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THE LAST COLD WARRIOR
September 28, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
I watched Friday’s presidential debate with notebook in hand, but I didn’t take notes. The debate focused on issues and progressed for more than 90 minutes with neither candidate delivering a knock out blow or being hoisted on their own petard. Each candidate laid out his position on Wall Street’s most recent act of financial overindulgence and both men left the viewer with a clear contrast on their worldviews, and that was what left me most disturbed.
There have always been concerns about McCain becoming President; his age, his health and his running mate being one snake away from a religious cult of snake handlers and frightened almost to war every time Vladimir Putin enters U.S. airspace. However, after the debate it became obvious why John McCain must not become the leader of the free world in the Twenty First Century. John McCain is still fighting the Vietnam War, forever frozen in a Twentieth Century mindset and flailing hopelessly against Twenty First Century enemies.
John McCain was born at a time when events of history coalesced in ways that would determine his destiny. In 1930 Ho Chi Minh organized the Indochinese Communist Party in opposition to French rule in his country. Six years later John McCain was born into a naval family (his grandfather was a four star Navy Admiral and his father would become one) in the Canal Zone in Panama.
By 1940 Hitler’s war machine was on the move in Europe and the Japanese occupied Indochina but allowed the Vichy French to continue to administer their colonial government. Ho Chi Minh became a useful insurgent if not an outright ally of the United States in his jungle opposition to both the Japanese and French in Vietnam. In 1945 the Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA, secretly parachuted a team into the jungles of North Vietnam and airlifted Ho who was seriously ill with malaria to a hospital.
After the war in 1945 Ho established a guerilla army, the Viet Minh, and declared independence. He created the Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi, Vietnam became divided and loyalties shifted. Communist China supported the Viet Minh and the United States assisted the French in the south. With Germany and Japan defeated, the United States had a new and more insidious enemy, the Communists or more precisely the ideology itself—Communism regardless of form or front.
John McCain grew up always knowing the enemy. The Korean War was fresh in John McCain’s memory when he entered the United States Naval Academy and he knew the enemy—we were fighting the Communists. McCain understood, as did most people, the Truman Doctrine of Containment—never let the Communists creep westward. Communism was dreaded whether it was Marx or Lenin, Stalin, China or Fidel Castro. Even after Nikita Khrushchev blinked in Cuba it was our collective fear of Communism that drove us to attack Grenada, fight a proxy war with the Contras in Nicaragua, support death squads in El Salvador and impose a half-century blockade against Cuba.
So when John McCain went to fight in Vietnam, he knew the enemy—Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese Communist assisted by Red China. McCain became part of an elite group of naval fighter pilots. His former fighter pilot friend and later a Congressional colleague, “Duke” Cunningham was the Navy’s top fighter pilot and the role model for Tom Cruise and the movie hit “Top Gun.” Cunningham is serving time in a Federal Prison for taking bribes as a Congressman.
McCain was nearly killed in July 1967 when a fire set off explosions on the deck of the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Forrestal in the Tokin Gulf that killed 34 sailors and injured nearly two hundred including John McCain. In October of that year John McCain would be shot down and endure abuse and torture for 6 years as a prisoner of war. John McCain knew the enemy.
From boy to man those experiences formed John McCain’s worldview. You can hear it when he speaks, his frustration, his expressions, his anger. Fighting the Communists and the Cold War brought a measure of clarity—we knew the enemy. John McCain says that we lost the Vietnam War and that our troops came home to an ungrateful nation. That sticks in his craw; you can hear it when he says that our troops must come home victorious from Iraq. You can hear it when he says we must not leave Iraq until it becomes a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, an enduring friend and ally.
John McCain is still fighting a war that was over 35 years ago, and he misses the lessons of Vietnam. We lost blood and treasure in Vietnam, but if we had not spent a single dollar or sent a single soldier to the jungles, would the situation on the ground be much different from what it is today? John McCain does not understand that we have already won the war in Iraq. Our troops overthrew Saddam Hussein in barely three months. President Bush stood on the Abraham Lincoln and declared mission accomplished. He was right. If we had left then, would Iraq be much different from what it is today?
A grateful country recognizes that John McCain has sacrificed for his country in ways that most of us will never know, but he is a hero from another era. He came from an era when might made right—we had clarity then—we knew the enemy. In the Twenty First Century our threat is not communist expansion or missiles in silos with nuclear tipped warheads, but from a nondescript zealot leaving a nuclear bomb in a suitcase on the sidewalk in one of our cities. That is a war we must fight differently because all governments, communists, democracies and all governments in between are equally at risk. To navigate those treacherous waters demands leaders with a different mindset and talents.
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Ho Chi Ming declares Independence-1945