Tributes have poured in this week from all sides of the political divide to celebrate the life of John McCain, whose funeral was this weekend. The Washington Post’s editorial declared that “all over the world, Mr McCain is associated with freedom and democracy”; “he championed human rights with verve and timelessness – speaking out against repression and authoritarianism’.
His support for gun control, his liberal stance on immigration, and his opposition to the use of torture in Guantánamo Bay, as well as his time spent as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam has led journalists, even in the UK, to hail him as a “warrior politician”. But this doesn’t tell the full story. Some of his actions – the effects of which are still felt around the world today – are not being mentioned. The well wishes circulating in the press fail to hold Senator McCain to account for what is an appalling political record. It is not insensitive to now attempt a little rebalancing.
Throughout his political career, McCain was an ardent supporter of possibly every American intervention, war, and militaristic use of force in its arsenal of foreign policy. Whilst praised for ‘championing human rights’, his opposition to the use of torture was not so much due to humanitarian sympathies, but because he said it did not “work”. Instead, it was only harmful to America’s legitimacy and global image.
Following his release from time spent as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, now Senator McCain supported Reagan’s 1983 invasion of Grenada; Reagan’s efforts with the Central American fascists; Bush’s 1989 invasion of Panama; Clinton’s military threats in Bosnia; the 1999 bombing of Serbia; the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction”; advocated military action against North Korea in 2003, and subsequently, intervention in Libya and Syria. The day before he died, 22 Yemeni children were killed in yet another war supported by McCain, a tragedy which has failed to rouse anywhere near the same outpouring of grief in the media.
McCain’s legacy, for now, is shaped by today’s political climate. Fear and mass hysteria surrounding the election and presidency of Donald Trump allowed McCain to win the hearts of Democrats and Republicans alike through his recent criticism of the President. The overblown panic surrounding Trump’s administration has led to a short term memory loss; that people have said they’d prefer to have President Bush back in office is testament to how far we’ve lost our way. It is right that we should now attempt to remember McCain more realistically.
We should always remember McCain’s less commendable actions. Restoring a more well-rounded view of some of the darker aspects of American history will alleviate some of the terror we feel today. Today’s politics are not the radical disjuncture from America’s past we’ve been led to believe. Don’t pine for a past that did not exist; don’t pine for a man who was not the hero we make him out to be. America has caused a lot of unnecessary destruction in the world, and McCain has advocated almost every intervention which has led to it.
Remember him as an American hero if you want to, but first ask yourself what that really means. He helped create the desert they call peace.