What did Donald Trump say about John McCain?

“Word and emotion together are the most powerful force known to mankind,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz—perhaps best known for pushing the use of the terms “death tax” and “climate change” instead of “estate tax” and “global warming”.

Luntz, like Michael Moore, Tim Sebastian and Sean Hannity, falls neatly under my definition of a propagandist—one to whom the possibility that they could be wrong is completely alien and who propagates their gluttony of confidence via mass media. Granted, I don’t think Luntz—or any of the others—is a bad man. I just can’t recall a single occasion in which he has entertained the possibility that he could be wrong.

Last July, presidential candidate Donald Trump, persona non grata to the Republican Party, yet again became the object of controversy in the wake of his comments about Arizona Senator John McCain. “[McCain]’s not a war hero,” Trump said in an interview with Luntz. “He’s a war hero because he was captured...”

It seems to me that many, while rushing to the aid of either Trump or McCain, fell into the same trap as Luntz, Moore, Sebatian and Hannity, in forgetting that they could also be wrong. One would do well not to lose sign of just how little they, or anyone else, know.

In October 1967, John McCain—a naval aviator at the time—was shot down over Hanoi, North Vietnam and broke both his arms in the crash. “McCain,” wrote CIA military intelligence officer Philip Giraldi in 2013, “[w]as saved from drowning by a Vietnamese civilian and was treated at a Hanoi hospital for his wounds...”

“[McCain’s] own tale of his torture,” Giraldi continued, comes “[l]argely from his book... in which he describes his shame at… [confessing to] the enemy... But some of McCain’s fellow prisoners... have [expressed] their belief that McCain was not physically abused at all and that he was well treated... [and] by McCain’s own account, he may have begun cooperating with the North Vietnamese within three days of his capture... providing specific intelligence on his aircraft carrier, its aircraft, and the support vessels attached to it...”

“Throughout his congressional careers”, writes journalist Sydney Schanberg, “McCain has repeatedly opposed making public either his records or records about American prisoners-of-war or other servicemen gone missing-in-action… Literally thousands of documents [that] have been declassified long ago have been legislated into secrecy.”

After his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, August 2nd 1943, a young John F. Kennedy led his surviving fellow seamen to shore, one of whom he dragged by a strap which he clenched between his teeth. All lived to be rescued. After medical leave, Kennedy himself returned to active duty in 1944. John F. Kennedy was a war hero. Of this, I am convinced.

In 2008 when I voted for McCain, the very idea that he was something less than a war hero seemed inconceivable. I still believe he acted heroically in Vietnam, but I am far less certain that he should be held in such high esteem as men like John F. Kennedy than I was five years ago.

Like Trump said, “perhaps he’s a war hero.” I don’t know one way or the other. I would invite you—Trump et al included—to at least entertain the possibility that you don’t know either.

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