A wonderful book for young people is Hero Tales from American History. That book was an effort by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge to instill American values into the nation’s youth through brief historical and biographical essays. It’s a book that deserves a 21st-century update, adding heroes from the intervening century.
If a rebooted edition were to be done today, one of those essays could address the heroes of the Hanoi Hilton, and their resistance to Communist brutality in the worst of circumstances—names including Bud Day, James Stockdale, Jeremiah Denton, Robinson Risner, Jim Warner, and John McCain.
Such a character sketch, meant to display virtues for young Americans to admire and emulate, would give us a challenging story of stubborn resistance, deep faith, and out-of-fashion Americanism. And the description of John McCain, in particular, might tastefully conclude thus:
Like his brethren, naval aviator John McCain returned home with honor. The torture McCain suffered during his imprisonment continued to affect him physically and mentally for the rest of his life. Still, he had a long political career, and he even ran for president!
That description would do sufficient justice to his legacy, for the average student. Let the Hanoi Hilton be his lasting claim to fame. As time goes on, his postwar life, his senatorial career, and media controversies can be left to the political and cultural historians, who will find them of great interest—and to political science scholars, who will find them rich in cautionary tales.
In the meantime, I respect the tortured anti-Communist warrior enough to deny him his apparent final wish: that his memorial observances should be a firestorm of partisan rancor. In his final months, he evinced a strong will to repudiate the 21st-century Republican party, especially in the person of President Donald Trump, a man he seemed to view as his nemesis.
During this time, McCain’s streak of defiant spite, which alongside faith had done much to help him survive captivity, was especially evident. The media rejoiced in the old warrior’s angry pronouncements, so congenial to their own agenda. McCain thus passed away enjoying the adulation of a media from whom he’d also frequently suffered abuse. I for one hope that that comforted his final days, in some fashion.
Let us not forget that the enemy which at last brought him low was literally inside his head. His rage, perhaps a legacy of torture suffered in the service of his nation and comrades, was by the end complicated by the effects of a fatal brain tumor. Pronouncements made under such conditions shouldn’t be held against a man.
Thus, I’d encourage all patriotic Americans to eschew any partisan snarling and posturing and simply salute the departing warrior.
The saddest feature of the ceremonies to come will be that a man of McCain’s martial accomplishments should be celebrated, at the end, by his false friends of the media and the Left, many of them mentored by creatures of the same stripe as his Communist torturers.
Let us not hold even those words of praise against him.
Oh, yes, saccharine, fulsome praise we’ve heard, coming from those who acknowledge McCain despite his valor—because of his politics. Let patriotic Americans instead celebrate his valor—despite his politics.
Captain McCain, with all due respect, I will not deny you due respect. Not even at your own request. May you find the blessing, at last, hinted at in the Navy Hymn, and may the Good Lord “bid the angry tumult cease, and give, for wild confusion, peace.”
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