As Sen. John McCain is now running for president as a “war hero,” it is
appropriate to ask about his background. That is, what heroic action was
McCain involved in? While flying his 23rd combat mission over Vietnam, U.S.
Navy pilot John McCain was shot down and taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. He
remained in Communist hands for over five years.
In an early account of his captivity, McCain told U.S. News and World
Report (May 14, 1973) that he offered to collaborate with the enemy.
“OK,” he recalled telling his Vietnamese captors, “I’ll give you military
information if you will take me to the hospital.”
McCain has been careful to qualify his offer of collaboration. The
senator maintains that he had no intention of cooperating. He was simply
attempting to manipulate his captors into giving him medical attention. As
it happens, McCain was the son of a leading U.S. admiral who was soon to
become commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, including Vietnam. He
was therefore an important prisoner.
All of which begs the question, did he collaborate?
On June 5, 1969, the Washington Post carried a story entitled, “Reds Say
PW Songbird is Pilot Son of Admiral.” The article states that, “Hanoi has
aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of United States Commander in the
Pacific, Adm. John McCain, purportedly admits to having bombed civilian
targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since
being taken prisoner.”
And what did McCain think about America’s role in the Vietnam War?
Having seen the murderous barbarism of the Communists at close hand,
having suffered in captivity for so many years, you would think he’d have
returned doubly convinced that the war was just, that the enemy represented
a monstrous evil. But in his recent memoir, “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain
refers to the Vietnam War as a terrible mistake. No further explanation is
offered, which is more than a little intriguing. Is that what he told his
After being released from captivity, McCain entered politics and became a
senator. In 1991-1992 he served on the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA
Affairs. According to Ted Samply, writing in the January 1997 issue of U.S.
Veteran Dispatch, McCain enjoyed dismal relations with many POW/MIA
activists. McCain said some harsh words about those who accused the U.S.
government of knowingly leaving POWs behind. In fact, he called such people
“the most craven, most cynical and most despicable human beings to ever run
That is pretty tough talk coming from a former POW, imprisoned by the
North Vietnamese Communists for over five years. According to Samply, McCain
demanded that the Select Committee investigate some of the POW/MIA
activists. He said they were guilty of fraud. But the most bizarre episode
during the hearings came when Col. Bui Tin, one of McCain’s former
According to Samply, “During a break in the hearing, McCain warmly
embraced Tin as if he were a long lost brother.”
Such behavior suggests post-stress or drug-induced hypnotic conditioning.
I am qualified to offer this opinion because I was a regimental surgeon with
the Seventh Infantry during the Korean War. After the war, many of my
patients were returning American POWs. I am familiar with the psychological
and physical problems encountered by American soldiers held captive by Asian Communists.
The tragic plight of our POWs is something that has touched my life,
since two of my Minnesota medical school friends were in North Korean POW
camps. One was thrown into a latrine pit and left to die because he was
trying to provide medical comfort to other POWs. The second, a large
muscular man, was starved from 240 to 130 pounds.
Having examined and talked with POWs, I can say without fear of
contradiction that the choice offered American servicemen in Communist
prison camps was a choice between collaboration and death. If you wanted to
survive, at some point you had to give in. And what if you give in too
According to Col. Stanislav Lunev, the highest-ranking defector from
Russian military intelligence, “If they found an American who agreed to
cooperate, they could train him how to spy in Vietnam, and might send him to
Russia for advanced training. Then the GRU would arrange his escape from a
POW camp or have him released during a POW exchange.”
And what if a prisoner agreed to go to Russia, then changed his mind
According to Lunev, “Trainees who could not complete their training or
were thought to be faking their cooperation, would be given to the KGB.”
Such prisoners were usually sent to the uranium mines of Soviet Central
Sen. McCain’s unusual behavior toward the Vietnamese Communists might
originate in uncoerced sympathy with Hanoi. His favorable stance toward U.S.
recognition of Communist Vietnam might also be uncoerced. But nobody can
deny that the senator was in a compromising position for nearly six years.
Is Sen. McCain vulnerable to a kind of indirect blackmail? Before we rush
headlong to embrace Sen. McCain — the war hero — we ought to do a reality
check. Is this the man we really want in the White House?
Dr. Jensen is a retired physician and
associate professor of medicine, a former missionary to Africa and a
decorated veteran who is currently writing a book on his experiences as a
combat surgeon in the Korean War. He lives with his wife Rosemary in San