Sunday, March 16, 2008

Return to Freedom: March 15, 1973

Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard was on C-Span to field questions, some of them having to do with the John McCain campaign. Of course, not all the callers were friendly to the war hero’s candidacy and those callers were the most interesting, if not the most uninformed.

Politics can be viewed as an activity apart from character unfortunately, and too often it is, but it occurs to me that there are entire generations brought up in the soft life of our era and do not know that heroism can be a real thing, quite different from the hero packaging seen in the movies. Real heroism is a long, torturous, and unpleasant slog through unfamiliar and unchartered territory of the type one finds in North Vietnamese prison camps. Real heroism might be something as simple-seeming as a slog through a rice paddy or a quiet patrol along an Iraqi street, accompanied by the conflicting thoughts of a discontented irritability and an anxiety regarding events which may or may not be a few seconds into the future.

Whether the political criticism is leveled against any heroic volunteer soldier or against John McCain, the impulse to diminish the importance of true grit by some Obama supporters is laughable when it is not entirely pathetic. Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard seemed surprised and taken back that callers knew so little about McCain and tended to regard him as a made-up figure out of an action movie.

No, John McCain is real, and the time of his going down in flames over North Vietnam wasn’t the first example of his heroism. Prior to being shot down and imprisoned, McCain was aboard an aircraft carrier and about to take off in his plane when a rocket was accidentally fired which struck the fuel tank of a nearby aircraft. Rolling away from the conflagration was Senator McCain. Once clear of the flames, McCain ran toward the aircraft to rescue another pilot covered in fire. At that moment, a massive explosion occurred which killed several people and severely damaged the ship.

McCain’s ship was ordered back to port in the aftermath. Had McCain gone back to port with his ship, he would not have been shot down over North Vietnam. Instead, he arranged to be transferred to another carrier and another squadron which, within a short period of time, was flying missions over North Vietnam.

People may continue to discount character as a criterion for the presidency, but they do so for cheap and base reasons. Our better selves may disagree with McCain on policy issues, but criticism of McCain’s very real and heroic character can only demean the critic.

John McCain and his fellow POWs returned to freedom on March 15th, 1973,

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