A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fighting the last war

Why doesn't John McCain get it about Iraq?
It doesn't take a military genius to realize that the war can't be won because it was never winnable. All we're doing is stalling for time before the inevitable humiliating exit, as more money and more lives get poured down the drain every day.
The reason I'm puzzled is that McCain is a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, an unwinnable war if there ever was one. So why hasn't he learned the lesson of that war, as his fellow vets Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb have?
I think the answer is that we're all formed by our experiences, and McCain's Vietnam experience was very different from theirs.
They were infantry grunts slogging it out on the ground - Hagel as an Army squad leader and Webb as a Marine rifle platoon leader. Their war was up close and personal - and decidedly ambiguous.
It was a war of nuances. Some Vietnamese were friends; others were enemies.
And some who seemed to be friends were actually enemies, such as our nominal ally, the South Vietnamese Army, whose corruption did as much to lose the war as anything the Viet Cong ever did.
Others who seemed to be enemies turned out not to be, such as the innocent villagers who were massacred at My Lai.
For boys like Hagel and Webb, who went to Vietnam as gung-ho patriots, the war was a brutal disillusionment. They learned the hard way to see it in shades of gray.
In short, they grew up.
But McCain's war was black and white. As a Naval aviator, he lived on an aircraft carrier at sea. He'd take off, perform his mission and come back.
I doubt he ever met an actual Vietnamese person until the day he was shot down. And then the Vietnamese he met were monsters who showed him the worst side of human nature.
No wonder he saw - and still sees - that war as a contest between good and evil.
And his imprisonment had another effect: He missed out on what was happening back home during 5 1/2 crucial years, from 1967 to 1973.
He missed the Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations and the debacle that was the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He missed the Tet offensive, the Kent State killings, the Nixon "Southern strategy" and the rise of the women's movement.
All he knew is that when he got back he didn't recognize his country anymore. The American people, who were strong supporters of the war in 1967, had turned against it by 1973.
His faith in the righteousness of that war was what got him through the Hanoi Hilton. And now here were his countrymen ready to cut and run.
No wonder he concluded that the war could have been won if only we had been willing to stick it out a little longer. No wonder he felt betrayed.
And no wonder he's determined, come what may, to make sure we don't make the same "mistake" this time around.
But, of course, that war was doomed from the start; and so is this one, because both were based on fundamental misconceptions.
We went into Vietnam because we thought Ho Chi Minh was a stalking horse for Red China. Little did we know that the Vietnamese feared the Chinese far more than they feared us.
And we went into Iraq because we thought Saddam Hussein was a stalking horse for Al Qaeda. Little did we know that he and Osama would have cheerfully eviscerated each other if they could.
Of course, the truth was there for us to see in both wars. But we didn't see it, partly because we were lied to by our leaders.
But, it must be confessed, another reason was that we were too lazy to check out the facts for ourselves.
Today, the stakes are higher than they've ever been. Facing global warming, terrorism and a recession that threatens to slide into a depression, we need truth, not truthiness.
After 40 years, it's time to admit to ourselves that we lost the Vietnam War not because of some stab in the back, but because we were, as Gen. Omar Bradley put it, "fighting the wrong war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy."
And it's time to cut our losses and admit that this war is a loser, too.
Otherwise, our grandchildren will find themselves having the same conversation about another misbegotten war 40 years from now.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lesson to be learned from Viet Nam?

He wants to be 25 again and be our hero...this time he (and we) won't be FUBAR.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory.’

Family legacy?
How to rescue the US by using the lessons he learned in Viet Nam. The ones HE learned. (Not the one that some think the US learned.) He's on a mission.

McCain presents himself as a selfless, principled war hero whose campaign represents not so much a battle for the presidency of the United States, but a crusade to rescue the nation’s tarnished reputation.

McCain likes to illustrate his moral fibre by referring to his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the 71-year-old former US Navy pilot pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children.

But there is another Mrs McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being mother to McCain’s three eldest children.

And yet, had events turned out differently, it would be she, rather than Cindy, who would be vying to be First Lady. She is McCain’s first wife, Carol, who was a famous beauty and a successful swimwear model when they married in 1965.

She was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news.

But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries.

When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons

had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter.

Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self.

Today, she stands at just 5ft4in and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.

For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.

>>>Who do you want to see as the next US president? Leave your views below...

