Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Bitterness will eat a hole in your soul"

In The Weekly Standard, Ken Ringle writes about an encounter with his former classmate at Episcopal High School, John McCain. The article overall is an absorbing discussion of William Ravenel, a teacher who was highly influential upon McCain. The following passage is noteworthy amid claims that McCain is unsuited to improve America's external relations:

Decades later, in the 1970s, after he'd recovered from his imprisonment, McCain was appointed the Navy's liaison with the Senate. One day I ran into him and asked him how he liked the work. He found it rewarding, he said, but he'd run into an infuriating obstacle. Though the Vietnam war was scarcely over, Congress was already planning to dispatch a mission to Hanoi to discuss the possibility of normalizing relations with Vietnam. The Navy wanted McCain to go along. He was shocked by that, and angry, and bitter beyond telling.

"Can you believe they are asking me to do that?" he said. "It took me six years to get out of Hanoi. I sure as hell don't want to go back. I'll never forgive those [North Vietnamese] bastards."

I don't remember what happened to the mission, but McCain didn't go and I heard no more about it. Until two decades later when President Clinton sought to normalize relations with Vietnam. Who was his major partner in the ultimately successful effort? Senator John Sidney McCain, R-Ariz.

I was stunned. Much of the Republican party was against the effort, as were McCain's conservative constituents in Arizona. Some accused him of treachery. Though our paths rarely crossed anymore, I called to congratulate him on what I considered a truly selfless act in the national interest, one of rare political courage. He thanked me and said that he remembered our conversation years before: "But you have to put stuff like that behind you or bitterness will eat a hole in your soul,'' he said. "We all have to put Vietnam behind us. All of us in this country have to become part of something larger than our own self-interest."

Some warmonger.

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