Bai: is McCain still fighting Vietnam? by mattsteinglass
May 18, 2008, 2:16 am
Filed under: Iraq, President, Vietnam | Tags: , ,

Matt Bai’s NY Times Magazine article this week says some of McCain’s Vietnam comrades in the Senate suspect that his commitment to staying in Iraq is rooted in his belief that we should have stayed in Vietnam, and that his belief that we should have stayed in Vietnam is rooted in the fact that he spent the war as a POW in Hanoi rather than seeing how things were playing out on the battlefield, as grunts like Hagel and Webb did. Matthew Yglesias picks up on the article’s comment that McCain is a big fan of Lewis Sorley’s “A Better War”, which argues that the US actually won the Vietnam War by 1970 only to snatch suckitude from the jaws of awesomeness when we abandoned our South Vietnamese allies in 1973. (I believe Sorley also argues the Patriots were robbed.)

Anyway, what struck me about the Bai hypothesis is that it elides the fact that many of McCain’s fellow POWs in Hanoi turned against the war. Of 300 or so POWs, there was one room full of about 15 full-on peaceniks, interestingly called the “PCs” for “Peace Committee”, who willingly made radio broadcasts against US war efforts, and some of whom became Communists and tried to volunteer to stay in Vietnam and join the NVA in ’73. (The North Vietnamese turned them down.) Of the rest of the POWs, most did their best to resist contributing to North Vietnamese propaganda, but privately, many of them, at least, seem to have become anti-war. A GI named David Harker, who the PCs tried to recruit but refused, said in Zalin Grant’s “Survivors” that refusing to collaborate was a separate issue from your opinions on the war: “It wasn’t simply a matter of being for or against the war. We were all against it.”

I think Than Thong Duyet, the former head of the Hanoi Hilton whom I’ve interviewed a few times, put the real reason for McCain’s support of the war most succinctly: “He was a real warmonger.” But Duyet, of course, loves McCain — he said he wished he could vote for him. So he clearly doesn’t mean “warmonger” in such a bad way.


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