Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Other Hit Piece, Redux

A couple of days ago, we dissected the "other," recent hit piece on the McCain family. "Make Believe Maverick," published in the 16 October edition of Rolling Stone, is nothing more than an effort to demolish Senator McCain's military career--and reputation.

Writer Tim Dickinson, who assembled the smear job, is an alumnus of Mother Jones, so it's no surprise that the article is long on imputation and short on fact. In fact, Stuart Koehl of The Weekly Standard aptly describes it as "insinuendo," borrowing a phrase developed by one of his friends.

Put another way, Dickinson's piece is "a mix of half-truths, misdirections, hearsay, gossip and outright lies written by somebody who either has no ability to evaluate the information he was given, or more likely) just doesn't give a damn."

Well said. In fact, we recommend Mr. Koehl's thorough deconstruction of the Rolling Stone article, since he raises points that weren't covered in our review. Of particular interest is his take on Colonel John Dramesi, another former POW who emerges as a critic of McCain's conduct in North Vietnam. While no one doubts Dramesi's valor--witness his two escape attempts from an enemy prison--he remains a controversial figure within the POW community. As Koehl writes:

Dickinson does not mention, in his breathless recounting of Dramesi's two escape attempts that, as a result of his actions, all the POWs in Dramesi's camp were subjected to harsh punishments, causing the senior POWs there to place strict conditions (including the possibility of outside assistance) on all future escape attempts. Dramesi apparently opposed this ruling, because it was a technical violation of the Code of Conduct (a prisoner shall always endeavor to escape and return to duty), but the camp leadership made a pragmatic decision based upon the probability of success and the costs of failure.

Mr. Koehl also unearthed a review of Dramesi's prison memoir (Code of Honor) which raises questions about his recollections of the POW experience. The review appeared in an Air Force professional journal in 1977; it was written by another survivor of the Hanoi Hilton, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Reynolds. A couple of paragraphs aptly summarize Dramesi's mixed legacy:

COLONEL DRAMESI remains a controversial figure. Most former POWs who know him, or who have read Code of Honor, give him either their wholehearted endorsement or condemnation. Very few take their stance in-between. To be sure, he deserves a measure of criticism. That which he leaves unsaid destroys, in part, his credibility. For example, he might have mentioned the barbaric reprisals by the Vietnamese on all members of the Zoo compound for his attempted escape--reprisals of such intensity and duration that many were reluctant ever again to endorse or authorize an escape that lacked any reasonable chance of success.

One also grows weary of reading in the first person singular. John Dramesi wrote the book. That he is its hero is admissible. But there were more tough men in Hanoi than he would lead you to believe. And there were men equally committed to that ultimate form of resistance--escape. The well planned escape of McKnight and Coker, for example, was far more successful than Dramesi's. And it was not a spontaneous operation, as the uninitiated reader is lead to believe. Dramesi's greatest Haw, however, was in his own physical and mental strength, so singular and of such forcefulness that he apparently could not comprehend or tolerate the performance of those who could not match it. One wonders how he interpreted Admiral Stockdale's prison mandate: "unity over self."

We agree with Reynolds' observation that there were many tough men in Hanoi--and one of them was named John McCain.

But then again, that doesn't exactly fit the Rolling Stone narrative.

ADDENDUM: We're still waiting for the "expose" on Mr. McCain's admitted infidelity during the years after his return from Vietnam. Many of us have long believed that an article on his indiscretions is in the works, or simply awaiting publication. With two weeks until election day, that "other shoe" may be about to drop.


Ed Rasimus said...

Having had two combat memoirs of my own published, I've also had that unusual criticism of overuse of the first person singular pronoun. Writing of your personal experience without it, is sort of like employing the royal "We".

But, Dramesi was real. I knew John and worked with him at USAFE Hq. in the late '70s. Tough as nails, take-no-prisoners, no nonsense kind of guy. I've known a lot who dislike him because of his personality, but never heard anyone fault his honor, integrity or courage.

Among the POWs it is difficult to get simple answers on behavior. They all seem to recognize that the Code of Conduct idealism doesn't work in a real world. But they also know that it offers principles which served them well.

To the best of my knowledge there were only the eight (of nine) early release POWs who are dishonored and a pair of "ex-Marine" collaborators. The rest of the group displays a mutual (and well earned) respect.

Murphy's Law said...

Re: McCain's conduct in N. Vietnam, it really comes down to one basic question: Do you listen to the men who were there with him, all of whom praised him as a hold-out and a leader, or do you take the word of some partisan hack who was not there and who never even served at all? I'll go with Bud Day and Leo Thorsness any time.

PS: I miss ya, Raz.