Excitable Andy has decided to Swift Boat John McCain ["Swift Boat" as meant by the left; see UPDATE]:
I've now heard it countless times. McCain has used what appears to be an intensely personal moment in a prison camp as a reason to vote for him in a campaign ad. As he tells it today, it was the pivotal moment in his struggle to survive in the Hanoi Hilton. And yet, in his first thorough account of his time in captivity, in 1973, the story is absent. The story is also hauntingly like that recounted by Solzhenitsen, as told in Luke Veronis, "The Sign of the Cross":
I have one simple question: when was the first time that McCain told this story?
Uh huh. Because the sign of the cross is a pretty well-kept secret, so how could prison guards invoke it twice in one century? FWIW, the story appears in McCain's 1999 "Faith Of My Fathers", although I have no idea whether McCain told it earlier. Lexis mavens?
The Kossacks are on this search for the truth, so we know it will be kept classy. And speaking of classy, let's crack open the Time Vault and go all the way back to June 30 for a different perspective from a then Non-Excitable Andy:
This kind of personal attack was repulsive coming against Kerry from the far right. And it's repulsive the other way round. Both Kerry and McCain served their country honorably; and their records should be revered, period. You can make an argument against McCain's foreign policy experience and judgment on its merits. Do it and leave this crap out of it.
Well, that was almost two months ago. Evidently the bell has rung and now its time to bring the crap.
And since we are bringing crap, let me help. Andy links to McCain's first person account of his captivity as told to US News and World Report in May 1973. McCain came home on March 15, 1973, so he had already had two months to recover from the physical and mental trauma of his captivity, gather his thoughts, and present every important detail.
Let's see - McCain mentions the prisoner tap with this introduction:
While I was in the prison we called "The Plantation" in October, 1968, there was a room behind me. I heard some noise in there so I started tapping on the wall. Our call-up sign was the old "shave and a haircut," and then the other guy would come back with the two taps, "six bits."
Well, that is a bald faced lie - everyone knows it is "Shave and a haircut - two bits." What, was there a high incidence of inflation in Vietnam? Or had McCain even been in Vietnam? [Hmm, pushback in the comments here and from 2004].
And I have picked up another clear fabrication. In the context of the interrogation debate McCain has frequently told the story of his own presentation of false information under torture; his tale is that he gave up the names of the Green Bay Packer offensive line rather than his fellow aviators. Or maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers. But no such story appears in his 1973 account, back when he was still groggy from captivity. That pretty much proves the Packer/Steeler story is false, too. Right?
And people take McCain's Presidential qualifications seriously.
The context of Excitable's original question (and certainly the Kos conjecture) seems to be the suspicion that McCain has invented this story as a bone to throw to the religious right. Well, McCain is a crafty planner, because here is what he wrote in 1973:
I was finding that prayer helped. It wasn't a question of asking for superhuman strength or for God to strike the North Vietnamese dead. It was asking for moral and physical courage, for guidance and wisdom to do the right thing. I asked for comfort when I was in pain, and sometimes I received relief. I was sustained in many times of trial.
I bet he meant it, but maybe he is lying and never really prayed while in captivity. Or he prayed but never found any comfort in it. Any takers? Excitable?
If I may dare to play armchair psychologist - one point of the "cross in dirt" story is McCain's recognition of and reconciliation to the humanity of his often brutal captors. My guess is that in May of 1973 he had not fully worked through his issues with the North Vietnamese.
UPDATE: Good point by Sue in the comments and highlighted by Glenn - "Swift Boating" means different things to the right and left. As a proud Swiftboater myself (in the political, 2004 sense) I should be more vigilant about maintaining that distinction.
PROPS: Jane scores:
I say Andy and the kos kids should go for it. I love the smell of backlash in the morning.
Smells like hilarity.
INSPIRED, NO DOUBT, BY SOLZHENITSEN: Bill Clinton hits the beach at Omaha:
At the end of the day in Normandy, Bill Clinton walked down to the beach with three veterans of Omaha Beach -- Joe Dawson, Walter Ehlers and Robert Slaughter. The tableau was appealing: the young President enjoying the company of the aging heroes. But suddenly the President's aides began tugging the veterans away, mid-conversation, so that Clinton could walk off at sunset down the beach in his dress shoes and have a preplanned meditative moment, with the bluffs on one side and the sea dotted with warships on the other.
Originally, the White House told photographers they were considering a "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" moment, where Clinton and children would throw flowers into the sea.
But they settled on "a moment of solitude." The President knew he was supposed to look reflective for the three cameras and dozen photographers who joined him. But after looking soulfully out at the ocean for a moment, he seemed at a loss for what to do next, according to a photographer on the scene, who was scared that Clinton was about to mouth the words "What do I do now?" But then, spying the stones at his feet left by his advance staff to show him where his camera mark was, the President crouched down and began to arrange the stones into a cross. He gathered more stones to finish the cross, and then bent his head as though in silent prayer.
The White House aides were ecstatic. "Wasn't it great?" they asked reporters.
Hmm, maybe McCain was ripping off Clinton...
Dan Riehl has more. Turns out the sign of the cross is somewhat well known.
That's when he learned to lie, figuring he could give them just enough truth to make his lies believable. When the interrogators wanted Swindle to name the men in his squadron, he told them he couldn't think in such pain. They'd have to loosen the ropes to get anything out of him. When they started to loosen his bindings, he gave them the names of his high-school football coach and assistant coach, saying that was is squadron commander and executive officer.
When they loosened the ropes some more, he gave them the names of his entire high-school football team as his squadron's pilots. Swindle chuckled as he recalled a welcome-home gala several years later in his small south-Georgia hometown. "All those guys were in the audience," he said. "And I said, 'You better not ever go to North Vietnam, because they're looking for you.'"
Cmon, weren't any of these naval aviators baseball players or fans? That's a mighty big coincidence that McCain and Swindle both picked football teams to baffle their captors.
ANOTHER CROSS STORY: The Confederate Yankee recounts the cross story told by Sen. Denton.