War Does Not Make a Maverick

The nation mourns the passing of Republican Sen. John McCain, who died on August 25 from brain cancer.

Tributes continue to pour in for the Arizona senator, who is being remembered as a great statesman and politician, a hero and a maverick, and as a husband, father, and grandfather.

There is a tremendous amount of homage paid to a prisoner of war subjected to the most unimaginable and egregious torture, especially for five and a half years, the damage of which is lifelong. It is one of the greatest sacrifices a citizen makes to their country; putting their life on the line in service of it.

The trouble with McCain’s sacrifice was that it was made while dropping bombs on the Vietnamese, in a war that should never have been prosecuted.

McCain, who called the Vietnamese ‘gooks’ and never apologized for the bombs he dropped, amplified his stance on war when it came to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, against which he used the Beach Boy’s song “Barbara Ann” to sing “Bomb Iran.”

He stood his ground in his support of invading Iraq despite no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, repeatedly asserting Saddam Hussein’s potential to obtain and use it.

According to the dictionary, a maverick is an unorthodox or independent-minded person.

This definition does not befit a politician who voted for military aid for an invasion that was massively supported in 2003 by the American people who flew flags, wore yellow ribbons and pledged retribution on behalf of those who perished on 9/11.

Though the tide shifted five years later, McCain remained steadfast. He fervently believed America needed a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would take his belief to the grave.

McCain also supported an escalating conflict with Iran, and would have been on board with President Trump if he called for military action.

There were times McCain made political decisions contrary to his party. In dramatic fashion he returned to the Senate floor on July 25, 2017 after being diagnosed with brain cancer and voted ‘no’ on repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act. In that decisive moment, he appeared to be a lone wolf, living up to his ‘maverick’ reputation.

But when it came to war, he was all hawk.

It is customary when an iconic figure passes, that praise and accolades overshadow the overall biographical picture. In fact, it is almost taboo to publicize a cold, sober examination of the person, during the nation’s time of mourning.

We do ourselves a disservice, however, because the historical record becomes distorted by this incomplete coverage and analysis, the fullness of the human lost in pomp and circumstance.

As the nation honors McCain’s life, we need to remember the thousands of lives destroyed by his decisions and actions in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Iran, casualties of American foreign policy that has beleaguered those regions for generations.

And generations of men who never survived to become statesmen and politicians, heroes and mavericks, and most of all husbands, fathers, and grandfathers.


Ron Kipling Williams