It has become commonplace for Presidential (and, yes, Vice Presidential) candidates to have a published book in the bookstores at some point in the campaign for the Oval Office. Barack Obama has two memoirs published, Senator McCain has three books out, Joe Biden has his book out, and even Governor Palin has at least two books out about her (though, admittedly, not written by her). Among Senator McCain’s published books is Faith of My Fathers, a family memoir that is entirely not about politics. In fact, Faith ends long before Senator McCain’s election to any public office, with his release from captivity as a prisoner in North Vietnam.It has certainly been played out in the media throughout Senator McCain’s campaign that he is an American hero, having given his entire life (and, in fact, nearly giving up his life) to the service of his country. His commitment to serve the country he loves so much landed him in the brutal captivity of the North Vietnamese for five years during the Vietnam War, where he was brutally beaten, tortured, and left dying with no medical treatment other than the advice that he should eat better and exercise more. As if his diet was of his own choosing, and his tiny cell provided ample room for an adequate workout.
This is not an article to ask you to vote for Senator McCain on November 4, though I wish you would. It is not an article intended to list the many reasons that Senator McCain is clearly the best candidate to lead this country into the next decade, though I believe he is. This article is a review of Senator McCain’s book Faith of My Fathers, which explains the foregone conclusion of his Naval career, familiarizes the reader with John McCain I and John McCain II (his grandfather and father, respectively), and in sometimes painful description details the Senator’s ordeal as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. None of those things have anything to do with Senator McCain’s readiness or ability to be the next President of the United States of America. Senator McCain is an American hero, and would be an American hero even if he wasn’t running for the office of President. Through reading Senator McCain’s account in Faith of My Fathers, one learns that the good Senator does not consider himself a hero — merely an American paying back his country for the priceless gift of freedom with his own blood, sweat, and tears.
No one who goes to war believes once he is there that it is worth the terrible cost of war to fight it by half measures. War is too horrible a thing to drag out unnecessarily. It was a shameful waste to ask men to suffer and die [in Vietnam], to persevere through awful afflictions and heartache, for a cause that half the country didn’t believe in and our leaders weren’t committed to winning. They committed us to it, badly misjudged the enemy’s resolve, and left us to manage the thing on our own without authority to fight it to the extent necessary to finish it.
Yet Senator McCain and his fellow prisoners fought as they could, kept their faith, and resisted to the best of their ability the attempts of their brutal captors to break them. It is well reported that John McCain was offered early release because his father was an Admiral in the Navy at the time of his captivity, and it would benefit the NVA to use McCain’s early release as propaganda against American forces. It is also well reported that John McCain refused early release, stating that he would not accept release until everyone captured ahead of him was released ahead of him.
What is not so widely reported is that John McCain was offered early release several times before his refusal was accepted. And every time he refused, he was severely beaten and thrown into solitary confinement to reconsider his decision. Beatings that resulted in broken bones that received no medical treatment. And every time John McCain was hauled back in to ask if he had reconsidered, this patriotic American refused early release, and was beaten again. These beatings ended in the forced confession of war crimes by John McCain, though his confession was peppered with comments and language designed to make it clear to anyone who might hear the confession that it was derived by means of brutal torture and given under extreme duress.
Faith of My Fathers is at the same time a heart breaking and inspiring account of a man who has lived the motto of Country First his entire life. But at the same time, Senator McCain tells us of the many other heroes who were held captive with him. He tells of how he believes that other American Prisoners of War were subjected to greater torture and more severe abuse than he — that he was spared the worst treatment because his father was an Admiral commanding the forces that were fighting in Vietnam at the time. Throughout Faith of My Fathers, Senator McCain introduces us to other American hereoes, like Mike Christian.
Mike was a Navy bombardier-navigator who had been shot down in 1967, about six months before I arrived. He had grown up near Selma, Alabama. His family was poor. He had not worn shoes until he was thirteen years old. Character was their wealth. They were good, righteous people, and they raised Mike to be hardworking and loyal. He was seventeen when he enlisted in the Navy. As a young sailor, he showed promise as a leader and impressed his superiors enough to be offered a commission.
What packages we were allowed to receive from our families often contained handkerchiefs, scarves, and other clothing items. For some time, Mike had been taking little scraps of red and white cloth, and with a needle he had fashioned from a piece of bamboo he laboriously sewed an American flag onto the inside of his blue prisoner’s shirt. Every afternoon, before we ate our soup, we would hang Mike’s flag on the wall of our cell and together recite the Pledge of Allegiance. No other event of the day had as much meaning to us.
The guards discovered Mike’s flag one afternoon during a routine inspection and confiscated it. They returned that evening and took Mike outside. For our benefit as much as Mike’s, they beat him severely, just outside our cell, puncturing his eardrum and breaking several of his ribs. When they had finished, they dragged him bleeding and nearly senseless back into our cell, and we helped him crawl to his place on the sleeping platform. After things quieted down, we all lay down to go to sleep. Before drifting off, I happened to look toward a corner of the room, where one of the four naked lightbulbs that were always illuminated in our cell cast a dim light on Mike Christian. He had crawled there quietly when he thought the rest of us were sleeping. With his eyes nearly swollen shut from the beating, he had quietly picked up his needle and thread and begun sewing a new flag.
Faith of My Fathers should be required reading for every American born after 1960; every American who needs a refresher course on the perils of war; every American who thinks it wise to turn tail and run without finishing the job and defending the causes for which America stands.
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