Meet the Real John McCain:
North Vietnam’s Go-To Collaborator
By Douglas Valentine
If you have no idea what war is about, thank God. It’s not what you
see in movies or told by your government.
When my father was in New Guinea with the 32nd Division in 1942, his
fellow American soldiers would point their long Springfield rifles
skywards and shoot at American pilots flying overhead.
"Glory Boys", the ground troops called them.
The pilots had comfortable quarters beside the airstrip in Port
Moresby. When orders for a mission came down, they’d climb in their
planes, rattle down the runway, and soar over the Owen Stanley
Mountains with the clouds, breathing fresh, clean air. The Glory Boys
weren’t trapped in the broiling jungle, in the mud and pouring rain,
their skin rotting away, chewed by ghastly insects, bitten by
poisonous snakes, stricken with cerebral malaria, yellow fever,
dysentery, and a host of unknown diseases delivered by unknown
If the Fly Boys died, it was in a blaze of glory, not from a landmine,
or a misdirected mortar, or a Japanese bayonet in the brain.
One day, my father and his last remaining friend, Charlie Ferguson,
were walking through the jungle up to the line. On the way they passed
a group of bare-chested Aussies in shorts, sitting round a grindstone
sharpening their knives. Every once in a while one of the Aussies
would hoist his rifle and casually put a bullet into a Japanese sniper
who had tied himself into the top of a nearby tree. Not in any place
that would outright kill him but some place, painful enough to make
A little further toward the front line, my father and Charlie came
upon Master Sergeant Harry Blackman, a man in his forties, regular
army, a grizzled combat veteran. A few days earlier in a fight with
the Japanese, a young lieutenant, a "90-Day Wonder", had curled up in
a fetal position when he should have been directing mortar fire. As a
result, U.S. Army mortar rounds landed on several U.S. Army soldiers
up on the line. Blackman, in front of everyone, took the lieutenant
behind a tree and blew his brains out.
As my father and Charlie walked through the jungle, they saw Harry
Blackman perched on the lower limb of a huge tropical tree, babbling
incoherently, driven stark raving mad by sorrow and jungle war with
Several days later, my father was sent on a patrol into Japanese held
territory. He was the last man in a formation moving single file
through the jungle. Plagued by malaria and exhaustion, he kept falling
behind. Around noon, a group of Japanese soldiers sitting high up in
trees dropped concussion grenades on the patrol. As he lay on the
ground, unable to move, my father watched the Japanese slide down the
trees. Starting with the point man on patrol, they pulled down the
pants and castrated each man, before clubbing him to death with their
rifle butts or running a bayonet into his gut.
War. If you’re a Glory Boy like John Sidney McCain III, you really
have no idea what it is. You drop bombs on cities, on civilians, maybe
on enemy forces, maybe on your own troops. Glory Boys like McCain
rarely get a taste of the horror they inflict on others. Their
april 1-15, 2008
rarely extends beyond the worry that they might get shot down.
Magically, my father was spared that day when his patrol was
slaughtered. Against regulations, he had stolen a cross-swords patch
and sewn it on his shirtsleeve. At the age of 16, he thought it looked
cool. On the morning of the patrol, when the new lieutenant told him
to take it off, my father said, "Sure." He and the lieutenant started
at each other for a while, and then the lieutenant moved away.
Insubordination was the least of his worries. No one was expected to
survive the patrol, anyway.
When the Japanese who had ambushed the patrol got to my father, they
stood poised to mutilate and kill him. Then they saw the cross-swords
patch. They apparently felt that dear old dad was an important person
with inside information about American forces. Instead of killing him,
they took him prisoner. When they realized he was just a stupid kid,
the Japanese sent him to a POW camp in the Philippines.
Being a POW is what my father and John McCain have in common; although
their experiences as POWs were as different as their class and their
In the fall of 1967, Navy pilot John McCain was routinely bombing
Hanoi from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. On October 26,
he was trying to level a power plant in a heavily populated area when
a surface-to-air missile knocked a wing off his jet. McCain and what
was left of his plane splashed into Truc Bach Lake.
A compassionate Vietnamese civilian left his air raid shelter and swam
out to McCain. McCain’s arm and leg were broken, and he was tangled up
in his parachute underwater. He was drowning. The Vietnamese man saved
McCain’s sorry ass, and yet McCain has nothing but hatred for "the
gooks". As he told reporters on his campaign bus in 2000, "I will hate
them as long as I live".
You have to hate people to drop bombs on them, which is why the U.S.
and Israeli governments stir up so much hatred against Muslims. That’s
why Saddam Hussein became a symbol of Iraq and why Bush tied him to
9/11 – so American soldiers would hate Iraqis enough to kill and abuse
them in a thousand ways, everyday, for five years. Or, according to
McCain, for 100 years if necessary.