Scroll down for more


Golden couple: John and Cindy McCain at a charity gala in Los Angeles

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’

she says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens...it just does.’

Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centred womaniser who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.

McCain was then earning little more than £25,000 a year as a naval officer, while his new father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was a multi-millionaire who had impeccable political connections.

He first met Carol in the Fifties while he was at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a privileged, but rebellious scion of one of America’s most distinguished military dynasties – his father and grandfather were both admirals.

But setting out to have a good time, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the ‘Bad Bunch’.

His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress.

Carol fell into his fast-living world by accident. She escaped a poor upbringing in Philadelphia to become a successful model, married an Annapolis classmate of McCain’s and had two children – Douglas and Andrew – before renewing what one acquaintance calls ‘an old flirtation’ with McCain.

It seems clear she was bowled over by McCain’s attention at a time when he was becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle.

‘He was 28 and ready to settle down and he loved Carol’s children,’ recalled another Annapolis graduate, Robert Timberg, who wrote The Nightingale’s Song, a bestselling biography of McCain and four other graduates of the academy.

The couple married and McCain adopted Carol’s sons. Their daughter, Sidney, was born a year later, but domesticity was clearly beginning

to bore McCain – the couple were regarded as ‘fixtures on the party circuit’ before McCain requested combat duty in Vietnam at the end of 1966.

He was assigned as a bomber pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.

What follows is the stuff of the McCain legend. He was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967 on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam and was badly beaten by an angry mob when he was pulled, half-drowned from a lake.


War hero: McCain with Carol as he arrives back in the US in 1973 after his five years as a PoW in North Vietnam

Over the next five-and-a-half years in the notorious Hoa Loa Prison he was regularly tortured and mistreated.

It was in 1969 that Carol went to spend the Christmas holiday – her third without McCain – at her parents’ home. After dinner, she left to drop off some presents at a friend’s house.

It wasn’t until some hours later that she was discovered, alone and in terrible pain, next to the wreckage of her car. She had been hurled through the windscreen.

After her first series of life-saving operations, Carol was told she may never walk again, but when doctors said they would try to get word to McCain about her injuries, she refused, insisting: ‘He’s got enough problems, I don’t want to tell him.’

H. Ross Perot, a billionaire Texas businessman, future presidential candidate and advocate of prisoners of war, paid for her medical care.

When McCain – his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton – was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again.

But friends say privately he was ‘appalled’ by the change in her appearance. At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: ‘I don’t look so good myself. It’s fine.’

He bought her a bungalow near the sea in Florida and another former PoW helped him to build a railing so she could pull herself over the dunes to the water.

‘I thought, of course, we would live happily ever after,’ says Carol. But as a war hero, McCain was moving in ever-more elevated circles.

Through Ross Perot, he met Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. A sympathetic Nancy Reagan took Carol under her wing.

But already the McCains’ marriage had begun to fray. ‘John started carousing and running around with women,’ said Robert Timberg.

McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into details. Some friends blame his dissatisfaction with Carol, but others give some credence to her theory of a mid-life crisis.

He was also fiercely ambitious, but it was clear he would never become an admiral like his illustrious father and grandfather and his thoughts were turning to politics.

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.

Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide.

‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’

Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost time.”’

Indeed, to many in their circle the saddest part of the break-up was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores.

Friends confirm she has remained friends with McCain and backed him in all his campaigns. ‘He was very generous to her in the divorce but of course he could afford to be, since he was marrying Cindy,’ one observed.

McCain transferred the Florida beach house to Carol and gave her the right to live in their jointly-owned townhouse in the Washington suburb of Alexandria. He also agreed to pay her alimony and child support.

A former neighbour says she subsequently sold up in Florida and Washington and moved in 2003 to Virginia Beach. He said: ‘My impression was that she found the new place easier to manage as she still has some difficulties walking.’

Meanwhile McCain moved to Arizona with his new bride immediately after their 1980 marriage. There, his new father-in-law gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political powerbrokers who would smooth his passage to Washington via the House of Representatives and Senate.

And yet despite his popularity as a politician, there are those who won’t forget his treatment of his first wife.

Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

‘When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it.

‘Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

‘This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.’

One old friend of the McCains said: ‘Carol always insists she is not bitter, but I think that’s a defence mechanism. She also feels deeply in his debt because in return for her agreement to a divorce, he promised to pay for her medical care for the rest of her life.’

