Sunday, July 06, 2008

The General, the Flyboy and the Grunt

Last week's personal events pretty much overshadowed other news for me. That, plus the lack of regular internet connection, so I caught very little of what took place outside of my own little world. I did, however, catch bits and pieces of General Wesley Clark's comments about John McCain and found nothing to disagree with in what the general said. Fred Kaplan sums up the affair as a combination of Clark's political ineptitude and a grunt's cynicism toward the flyboys. Kaplan gets it right, at least from this grunt's view (which is, of course, from the ground).

Among infantry soldiers I knew in Vietnam, one of the most disdainful epithets was "sleeps in a bed at night". As far as we knew, pilots flew missions and went home. Even our chopper pilots, who were at far greater risk than Navy or Air Force pilots, usually slept in beds at night. Unlike the flyboys, though, chopper pilots were often down and dirty in the fighting. For me, dismissing flyboys was not so much that I was tough and strong (sometimes I give into that illusion) but rather that I was getting screwed and they weren't.

Until they got really screwed--shot down, killed or captured. Dead is dead and captured is even worse. And John McCain got truly fucked over in Vietnam, far worse than I did. He, along with many others, suffered great hardship with honor. General Clark was candid in his admiration. I, too, will always admire John McCain's strength and courage. I certainly don't know that I would have done as well.

One reason I will always remember John McCain's Vietnam service is that he never stops reminding me of it. Like Clark, I don't believe McCain's service record is much preparation for the presidency (although his duty as Senate liaison for the Navy probably taught him to schmooze well). I go a step beyond Clark and say that McCain's record of honor and courage as a POW has been far less evident in his subsequent public life. Don't forget, John McCain is a son of privilege and has long relied on good connections (grandfather, father, the Hensley fortune, Arizona Big Business, lobbyists and a fawning press) to make his way in life. He is hot-tempered and reckless with a blind faith in the "free market" and Big Money to solve the nation's problems and military force to deal with the rest of the world. Expediency and self-interest are more associated in my mind with Senator John McCain. Honor and courage are Lieutenant Commander John McCain.

For me, McCain's experience as a congressman and senator is a far more reliable gauge of his potential as president than his military career. After all, he should have learned something during three decades in Washington. Apparently not, though. He's still a mindless militarist, an unreconstructed Cold Warrior, secure in the "faith of his fathers". The world has moved on. John McCain has not. I give him credit for working with John Kerry to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam but other than that, I don't see actual accomplishments that give me any reason to think John McCain will offer much opportunity for the United States to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Barack Obama certainly has his limitations and uncertainties but those arise from the possibility of change and his inexperience. John McCain will bring us more of the same. He has experience but his experience is wrong for America and the world.

The general was right.



Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

yeah, it was the same with us. during tet we reached a point where even little things like hot showers and chow would put us on edge. if we were between ops and they rolled out hot showers and hot chow we knew we were about to go into the next shitstorm most rickytick.

we did once amuse ourselves by using a flag officer's airstream for mortar practice. that fucker had the gall to roll by a unit that had air conditioning past us. not very bright to my thinking.

mcCain proved that he does have a shred of honor and decency in him. although if you examine his life and his career before and after the five years of hanoi, that demonstration of courage and selfless honor were the aberration, not the rule.

9:43 AM  

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