The flip side to the equation is that people generally hate those who
drop bombs on them. When the Germans dropped bombs on London, the
Allies called it terror bombing. Everyone hated the Germans. Most
Iraqis hate the Americans (who more and more resemble the Germans of
1940) for occupying their country. They especially hate our Gestapo –
the CIA – and its torturers. But that’s war for you, and John McCain
is lucky the locals didn’t eat him – like Uzbek nationalists trapped
in a horrid prison camp chewed on CIA officer John "Mike" Spann
shortly after Spann summarily executed a prisoner. Spann (the John
Birch of the war on terror) was killed in the ensuing riot, shortly
before the CIA and its Afghan collaborators massacred the majority of
prisoners on November 28, 2001. On his previous 22 missions, McCain
dropped God knows how many bombs, killing God knows how many innocent
Vietnamese civilians. "I am a war criminal", he confessed on 60
Minutes in 1997. "I bombed innocent women and children."
If he is sincere when he says that, why isn’t he being tried for war
crimes by the U.S. government?
In any event, the man who rescued McCain tried to ward off an angry
mob, which stomped on McCain for a while until the local cops turned
him over to the military. McCain was in pain but suffered no mortal
wounds. He was, however, in enough pain to break down and start
collaborating with the Vietnamese after three days.
War is one thing, collaborating with the enemy is another; it is a
legitimate campaign issue that strikes at the heart of McCain’s
character … or lack thereof.
There are certainly degrees of collaboration. As a famous novelist
once asked, "If you’re a barber and you cut a German’s hair, does that
make you a collaborator?" Being an informant for the Gestapo and/or
informing on the resistance and sending resistance fighters to their
death is different than being a barber. In occupied countries like
Iraq, or France in World War II, collaboration to that extent spells
an automatic death sentence.
The question is: What kind of collaborator was John McCain, the
admitted war criminal who will hate the Vietnamese for the rest of his
Put it another way: how psychologically twisted is McCain? And what
actually happened to him in his POW camp that twisted him? Was it
abuse, as he claims, or was it the fact that he collaborated and has
to cover up?
Covering-up can take a lot of energy. The truth is lurking there in
his subconscious, waiting to explode. A number of U.S. officials and
politicians have commented on McCain’s eruptions of temper. Republican
Senator Thad Cochrane has openly said he trembles at the thought of an
unstable McCain in the Oval Office with his finger on the nuclear
a July 5, 2006, NewsMax.com article, former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH)
said about McCain: "I have witnessed incidents where he has used
profanity at colleagues… He would disagree about something and then
explode." Smith called it "irrational behavior. We’ve all had
incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act
So, you say, McCain has a short fuse behind the plastered TV smile.
So, he calls his colleagues assholes and shit-heads. In high school
they called him "McNasty." That’s just how he is. Always was, always
Well, maybe. And maybe it’s not a quality we want in a president. And
maybe that repressed anger actually has its roots in a Vietnamese POW
The Admiral’s Boy
In the POW camp where my father was held and tortured by the Japanese,
collaboration was a hanging offense. Indeed, the ranking POW in my
father’s camp, an English major, made a deal with the Japanese that
resulted in four prisoners being beheaded. The other POWs held a war
council that night. They drew straws, and the four who got short
straws crept to the major’s hut. They strangled him in his sleep.
McNasty says he was tortured in solitary confinement. However, on
March 25, 1999, two of his fellow POWs, Ted Guy and Gordon "Swede"
Larson, told the Phoenix New Times that, while they could not
guarantee that McCain was not physically harmed, they doubted it.
Larson said, "My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he
was at the Plantation, to the best of my knowledge and Ted’s
knowledge, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that
camp. It was the camp that people were released from."
McCain had a unique POW experience. Initially, he was taken to the
infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp, where he was interrogated. By
McCain’s own account, after three or four days he cracked. He promised
his Vietnamese captors, "I’ll give you military information if you
will take me to the hospital."
His Vietnamese captors soon realized their POW, John Sidney McCain
III, came from a well-bred line in the American military elite.
McCain’s father, John Jr., and grandfather, John Sr., were both full
admirals. A destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, is named after both of
While his son was held captive in Hanoi, John Jr., from 1968 to 1972,
was the commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Command; Admiral McCain was
in charge of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, including those fighting
One can only wonder when the calls from Admiral McCain started coming
into the Hanoi Hilton’s concierge. Rather quickly, one surmises, for
the Vietnamese soon took McCain to a hospital reserved for Vietnamese
officers. Unlike his fellow POWs, he received care from a Soviet
The Vietnamese realized, this poor stooge has propaganda value. The
admiral’s boy was used to special treatment, and his captors knew
that. They were working him.
For his part, McCain acknowledges that the Vietnamese rushed him to a
hospital but denies he was given any "special medical treatment."