Carol remained resolutely loyal as McCain’s political star rose. She says she agreed to talk to The Mail on Sunday only because she wanted to publicise her support for the man who abandoned her.

Indeed, the old Mercedes that she uses to run errands displays both a disabled badge and a sticker encouraging people to vote for her ex-husband. ‘He’s a good guy,’ she assured us. ‘We are still good friends. He is the best man for president.’

But Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’

McCain presents himself as a selfless, principled war hero whose campaign represents not so much a battle for the presidency of the United States, but a crusade to rescue the nation’s tarnished reputation.

McCain likes to illustrate his moral fibre by referring to his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the 71-year-old former US Navy pilot pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children.

But there is another Mrs McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being mother to McCain’s three eldest children.

And yet, had events turned out differently, it would be she, rather than Cindy, who would be vying to be First Lady. She is McCain’s first wife, Carol, who was a famous beauty and a successful swimwear model when they married in 1965.

She was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news.

But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries.

When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons

had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter.

Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self.

Today, she stands at just 5ft4in and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.

For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.

>>>Who do you want to see as the next US president? Leave your views below...

Scroll down for more


Golden couple: John and Cindy McCain at a charity gala in Los Angeles

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’

she says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens...it just does.’

Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centred womaniser who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.

McCain was then earning little more than £25,000 a year as a naval officer, while his new father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was a multi-millionaire who had impeccable political connections.

He first met Carol in the Fifties while he was at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a privileged, but rebellious scion of one of America’s most distinguished military dynasties – his father and grandfather were both admirals.

But setting out to have a good time, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the ‘Bad Bunch’.

His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress.

Carol fell into his fast-living world by accident. She escaped a poor upbringing in Philadelphia to become a successful model, married an Annapolis classmate of McCain’s and had two children – Douglas and Andrew – before renewing what one acquaintance calls ‘an old flirtation’ with McCain.

It seems clear she was bowled over by McCain’s attention at a time when he was becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle.

‘He was 28 and ready to settle down and he loved Carol’s children,’ recalled another Annapolis graduate, Robert Timberg, who wrote The Nightingale’s Song, a bestselling biography of McCain and four other graduates of the academy.

The couple married and McCain adopted Carol’s sons. Their daughter, Sidney, was born a year later, but domesticity was clearly beginning

to bore McCain – the couple were regarded as ‘fixtures on the party circuit’ before McCain requested combat duty in Vietnam at the end of 1966.

He was assigned as a bomber pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.

What follows is the stuff of the McCain legend. He was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967 on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam and was badly beaten by an angry mob when he was pulled, half-drowned from a lake.


War hero: McCain with Carol as he arrives back in the US in 1973 after his five years as a PoW in North Vietnam

Over the next five-and-a-half years in the notorious Hoa Loa Prison he was regularly tortured and mistreated.

It was in 1969 that Carol went to spend the Christmas holiday – her third without McCain – at her parents’ home. After dinner, she left to drop off some presents at a friend’s house.

It wasn’t until some hours later that she was discovered, alone and in terrible pain, next to the wreckage of her car. She had been hurled through the windscreen.

After her first series of life-saving operations, Carol was told she may never walk again, but when doctors said they would try to get word to McCain about her injuries, she refused, insisting: ‘He’s got enough problems, I don’t want to tell him.’

H. Ross Perot, a billionaire Texas businessman, future presidential candidate and advocate of prisoners of war, paid for her medical care.

When McCain – his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton – was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again.

But friends say privately he was ‘appalled’ by the change in her appearance. At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: ‘I don’t look so good myself. It’s fine.’

He bought her a bungalow near the sea in Florida and another former PoW helped him to build a railing so she could pull herself over the dunes to the water.

‘I thought, of course, we would live happily ever after,’ says Carol. But as a war hero, McCain was moving in ever-more elevated circles.

Through Ross Perot, he met Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. A sympathetic Nancy Reagan took Carol under her wing.

But already the McCains’ marriage had begun to fray. ‘John started carousing and running around with women,’ said Robert Timberg.

McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into details. Some friends blame his dissatisfaction with Carol, but others give some credence to her theory of a mid-life crisis.

He was also fiercely ambitious, but it was clear he would never become an admiral like his illustrious father and grandfather and his thoughts were turning to politics.

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.

Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide.

‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’

Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost time.”’

