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Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley

Posted: October 4, 2008 10:39 AM

William Ayers and John McCain


Every time I think of William Ayers, I also think of John McCain, because they are of the same era, and they both believed in the efficacy of violence. According to an article in Friday's New York Times, McCain once said of Ayers, "How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people?" He had to use that "could have or did" because no one knows if bombs Ayers built actually killed anyone -- let's say that the odds are against it. Likewise, no one knows whether the bombs John McCain dropped on North Vietnam ever killed anyone. According to McCain's biography, "With the outbreak of the Vietnam War, McCain volunteered for combat duty and began flying carrier-based attack planes on low-altitude bombing runs against the North Vietnamese. ...On October 26, 1967, during his 23rd air mission, McCain´s plane was shot down during a bombing run over the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi." Let's say, given those twenty-three bombing runs, the odds are for McCain having killed some innocents. How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people, John?

But, of course, John McCain's defense is that he was performing his patriotic duty, and that's what William Ayers would have said, too. I remember the Vietnam War. It was not a war of self-defense that the U.S. had to wage or had to win. It was a war of aggression, a waste of resources, lives, manpower, global good will, and national spirit. And, many would say, it was a war crime. Those who were against it viewed their protests as essential patriotism, a way of correcting terrible choices and profound injustices.

According to the New York Times article, William Ayers' case was thrown out of court because of "illegal wiretaps and prosecutorial misconduct", exactly the sort of activities that will get cases brought against the Guantanamo detainees by the Bush Administration thrown out of court. Deja vu all over again.

In the meantime, what about the case against John McCain? The next time he goes abroad, might some enterprising human rights activist step up to him and put him under a citizens' arrest for war crimes and get him hauled off to the The Hague?

I don't think Barack Obama would like that. As snarky and contemptuous as McCain acts toward Obama, I think President Obama would defend McCain. In fact, I think he would feel about him as he does about Ayers -- he's an old man, and the wars he once fought are over and done with. Time to get past fighting old battles. Sometimes I agree with him. But then McCain brings up Williams Ayers again, and I can't help thinking of those bombing runs, and those dead innocents.