Donald Trump should think again about prisoners of war

vietnam pw

This weekend the big story was billionaire and GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump (his net worth “is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS“) going after John McCain. Miffed that McCain had referred to Trump’s supporters as ‘crazies’:


Trump has tapped into “some anger” in the state over the conditions at the border, McCain told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza in an article published Thursday.

“It’s very bad,” the Republican senator said. “This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me,” McCain said. “Because what he did was he fired up the crazies.”

One can understand McCain’s pique. Trump went onto McCain’s home turf and called him out as an immigration wuss (which he is) on a stage with Jamiel Shaw (the ‘our friend’ in McCain’s statement), a black man whose teenage son was gunned down in the street by an illegal immigrant.

Trump wasn’t content with a win of epic proportions, he had to take the fight to McCain. But he did so in one of the most ham-handed ways imaginable:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took an ongoing feud with [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] to a new level today, mocking the former GOP nominee for having been a prisoner of war and calling him a “loser” for failing to win the White House in 2008.

“He was a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said at the 2015 Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa.

“I like people who weren’t captured,” the current Republican front-runner told political consultant Frank Luntz, who hosted the event.

I’m not a McCain fan. I wasn’t a fan of his in 2000. I thought he ran a horrible campaign in 2008; a campaign that was so lackluster, bungling, and inept that I could easily imagine he was on Obama’s payroll. He has made a career of of attacking conservatives. Him attacking conservatives, particular immigration-control advocates, as crazy is nothing new and Trump more likely than not knew he would do this and was counting on it. McCain is a petty, mean spirited Captain Queeg-style politician, a boil on the ass of the GOP, and the nation will be much better off when he retires from public life and takes his nitwit daughter with him.


But John McCain is not running for president. Donald Trump is.

Trump didn’t attack McCain on his indefensible record. In fact, he didn’t even directly attack McCain. Instead he attacked McCain because he had the misfortune to be shot down while flying a strike mission over North Vietnam. That might have been defensible if he was going after McCain’s service record. There is plenty of criticism of his performance floating around on the internet. Some have even directly blamed him for the disastrous fire on the USS Forrestal. But Trump didn’t do that, he made a very broad brush attack on all prisoners of war: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Very few people set out to be captured. Sometimes you have a choice. Often you don’t. Even if you do have a choice between death and surrender, being alive has a lot to recommend it. So “liking people who weren’t captured” is pretty analogous to saying “I like lucky people, like those who were born to billionaire parents.”

But to the point, John McCain and a lot of folks like him were heroes in spite of being captured not because they were captured. Had McCain not been captured he would probably have finished a successful career in the Navy and went to work for a defense contractor. Let’s look at a few.

Medal of Honor

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while senior naval officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners’ of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Adm. Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt. Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Adm. Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Adm. Stockdale’s valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.


Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Air Force Cross to Lieutenant Colonel James Robinson Risner, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from 31 October 1965 to 15 December 1965. During that period the Vietnamese intercepted a series of prisoner messages which clearly indicated the danger of General Risner’s leadership to their exploitation methods. He was extensively tortured for information but successfully resisted their demands and established a standard of honorable conduct and resistance which was followed by hundreds of Americans after him. The extremely harsh treatment inflicted upon him was to become a way of life for him in the subsequent years. Through his extraordinary heroism, leadership, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, General Risner reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Robbie Risner was a Korean War ace who was shot down twice before it finally took. James Stockdale was a Skyhawk pilot. The became the senior officers in captivity and used their authority to maintain discipline among the prisoners even to the extent of torture.

Silver Star

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Everett Alvarez, Jr. (0-4733517), Commander, U.S. Navy (Reserve), for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. On 10 August 1966, Commander Alvarez’ captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme cruelty in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. By his heroic stand against his captors, he effectively resisted the efforts of the North Vietnamese in spite of the hostile environment; eventually compelling them to abandon their employment of harsh treatment. Using determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.


I only mention Ev Alvarez because I know him and have worked with him on projects. Trust me, captured or not you’d not only ‘like’ him but admire him. This leads us to:

Silver Star

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to John Sidney McCain, III, Commander, U.S. Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from 27 October to 8 December 1967. His captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected Commander McCain to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.

Not all PWs conducted themselves well. At least one Air Force officer, a highly touted fighter pilot from the Korean War, took favors from the enemy. At least four US soldiers made propaganda broadcasts for the NVA.  At least one US Marine deserted to the Viet Cong and led patrols against American troops. But by all disinterested accounts not only did McCain do his duty, he put himself at unnecessary risk to do his duty.

When Trump, himself, made the decision to not serve in Vietnam, his criticizing McCain for having the misfortune of having been shot down and losing five years of his life and sustaining severe injuries seems a little on the low rent side. Not something one would expect of a man of Trump’s accomplishment.



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