Indeed, to many in their circle the saddest part of the break-up was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores.

Friends confirm she has remained friends with McCain and backed him in all his campaigns. ‘He was very generous to her in the divorce but of course he could afford to be, since he was marrying Cindy,’ one observed.

McCain transferred the Florida beach house to Carol and gave her the right to live in their jointly-owned townhouse in the Washington suburb of Alexandria. He also agreed to pay her alimony and child support.

A former neighbour says she subsequently sold up in Florida and Washington and moved in 2003 to Virginia Beach. He said: ‘My impression was that she found the new place easier to manage as she still has some difficulties walking.’

Meanwhile McCain moved to Arizona with his new bride immediately after their 1980 marriage. There, his new father-in-law gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political powerbrokers who would smooth his passage to Washington via the House of Representatives and Senate.

And yet despite his popularity as a politician, there are those who won’t forget his treatment of his first wife.

Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

‘When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it.

‘Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

‘This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.’

One old friend of the McCains said: ‘Carol always insists she is not bitter, but I think that’s a defence mechanism. She also feels deeply in his debt because in return for her agreement to a divorce, he promised to pay for her medical care for the rest of her life.’

Carol remained resolutely loyal as McCain’s political star rose. She says she agreed to talk to The Mail on Sunday only because she wanted to publicise her support for the man who abandoned her.

Indeed, the old Mercedes that she uses to run errands displays both a disabled badge and a sticker encouraging people to vote for her ex-husband. ‘He’s a good guy,’ she assured us. ‘We are still good friends. He is the best man for president.’

But Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’ he said.

‘After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.’

Is Carol a personification of the US in McCain's psyche?
Lesson to be learned?
How to rescue the US.

He just wants to be 25 aqain?
He wants to be our hero.

McCain presents himself as a selfless, principled war hero whose campaign represents not so much a battle for the presidency of the United States, but a crusade to rescue the nation’s tarnished reputation.

McCain likes to illustrate his moral fibre by referring to his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the 71-year-old former US Navy pilot pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children.

But there is another Mrs McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being mother to McCain’s three eldest children.

And yet, had events turned out differently, it would be she, rather than Cindy, who would be vying to be First Lady. She is McCain’s first wife, Carol, who was a famous beauty and a successful swimwear model when they married in 1965.

She was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news.

But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries.

When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons

had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter.

Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self.

Today, she stands at just 5ft4in and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.

For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.

>>>Who do you want to see as the next US president? Leave your views below...

Scroll down for more


Golden couple: John and Cindy McCain at a charity gala in Los Angeles

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’

she says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens...it just does.’

Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centred womaniser who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.

McCain was then earning little more than £25,000 a year as a naval officer, while his new father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was a multi-millionaire who had impeccable political connections.

He first met Carol in the Fifties while he was at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a privileged, but rebellious scion of one of America’s most distinguished military dynasties – his father and grandfather were both admirals.

But setting out to have a good time, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the ‘Bad Bunch’.

His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress.

Carol fell into his fast-living world by accident. She escaped a poor upbringing in Philadelphia to become a successful model, married an Annapolis classmate of McCain’s and had two children – Douglas and Andrew – before renewing what one acquaintance calls ‘an old flirtation’ with McCain.

It seems clear she was bowled over by McCain’s attention at a time when he was becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle.

‘He was 28 and ready to settle down and he loved Carol’s children,’ recalled another Annapolis graduate, Robert Timberg, who wrote The Nightingale’s Song, a bestselling biography of McCain and four other graduates of the academy.

The couple married and McCain adopted Carol’s sons. Their daughter, Sidney, was born a year later, but domesticity was clearly beginning

to bore McCain – the couple were regarded as ‘fixtures on the party circuit’ before McCain requested combat duty in Vietnam at the end of 1966.

He was assigned as a bomber pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.

What follows is the stuff of the McCain legend. He was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967 on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam and was badly beaten by an angry mob when he was pulled, half-drowned from a lake.


War hero: McCain with Carol as he arrives back in the US in 1973 after his five years as a PoW in North Vietnam

Over the next five-and-a-half years in the notorious Hoa Loa Prison he was regularly tortured and mistreated.

It was in 1969 that Carol went to spend the Christmas holiday – her third without McCain – at her parents’ home. After dinner, she left to drop off some presents at a friend’s house.

