John McCain’s death might not have been marked as an end point, a passing of a set of values from American politics, if it weren’t for the current occupant of the White House.
McCain had flaws, plenty of them – personal and political – but his final chapter was marked by a sense of responsibility in the face of his own illness, and the one that has overtaken his country’s government.
It seemed to be motivated by his desire not just to acknowledge, but to atone for his biggest mistakes.
So, after being wrong about the Iraq War and Sarah Palin, he was right about the use of torture and Donald Trump with absolute clarity.
Regardless of any of that, McCain was also a war hero. His decision to accept more torture rather than abandon his comrades offered Americans a redemptive symbol out of their most painful conflict. The Vietnam War didn’t have many of those.
One of the more bizarre reactions to his death has been to condemn his military service as somehow disqualifying him of any respect. In bringing home a broken generation, America learned that a soldier can only ever be the victim and the perpetrator of the crimes of war.
In the same week that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt boasted of being “tutored” by Henry Kissinger, we would do well to remember how the scales of responsibility should be weighted.
In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of US ground troops, the Vietnam navy veteran Alan Cutter wrote how, amid all the condolences and offers of forgiveness from strangers for his role in the conflict, he was still waiting “for someone to say ‘Forgive me?’”
“I’d like to tell that person this: my friend, we share responsibility ... Forgive us, yes, if that will ease your mind. But if you will stay and listen to the story, then together we may find salve for our wounded souls.”
More often than not, McCain took responsibility. How many can say the same?