military man I’ve ever read, and recall his comparison of Scott and Taylor. Some of McCain’s public persona reminds me of Grant’s take on Scott:
    General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a style peculiarly his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking about without the least embarrassment
    I prefer General Taylor. Grant adds: “Both were pleasant to serve under – Taylor was pleasant to serve with”. What of McCain?

  12. rjj says:

    Yet the man whom I believed would never send the country to hell in a handbasket back in 2000 – quite frankly scares the hell out of me as President of the United States today.

    Would PL be willing to say a little more about this, please?

  13. Steve says:

    My initial rection to McCain’s “forgiveness” statement is that perhaps he was referring to the brutality he experienced as a pow, and a desire not to be consumed with the entirely normal response of bitterness and hatred.

  14. Nancy Irving says:

    Interesting post.
    It seems to me that John McCain has been coasting on his Vietnam War service for the last three decades.
    He is not as stupid as Bush (insert joke here), but he is equally lazy, which means he is nearly as ill-informed.
    During the 2000 campaign, it became evident that McCain, notwithstanding his many years representing his state in Washington, did not know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, which still makes my jaw drop.
    During the present campaign, he has shown that he has only a hazy idea of the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
    He lacks basic grounding in the most critical issues, necessary for him to be able to make sound judgments.
    All in all, another Bush-league candidate from the GOP.
    Don’t go there.

  15. jonst says:

    It’s McCain’s wife…or, more succinctly, her family, that concerns me the most.
    Although, frankly, McCain mental stability concerns me as well.

  16. David Habakkuk says:

    Sidney Smith,
    I would like heartily to endorse your Vietnam Vet correspondent’s encomium to Sam Nunn.
    He is precisely the kind of man whom the Republic needs to have in charge at this stage of its history — a civilian of sharp intelligence and good judgement who takes the trouble to get to grips with the technicalities of military issues.
    One of the world’s prime experts on nuclear command and control, the former Minuteman launch control officer turned academic Bruce Blair, singled Nunn out as the only political figure to grasp that the realities of U.S. operational nuclear strategy had little to do with the theoretical constructions of the academic nuclear strategists:
    ‘Presidents were innocent victims of the prevailing overarching principle of deterrence based on second-strike retaliation, never the wiser to the thorough-going engineering of the complex early warning and command system operations so as to deny them any semblance of wartime options aligned with that very principle. Almost no senior civilian official, let alone president, ever caught on to the egregious deception that kept them in the dark about their true options in wartime. One exception was former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. His close scrutiny of nuclear affairs, combined with a keen intellect, led him to realize that the United States long ago adopted a strategy of launch on warning (LOW) – that is ordering and carrying out U.S. missile launches after early warning sensors indicate an incoming nuclear missile strike but before enemy missiles hit their targets on American soil. He came to this realization quite independently, without helpful testimony from strategic nuclear commanders who doggedly denied their reliance on LOW in public, and virtually all private, fora. The official dogma they expressed was that the United States had the capability to launch on warning and a potential adversary should not assume that a U.S. attack would be ridden out, but that the United States did not rely on LOW. For Nunn, however, it was clear that the apparatus of nuclear control and release was geared to do just that. If it looked, sounded, and walked like a LOW duck, then call it a LOW duck. Nunn declared it a duck, understood that this duck carried serious risks of starting a nuclear war by accident, and proceeded to call for a relaxation of the nuclear hair-trigger on both U.S. and Russian missiles in order to alleviate this danger.’
    (See http://www.cdi.org/blair/launch-on-warning.cfm.)
    The other crucial fact with which Nunn has grappled is that, however welcome the retreat and collapse of Soviet power may have been from other points of view, the kind of Leninist withering away of the state which occurred as a result of Western-sponsored ‘shock therapy’ exacerbated some old nuclear dangers — and created some new ones.
    Rather than conjuring up fantasy threats, based upon non-existent links between Saddam and Al Qaeda and non-existent Iraqi nukes, the Cooperative Threat Reduction programme which Nunn and Richard Lugar sponsored back in 1992 involved practical measures addressed the problems created by the very real vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union.
    Recommending the agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Russia recently signed by the Bush Administration to Congress last month, Nunn and Lugar made the crucial point that in all kinds of ways effective non-proliferation strategy requires cooperation with Russia.
    (See http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/30/opinion/30lugar.html?ref=opinion.)
    What Nunn also concluded — along with George Shultz, William Perry, and Henry Kissinger — is the existing nuclear status quo is unsustainable. If we are not to move towards significant further proliferation, exacerbating both the risks of accidental nuclear war and of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of non-state actors, we need to see nuclear weapons abolished.
    (See http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=2252&issue_id=54
    If you ask me whether this is realistic, I would say probably not. But whether a given objective is or is not realistic depends upon how much support it can gather, which in turns depends upon people’s perceptions of the implications of its not being achieved.
    In my view, rather than the global abolition of nuclear weapons, we are far more likely to move — probably quite slowly, but surely all the same — to increased proliferation, and this will mean that sooner or later the weapons are used. But this very prospect, if people faced up to it, might make the vision outlined by Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn a great deal less utopian.
    But for it to have any prospect of success would require not simply fundamental changes in American — and indeed Western — thinking about nuclear weapons. It would need a wholly different American foreign policy. A nuclear-free world would require, on the one hand, an actively interventionist United States — but, on the other, a United States which respected the security interests of other countries, and did not tempt them to see nuclear ‘deterrence’ as the natural counter to its massive conventional military power.
    If there is a single figure who best exemplifies the sheer lack of sense of reality which stands as an obstacle to the United States assuming such a role, it is Senator John McCain. On the one hand, he makes speeches citing the ‘special responsibility’ of the United States and Russia to cooperate to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons. On the other, he champions NATO membership for the Ukraine and Georgia — and explains that when he looked into Putin’s eyes ‘I saw three things — a K and a G and a B.’
    One can have an effective non-proliferation strategy, or one can regard it as a major priority to assist Georgia in subjugating secessionist tendencies in South Ossetia and Ahkhazia, and think it clever gratuitously to insult a man who — like it or not — is likely to be a major power-broker in Russia for the foreseeable future. One cannot do both.

