Saturday, May 31, 2008
The Question We Cannot Ask
[Some might call this another rant. I call it a serious question we ALL should be asking.]
From an article about John McCain's entry into politics, in the New York Times:
"After five and a half years of listening to senators’ antiwar speeches over prison camp loudspeakers, Mr. McCain came home in 1973 contemptuous of America’s elected officials, convinced Congress had betrayed the country’s fighting men by hamstringing the war effort."
From innumerable McCain appearances:
I'll never surrender in Iraq... Obama wants to surrender... Democrats want to wave the white flag of surrender... If we leave, the terrorists win...
So let me ask a question that no one wants to ask: might five years of torture in a prison camp be expected to have an effect on one's (or some's) thinking about war? About challenging a war policy? Is it possible that one subjected to awful and inhuman and nearly unbearable conditions (for many, they were unbearable) could develop certain visceral reactions to the idea of war, positive or negative? To those who raise questions about a war? Might they affect the ability to distinguish between negotiating and collaborating? Could arguments be filtered through that personal horror in a way that makes one's reasoning different from one who never suffered in such a way? Faulty, even? Just theoretically: isn't it possible?
My experience in Vietnam compares to John McCain's as a bee-sting compares to a shark attack, but I have some memories, and things that trigger them. I hate the sound of a helicopter, of a fighter-jet taking off. (I live near an airport, and I hear both.) Sirens of a certain kind raise my pulse; distant explosions, as on the Forth of July, remind me of nights spent diving for cover. And no one beat me when these things happened; no one broke my arms. (Oh, I got a little broken in one rocket attack, but I healed fine.) I got up every morning and took a shower, ate a nice meal, went to the clinic and set up shop. In my room was a hotplate and a stereo. My wife sent me the fixings for chocolate pudding. Still, there are little things, and little reactions.
When John McCain equates talk of leaving Iraq to "surrender;" when he says those who question whether the war has done more harm than good are waving a white flag -- is it possible his judgment is clouded? Are those things that he survived (which many of us, myself included, probably wouldn't have had the grit to do) in any way affecting the thought process that connects skepticism to surrender? I'm just asking.
Given the stakes, and given the unprecedented situation of a presidential candidate who was a tortured prisoner for five years, in a war that split our nation asunder and which, in retrospect, accomplished nothing, isn't it an issue that ought to be considered? I don't have an answer. But I'd think, based on the fact that I'm a human and therefore have at least some knowledge of how humans behave, it is at least possible that this man's approach to war has been made, in part, irrational by what he went through. His is a voice to be listened to, a point of view worth knowing; but is it the one that ought to have the final say?
Believe it or not, this isn't the partisan me speaking; not the usual weekend ranter. It actually worries me, separate from my political opinions and views on the war. In these most cataclysmic of times, in the aftermath of questions not asked, I think this issue of which we dare not speak needs raising. Plenty of people believe, and are saying, that the time Barack Obama spent, as a young child, going to a Muslim-run but multi-denominational non-religious-based school makes him untrustworthy. What about being tortured for years, seething in a cell while anti-war propaganda played, and then being tortured again?
[The New York Times Magazine, in an article on McCain from May 18, quotes some fellow Vietnam Vet Senators from both sides of the aisle, all of whom have less jingoistic (and generally quite negative) views of the Iraq war: Kerry, Cleland, Hagel, Webb. Their take (and these are all guys who consider him a real friend) is slightly different from the question I raise. They imply that since he spent his time as a prisoner, he never faced the ambivalence of war that's seen by those on the ground, in combat, shooting and being shot at; they came to see it in shades of grey, as do most (I'd say) who've been in combat. McCain, they suggest, remained in a situation where right and wrong were entirely black and white. An interesting, and less dire, point of view compared to the question I raise. Either way, it takes a willingness not to give John McCain an automatic pass, just because of the horror of what he went through.]