By James Wright
Arizona Senator John McCain died in his home on Saturday, Aug. 25 after a losing a long fight with brain cancer, according to The New York Times. He was 81 years old.
McCain, a renowned naval aviator survived the depths of the Vietnam War to eventually become a staple in Republican politics. He was also a two-time presidential candidate.
Revered by his colleagues in the chambers of Washington, McCain is remembered as a patriotic maverick who represented the old-guard, establishmentarian wing of the Republican Party. In addition, his ability to reach across the aisle and work to reach bipartisan agreements won him the respect of many political foes, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“‘Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means,’” said former president Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, according to CNN.
Obama’s mentioning of McCain’s courage can be attributed to the senator’s service during the Vietnam War. Having grown up in a military household—his father and grandfather were both four-star admirals in the U.S. Army—McCain carried his name into battle with intense yearning to serve his country in the fight against the spread of communism, according to The New York Times.
McCain’s bravery and heroism were demonstrated throughout his struggle as a prisoner of war. He was kept in solitary confinement for two years, and was subject to frequent beatings from communists in North Vietnam. This, in part, led McCain to attempt suicide two times while in captivity, according to The New York Times.
Because McCain’s father was commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater, the North Vietnamese tried to coax McCain into an early release, and they engaged in mockery by referring to the captive soldier as the “Crown Prince.” McCain refused to be released and endured severe beatings, saying that being released ahead of previously captured POWs would serve as a propaganda victory for the communist forces, according to The Wall Street Journal.
McCain’s experiences in Vietnam would greatly alter the person he became upon his return, and his career in politics reflected that change. It helped form his views on torture, as he became an ardent opponent of tactics such as waterboarding enemy combatants to obtain classified information, according to The New York Times.
He reached across party lines multiple times to warn of the dangers of waterboarding. He spoke out after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed that torture works, according to The Wall Street Journal.
McCain’s personal animus with President Trump represented a growing rift within the Republican Party, as McCain early on classified himself as a Reagan Republican, according to The New York Times. He did this by maintaining stances such as support for free trade and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and by possessing a deep suspicion of Russia’s ability to interfere in free elections.
The Senator’s impactful life dedicated to serving the U.S.’ interests at home and abroad will serve as a legacy that his colleagues, and the American electorate, will not soon forget.