John McCain – War Criminal, Not a War Hero

On Sunday the 2nd September, former US Senator John McCain was laid to rest at the US Naval Academy per his death on the 25th of August. McCain served as a House representative, and then served as the Senator of Arizona consistently from 1987 to his death. He was also the Republican candidate in the 2008 presidential race in which Barack Obama won. McCain initially attributed himself to conservative politics but occasionally adhered to certain liberal views. One of his most notable influences was the introduction of bipartisan legislation, the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 which placed limitations and federal limits to political campaigns. However, the Federal Election Commission then stipulated that unlimited sums of money could be donated to parties and not the candidates themselves.

Prior to his hand in politics however, McCain was involved in the Vietnam War in a quandary that confuses war hero and war criminal. In my estimation, John McCain leans towards the latter. In 1967, he became a prisoner of war under the North Vietnamese after being shot down and seriously injured. After McCain’s father was appointed commander of the US Forces in the Pacific, the North Vietnamese attempted to offer McCain early release – utilising this as a propaganda victory. McCain, tempted under the circumstances of being severely injured and requiring medical help as soon as possible, refused the offer of release unless his fellow prisoners of war were freed additionally (as to not violate the military code of conduct). McCain would ultimately remain imprisoned until 1973, sustaining permanent injuries and episodes of torture in the process. However, the precedent and actions of McCain leading up to his bomber being shot down is somehow rarely taken into account – he was contributing to a series of war crimes consisting of illegal bombings on Vietnamese civilization (by 1973, the US had used approximately 4.6 million tons of bombs which destroyed a large portion of settlements and killed approximately 2 million people). At the time of being shot down, McCain’s target was a power plant. He also supported such illegal methods during the 1999 war in Yugoslavia:

“Water systems, power and heating plants, hospitals, universities, schools, apartment complexes, senior citizens’ homes, bridges, factories, trains, buses, radio and TV stations, the telephone system, oil refineries, embassies, marketplaces and more were deliberately destroyed by U.S./NATO planes in a ruthless 10-week bombing campaign.”

John McCain also endorsed the destruction of Iran’s water purification plants during the Gulf War in an attempt to prevent potential repair of the system and induce widespread disease. Under Article 54 of the Geneva convention, this is a war crime:

“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.”

Later into his political career, McCain ran against Barack Obama as the Republican presidential nominee with the desired image of a principled conservative who challenges the Republican establishment – but instead plays identity politics and hand-picks Sarah Palin (who was a first-term governor at the time) as his VP. Clearly, McCain recognised he needed to tackle the gender gap while also appealing to conservatives in terms of social issues and at the same time utilise some form of intersectional leverage in the presidential race. The downside to this; he chose someone who would not have been an appropriate presidential figure. In addition to being fairly new to the political stage, Palin was more of a reactionary who lacked perception of bigger agenda. She severely lacked experience in many areas of domestic policy and focused rather on conservative social issues.

Praising Senator McCain as a political “maverick” who takes a moral stance against the Republican establishment only works for as long as he remains on the right side of said moral stance, which he didn’t in 1983 when he voted against making MLK Day a national holiday (which he later apologised for in 2008). He also voted for the Patriot Act, despite supporting the constitution which the Patriot Act systematically opposes. In terms of economic policy, McCain doesn’t really stray from the GOP as he was consecutively in favour of tax cuts for the wealthy and supported the GOP tax bill under Donald Trump, which implemented a trickle-down policy. While Trump and McCain bear a mutual dislike towards one another, the media’s perception that they are polar opposites in political discourse is factually wrong when you consider that McCain voted with Trump 83% of the time (Source).

The media has had a mixed reaction to the former Senator’s death, however one popular conclusion to his lifetime is the false accolade of war heroism during a time where the US Military committed one of the largest atrocities against a nation in relative history in order to prevent the spread of communism at their doorstep (which was false). Another is the depiction of McCain as a bipartisan figure who regularly contends with the GOP establishment and its President – when the reality their views were a lot more aligned.


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