[T]he McCain campaign, after initially mumbling something about how Mr. Obama eats arugula, quickly resorted to its all-purpose answer: you can’t criticize the candidate because he’s a former P.O.W. Maybe the campaign hopes that the Obama people will fall into a reflexive cringe, the same way they did when Wesley Clark made the entirely reasonable point that having been a P.O.W., while it makes you a hero, doesn’t necessarily qualify you to become president.I would push this even further than Paul Krugman does. Having been a POW not only doesn’t instantly qualify you to become president it also doesn’t automatically make you a hero either. At best, it makes you a survivor; at worst, it makes you a psychologically scarred human being.
In the neighborhood where I grew up, most of the men (including my dad) had served in WWII, a good number had been injured, and a few had been POWs. Depending upon where and when they had been captured, their experiences differed dramatically. The father of one childhood friend had survived the Bataan death march. I remember as a kid asking my parents about the Bataan death march. I could tell by their faces that it had been something evil, almost unspeakable. I can’t recall specifically what they said, but they managed to convey the horrific nature of the event. It definitely wasn’t the merry pranksterism of Hogan’s Heroes.
Nobody in the neighborhood thought of this guy as a hero. Fate sent him into hell and then brought him out again. Fate did that to a lot of people in WWII, soldiers and civilians alike. Nobody thought of the other WWII dads -- including the ones with crushed feet or missing fingers or plates in their heads or crinkly looking burn scars or stubborn malarial infections -- as heroes either. These guys never thought of themselves as heroes. They knew what they were. We all knew what they were. They were fuckin’ lucky bastards who made it back home. A lot of guys didn’t.
And that’s what John McCain is. He’s a fuckin’ lucky bastard who made it back home from Vietnam. A lot of guys didn’t.