By Ray Hanania
John McCain was a complicated American politician. A celebrated war hero, McCain put a “happy face” on the drive to destroy Palestinian rights and wrapped his defense of Israel in warped reasoning and populist logic. But he was smart enough to avoid open displays of racism and bigotry, knowing it wouldn’t attract votes.
Americans had a love-hate relationship with McCain. He was ridiculed when he ran against Barack Obama in 2008, but was glorified by the same critics when he became the Republican Party’s most virulent critic of Donald Trump, and in death.
How could McCain not hate Trump, the “outsider” who easily won election as president, while McCain, a 31-year senator with political power and beltway prestige, never could?
McCain died on Aug. 25 of brain cancer and is being memorialized for his positive achievements in America and around the world. But is that enough? He had two sides: One as a heroic soldier who was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War; and the other as a member of America’s political elite defending Israel at the expense of principals, morality and the international rights of Palestinian civilians.
As an Arab American, I see both. I had hoped McCain would have made amends for his many misjudgments. He didn’t. Just bringing it up has drawn the ire of other Americans who, because of ignorance or racism, feel criticism of McCain is wrong, immoral and contemptible.
I can sympathize with his suffering as a human being but I can’t forgive McCain for his actions that enabled Israel’s continued abuses against the Palestinians. His history is replete with facts that most Americans either don’t know or have chosen to ignore.
There are many events in McCain’s life spotlighted in the endless remembrances and memorials this week. The most notable was his service as a US Navy pilot who flew bombing missions over Hanoi during the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down and he spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war.
His capture came at the same time as his father, John McCain II, was promoted to commander of all US forces in Vietnam. A Vietnam era veteran myself, honorably discharged in 1975, I too served my country with pride. But I have always been disgusted by the hundreds of stories the media and military tried to squelch about the intentional killing of civilians during the war. Vietnamese women and children were shot in their heads for sport, as Palestinians are today, killed by Israeli sniper fire across the Gaza-Israel border.
It didn’t help that I was reading Seymour Hersh’s new book, “Reporter,” in which he details both the hypocrisies of the mainstream American news media and the many atrocities committed by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Most of the bombs dropped by US Navy fighter pilots over Hanoi, Hersh documented, hit civilian sites rather than their intended military targets.
McCain is hailed for surviving Viet Cong torture as a POW. Yet, the same people cheering him have closed their eyes to worse torture or embraced it when used against Arabs after 9/11.
McCain is also remembered by many Americans and Arabs for his defense of Obama during the 2008 presidential election that McCain lost in a landslide.
During the same 2008 presidential campaign, the news media also ignored concerns expressed by Arab-American candidate Ralph Nader. He detailed how Israel intentionally attacked the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967, killing 34 American soldiers and wounding 171 more, and he slammed McCain for his silence.
A military inquiry into the assault defended Israel and rejected the sworn testimony and first-hand evidence of the Americans on the ship, who said Israeli war planes intentionally targeted the Liberty. The inquiry, ordered by McCain’s father, falsely concluded only days later that the Israeli attack was an “accident.”
When A. Jay Cristol, a pro-Israel activist and former Navy pilot during the Korean War, penned a defense of Israel’s actions 36 years later, McCain wrote a testimonial lauding Cristol’s conclusions, which defended his father.
McCain shamefully chose to stand with Israel instead of with American veterans who served on the Liberty, who to this day are demanding that Israel be held accountable. One such witness to the Israeli assault is the highly decorated American veteran Lt. Cmdr. James M. Ennes, who was an officer on the Liberty.
Arabs do not celebrate the deaths of others, including those with whom we disagree or battle. We offer prayers for the deceased. As we remember McCain’s life, let’s remember everything. Respectfully, but honestly.