Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


Editor’s Pick
MAY 15, 2011 12:14PM

McCain's Purple Heart

Rate: 8 Flag

John McCain seems to have finally come home. He does have a heart, and it is purple. He also apparently has recovered his memory, not only of the torture he endured at the hands of the Viet Cong, but also of his betrayal and swiftboating by George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign, before swiftboating had worked its way into the political lexicon.

McCain's disavowal not only of torture as effective or even morally acceptable was accompanied by the specific statement that “It was not torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.”

History is replete with nightmare accounts of torture, from Torquemada to the immolation of Jaques DeMolay to World War II (when American pilots involved in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo who failed to make it back to safe harbor were turned over to the Japanese to be put on display as part of a mock trial or, as we like to call them now,  military tribunals).

McCain's purple heart was won at enormous expense and, for a long time, he enjoyed a certain insulation from Democrat barbs because he had been conveyed, due to his experience, a certain moral authority. We now know moral authority minus morality, like faith without works, is dead.

When McCain was betrayed by the draft-dodging, half-assed fake jet jockey George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign, it seemed perhaps Bush would have a permanent thorn in his side in the Senate. But no, McCain was just as easily seduced as the rest of them on Capitol Hill and somehow managed to get past that disgraceful episode and not only support most of the Bush agenda for eight years, but defend it, then follow it up with a mind-boggling and extremely damaging politically pointless gesture in selecting Sarah Palin to run with him against Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

It looked as though the rumors were true: John  McCain had lost his mind.

Well he must have bumped his head on something recently, and maybe it was a Tea Partier's tricorn hat. Something happened and for a moment at least, we have most of the old John McCain, the one we grudgingly admired before all that idiotic "maverick" babble, back.

Perhaps McCain watched "The Purple Heart," a classic 1944 propaganda movie that was extremely effective, and remembered that torture was once abominated by Americans, and that two whole generations had reviled the Japanese not only for their betrayal of and savage assault on the U.S., but that they had raised torture to a fine art. The film in question, starring Dana Andrews, Richard Contee, Richard Loo and a host of other hollywood luminaries, depicts the betrayal, capture, torture, mock trial and eventual conviction of the crew, ending with them being marched toward the site of their execution for war crimes.


Military tribunal scene from "The Purple Heart"

One watches this and remembers why American values can not include torture as simply "enhanced interrogation techniques." The very term is a perversion of human decency and the use of words to convey truth.

McCain fell short of a miracle, naturally, and did not call for an investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the waterboarding and other inhumane treatment of terrorist suspects at both GITMO and Abu Ghraib. That would be a bit much to expect from any Republican at this point, I feel certain. But he did denounce, in no uncertain terms, not only the use of torture as an interrogation device, but specifically dismissed the claims of Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Donald Rumsfeld and others that torture was a key element in the locating and killing of Osama Bin Laden. McCain's full statement before the Senate:

While I agree with very little of John McCain's political or world view, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and this statement before the Senate, even though it did not go the full distance, was a significant and powerful argument against the use of torture from someone who should have made the statement a long time ago, but has, instead, made it at a time when it carries perhaps the most weight: a time when the national discourse is one riddled with hate, suggestions of violence, and a generally un-American and extremely ugly undercurrent that must not be tolerated.That this statement comes when it does and from the source it comes from cannot be underestimated.

Once again, it becomes clear that the rule of law is also a rule of what makes the universe work: Ordo ab chao: "Order from chaos." McCain's return to form with his rather bold and defiant statement suggest that we are on the threshold not of the end of the world, but the portal out of the chaos of the past decade, right at its seeming crescendo, and that the light at the end of the tunnel may not be an oncoming locomotive, but may actually be the way out of this wilderness we have occupied since September 11, 2001.

There will be those, just like some of my fellow left-leaners who relentlessly harangue us about Barack Obama's "failure" to do everything he might have done, who will say "It is still John McCain" and "Where was this McCain in 2008?" To them I would answer: This is now. Redemption has no shelf-life, no sell-by date, and that this eloquent-if-extremely tardy statement comes from a stalwart of the right makes a difference.

Why did he do it now? One can only surmise. I rather like to think the women in his family, his wife Cindy and even moreso his firebrand daughter Megan, may have had some role in bringing him to this moment. How ever and why ever it happened, it is not only commendable, but is a sign that we who have stood firm in our convictions of what is right are about to see the opposition -- on our right politically -- collapse into their own season of chaos, out of which order -- a new order for the ages -- may now  again resume its advance.

