For years, I begged my father to watch Full Metal Jacket with me. He claimed it was the only Vietnam movie that ever got it right. Anyone who wanted to know about Vietnam was told to see the film, and they’d know exactly how it was. But he refused to watch it with me, and he refused to let me see it. “You wouldn’t understand,” he’d say in gruff, very final tones whenever I asked. “You’re not old enough.”
He’d let me see any other Vietnam flick. Platoon – no problem, once I’d hit my teens. We saw Born on the Fourth of July together. He laughed his ass off at all of the people who said how authentic it was. Those weren’t real Vietnam movies. They were just fantasies, and that’s probably why he let me see them.
He even encouraged me to read Run Between the Raindrops, which he said was the best book ever written about ‘Nam. He gave me a list of names to take rubbings of when the Traveling Wall came through town. He started telling me more than just the funny stories: he told the tragic ones. But he still refused to watch Full Metal Jacket with me. I began to think we never would.
And then, one night a few months after I was raped at knifepoint, he sat me down. Very grave, very serious, with a video in his hand. “Honey, you’re a survivor now, just like me. Now, you’ll understand.”
I swear to you, I thought he’d lost his fucking mind. I’d been in fear for my life for all of ten minutes, until I figured out who the asshole behind the ski mask was and realized that whatever other indignities I might suffer, death wasn’t even in it. I grant you, it was the worst experience of my life, and one it took a long time to come back from, but for fuck’s sake: one bad morning compared to a year of getting shot at? Spending over a hundred days wearing boots because every time you took them off, you came under mortar fire and thus started getting a tad superstitious? Earning a passel of purple hearts because you took shrapnel from a grenade and got shot in the face? And not Dick-Cheney’s-friend shot, either. This wasn’t a little peppering of birdshot fixed up by a few bandages – my dad’s jaw was shattered. He’s still got shrapnel working its way through his body. I’ve seen the bumps on his chest where it’s coming to the surface. Just for the sake of comparison, it started its journey in his ankle.
Those incredible people he’d fought beside, who had kept me amused on many a storytelling evening: a lot of them had been killed. I took their names off a stark black wall. My father still couldn’t face seeing them there.
And he wanted me to believe that what I’d experienced compared. He believes that himself. Who was I to argue? Fuck, if it meant we were finally going to watch Full Metal Jacket together, hell yes, I’m just like a Vietnam vet! Totally similar experiences. You betcha.
I will use my father’s verdict on the comparability of experiences once again in order to comment upon John McCain’s unrelenting fuckery, and the gulliable patsies who let him get away with it. I will tell you what being a rape survivor does not let me get away with, and since this is analogous to the horrors of Vietnam, these things must also hold true for McCain. QED.
Being a rape survivor does not make me an unimpeachable expert on rape, the combatting thereof, and all things remotely related to it. Being a POW does not make John McCain an expert on war, the fighting thereof, and all things remotely related to it. It apparently doesn’t even make him an expert on torture, because if it had, he wouldn’t have worked so hard to allow America to engage in it. (Imagine me redefining my rape as somehow “not rape” so that sexual violence could be legally perpetrated against women. Morally repugnant? I think so. But that’s essentially what McCain has done.)
Being a rape survivor doesn’t make me any less of a nimrod when I get geographical facts wrong. My teachers didn’t forgive my errors of fact by virtue of my elevated status. When McCain says Czechoslovakia still exists and moves Iran out of the way so Pakistan can border Iraq, despite the fact he’s a POW, he’s still a fucking nimrod. I didn’t get any free passes in college. He shouldn’t get free passes in this race.
Being a rape survivor doesn’t put my integrity beyond reproach. If I lie, sling mud, or cheat, I can’t use the rape survivor shield to fend off criticism. So why does McCain get to be a lying, cheating, mud-slinging asshat and still be thought of as an honorable, straight-talking maverick just because he’s a POW? What happened to us once when we were younger cannot and should not be used to excuse the reality of who we are now.
Being a rape survivor does not mean I get to claim that I’m a better person than my opponents because I survived rape and they didn’t. McCain is no better than the people he smears – in fact, he’s far less of a good man than they are. If we’re going to be claiming higher ground by virtue of our travails, we’d better be fucking standing on it.
I can’t use my status as a rape survivor to disclaim responsibility for the actions I take, the things I say, the people I hurt, and all my many failures. It infuriates me that McCain thinks this status as a POW allows him to do all of that and so much more.
Let me paraphrase Terry Pratchett here: “Just because someone’s a POW doesn’t mean he’s not a nasty, small-minded jerk.”
There are plenty of vets who don’t milk their status for all its worth, good men who don’t believe that Vietnam gave them a free lunch for life card. Take my father, for instance: he could have parlayed his status as a vet into a college education, housing assistance, and health care, to name a few of the benefits available. He didn’t. He refuses to apply for veteran’s benefits. This man was fucking drafted, his life was totally derailed, his college career ended, and yet he thinks his country doesn’t owe him jack fucking shit. His country called on him to serve, he served in a war he despised, and he believes it was no more than his responsibility as a citizen.
He never, not once, has used Vietnam as an excuse for anything more than the reason why he’ll ask me to move my seat so he’s not sitting with his back to a door in a restaurant. That’s it.
McCain spits on people like my father whenever he expects his status as a POW to put him on a shining pedestal, without doing one damned thing to earn it. He spits on people like me when he uses it to excuse his moral, political and human failings. He spits on us all when he uses his status to get ahead.
It’s time we stopped letting him get away with it.