  17. João Carlos says:

    I think you misunderstanded who McCain is targeting when he say “forgiving”.
    He is not targeting the Vietcongs. He is targeting the “hippies” that made the US lose the war… at least at McCain’s mind.
    If it is truth or not, it is not important. Don’t hope any forgiveness from McCain.
    If he is elected, give goodbye to Civil Rights and the Constitution…
    He will not only erode them, he will destroy them. Because he believes that american public need be punished for the years he spent as POW.
    João Carlos
    sorry the bad english, my native language is portuguese.

  18. Richard Armstrong says:

    The Times article stated McCain attended as an Lt. Cdr. McCain was an Lt. Cdr. when he was shot down in ’67.
    Weren’t Navy POWs promoted even while there were in captivity?

  19. Neil Richardson says:

    “Weren’t Navy POWs promoted even while there were in captivity?”
    Some of them were promoted. John Stockdale and Everett Alvarez immediately come to mind. I’m not sure on McCain but I do remember reading Timberg’s description of some resentment against McCain within the Navy hierarchy throughout his career. By reputation he was a bad stick which usually would’ve been a career killer in the Air Force at least according to some friends who had spent most of their time as single seat pilots. I’d guess that his rank at graduation and the selection for training as an aviator probably didn’t sit too well with some. From what I understand those are among the most competitive slots for a graduating class. The biggest question might’ve been the decision to reinstate his flight status after 1974. His Replacement Air Group 174 billet might be the one that had a lot of people wondering whether McCain had received favorable treatment.
    Personally I’d rather not question this aspect as the man had paid enough and it’s irrelevant IMHO. I’ve seen how some in West Point Protective Association worked the system and it’s just the cost of doing business. I won’t vote for McCain, but there’s no need to drag this into the debate. IMHO there are enough differences between the two nominees to make a decision without the usual distractions.

  20. wisedup says:

    Does anyone have a audio copy of the June 2nd 1969 broadcast by McCain?

  21. Binh says:

    Interesting piece on why McCain hasn’t released his military records:

  22. No question of “Stockholm Syndrome” with McCain. However, due to other characteristics in him he seems to have never quite finalized his own comfort level with command relationships or with others who wield power. Where this plays out if he becomes President could be of real interest to the future of US foreign policy. Always wonder if single-seat fighter pilots can have real trust in anyone except an exceptional wing man. All the more important that he makes his selection. Further delay compromises his reputation as having ability as decisionmaker. I personally believe that he has thrown up his hands and may let others around him decide. Do fighter pilots select their wingman?

  23. hidebound says:

    The navy put him in a light bomber, the A-1 Skyraider then the A-4 Skyhawk, not a fighter. Like Bush, he appears to have developed an inflated opinion of his own worth as a shield against his forefathers. We need to be brutally honest, McCain was tortured, he broke. Many guys in Iraq have suffered serious concussion in IED attacks. In both cases it is not their fault, but to be considered for President you would have to say that the experience renders the man unfit for the position.

  24. Bartolo says:

    McCain’s essay urges that the troops be educated about the nation’s foreign policy. With today’s administration, that would not be a good idea since what they do and propose to do is often criminal.

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