I don't buy Rall's argument that we ought to see McSame as neither a hero nor a victim (as in, McSame did enlist rather than wait to be drafted, so that differentiates him from draftees who went against their will -- the real victims).
Vietnam was an illegal, undeclared war of aggression. Can those who fought in that immoral war really be heroes? This question appeared settled after Reagan visited a cemetery for Nazi soldiers, including members of the SS, at Bitburg, West Germany in 1985. "Those young men," claimed Reagan, "are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."
Americans didn't buy it. Reagan's poll numbers, typically between 60 and 65 percent at the time, plunged to 41 percent after the visit. Those who fight for an evil cause receive no praise.
I was nearly 13 when the U.S. left Saigon, almost five years after my dad returned from his tour there. I remember feeling a sense of loss at seeing our soldiers being forced to retreat. It wasn't until a few years later that I learned how horrible our involvement there really was. In any event, I never saw the soldiers who served there through different filters: those who enlisted vs. those who were drafted. To me, anyone who puts on a uniform and marches into a foreign country under orders of their president is a hero, regardless of the morality of the mission. Soldiers don't really have the luxury of arguing with their superiors about that; they just get up and go do what they've been trained to do, trusting their leaders that there is a higher purpose. Sometimes they learn that the "higher purpose" is something not in line with America's ideals, but rather in line with some strategic political or economic interest. That doesn't take away from their service.
Rall also writes:
When McCain was shot down during his 23rd bombing sortie, he was happily shooting up a civilian neighborhood in the middle of a major city. Vietnamese locals beat him when they pulled him out of a local lake; yeah, that must have sucked.I was similarly cynical when I first travelled overseas to entertain troops in the mid-1990s. And a lot of the guys I met over there were dumb hicks, to be sure (like the one guy who, upon learning that I was a vegetarian said, "I'm from Missouri, and I never met a cow that didn't deserve to be shot in the head."). Yet, underneath all of the cultural disconnects I had with these men and women, I respected them for being thousands of miles from home doing a job that most of us would never volunteer to do, counting the days until their tour was over and trying not to piss off the locals too much.
My dad went to Vietnam and surgically put broken soldiers back together. I'm sure some of the less injured ones were sent back into battle; the rest were sent home alive or dead. He was drafted, but he said to me that he leapt at the chance to serve because he would never get the chance to do such challenging work. Is it wrong to have put a man back together so he can go back and fight in an immoral war? I'm certain that, on the battlefield, such nuance likely never came into play for him. He did his work, trying not to get killed (which could've involved killing someone else who was trying to kill him, but he won't talk about that) so that he could return home.