Sunday, January 5, 2014

How John McCain Sees Character, Destiny

Review by Bill Doughty

Complex and complicated, Senator John McCain -- son and grandson of admirals, former U.S. Navy pilot and Vietnam Prisoner of War -- thanks his mother with helping develop his character and credits his father with giving him the gift of conscience.  "I don't think there is anything greater a parent can do for you," he writes.

"Character is Destiny" John McCain and Mark Salter is subtitled, "Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember."  Random House published the book in 2005 as one of three bestsellers by the authors that "may be their most influential and enduring book yet."

McCain introduces his mother, Roberta McCain, "raised to be a strong, determined woman who thoroughly enjoyed life, and always tried to make the most of of her opportunities."  He praises her curiosity, courtesy and humility.

McCain's grandfather and father in World War II.
He writes of the integrity and "demands of his conscience" of his father, John S. McCain Jr., former Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC), in the face of difficult choices.
"He fought in three wars [including WWII and Korea], and in his last war, Vietnam, he commanded all our country's forces in the Pacific, including those who fought in Vietnam.  I am his oldest son and namesake, and I fought under his command.  For several years I was held as a prisoner of war in the enemy's capital, the city of Hanoi.  When the president of the United States [Richard Nixon] and his advisors decided to try to shorten the war by bombing Hanoi, it was my father's duty to order it done.
President Nixon meets McCain.
"The planes that flew to Hanoi on his orders were B-52s.  They were the largest bombers in the air force.  They could carry the largest and the most bombs.  They flew at high altitudes, but unlike those aircraft used by our air force today, they did not have the technology to be very accurate in their targeting.  The pilots knew Americans were being held captive near their targets.  So did the man who commanded them, my father.  he knew where I was, and he loved me.  He prayed on his knees every day for my safe return.  Whenever he visited his soldiers in Vietnam, he would end his day by walking to the northern end of the base and standing quietly alone, looking toward the place where his son was held.  But his conscience required him to do his duty, and his duty required him to risk his son's life.  And so he did."
McCain meets with President Barack Obama to discuss Syria.
"Character is Destiny" is filled with short biographies arranged in seven parts -- Honor, Purpose, Strength, Understanding, Judgment, Creativity and Love.  Each profile is preceded by a quality of character.  For example: Respect - Gandhi, Self-Contol - George Washington, Dignity - Viktor Frankl, Resilience - Abraham Lincoln, Discernment - Leonardo da Vinci, Enthusiasm - Theodore Roosevelt, and Selflessness and Contentment - Mother Teresa.

In Part Five, Judgment, McCain chooses a diverse group to illustrate qualities of fairness, humility, gratitude, humor and courtesy:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, Tecumseh, Mark Twain and Aung San Suu Kyi.

McCain showcases the citizenship of Pat Tillman, former Arizona State and NFL Arizona Cardinals football player, who, along with his brother Kevin, was moved to join the Army Rangers in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.  About the brothers, McCain writes:
"They intentionally refused to talk about their decision.  They shunned all publicity.  They refused all requests for interviews ... They were special, but no more special than the Americans they served with.  But their modesty, as much as their sacrifice, taught us the first lesson of patriotism.  Patriotism is a lot more than flag waving or singing the anthem at ball games.  Patriotism is the recognition that each of us is just one small part of a cause that is greater than ourselves, one small part, but a part we are honor bound to play.  America is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and have an equal right to freedom and justice. That is our cause: to prove the truth of that proposition.  And that cause is far more important than the ambitions and desires of any individual."
Pat Tillman, in a photo illustration on Reddit.
Tragically, Pat Tillman was killed on a mountainside in Afghanistan, and the murky circumstances of how he was killed -- and how his death was reported -- compound the tragedy.  The full story can be read in the 2010 bestseller by Jon Krakauer, "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman."  Krakauer, a favorite author of Tillman, brings out the essence of Tillman's character and intelligence.  

Tillman's honor, courage and commitment mirror that of Navy SEAL Michael Murphy, whose heroism is portrayed in "Lone Survivor" and chronicled in Gary Williams's "SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN."

McCain's book about "remarkable people who chose well" implies how important it is to make good choices and to have the freedom to make those choices.

Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning" is "considered by many to be one of the most important books of our time."  Even in the face of death under Nazi persecution Frankl had the power of choice -- to be good or bad.

McCain calls William Shakespeare "the greatest writer in the English language" and quotes several passages, including a father-to-son quote in "Hamlet":  "This above all: to thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cannot then be false to any man."

McCain writes, "In other words, being true to our conscience, being honest with ourselves, will determine the character of our relations with others.  That is the concise definition of integrity."

Another Shakespeare quote shared, this one from "Henry V": "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.  For he today that sheds his blood for me shall be my brother."

In "Tolerance: The Four Chaplains," McCain writes of the sinking of U.S. Army troop transport ship USAT Dorchester in World War II and the four Christian and Jewish chaplains who helped others escape before going down with the ship.

McCain writes about the brilliance of da Vinci, an artist "without any equal"; of Twain: "The Great American Novel was published in 1885 ... 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'"; and of Darwin, who explained "the theory of natural selection, the key to the mystery of mysteries."  Darwin's "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" is listed as a source.

"Character is Destiny" lacks an index.  Its glossary of sources is slim and includes references such as Wikipedia and numerous .com and .org sites, "readily recommended."

The authors also highly recommend books for children and parents alike. 
Lt. j.g. John McCain and his parents in 1961.

"Happily, reading books remains among the most satisfying of experiences.  As a means of transporting us into other lives and times, they still have no equal," McCain and Salter write.

Reporter Mark Leibovich, New York Times magazine’s chief national correspondent and the author of “This Town,” wrote a recent in-depth piece, "How John McCain turned his cliche's into meaning," with cooperation of McCain and including an interview with daughter Meghan McCain and friend Senator Lindsey Graham.  Leibovich's story touches on some of the points and principles raised by McCain and Salter in "Character is Destiny."

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