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Great piece AJ. I've gone back and forth so many times on John McCain. I would have voted for him in 2000 if he was up against Gore. I always respected him as the genuine article. Then when the 2008 campaign rolled around, he was a shell of his former self. I take your point here, and commend him for coming back around on this issue, but the fact that he still speaks in glowing terms about Sarah Palin...about how proud he is (still) of the decision to make her his running mate...I can't get with that.
Babe: Thanks for the validation. I would like to have added something like "While you're in the mood to correct things, could you please also disown that Palin woman?" His continued support for that three-legged stool baffles hell out of me. Fortunately she seems to have imploded on her own. His having chosen her and his unrepentant support are an enduring mystery. Not a happy one, either.
Senile dementia is marked by moments of lucidity.
Jack: That very thought crossed my mind! Seriously!
I am a right leaner, but McCain was always basically trying to do the right thing I think, and everyone has flaws.
Although, if there were a nuclear weapon in a city, if you knew that part for sure, which rarely you would, that would be a contingency you wonder about.
would that it were so. but america has always been more brutal than moral, it is built into the laws and customs that the strong shall enjoy america, the weak endure what they must. a nation built on slavery and ethnic cleansing could hardly be otherwise.
I stopped in my tracks to listen to this the other day remembering that I once felt strongly about him in good ways. Perhaps the last paragraph bears truth. He got it right on this...part of me was relieved that it was still somewhere in him...and relieved that I wasn't dillusional in liking him long ago. THANKS.r
Don: Thanks for your comment. Whatever way we lean, or if we just stand straight up, I think truth is what matters. How that truth is applied is another question. I agree, at least up to a point, that I think McCain had pretty good intentions. Somewhere along the way he bought into the Bush machine, maybe just to bide his time. He's certainly come through on this one issue, as one would expect he would, and his timing has been pretty impeccable, though some of us were wondering earlier. Now's what matters. As for the nuclear weapon in a city scenario, good luck to anyone who has to make that call.

al: Hard to argue with your observation, at least up til now, and now is what we have, right? We are, for the moment, looking worse than I thought was possible, but I also remain committed to the belief that things will right themselves (no pun, I swear) before we go totally under the thumb. McCain's stand up performance on this one issue isn't like the arrival of the New Age or anything, but it surely does put him back on the good foot, and he's not the only one who's been making conciliatory noises. We'll see, I guess, as things continue to unfold.
Muse: Thanks for your comment. I'm pretty much where you are on this, and am relieved it wasn't a total hallucination back a decade ago and more. You're very welcome!
Condemning torture should be welcome but I don't think he should get brownie points to use for other things. I was pulled in for a while by his "straight talk express," fool me once etc.
Well. I always agree with blues singers bluestocking babe.
I will be hushed, somewhat, and reserve a full comment.
He can have my Purple Heart ( gave all medal back) huh.

If someone was bombing populated Hanoi and rural farms?
Maybe (I hope that never happens) I'd make a slingshot too!
I was two months in Hanoi in 1990 rebuilding a Health Clinic.

Nixon and his cronies repeatedly bombed innocent civilians.
Well. How would MaCain lkene of his 5- homes bombed duh?
Hanoi officials left several blocks of Urban Hanoi. A Museum.
I saw the carnage in the South. Northern troops came South.
What would YOU do If someone trampled your potato crops?
Thanks ...
Sigh. Sad.
Pliticos never "rat' or tell of fellow peers crime-based Clubs.
They are NSA You-Tubed going into "gentleman" strip huts.
There's a high-class Mistress-Service one block from Obama.
The blackmail Club say`
I dare you to speak of crimes.
I'd rather be a depressed vegan.
That eater has my respect. Sigh.
Politico. Hop freight train to hell.
They get buried on Sewer Street.
O, be burrowed down into hades.
okay duh.
The People's Committee gave us:`
opportunities for brothel women,
private cooks, and a wash women.
Vets were watched. We declined.
Government are shady critters.
McCain should confess more.
Purple Hearts gather dust.
Angels do sweep then off?
No bomb People. No lie.
One day I may share the`
Note when I returned
Silver Star, a CIB medal
(Combat infantry badge)
Air Medal, etc., I kept my
Purple Heart. Sad as Hell!

