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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Dec 2014
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Consider the Source


On election night in 1986, when John McCain won the U.S. Senate seat in Arizona long held by Republican incumbent and 1964 GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, who had served as McCain's campaign chairman, the two men had a private chat. Goldwater, McCain recalled, got "a little nostalgic" and said: "You know, John, if I had beaten Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and been elected president, you would not have spent all those years in that North Vietnamese prison camp." McCain, mindful of Goldwater's hawkish positions, answered: "You're right, Barry. If you had been elected president in 1964, I wouldn't have spent all those years in a prison camp in Hanoi. I would have spent them in a prison camp in China."

It was in the 2000 New Hampshire presidential primary when McCain's campaign taught this occasionally cynical observer what an American political campaign at its best might be. Vastly outspent by the money machine of the prohibitive Republican favorite, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, underdog McCain responded by holding 114 town hall meetings in the Granite State, in which he would stand alone and answer, with rare candor and humor, voters' questions. For example, asked when the Senate might pass a so-called "patient's bill of rights" bill, McCain bluntly explained: "We won't. Not as long as the insurance companies control my party and the trial lawyers control the Democratic Party. Next question." It worked. While advocating campaign finance reform, McCain, in a major upset, defeated Bush in New Hampshire by 18 percent.

But what impressed me most about that New Hampshire campaign was the willingness of the men who, as prisoners of war, had for years endured with McCain unspeakable brutality at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors to work in his behalf.

McCain's Hanoi cellmate — when the Arizonan wasn't in solitary — Medal of Honor recipient and Air Force pilot Bud Day, Marine aviator Orson Swindle, who was held prisoner for six years, and Navy aviator Everett Alvarez, the longest-held U.S. prisoner of the Vietnam War, were willing to come to New Hampshire, knock on doors and testify to voters about the courage and character of their comrade John McCain.

At the same time U.S. Navy pilot McCain was being abused in Hanoi, back in Wyoming young Dick Cheney was petitioning for another of his five deferments to avoid the draft call to serve, which the law then required all able-bodied men to do, in the U.S. military and, possibly, to face combat. Thirty years later, Cheney would publicly explain his conduct: "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." It's probably a good bet McCain in that same decade had "other priorities" than being starved, being beaten, having his teeth and bones broken, and being offered food contaminated with human feces.

Cheney, who went on to become one of the nation's toughest-talking draft-evading armchair warriors, has called the Senate Intelligence Committee's report of the CIA's disregard of the rule of law and its endorsement of torture as a legitimate policy option "full of crap."

The United States of America John McCain knows, loves and has served so generously does not chain half-naked prisoners to the floor and then let them freeze to death. To rationalize or excuse the torture documented in the report is, McCain rightly charges, "an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners." The ex-POW and American hero provides true moral clarity: "This question isn't about our enemies. It's about us. It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be."

Cheney or McCain? Consider the source. I'll take the fellow who holds us to a higher standard, thank you.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... Imagine that sense of power Mr. McCain must have held for an instant in 1986.

To tell the truth is no more difficult for most of us than finding the truth which to be fair, is daunting. To tell the truth to powerful people who thrive on their own misconception of reality- is Heroic.

Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Dec 12, 2014 9:35 AM
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Fri Dec 12, 2014 6:59 PM
Comment: #3
Posted by: Masako
Fri Dec 12, 2014 7:00 PM
Listening to Senator Feinstein's reading of the torture done in the name of our country brought me to tears of shame. This is not a proud moment for our country.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mike Ohr
Sun Dec 14, 2014 7:19 AM
Re: Mike Ohr;... Shame is not the emotion I was feeling. Fear was what I was feeling. You need to understand that those scarecrows are not to scare other scarecrows who won't be scared off their mission. Those scarecrows are for you. What your government will do to human beings to preserve their privilege there, they will do to human beings here to preserve their privilege.

What power does it take to torture? It is an investment of power to preserve their power over us- and most of the world. This is not about our liberty; but about their liberty, the liberty they take for themselves, and deny to us. Look at what it took for the government to get this look at their own butt. Do you think we could afford that picture for ourselves? We are not supposed to know, but only guess what they do because that makes our fear complete.

Any one having a part of this is criminal. These criminals run our government like a criminal enterprise. And I am usually a rock of courage if only because I don't run so fast. But this behavior over which this people can exercise no democratic control is frightening to the limit. This is as close to a look at the face of tyranny as you will ever get. Don't look.

Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #5
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Dec 14, 2014 10:55 AM
A minor correction to your otherwise thoughtful commentary. Everest Alvarez is not the longest held prisoner of the Vietnam War. When he was shot down in August 1964, U.S. Army COL(Ret) Floyd J.(Jim)Thomposn had already been held prisoner for six months since his capture in March of that year. The confusion arose because Alvarez was known to have been captured immediately after his loss, but Thompson was captured in South Vietnam by the Viet Cong and was listed as missing in action for many years. He was eventually moved North to the Hanoi Hilton and was released in March 1973 with all the other prisoners. COL Thompson was held as a prisoner of war longer than any American in history, ten days short of nine years. See "Glory Denied" by Tom Philpott for the story of Thompson's captivity.
Comment: #6
Posted by: John Mercadante
Mon Dec 15, 2014 8:25 AM
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