Recently, the issue of President Trump attacking the memory of the late Arizona senator John McCain has reared its ugly head once again. During the debates before the election, Trump said "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured."
That was taken as a direct insult to the veteran McCain who spent 5 1/2 years in captivity in North Vietnam. People said Trump should not impugn the reputation of a veteran, especially one who suffered as a prisoner of war. That is a fair criticism, but Trump was responding to the elevation of McCain to a "Wartime Hero" status, and who had implicitly said he thought Donald Trump "fired up the crazies." I wrote about that at the time, because I was one of the 'crazies' McCain was impugning.
When considering the idea of running for President in 2012, Trump knew he would be up against McCain. It was at that point that they began to undermine each other's credibility.
We can all agree that Trump and McCain didn't like each other. They clashed on a lot of foreign and military policy, but especially over illegal immigration. McCain had a hard time distinguishing between legal and illegal immigrants. He was a symbol of the entrenched Washington beltway establishment that consistently ignored the impact of the flood of unvetted, undereducated, and essentially unskilled immigrants across the country.
For that McCain was praised by Democrats as a Maverick Republican. In Trump's view, that means he was disloyal. When McCain reneged on his campaign promises to repeal Obamacare and became the deciding vote to sink the Republican repeal package, he sealed his reputation as a political traitor to Trump.
Liberals loved him, Trump conservatives, "not so much."
McCain embodied the inertia Trump confronted on every issue, every newscast, and every legislative action. The Washington establishment and the mainstream media does whatever they can to impugn Trump, while simultaneously elevating his opposition to newly defined levels of respect and significance.
When during the 2016 Republican candidate debate, Trump was confronted with McCain's hero status, he repeated his assessment: "Does being captured make you a hero? I don't know, I am not sure."
We have to ask ourselves, are all vets heros? What about those that perished in service? Are all of them ranked by the same definition of hero? If so, then what about all of those that threw their body on a hand grenade to save their fellow soldiers? Where do they rank?
We often refer to doctors, nurses, first responders, police and firemen as heroes. Then, in the same breath, we say they are underappreciated. To me, under appreciating heroes is an oxymoron. Just because they are in a unique position to be heroic, that doesn't mean they are all heroes all of the time.
This is where the perversion of our language issue comes in again, because it seems the value of too many terms have been rendered meaningless. We can't bestow that 'hero' title to every statesman in history. No one would suggest that all past and present public servants are heroes. People throw around words with little or no concern for the effects of the dilution of their meaning.
That is why the military bestows medals of honor, to distinguish exceptional efforts and circumstances from the everyday, though unforgiving, occurrences of wartime service. No one can take the value of a medal away from the recipient. McCain was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star, which speak for themselves. That makes McCain a highly decorated military veteran.
My point is, there has to be some qualification of the term hero.
The standard Merriam dictionary definition is:
1 : A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent
endowed with great strength or ability.
2 : An illustrious warrior.
3: A man admired for his achievements and noble qualities.
4 : One who shows great courage.
McCain definitely fits that generic description. But so does millions of people. Is that what we mean when we call someone a hero? Is the kid who hits a walkoff homerun in the College World Series really a hero?
We can't just bestow that rank upon everyone that served in the military or are emergency and police professionals or won a game with the swing of a bat. Whether a soldier spent years in solitary confinement or in a tank waiting for an IED to blow their legs off, they all went to hell and back for our country. If that makes all of our soldiers heroes I think it dilutes the tribute.
At a meeting of world leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called McCain an “American patriot and hero whose sacrifices for his country, and lifetime of public service, were an inspiration to millions.” McCain did serve his country. He did endure torture and imprisonment. He was relentless in his pursuit of political significance. He will be remembered as a unique historical figure in modern American history.
But he was no Neil Armstrong.
Upon closer analysis McCain pissed a lot of people off. He consistently voted against traditional Republican platforms. He pushed for liberal environmental federal standards, for comprehensive immigration reforms (viewed as amnesty by conservatives) and strongly criticized American anti-terrorism policies regarding interrogation and imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay. John Kerry considered offering him the Vice Presidential slot during his Presidential run.
McCain justified his rogue voting record as "doing what's right for America." He was definitely not a party loyalist. Republicans could not trust him to support their agenda. Maybe democrats would classify McCain as a hero, but the Trump Movement certainly wouldn't.
Trump was not suggesting that what McCain did was of no value, but getting accidently caught in enemy territory, then spending the entire war in a prison cell is incredibly brutal and the level of self discipline and commitment has to be enormous to survive. That is noble and deserving of our highest degree of recognition and gratitude.
What happened to John McCain was terrible and he did nothing to deserve it. He served his country and he deserves to be remembered as a leader and selfless contributor to our country and its legacy. But his service was most certainly not heroic.
When someone acts heroically, it is on purpose, not by accident.