I Respect Your Service, but You, Personally—You're an Asshole

by Ginmarliberal pinko commie hippie feminist female combat veteran who loves zombies and werewolves and hates trolls, twits, and MRAs.

John McCain's getting a free ride in the press because of his status as a war hero, despite numerous examples of the way he's not lived up to the standards he so heroically met as a POW. He's called his own wife a trollop and a cunt—in front of people; referred to Asian people as gooks; and has serious ethical violations, such as his involvement with the Keating Savings and Loan. He was tortured himself yet believes that torture is okay for some people.

He has not lived up to the standards which he upheld as a POW.

Show me a veteran who has behaved honorably both during and after their service, and I will respect them. That is the because the standards of the military—not the Xtianist-infiltrated organization that some fundies are trying to make it into—honor responsibility, leadership, and sacrifice. I've seen commanders get down and get their hands dirty to demonstrate to their troops that they won't be asked to do anytihng the CO won't do, and I've seen a general or two standing aside at the chow hall so the troops eat first. This means the good food might very well be gone by the time they get to eat.

(I don't consider PTSD in this assessment, because it's something any soldier can suffer and struggle against. However, that changes when a soldier pleads PTSD made him commit rape or deserve a lower sentence for the crime. As far as I'm concerned that rape negates his service, much like John Stebbins' rape of his own daughter erases his valiant actions in the Battle of Mogadishu.)

Of course, conservatives will whine that that means they get to bash liberal soldiers if they make mistakes—if, that is, the conservatives don't make things up out of whole cloth, as they did with John Kerry—but in fact it's the conservatives who are the primary offenders when it comes to both not respecting soldiers and in not living up to the standards set by the military. Conservatives have repeatedly repudiated liberal soldiers, all the while claiming to be 'fair and impartial', defending their friends rather than principles, and attacking people on the basis of their politics rather than their ethics, behavior, and intention. As some types of conservatism are dishonorable by definition—the Nixonian ethos of slander springs to mind—one often finds one's self confronted by people who scream lies, refuse to dialogue, repeat lies ad nauseum, and denigrate other's service entirely coincidentally only when the subject is liberal. We're seeing now a conservative press fawn over McCain not because of all the years he's lived as a civilian, but because of five years of behavior that a cold look a his life reveals to be atypical.

McCain was the son and grandson of Admirals, but he did not inherit their capacity for hard work. He graduated near the bottom of his class, was referred to as McNasty, and was not well-regarded before he was taken captive after being shot down in 1967. Despite being seriously wounded—he had several broken bones which were not treated—he refused an early release because other soldiers had been in captivity longer than he had, and also he did not want to be regarded as using his father and grandfather's status for his own gain. Upon release, he cheated on his wife who had been disfigured and gained weight as the result of a car accident, and married his current wife six weeks after his divorce was final. He left the military in 1981, and while he was supposedly a maverick, he was soon embroiled in the Savings and Loan scandal, where he was accused of using his influence on behalf of Charles Keating in return for campaign contributions.

In 2000, McCain came up against Karl Rove, the former Nixon protege, who waged a stealth campaign against him that included all the tricks that conservatives had learned under Nixon. People received phone calls asking about McCain's 'black' child, and McCain was the subject of whisper campaigns started by Rove. McCain did not win the nomination and he emerged from the debacle—during which he does not appear to have stood up for his daughter and attacked those who attacked her—determined to do whatever it took to become President. That included sucking up to the very people who had used his young daughter in a racist fashion to sway voters. Rather than fight such disgusting tactics, McCain embraced those who used them. McCain has not, apparently, learned the lessons of war at all. He has joked about bombing Iran, has stated that if it takes a hundred years we will stay in Iraq, and he has voted in favor of waterboarding. To top it off, in 2007, McCain, wearing a bullet-proof vest and accompanied by 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships, strolled through a Baghdad market that had been cut off from civilian foot traffic for the duration of his visit. He claimed the heavily-armed walk through showed that the American public was not getting the true picture of what was really going on in Iraq. It was the final hurrah for any claim of independence on McCain's part. As a third-generation military member, he knew the significance of those numbers, that flak vest, those gunships. He knew. He knew, and he lied blatantly to the Ameican public nevertheless. The prize for him was the support of the Bush administration and their assistance in gaining the presidency that will shut the door on his messy, complicated past.

