McCain, the Manchurian Candidate?

In the classic film, The Manchurian Candidate, Lawrence Harvey is programmed through devious and elaborate North Korean brainwashing techniques to assassinate a leading candidate for President. The decorated war hero seems perfectly normal until he sees the Queen of Diamonds, and that sets him off on his murderous mission.

Of course the film takes some liberties with what we know about brainwashing and post traumatic stress disorder. As far as we know, the brain can’t bury something as elaborate as a plan to assassinate a person so deep in our subconscious that we would be unaware of it, and it could only come to the surface when triggered by a playing card. The brain just doesn’t have that much RAM (Random Access Memory) to hold that devious a worm or virus.

John McCain was shot down on his 23rd mission over Vietnam on October 26, 1967. He has said his target was a power plant in a heavily civilian neighborhood. Newsweek magazine says he hit a lightbulb factory. A ground to air missile sheared off his right wing and the plane went into a straight dive. He pulled the ejection handle and the force of the ejection broke his right leg around the knee, his right arm in three places and his left arm. He landed in a lake in the center of Hanoi.

Vietnamese civilians swam out to rescue him. He was put on a truck and taken to the main prison. The North Vietnamese wanted to know whether the change in tactics on the part of the U. S. meant more civilian neighborhoods would be hit. According to McCain they slapped him around “for three or four days” until “I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant.”

According to McCain, and McCain’s often contradictory account is almost the only source we have, a few months after his capture guards came to his cell and beat and kicked him until he “lay on the floor, bloody, arms and legs throbbing, ribs cracked, several teeth broken off at the gumline.” They wanted him to confess to being a “black criminal.” He signed the statement, but afterward he was so depressed he attempted suicide.

For the first two years of his five and a half years of captivity McCain was generally kept in solitary confinement. His father was the Commander in the Pacific. John McCain was called “The Crown Prince” by his captors. He was a special target for indoctrination by the Vietnamese, and they succeeded in getting him to cooperate in the production of thirty propaganda films according to U. S. Senate staffers. A declassified Department of Defense document reports a friendly interview between McCain and a Spanish psychiatrist in Spanish for the Cuban newspaper Granma. Most other documents from this period, including the propaganda films, are still classified. On numerous trips back to Hanoi, McCain has asked the Vietnamese not to release information about captured POW’s.

If you hit a child, you create a liar and a bully. John McCain was hit and he was subjected to intense psychological conditioning. Will this torture and brainwashing have long-term behavioral effects?

Judith Lewis Herman, M. D., in her book Trauma and Recovery, says prisoners of war suffer complex post-traumatic stress disorder. This is characterized by:

1. Alterations in affect regulation, including persistent dysphoria (a state of anxiety, dissatisfaction, restlessness or fidgeting); suicidal preoccupation; explosive or extremely inhibited anger; compulsive or extremely inhibited sexuality.
2. An alteration in the perception or experience of the self so that the usual sense of one’s own reality is temporarily lost or changed and an alteration in the perception of one’s surroundings so that a sense of the reality of the external world is lost.
3. Alterations in self-perception that may include a sense of specialness, utter aloneness, belief no other person can understand.
4. A preoccupation with revenge.

These are the demons that plague every soldier who returns from combat, but these demons must be far more serious and far more horrifying for John McCain. He must also feel tremendous guilt for feeling he betrayed his country and his family.
Does this mean John McCain is not mentally fit to be President?

Doctor Phillip Butler, a graduate of the Naval Academy with McCain and a fellow POW in Hanoi (Butler was in for 8 years), says, “I can verify that John has an infamous reputation for being a hot head. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced first hand. Folks, quite honestly that is not the finger I want next to that red button.” And, “In short, I think John Sidney McCain, III is a good man, but not someone I will vote for in the upcoming election to be our President of the United States.”

One of the most remarkable events of McCain’s Presidential campaign has been his change from being the maverick driving the Straight Talk Express to being the loyal Republican neo-con driving a double-talk run-away semi loaded with explosives. It doesn’t look so much like McCain captured the Republican nomination, as it seems the Republicans captured McCain and brainwashed him.

Before the campaign: McCain opposed waterboarding and the use of torture on prisoners of war. He supported a review of our immigration policies and an eventual path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country. He opposed Bush’s tax cuts for multi-millionaires. He would not repeal Roe v. Wade. He said, “I think gay marriage should be allowed.” He co-authored with Russ Feingold a law to take the influence of lobbyists out of politics. As late as January of this year, he opposed wiretapping and said, “I don’t think the President has the right to disobey any law.”

Now, as the presumptive Republican nominee for President: He supports waterboarding and torturing prisoners. He opposes giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship. He supports extending Bush’s tax cuts for the rich through 2010. Today he says, “I do not support Roe v. Wade-it should be overturned.” He opposes gay marriages and even giving benefits to unmarried couples. His campaign is run by lobbyists, and he helps himself to free rides on his wife’s corporate jet. He now believes wiretapping is constitutional and appropriate.

His basic core values seem to change with different situations. He has a violent temper. He is obsessed with revenge (after 9/11 he wanted to invade all the unfriendly countries in the Middle East and he once opened a press conference by singing “Bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of “Ba-Barbara Ann” by the Beachboys).

John McCain is a tragic victim of the war in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, he is so damaged he cannot see his own bleeding wounds.

He needs help.

He doesn’t need to be President of the United States.

Ed Felien is the editor and publisher of Southside Pride, a monthly newspaper locally owned and operated in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at

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