It wasn’t until some hours later that she was discovered, alone and in terrible pain, next to the wreckage of her car. She had been hurled through the windscreen.

After her first series of life-saving operations, Carol was told she may never walk again, but when doctors said they would try to get word to McCain about her injuries, she refused, insisting: ‘He’s got enough problems, I don’t want to tell him.’

H. Ross Perot, a billionaire Texas businessman, future presidential candidate and advocate of prisoners of war, paid for her medical care.

When McCain – his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton – was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again.

But friends say privately he was ‘appalled’ by the change in her appearance. At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: ‘I don’t look so good myself. It’s fine.’

He bought her a bungalow near the sea in Florida and another former PoW helped him to build a railing so she could pull herself over the dunes to the water.

‘I thought, of course, we would live happily ever after,’ says Carol. But as a war hero, McCain was moving in ever-more elevated circles.

Through Ross Perot, he met Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. A sympathetic Nancy Reagan took Carol under her wing.

But already the McCains’ marriage had begun to fray. ‘John started carousing and running around with women,’ said Robert Timberg.

McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into details. Some friends blame his dissatisfaction with Carol, but others give some credence to her theory of a mid-life crisis.

He was also fiercely ambitious, but it was clear he would never become an admiral like his illustrious father and grandfather and his thoughts were turning to politics.

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.

Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide.

‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’

Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost time.”’

Indeed, to many in their circle the saddest part of the break-up was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores.

Friends confirm she has remained friends with McCain and backed him in all his campaigns. ‘He was very generous to her in the divorce but of course he could afford to be, since he was marrying Cindy,’ one observed.

McCain transferred the Florida beach house to Carol and gave her the right to live in their jointly-owned townhouse in the Washington suburb of Alexandria. He also agreed to pay her alimony and child support.

A former neighbour says she subsequently sold up in Florida and Washington and moved in 2003 to Virginia Beach. He said: ‘My impression was that she found the new place easier to manage as she still has some difficulties walking.’

Meanwhile McCain moved to Arizona with his new bride immediately after their 1980 marriage. There, his new father-in-law gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political powerbrokers who would smooth his passage to Washington via the House of Representatives and Senate.

And yet despite his popularity as a politician, there are those who won’t forget his treatment of his first wife.

Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

‘When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it.

‘Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

‘This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.’

One old friend of the McCains said: ‘Carol always insists she is not bitter, but I think that’s a defence mechanism. She also feels deeply in his debt because in return for her agreement to a divorce, he promised to pay for her medical care for the rest of her life.’

Carol remained resolutely loyal as McCain’s political star rose. She says she agreed to talk to The Mail on Sunday only because she wanted to publicise her support for the man who abandoned her.

Indeed, the old Mercedes that she uses to run errands displays both a disabled badge and a sticker encouraging people to vote for her ex-husband. ‘He’s a good guy,’ she assured us. ‘We are still good friends. He is the best man for president.’

But Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory.’ Family legacy?

slouching mom said...

I think you're right about those critical 5.5 years that McCain missed -- and about his war, a naval one, being much less nuanced than the war in which the ground troops engsged, and thus much less of an opportunity for moral and intellectual growth.

Interesting.

slouching mom said...

uh, that's "engaged"

Anonymous said...

Yet attentiion must be paid when a cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear. So a beam of light flashes into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W."

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

"The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year's "300," "The Dark Knight" is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.

Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror -- films like "In The Valley of Elah," "Rendition" and "Redacted" -- which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense -- values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right -- only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like "300," "Lord of the Rings," "Narnia," "Spiderman 3" and now "The Dark Knight"?

The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?

The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of "The Dark Knight" itself: Doing what's right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified.

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They're wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don't always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them -- when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, "He has to run away -- because we have to chase him."

That's real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised -- then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror.

Perhaps that's when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.

Perhaps McCain understands something that the blogger here does not. And Obama understands it too.
Their reasons may differ, and their strategies may be unpleasant to many, like the blogger.
They will have to be creative and righteous when they act, one as the next President and one as the leader of the opposition party. They may even have to come together to lead the world away from crisises.

Words are cheap.
Acts are expensive.
Courage is invaluable.

Each ticket bought to see The Dark Knight represents the recognition that courage is a good thing.

