The bell tolls for John McCain.
He says so in "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations" (Simon & Schuster, 2018), a book mentioned last May in "The Found Haiku of John McCain."
Senator McCain, a Navy veteran and former POW, calls for civility, humility and compassion in this heartfelt memoir. He opens the book with "accumulated memories" while attending the Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony on December 7, 1991 on the 50th anniversary of the attack; he attended with fellow senators Bob Dole and Dan Inouye. President George H. W. Bush delivered remarks.
Among Bush's remarks were these words: "World War II also taught us that isolationism is a bankrupt notion. The world does not stop at our water's edge. And perhaps above all, that real peace, real peace, the peace that lasts, means the triumph of freedom, not merely the absence of war."
|Vice Adm. John S. McCain Sr., the senator's grandfather.|
Among his accumulated memories: the service and sacrifices of his grandfather, father, mother (matriarch of a military family) and other family members and friends. Many of his closest friends were fellow prisoners of war and other Vietnam veterans.
"I feel the weight of memories even more now, of course," he writes in "The Restless Wave."
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
|Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in 1954 for "For Whom the Bell Tolls."|
"I believe the United States has a special responsibility to champion human rights in all places, for all peoples, and at all times. I've believed that all my life. I was raised to believe it, to see it in the examples of gallantry put before me, in the histories and novels and poems I was encouraged to read, in the conduct of the heroes I admired, those to whom I was related or knew personally, and those who were commended to me. I am a democratic internationalist, a proud one, and have been all my public life. I could have been nothing else given my role models and influences. I took from Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' that defending the dignity of others is never a lost cause whether you succeed or not. And I thrill to the exhortation in the poem that inspired the novel, to be 'part of the main,' to be 'involved in mankind.'"McCain reflects on his experience in the Senate – as the Navy's liaison while still on active duty – to his fights "with and against" Ted Kennedy. He recounts his stand against torture, experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, position on Putin and pivotal vote to save the Affordable Care Act.
|Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy.|
Consider that perspective this weekend on the first anniversary of the murder of a civil rights activist by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Humility," McCain writes, "is the self-knowledge that you possess as much inherent dignity as anyone else, and not one bit more." He approaches the issue of immigration with humility, offering practical and compassionate solutions as he acknowledges the problems of illegal immigration and the challenges of border control but balanced with an understanding of the causes and a humane response.
Common themes throughout "Wave" are reasoned humility and a principled tough stand for human rights.
"Human rights are not our invention. They don't represent standards from which particular cultures or religions can be exempted. They are universal. They exist above the state and beyond history. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another ... Human rights advocacy isn't naive idealism. It's the truest kind of realism. Statesmen who think that all that really matters in international relations is how governments treat each other are wrong. The character of states can't be separated from their conduct in the world. Governments that protect the rights of their citizens are more likely to play a peaceful, constructive role in world affairs. Governments that are unjust, that cheat, lie, steal, and use violence against their own people are more likely to do the same to other nations."McCain talks tough about the dangers posed by authoritarian leaders, including Russia's Putin, who he met and spoke with several times over the years. McCain warns specifically of "Russia's nostalgia for empire" after the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Resentment and humiliation spread in Russia in the chaos, dislocation, and corruption of the erratic Yeltsin years, and eased the way for that striving, resentful KGB colonel, who seems to feel those emotions sharply and, to borrow an observation from 'Game of Thrones,' used chaos as a ladder," he writes.
McCain describes a fascinating interaction with Putin at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. While still on active duty, McCain first attended the conference in 1970 when he was Navy liaison to the Senate. In 2007, in the face of a fiery rhetorical attack on the United States, McCain responded with quiet resolve: "The United States did not singlehandedly win the Cold War in some unilateral victory," he told Putin and the European conference attendees. "The transatlantic alliance won the Cold War."
In "Wave" McCain recounts his interaction with Bill Browder, whose Russian lawyer, Sergei Manitsky, 37-year-old father of two, was arrested under Putin's orders and beaten to death by eight prison guards and orderlies. McCain, along with Representative Jim McGovern, Senator Ben Cardin and "a long list of co-sponsors," introduced what would become the Global Magnitsky Act calling for sanctions against Russian oligarchs, among others.
|Profiles in Courage: Sen. John McCain meets with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.|
McCain reflects on human rights in his discussion of Ukrainian independence and threats to Balkan states by Putin's Russia.
He invokes Martin Luther King's "'the fierce urgency of now,' the transformational moment when aspirations for freedom must be realized, when the voice of a movement can't be stilled, when the heart's demands will not stand further delay." Human rights is at the forefront in his interactions with leaders and dissidents in dozens of countries:
"I have done what little I can to stand in solidarity with forces of change in countries aligned with us and opposed to us, in Russia, in Ukraine, in Georgia and Moldova, in China, in Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, in Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, in Cuba, Nicaragua, in Zimbabwe and South Africa, [in Burma (Myanmar)], and wherever else people fighting for their human rights wanted our help. I've protested killings, torture, and imprisonments. I worked to sanction oppressive regimes. I've encouraged international pressure on the worst offenders. I've helped secure support for people building the framework of an open society. I've monitored elections, consoled the families of political prisoners, worried about the risk-takers and mourned their deaths. I've gotten more from them than they've gotten from me. I've gotten their hope, their faith, and their friendship."He devotes one of his ten chapters to the Arab Spring and laments the situation in Syria:
"As of today, as the Syrian war continues, more than 400,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians. More than five million have fled the country and more than six million have been displaced internally. A hundred years from now, Syria will likely be remembered as one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the twenty-first century, and an example of human savagery at its most extreme. But it will be remembered, too, for the invincibility of human decency and the longing for freedom and justice evident in the courage and selflessness of the White Helmets and the soldiers fighting for their country's freedom from tyranny and terrorists. In that noblest of human conditions is the eternal promise of the Arab Spring, which was engulfed in flames and drowned in blood, but will, like all springs come again."One of the best parts of this memoir is the final chapter, where McCain reflects with humble poetic insight about family, home, friendship, service and true patriotism as the bell tolls:
"'The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,' spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.' And I do, too. I hate to leave it. But I don't have a complaint. Not one. It's been a great ride," McCain writes.