John McCain the “Warrior”

John McCain as a POW during the Vietnam war

W.J. Astore

I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines, and reading quite a few tributes, about John McCain.  A common word used to describe him is “warrior,” as in this op-ed at Al Jazeera of all places.  If you do a quick Google search with “John McCain” and “warrior” you’ll see what I mean.

I’m a firm believer in the citizen-soldier tradition.  Warrior-speak, I believe, is inappropriate to this tradition and to the ideals of a democracy.  “Warrior” should not be used loosely as a substitute for “fighter,” nor should it replace citizen-sailor, which is what John McCain was (or should have been).

Yes, John McCain came from a family of admirals.  He attended the U.S. Naval Academy.  He became a naval aviator.  He was shot down and became a prisoner of war.  He showed toughness and fortitude and endurance as a POW under torture.  But all this doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make him a “warrior.”  Rather, he was a U.S. Navy officer, a product of a citizen-sailor tradition.

It’s corrosive to our democracy as well as to our military when we use “warrior” as a term of high praise.  Many Americans apparently think “warrior” sounds cool and tough and manly, but there’s a thin line between “warrior” and “warmonger,” and both terms are corrosive to a country that claims it prefers peace to war.

In sum, it says something disturbing about our country and our culture when “warrior” has become the go-to term of ultimate praise.  By anointing McCain as a “warrior,” we’re not praising him: we’re wounding our country.

5 thoughts on “John McCain the “Warrior”

  1. The word ‘warrior’ to me suggests something medieval or even older, Vikings, Attila the Hun, Flintstones era and something derogatory when coupled with the word ‘native’ : spears and poisoned arrows. Nowadays, socially primitive computer games keeping such stereotypes alive.

    Loathed McCain’s hawkishness and support for various wars of agression, but he had the redeeming factor of being opposed to torture – something high on my agenda. Meet one (Yemeni) torture victim, one of the hundreds of innocent Guantanamo prisoners, those supposedly ‘worst of the worst’ :
    A lovely tale and picture (he was one of the Guantanamo prisoners whose paintings were exhibited in NY last year) of the only love he was allowed in Guantanamo during seven years of solitary confinement – torture in itself : the friendship of an iguana …

    Also have respect (if what I read is correct) for McCain’s refusal to be sent home earlier from Vietnam imprisonement merely because of his father’s high military status.
    That requires courage and a backbone.
    Otherwise, in my negative understanding of the word ‘warrior’, in many ways it fitted him.

    As for Al Jazeera – the only TV I watch as it makes an honest effort to show the rest of the world as opposed to my own backyard – it is for my taste too much kow-towing to the US.
    Just now they aired Mattis’ press conference live, same with far too much Trump-live.
    But I’m willing to forgive that, realising that it’s Qatari government owned and with the current mess with their next-door neighbours, they’re walking a tight-rope and must be very careful not to irritate the US, a pivotal player in that region with in addition a huge military presence in their country (something Trump apparently was unaware of when he stupidly joined the Saudi/UAE side in that conflict).
    In the first months of the ‘Saudi-led-coalition’ war in Yemen they were infuriatingly passive when reporting about it, but have since then put that country’s tragedy high on their agenda, even before their private crisis with the Saudi’s erupted. And that is more than can be said of most international mainstream media. Some of their editing of written material is sloppy …


  2. I would like to address the concept of the citizen-soldier — essentially a reluctant military amateur (and a Temp one at that) — vs the “professional” military careerist who typically fills out the ranks of a standing military establishment. But before adding my two cents worth, I would like to suggest three articles that take up the fabulous John-McCain-as-“warrior-hero”-and-“public-servant” narrative from a somewhat-less-than-credulous point of view. For my money, the third of these truly knocks the bullshit ball out of the propaganda park, so to speak.

    (1) Why Did John McCain Continue to Support War? And why has the rest of America never come to terms with the defining crimes of our age?, by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone (August 28, 2018)

    (2) Child of the State, Man of War, by Karen Kwiatkowski, Lew (August 28, 2018)

    (3) A Senator Masquerading as a Gas Station, by Dmitry Orlov, Russia Insider (August 29, 2018)

    Something to think about …


    1. Thanks for the links, Mike. Something about John McCain’s death has made some people crazy. He’s neither deserving of being lionized as the irreplaceable senator nor demonized as the ultimate warmonger.

      To me, the word that comes to mind for John McCain is “limited.” The military is all that McCain really knew. His record at Annapolis was abysmal. As a pilot, it seems he was reckless. As a husband, his fidelity was limited. Not having a great intellect or much patience, he preferred military action as THE solution. As a politician, he mostly stuck to the party line, despite the “maverick” sobriquet that he really didn’t deserve.

      I will say this: The way in which he’s being lionized says much about our American moment.


  3. A thought on Warriors, One of my “friends” on Face Book shared a picture of NFL Players (all Black) taking a knee, next to the players was a picture of an All White group of Soldier-Warriors all decked out in the battle gear in Somewhereistan. I do not recall the exact words in the caption, but it alluded to a lack of support for our Warriors.

    Once in while I listen to Sport Talk on the radio, the sports jocks will get into a frothing, rabid rage about the over paid athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem, which denigrates our Warriors.

    The raging jocks will say you do not have the right to demonstrate your political views in the work place on company time. This is true – companies I worked for did not allow political, etc., advocacy on company time. However, taking a different look, I cannot think of a single company here in the USA outside of Corporate Sports Teams, that requires you begin the work day by standing for National Anthem. —> Opps, I may have just given the Rabid Right Wing Reactionaries an idea.

    Part of the Lost History of John McCainaic, was his part in the Keating Five Scandal. From WIKI:
    The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The five senators—Alan Cranston (Democrat of California), Dennis DeConcini (Democrat of Arizona), John Glenn (Democrat of Ohio), John McCain (Republican of Arizona), and Donald W. Riegle, Jr. (Democrat of Michigan)—were accused of improperly intervening in 1987 on behalf of Charles H. Keating, Jr., Chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was the target of a regulatory investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB). The FHLBB subsequently backed off taking action against Lincoln.

    Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed in 1989, at a cost of $3.4 billion to the federal government (and thus taxpayers). Some 23,000 Lincoln bondholders were defrauded and many investors lost their life savings. The substantial political contributions Keating had made to each of the senators, totaling $1.3 million, attracted considerable public and media attention. After a lengthy investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee determined in 1991 that Cranston, DeConcini, and Riegle had substantially and improperly interfered with the FHLBB’s investigation of Lincoln Savings, with Cranston receiving a formal reprimand. Senators Glenn and McCain were cleared of having acted improperly but were criticized for having exercised “poor judgment”.

    Charles Keating, who ultimately served five years in prison for his corrupt mismanagement of Lincoln.
    Keating goes to jail, but the enablers in the Senate have a Get of Jail Card to play.
    At the time I thought it was a bit odd when Obama and the McCainiac were slugging it out for President that the Keating Five Scandal was never brought up. I reasoned that the Keating Five Scandal was buried since it would show how easily corruptible our politicians are.


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