The politicos wink. Sip blood.
They never have ever worked.
I say they are totally depraved.
I appreciate your writing of redemption without a shelf life, but I won't take the 22 minutes to listen to him. I don't know the exactitudes of the torture and twisted happenings which contorted his abilities to see straight but the greater point is that they would do that to anyone who might endure them. If his inner torment and dementia now creates clarity then so much the better for him.
I think it's good to highlight anyone when they take reasonable intelligent experienced stances like this. And I appreciate you writing a post about him. And it would be great if he would really come clean and disavow any association with Palin, surely one of the greater mistakes of his career. Well written and appreciated AJ.
zacherydtaylor: I personally think no one should get points for doing the right thing. However, at times it may be noteworthy, in the way Mark Twain meant, I think, with his "always do right" comment. By the time of Straight Talk Express I had already lost faith. This may be as close as he comes to doing something right. I simply believe it may be a sign of the broad crumbling of the right, and that I certainly feel is noteworthy, if not warranting any sort of praise.

Art: Your comments are not only appreciated, they add a great deal to the overall discourse. It is because of you and people like you this is as important as it is. The damage caused by people who no longer have any connection to the rest of us, even those who served alongside them, is impossible to assess. My only point, my only hope, is that some of them, like the mad Senator in Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," will have moments of their own wherein the realize or at least pretend to realize they "don't deserve to live." That's the bottom line for them, but they will live and they will have to live with themselves.

alsoknownas: All I can say is, those 22 minutes aside (and it's a lot of time to spend listening to a guy tell us what he could have said in fewer words years earlier) I hear you. Also, thanks for your comment.

marytkelly: Thanks for getting this. It wasn't easy to write, and again, my only real purpose was in pointing to what may be a signal event in the decline of the neo-right. Again, thank you for understanding and appreciating. It's not a pretty mess these folks have left in their wake. If any one of them might have half a chance at a conciliatory gesture it should be McCain. It's a start.
AJ Calhoun. I hope I don't embarrass you.
People who never met you ought to know`
Your reserved, polite, dignified, and gentle`
A upright man. There is no malevolence or`
misbehaved lusty-young, run-away hormones.
Women realize Ya is no DC's area nincompoop.
That's another awkward conversation `bout`
Wayward licentiousness untamed FBI sax`
You are more one fine master of a ukulele.
This is intended to be a compliment. Oops.
I imagine you playing bongoes in a saloon.
Art, what can I say? I love you, man, and this comment of yours is one of my most prized compliments ever. Especially that last part about playing bongos in a saloon. It is an aspiration of mine.

Tink...he may be my better half, my alter ego. Hard to be sure. Twin sons of different muthas?

Thanks my friend. Never any doubt in my mind with you. Carry on!
A.J. this is well written and wonderfully expressed. I'm not too surprised to hear McCain speak against torturing, but do wonder how this will impact the Right side.
patricia k: First, thank you for the kind words. They really do matter. Second, my thinking is this may be more a symptom of some ember of humanity on the right rather than something that will have an effect, though I'm sure it will anyway. It will be difficult for them to ignore, but what I'm hoping most is that it will encourage others who were once fairly moderate to regain their balance and begin to speak up as well. We need a not only loyal but also honorable opposition to get the discourse back to flowing in a sane manner, something that's been mssing for quite a while now.
While McCain's speech was remarkable for its candor and its emotion, it was not an act of courage. At this point in his political career he has little or nothing to lose by speaking the truth. However that was no the case from 2000-2008.

Frankly, he lost me when he sucked-up to Bush after what Bush operatives -- Rove and Eskew -- did to him and his family in the SC primary. Where I come from Bush would have been dead to me ever after -- but then I'm not a politician.

But McCain clearly is, and he proved it yet again in the 2008 presidential campaign. Choosing Palin was not an act of courage; it was an act of desperation. McCain's only courageous moment was when he called out the woman who called Obama a Muslim. He should have done that more often, and he should have insisted Palin do the same and tone down the rhetoric -- or get the hell off the ticket.

That would have been mavericky; instead, he was just icky.
Yeah, bumped his head, he'll be back to bad ole McCain soon!! :D

Great piece.
Tink: Personally I kinda think Megan snuck up on him with a two-by-four. :P

Thanks, man!