During an appearance at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, responding to a question about "the most gut-wrenching decision you've ever made," Sen. John McCain cited his refusal to accept an early release from a North Vietnamese prison camp. The Politico claimed that McCain's answer "shows the power of his biography, and a new willingness to publicly discuss it." In fact, McCain has repeatedly referred to his Vietnam war experiences and has specifically cited his refusal to accept an early release in a book, interviews, speeches, and campaign ads since 1999.
In an August 18 Politico article about Sen. John McCain's August 17 appearance at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, chief political writer Mike Allen and executive editor Jim VandeHei noted that in response to Warren's question about "[w]hat's the most gut-wrenching decision you've ever had to make," McCain cited his refusal to accept an early release from a North Vietnamese prison camp. Allen and VandeHei claimed that McCain's answer "shows the power of his biography, and a new willingness to publicly discuss it." In fact, McCain has repeatedly referred to his Vietnam War record, as Media Matters for America has noted, and has specifically cited his refusal to accept an early release in a book, interviews, speeches, and campaign ads since 1999.
In a June 25 blog entry, Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin similarly wrote that McCain's decision to decline early release "is perhaps the most compelling element of his biography yet something which he has rarely voiced in his years in pubilc [sic] life." And as Media Matters for America documented, in a February 4 article, Martin also falsely suggested that McCain did not "spotlight" his military experience and years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam during his 2000 presidential campaign. By contrast, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith noted in a June 30 article that McCain has "written repeatedly of his service":
McCain has written repeatedly of his service, including in a long 1973 magazine article and in his memoir, "Faith of My Fathers." A Navy aviator from a military family, he was shot down on his 23rd sortie over Vietnam on Oct. 26, 1967. His mission was to bomb a power plant in the North Vietnamese capital. Already suffering from broken limbs, he was beaten by a crowd before being taken to a POW camp. After being tortured there, he participated in some Vietnamese propaganda efforts.
"I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine," he later wrote.
But he later defied his captors by refusing to meet with anti-war delegations from abroad, he wrote, and he also refused the most valuable special treatment he was offered: early release.
"I did not want to go out of order," he later wrote. He was finally released on March 14, 1973.
Below are additional examples from 1999 to 2008 of McCain discussing his refusal to accept early release:
Faith of My Fathers
McCain discusses his refusal to accept an early release repeatedly in his 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers (Random House). For example, on Page 235 of the paperback edition, McCain writes:
I wanted to say yes. I badly wanted to go home. I was tired and sick, and despite my bad attitude, I was often afraid. But I couldn't keep from my own counsel the knowledge of how my release would affect my father, and my fellow prisoners. I knew what the Vietnamese hoped to gain from my release.
Moreover, I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral's son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America's class-conscious society. I knew that my release would add to the suffering of men who were already straining to keep faith with their country. I was injured, but I believed I could survive. I couldn't persuade myself to leave.
1999 to 2000
- In a September 13, 1999, interview on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, while promoting Faith of My Fathers, McCain discussed "a particular time when the Vietnamese offered me the opportunity for early release." From the interview (retrieved from the Nexis news database):
HUME: Now when you were there -- When one reads, even when one captivity and the deprivation of it, but of the repeated beatings and torture and the terrible physical condition you were in, I mean, to any ordinary person, it seems like an impossible ordeal. To what extent were you thinking about your family, your father, and your grandfather and others when you were going through that?
MCCAIN: Oh, I clearly didn't want to embarrass my family. I tried to do the best I could, which was not enough, by the way, but there came a particular time when the Vietnamese offered me the opportunity for early release. I knew they were doing it because of the propaganda they would get from releasing the admiral's son, who was commander in chief of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, and I knew that it was a violation of our code of conduct.
But I also not only was it my father's approval or disapproval and my grandfather's, but also that of the -- my fellow POWs, who would have been told, "See the admiral's son gets to go home and you stay." And I thought that would have a bad impact on their morale.
- An October 28, 1999, Washington Post article by staff writer Howard Kurtz noted that McCain aired a television ad in which a narrator stated of McCain: "When found to be the son and grandson of admirals, was offered early release; he refused."
- McCain aired a February 2000 radio ad in which a narrator said of McCain: "In Vietnam, John McCain stood up to his communist captors and refused early release from prison. In Washington, he's the conservative reformer attacking big government waste."
- According to a February 25, 2000, Los Angeles Times article, McCain aired a television ad which featured the text: "McCain refused early release from prison, where he suffered repeated beatings and was held for 5 1/2 years."
- McCain aired a December 2007 television ad in which Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling said: "McCain has been tested like no other politician in America. As a prisoner of war, he turned down an offer for early release because he refused preferential treatment."
- In a January 1 Washington Post article, reporter Alec MacGillis wrote that "[a]t many of his [McCain's] events, his campaign sets up a screen and plays for the crowd a three-minute film called 'Service With Honor,' telling the story of McCain's more than five years of captivity in a North Vietnamese prison after his Navy plane was shot down in 1967. 'He was offered early release, and he told 'em to shove it,' says one fellow prisoner of war, Paul Galanti."
- At a June 26 campaign event in Cincinnati, McCain said: "When I was allowed the opportunity, given the opportunity to return home early from prison camp. I decided against that because I knew the effect that it would have on my fellow prisoners."
- In a June 28 speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a July 8 speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens, and a July 14 speech to National Council of La Raza Convention, McCain repeated this statement: "When I was in prison in Vietnam, I like other of my fellow POWs, was offered early release by my captors. Most of us refused because we were bound to our code of conduct, which said those who had been captured the earliest had to be released the soonest."
- In a July 8 McCain campaign television ad, an announcer states of McCain: "John McCain: Shot down. Bayoneted. Tortured. Offered early release, he said, 'No.' He'd sworn an oath."
- At a July 17 campaign event in Kansas City, Missouri, McCain said: "[T]he Vietnamese came to me and said, we'll allow you to go home early because my father happened to be a high ranking admiral. Our code of conduct said that only those go home early in order of capture. It was a brave young Mexican-American by the name of Everett Alvarez who had been in prison a couple years longer than I had. So I knew I had to refuse." Similarly, at a July 18 campaign event in Warren, Michigan, McCain said (retrieved from Nexis): "One time when I was in prison in North Vietnam and the North Vietnamese came and said, 'You can go home early,' because my father was a high-ranking admiral, I chose not to do that."
From Allen and VandeHei's August 18 Politico article:
5) McCain shows the power of his biography, and a new willingness to publicly discuss it.
WARREN: "What's the most gut-wrenching decision you've ever had to make? And what was the process that you used to make it?"
MCCAIN: "It was long ago, and far away, in a prison camp in North Vietnam. My father was a high-ranking admiral. The Vietnamese came and said that I could leave prison early. And we had a code of conduct. It said you only leave by order of capture. I also had a dear and beloved friend, who was from California ... who had been shot down before me. But I wasn't in good physical shape. In fact, I was in rather bad physical shape. So I said no. Now, in interest of full disclosure, I'm happy I didn't know the war was going to last for another three years or so.
"But I said no, and I'll never forget sitting in my last answer, and the high-ranking officer offered it, slammed the door and the interrogator said, 'Go back to your cell. It's going to be very tough on you now.' And it was. But not only the toughest decision I ever made, but I am most happy about that decision, than any decision I've ever made in my life." (APPLAUSE).