While McCain is constantly referred to as a war hero, people like Hugh Thompson—who upheld the highest and most honorable standards of the military—are relegated to footnotes in the history books as we worship people like McCain, a one-time victim who has become a bully himself. Hugh Thompson rescued civilians against the opposition of his fellow soldiers, and did not weigh pros or cons or future career choices while doing so. While John McCain has gone on record as calling VietNamese people 'gooks'—"I hate gooks. I always will."—Hugh Thompson visited Viet Nam several times, as have other soldiers. It seems that honorable behavior often does not involve bluster and grandstanding, but quiet and private acts and working individual by individual. Many World War II veterans from America, for example, met their former opponents years later and were astonished to find out how ordinary they were—and how easy it was to be friendly and forgiving.

A hero is not just someone who resists torture. They must resist the idea that the way to survive abuse is to become an abuser themselves, that the way to be a hero is to kill many people. Hugh Thompson saved peoples' lives. Joe Darby blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib and was run out of town on a rail. Nevertheless, he did it. "I've always had a moral sense of right and wrong. And I knew that you know, friends or not, it had to stop," Darby says. People in his hometown sided with the bullies. Bully or be bullied, and then call it honor, say the conservatives. Defend, protect, trust, hope, and resign one's self to being slandered say the liberals, who have dealt with Nixon's children for forty years. A whole community turned against Darby because they just didn't want to know about torture, and didn't care once it became apparent it was just brown people.

People often ask how a liberal can be a soldier, with the possibility of killing always there. The answer is simple: the military will take a good person and make him or her better. It will give you strength, and courage and discipline. What it will not do is offer you a lot of opportunities to kill. Many soldiers, even in this time of war, fire weapons only on the firing range, and that's after a tour in Iraq.

To be fair, as I mentioned above, there are different kinds of conservative, and many of them differ in credo from liberals only in how they believe money should be budgeted. Unfortunately, the military appears to be in a state of flux, with Xtianists prostletyzing at the academies, with women still ignored as anything but sexual assault victims whose 'negligence' causes their own rapes (because all men are rapists and all women should be wary), and with injured soldiers being neglected because the powers that be in Washington can't be bothered to care for used-up people. Conservative pundits talk about supporting the troops, but liberal ones aren't 'real' soldiers—they're 'pustules' or whatever else conservatives can dream up. To conservatives, a liberal soldier is by definition a bad soldier, and even worse, to some of those, a female soldier is a contradiction in terms.

These are the forces that McCain has aligned himself with and has for most of his life. Seen in its entirety, his life offers only one or two honorable moments, and long stretches of questionable service. The military made of him what could be made, and then he turned his back on it when he couldn't attain the same power his father and grandfather had. (He was turned down for promotion twice.) His most recent honorable act, a singular event, came when he defended fellow veteran John Kerry against the attacks of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a Republican group funded by arch conservatives and designed to spread lies about Kerry. It was a glimpse of what McCain could have been, a welcome and poignant vision of one veteran standing up for another, no matter what their politics.

The military is supposed to be apolitical, but in this, the conservatives have consistantly fired the first shots, attacking liberals and their service records and seeking nothing less than to erase them from sight by calling them liars or not soldiers by definition. This is similar to the way women are called liars and the other by men, and it speaks to an extremely simplistic world view—man/woman, white/gook, strong/weak, bully/ bullied, victimizer/victim. In fact, to have the military we need, we need a spectrum of all sorts that teaches soldiers to get along, first, with countrymen of their own who are different from themselves, and then to expand that lesson to citizens of other countries. By clinging to his hatred, McCain has repudiated everything he could have been and could have done.

We must not follow his example. We must demand more. We must supply more to our soldiers. To have such a military, we must have a citizenry that rejects cheap shots and either/or dichotomies, who have some measure of the honor they demand of their soldiers—and it is our right to demand this. For our soldiers, it is an honor to be so highly regarded and trusted. But above all else, we must broaden our definition of heroism so that we can judge it accurately, reward it accordingly, and encourage it not just in soldiers, but in civilians as well.


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