McCain: Whose hero?

August 29, 2018

When a leading politician who has spent his life serving the billionaire U.S. ruling class dies, it is normal for the corporate media to exaggerate every act of the deceased and turn them into a hero, sometimes a genius.

The eulogies for such a political leader by leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties attempt to win admiration and respect from the entire population, including hundreds of millions of workers and oppressed people, for the recently departed.

In the case of Sen. John McCain, there is an additional specific reason he gets so much praise. He is being contrasted to the current president: a gangster with a foul racist, misogynist, bigoted, chauvinist and warmongering mouth — or tweet. By comparison, McCain might look better. It’s a low bar that most normal human beings could crawl over.

Anyone who sides with the oppressed and exploited of the world needs a different measure of heroism. A short review of McCain’s life shows that his recent opposition to Trump counts for little when weighed against his life’s work on behalf of the exploiters and oppressors.

His father and his grandfather were admirals in the U.S. Navy, big contributors to U.S. imperialist domination of the seas. Far from rebelling against his heritage, McCain became a Navy fighter pilot. Early biographies describe him as a reckless flier, almost a caricature of a “top gun,” who was involved in five crashes.

As a naval officer, he flew 23 bombing missions against North Vietnamese civilian targets from aircraft carriers. Called “Operation Rolling Thunder,” it was aimed at destroying the Vietnamese infrastructure. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians were killed. On his 23rd mission in October 1967, he was shot down. He suffered injuries when he ejected and fell into a lake.

No wonder the Vietnamese civilians who captured him saw him as a mass murderer. Yet they pulled him from the lake. To them, and to many who opposed the war in the U.S. and around the world, he was a war criminal and the first group of civilians who grabbed him treated him as one. Nevertheless, when turned over to the North Vietnamese military, he was treated as a prisoner of war and held with other similar pilots, all officers, for more than five years.

If you compare him, not to Trump, but to what we would consider real U.S. war heroes, you can see how McCain measures up when the bar is set high.

Hugh Thompson was a helicopter pilot who saw the massacre of My Lai unfolding under him in March 1968. U.S. troops were rounding up and gunning down unarmed Vietnamese elders, women and even children. Five hundred Vietnamese civilians died that day. Thompson and his helicopter crew, including Larry Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, had to take a strong moral position that they knew would get them in trouble.

They landed the helicopter and told the Army officers they would fire on them if they didn’t stop the massacre. This act saved the lives of at least some Vietnamese people. (

McCain was no Hugh Thompson. Nor does he compare to the thousands, probably tens of thousands of U.S. rank-and-file GIs who — once they began to understand what a criminal enterprise that war was — resisted it in any way they could.

We wouldn’t even try to compare any of the U.S. officer pilots, including McCain, to the millions of Vietnamese heroes who gave their lives to free their country from imperialist control.

In his long political career, McCain varied between reactionary and ultra-right Republican, but always a militarist. He voted for all the wars waged during the Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama administrations, from Grenada to Afghanistan to Yemen, and championed the war against Iraq right up to the finish. He never changed his position, even when the “weapons of mass destruction” hoax was exposed.

McCain remained a committed cold warrior even after the Cold War had ended. During the 2008 election campaign, when McCain ran against Obama, McCain joked about bombing Iran, altering a pop tune to say, “Bomb, bomb Iran.” He also chose the ultra-rightist, Tea Party governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his vice presidential candidate. That choice he later regretted, but only because it contributed to his losing the election. It also contributed to the Trumpist takeover of the Republican Party.

If the U.S. ruling class and the bulk of its media want to consider McCain their hero, it exposes what this class is made up of. Some love Trump, others McCain. Mainly, they love their profits and honor those who protect and extend their wealth.