John McCain has announced that these days, he's speaking softly and carrying a big stick, a la Teddy Roosevelt. McCain said, "I count myself as a conservative Republican, yet I view it to a large degree in the Theodore Roosevelt mold," with a nod to Roosevelt's reputation for reform, environmentalism and tough foreign policy.
Though he may be a political Rough Rider now, these new photos of McCain's POW cell show that he's already had it plenty rough for almost six long years. The pictures show that even after the cell was cleaned up for an American historical filmmaker, the Hanoi Hilton was a chamber of terror. Debra Watkins took the pictures in 1993 before the area was destroyed. The first photo shows the door to the cell. Next to the door you can see old locks probably used to hold leg irons and other torture implements. The other photo shows the inside of McCain's cell and the leg-iron contraption the filmmaker believes he was tortured with.
Though certainly his time in Vietnam is no secret, the account of his entire time as a POW, written by McCain himself in 1973 and published online for the first time this year, is a riveting read. It's long — bookmark it and read away at it this week — but the length and detail does nothing if not prove beyond a shadow that what this man survived is anything short of miraculous. To see some excerpts of his story,
- This started on the first day. I refused to give them anything except my name, rank, serial number and date of birth. They beat me around a little bit. I was in such bad shape that when they hit me it would knock me unconscious. They kept saying, "You will not receive any medical treatment until you talk."
- "I had been reduced to an animal during this period of beating and torture. My arm was so painful I couldn't get up off the floor. With the dysentery, it was a very unpleasant time."
- "Once you become a prisoner of war, then you do not have the right to dissent, because what you do will be harming your country. You are no longer speaking as an individual, you are speaking as a member of the armed forces of the United States, and you owe loyalty to the Commander in Chief, not to your own conscience."
Perhaps this experience has shaped his Rooseveltian politics. Today, McCain says, "I believe less governance is the best governance, and that government should not do what the free enterprise and private enterprise and individual entrepreneurship and the states can do, but I also believe there is a role for government. Government should take care of those in America who cannot take care of themselves."