However, two weeks into his stay at the Vietnamese hospital, the Hanoi
press began quoting him. It was not "name rank and serial number, or
kill me," as specified by the military code of conduct. McCain
divulged specific military information: he gave the name of the
aircraft carrier on which he was based, the number of U.S. pilots that
had been lost, the number of aircraft in his flight formation, as well
as information about the location of rescue ships.
So, McCain leveraged some details to get some medical attention, not
anything too contemptible. Who’s to judge someone in the position?
But McCain was held for five and half years. The first two weeks’
behavior might have been pragmatism, but McCain soon became North
Vietnam’s go-to collaborator.
The Psywar Stooge
McCain cooperated with the North Vietnamese for a period of three
years. His situation isn’t as innocuous as that of the French barber
who cuts the hair of the German occupier. McCain was repaying his
captors for their kindness and mercy.
This is the lesson of McCain’s experience as a POW: a true politician,
a hollow man, his only allegiance is to power. The Vietnamese, like
McCain’s campaign contributors today, protected and promoted him, and,
in return, he danced to their tune.
McCain provided his voice in radio broadcasts for the North
Vietnamese. General Vo Nguyen Giap, a nationalist celebrity of the
time, interviewed him. McCain’s uneasy compliance was a moment of
affirmation for Vietnamese. His Vietnamese handlers thereafter used
him regularly as prop at meetings with foreign delegations, including
the Cubans. McCain became what he is today, a psywar stooge.
Vietnamese radio propagandists made good use of McCain. He was on the
air so often that, on June 4, 1969, a U.S. wire service headlined a
story entitled "PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral".
The story reported that McCain collaborated in psywar offensives,
aimed at American servicemen. "The broadcast was beamed to American
servicemen in South Vietnam as a part of a propaganda series
attempting to counter charges by U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird
that American prisoners are being mistreated in North Vietnam."
It’s impossible to prove exactly what happened to McCain short of
traveling to Vietnam, tracking down his captors, and picking up the
trial were it starts. McCain says he only collaborated when he was
brutally tortured. He says his predicament led him to attempt suicide.
That, one supposes, and the guilt of being
a war criminal.
But wait! Not only is McCain still alive, he is running for president
and promoting more war everywhere. Maybe he, not Hillary, should be
called the Comeback Kid?
There are no public records from other POWs to confirm McCain’s
claims, but his detractors, like fellow POWs Ted Guy and Gordon
"Swede" Larson, have yet to be silenced. Their work can be found at
www.usvetdsp.com/mcianhro.htm. Guy and Larson are part of a larger
movement concerned with the fate of the 2,000 American Vietnam
veterans still missing. They’ve been pressing McCain to own up to his
POW experience, drop the war hero posturing and do more to provide a
full accounting of the POWs and MIAs who were not as fortunate,
privileged, or willing to collaborate as the would-be president.
McCain’s supporters are trying to quiet detractors by ignoring them.
"Nobody believes these idiots. They’re a bunch of jerks. Forget them",
said Mark Salter, McCain’s chief staffer.
By and large the strategy has worked. The American media accept
McCain’s story as gospel and, in so doing, bolster the war hero image
so essential to his career in politics. In a recent TV interview with
John Kerry, victim of the Swift Boat Heroes for Truth Movement in the
last election, another admiral’s son, Chris Wallace, actually took
umbrage when Kerry criticized McCain. Son of media admiral Mike
Wallace, Chris made Kerry admit that McCain was a hero.
Hypocrisy and Anger
Perhaps McCain learned something from the Vietnamese propagandists who
used him for their psywar projects? It’s not the collaboration itself
that makes John McCain unfit for office but the fact that he has
managed to rewrite his collaboration into political capital. "He’s a
war hero, respect him." Or die.
As a family pedigree, the McCain family’s stature rests on the status
and prestige of its achievements in the military: rank, medals and,
most importantly to John McCain’s presidential campaign, the image of
warrior masculinity. He’s the straight talking maverick of the
Republican Party, the 21st century rendering of Teddy Roosevelt.
Not exactly. McCain collaborated with the Vietnamese as their psywar
stooge, appearing in their radio broadcasts and news reports. In his
current presidential campaign, he’s cozying up to the hate-mongering
Christian right he once criticized. He’s reversed positions on so many
issues that his Democratic rivals have assembled his contrasting
statements into "The Great McCain Versus McCain Debates."
Underlying all of the schizophrenic reversals is McCain’s hidden past
of collaboration. Somewhere in the unplumbed human part of John Sidney
McCain III, he knows his POW experience contradicts the war hero image
he projects. This essential dishonesty, this lie of the soul, is a
sign of a larger lack of character – like the major in my father’s POW
camp, but without the come-uppance. CP
Doug Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, the story of his
father’s experiences in a Japanese POW camp in World War II. Brendan
McQuade assisted Mr. Valentine by providing timely research for this