Not a cartoon. Real life. Sometimes it requires fortitude and sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

McCain’s aggressively partisan and negative campaign tactics against Obama are the right move at this stage. He thinks it might be a way to woo back folks who used to identify themselves as Republicans, but dropped that label over frustration with the Bush administration and the direction of the economy.

But a prominent Republican strategist has emailed that McCain’s strategy is “insane” because he shouldn’t be playing to the core GOP base at this point in the general election: “The GOP base vote is not in play. That’s why we call it the base.” Instead, McCain should be expanding beyond his base to win over independent and moderate voters, rather than alienate them with attacks that have a “nagging and off-putting tone.”
Arguably, 2004 was an exception to this rule when Bush did not run to the center and won anyway. He ran an infamous strategy to win “50.1%” of the vote by “disqualifying” Kerry (and thereby depressing Democratic turnout) and increasing his base’s turnout (particularly socially conservative evangelical voters due in large part to gay marriage referenda in many battleground states that drove such voters to the polls).
By welcoming Obama home from his trip abroad with false and misleading ads questioning his patriotism, it seems that Team McCain is now following the same Bush/Cheney ‘04 strategy against Obama. This makes sense given that Karl Rove is acting as a McCain campaign adviser and Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove protege, is running the campaign.
In short, McCain’s strategy of catering to the core GOP base is a classic case of fighting the last war.
But 2008 is very different than 2004. For starters, unlike 2004, McCain is starting from a weaker position. In the polling over the last two months, McCain has consistently been in the high 30’s to low 40s, a solid 10-points behind where Bush polled when he pursued his 50.1% strategy. McCain is also running under the flag of a damaged Republican Party, with an overwhelming majority of Americans believing America is on the wrong track. Unlike 2004, there are very few states with a gay marriage ban referendum on the ballot this November (other than California, which is safely blue and where even the Republican governor is opposed to it). In addition, conservative evangelicals don’t feel the same connection to McCain as they did to Bush. This lack of passion from evangelicals will only worsen if McCain picks Romney as his VP.
More importantly, Obama is no Kerry. Most Kerry voters were voting against Bush instead of for Kerry. By contrast, most Obama voters are voting for Obama rather than against McCain. Obama’s supporters are far more enthusiastic than McCain’s. Democratic voter registration rolls have grown significantly, fueled in part by a primary season that involved record levels of Democratic turnout. Obama, rather than McCain, is funding an unprecedented 50-state voter registration drive. McCain may try to “disqualify” Obama, but Obama is working from a much bigger and more loyal Democratic base than Kerry had in 2004.
Similarly, McCain is no Bush of 2004. Bush was president and commander in chief at a time when the country was at war and many Americans were still recovering emotionally from 9/11. McCain is an elderly senator who lacks the bully pulpit of incumbency and is prone to gaffes. As the Republican strategist said, his attacks come across as nagging and off-putting, particularly in comparison the positive messages given by the younger and more inspiring Obama. In short, McCain’s negative strategy risks alienating the very independent and moderate swing voters McCain needs. After all, there was a reason former Republicans became independents in the last year or two — they were tired of the divisive approach of the Bush administration. I don’t think imitating Rovian tactics is a sure-fire way to woo them back.
McCain has become the Fred Thompson of the general election: old, grumpy, tired and nostalgically conservative. If he had run as the McCain of 2000, he might have been a serious threat to win. Apparently, Mike Murphy would have tried to restore that reformist-maverick-independent mythological image if he had become campaign manager a few weeks ago (”let McCain be McCain”). But the Bush/Cheney ‘04 side of the power struggle won and is firmly in control. There is no turning back now.
Time to fight the last war?
Who won?

Anonymous said...

