John McCain has decides that his time in a POW camp can be used to explain anything at all. He recently sought to deflect criticism for being unable to keep track of how many houses he owns because “I spent some years without a kitchen table, without a chair, and I know what it’s like to be blessed by the opportunities of this great nation. ? So the fact is that we have homes, and I’m grateful for it.”
In speeches, he’s told a tale about how when his captors asked for the names of his shipmates, he listed off the names of <insert local sports franchise>, varying the team to maximize the political benefit from a given speech. Asked for his favorite song, he explained that he’s a fan of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” because his musical taste was fixed before he spent five years in a POW camp. “Dancing Queen” came out several years after his return to America.
He has been able to brush off everything from his callous, adulterous mistreatment of his first wife to the Keating Five scandal with references to his time in a North Vietnamese POW camp.
This is all well and good, and the traditional media are finally realizing how silly this is, and how it devalues McCain’s legitimate service to his country. More interestingly, Matt Yglesias notes that McCain knew in 2004 that such talk could open dangerous doors:
McCain said that he urged Kerry sometime ago not to talk about Vietnam during his campaign. “I did advise John. I said, ‘Look, you shouldn’t talk about Vietnam because everybody else will. Let everybody else do it.’ His advisers figured that was probably not enough, that he had to emphasize that in his campaign. In my campaign, as you know, I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t need to.”
While McCain did decry some of the worst Swiftboat ads, McCain wasn’t uniform in that denunciation, and seems here to suggest that Kerry brought these attacks on himself.
Which means that, by any fair standard, McCain should have no problem with my bringing up important questions that other veterans have raised about his time in that camp. Hugh Scott explains:
Being a lifelong registered Republican, Ronald Reagan fan and Vietnam veteran who disliked the Bush family intensely, I supported John’s 2000 run for the White House. I praised him in my 2004 book, George Dub-ya Bush, THE PHONY FIGHTER PILOT, created a pro-McCain Web site to help boost his 2008 candidacy and attended a fundraising dinner for the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, not far from my home, because he was the keynote speaker.
My admiration for McCain ended in May 2008, when I began investigating rumors about his so-called heroic POW record. ?
In 1964, while a pilot in the Strategic Air Command, I went through SAC?s infamous Combat Crew Survival School at Stead AFB near Reno, Nevada. ? POW training ?
In one exercise while being held ?prisoner? in a mock Russian POW camp, I was taken to a small office for questioning, seated and left alone. Displayed on the table before me were three items: a cigarette, Zippo lighter and Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. I knew the drill. I could drink the hot chocolate but not smoke the cig.
Accepting favors such as cigarettes while in captivity is a blatant violation of the Code of Conduct for prisoners of war. Food is different; a POW is obligated to eat all he can, when he can, and then share the information with fellow POWs so his rations can be divided among the other men based on the estimated calories consumed. This was especially important during WWII to fight starvation in German and Japanese internment camps. Conversely, cigarettes have no food value and are considered enemy gifts with a price tag attached — such as revealing classified information.
Section III of the Code of Conduct states, ?I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.? Alone in the mock POW interrogation room, by lighting up with the Zippo, I would have been accepting a ?special favor.? I also would?ve signaled weakness on my part, which is typical of persons addicted to one of the most powerful stimulants known to man: nicotine. ?
In McCain?s 1999 autobiography, Faith of My Fathers, he admitted to smoking cigarettes provided him by his captors. It?s reasonable to assume the North Vietnamese weren?t aware he was addicted to nicotine. Thus, if McCain, a two packs a day smoker, had initially refused the tobacco favor, nothing would?ve been said or inferred.
On the other hand, when he took that first puff, his captors knew instantly McCain had a weakness that could make him more vulnerable to disclosing military secrets during interrogations, which he did.
McCain on civilian hospital bed smoking an enemy cigarette
In return for medical treatment at a civilian hospital, a privilege never granted to other injured POWs, McCain reportedly told NVA interrogators the name of his aircraft carrier, how many Navy pilots had been lost, the number of planes in his flight formation, tactics used during bomb runs and the location of rescue ships in the Tonkin Gulf.
Because of the revelations which McCain repeated in propaganda radio broadcasts, the North Vietnamese contemptuously nicknamed him ?Songbird.?
On June 4, 1969, a U.S. wire service story headlined, ?PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral,? described one of McCain?s radio recordings: ?Hanoi has aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of the United States commander in the Pacific, Adm. John McCain, purportedly admits to having bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since being taken prisoner.?
During his six-week hospital stay and for months afterwards, McCain continued to cooperate with NVA interrogators. He made more radio broadcasts for the enemy and met with foreign dignitaries, enjoying hot tea, coffee and cigarettes in posh settings while back at the Hanoi Hilton and other internment camps, his fellow POWs struggled to stay alive.
I’m not, obviously, suggesting that John McCain is a Manchurian Candidate, one who collaborated with the Vietcong by giving them information which helped them shoot down other pilots. Nor do I join the conspiracy nuts who think McCain is covering up evidence that American POWs remain in Vietnamese prison camps. I certainly am not suggesting that McCain’s complicity in hiding evidence of such camps is a result of the degree of mental control his former captors continue to exert over McCain.
I am merely reporting on the allegations that are out there, and which, by McCain’s own standard, are fair game now that he’s brought his POW experience into the mix.
So what do you think? Did McCain really sell out his fellow airmen?