Last month, Senator John McCain went up with a new television ad, titled “Pump.” The ad begins no place in particular with a gasoline pump, circa 1965. “Gas prices—four dollars, five dollars,” a female narrator intones, as the numbers on the pump’s front panel spin. “No end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.
“Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?” the narrator asks. She leaves the question hanging, while a recording from a recent political rally grows louder and louder. “Obama! Obama!” the crowd screams.
How important is it for candidates to tell the truth? Throughout his long career in politics, McCain, who called his PAC Straight Talk America, has presented frankness as his fundamental virtue. If his positions—on campaign finance, on immigration reform, on the Bush tax cuts—were unpopular with either the White House or the Republican Party faithful, that just showed that he was willing to tackle the tough issues. When his campaign very nearly collapsed and then revived, in December, McCain attributed his rally not to the fact that voters liked what he was saying but to the fact that they didn’t. “I’ve been telling people the truth, whether I thought that’s what they wanted or not,” he said. After his crucial victory in New Hampshire, in January, he again credited his candor: “I went to the people of New Hampshire to tell them the truth. Sometimes I told them what they wanted to know, sometimes I told them what they didn’t want to know.”
The past few weeks have seen a change in McCain. He has hired new advisers, and with them he seems to have worked out a new approach. He is no longer telling the sorts of hard truths that people would prefer not to confront, or even half-truths that they might find vaguely discomfiting. Instead, he’s opted out of truth altogether. “Well, that certainly didn’t take long,” the Times observed.
The sharp increase in gasoline prices—the national average for a gallon of regular hit a record high, of $4.11, on July 7th—has shown up in several recent voter polls as a top concern. In a CNN/Opinion Research survey released last month, seventy-seven per cent of respondents said that gas prices would be “extremely” or “very” important in their choice for President. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken in mid-July put energy and gasoline prices just below “job creation and economic growth” but above the war as a priority for the government to address. Polls also show that a majority of Americans believe that more drilling for oil in the United States would alleviate the problem. The CNN/Opinion Research survey found that seventy-three per cent of Americans back increased offshore drilling—although President Bush recently lifted an executive moratorium on drilling in most coastal waters, a congressionally imposed moratorium remains in place—while a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey showed sixty-nine per cent in favor of allowing drilling on currently protected federal lands. (Twelve per cent supported such a move even if it caused damage to “environmentally important areas.”)
Of course, the results of these or any other public-opinion surveys do not alter the underlying reality. The Department of Energy estimates that there are eighteen billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in offshore areas of the continental United States that are now closed to drilling. This sounds like a lot, until you consider that oil is a globally traded commodity and that, at current rates of consumption, eighteen billion barrels would satisfy less than seven months of global demand. A D.O.E. report issued last year predicted that it would take two decades for drilling in restricted areas to have a noticeable effect on domestic production, and that, even then, “because oil prices are determined on the international market,” the impact on fuel costs would be “insignificant.” Just a few months ago, McCain himself noted that offshore resources “would take years to develop.” As the oilman turned wind farmer T. Boone Pickens has observed, “This is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.”
If the hard truth is that the federal government can’t do much to lower gas prices, the really hard truth is that it shouldn’t try to. With just five per cent of the world’s population, America accounts for twenty-five per cent of its oil use. This disproportionate consumption is one of the main reasons that the United States—until this year, when China overtook it—was the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. (Every barrel of oil burned adds roughly a thousand pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.) No matter how many warnings about the consequences were issued—by NASA, by the United Nations, by Al Gore, by the Pope—Americans seemed unfazed. Even as the Arctic ice cap visibly melted away, they bought bigger and bigger cars and drove them more and more miles.
The impact of rising fuel prices, by contrast, has been swift and appreciable. According to the latest figures from the Federal Highway Administration, during the first five months of this year Americans drove thirty billion fewer miles than they did during the same period last year. This marks the first time in a generation that vehicle miles in this country have edged downward. All told, undriven trips since the start of 2008 amount to some thirty billion pounds of unreleased CO2. Clearly, the only way to change America’s consumption habits is by making those habits more expensive.
McCain, in his straight-talking days, acknowledged as much. In 2003, he broke with the Bush Administration and co-introduced legislation to reduce carbon emissions, by, in effect, imposing a price on them. That same year, over strong White House opposition, he brought the bill to the Senate floor. (It was defeated, by a vote of fifty-five to forty-three.) In an interview with this magazine, he said that he regarded the opposition to his proposal, largely from members of his own party, as a scandal. “I think it’s a dramatic example of the influence of special interests here in the Congress,” he said. “It’s a combination of the utilities and the coal companies and automobile manufacturers—an unholy alliance of special interests that have made it a top priority to prevent any action being taken.” He went on to say that he wasn’t sure the American political system was up to dealing with the challenge of climate change. “How much damage will have been done before we act?” he asked.
Recent history suggests that Presidential campaigns don’t reward integrity; the candidate who refuses to compromise his principles is unlikely to have a chance to act on them. Still, McCain’s slide is saddening. That he has sunk to the level of “Pump” a full month before Labor Day really doesn’t leave him—or the race—far to go.

Olinda said...

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