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John McCain and the Meaning of Courage

Honoring His Political and Military Legacy Is Vital

U.S. Senator John McCain speaks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 2017. Charles Mostoller / REUTERS

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian philosopher of war, wrote in the early nineteenth century that “courage is of two kinds: first, physical courage, or courage in the presence of danger; and next, moral courage, or courage before responsibility.” The late U.S. Senator John McCain demonstrated both. His physical courage was apparent during the 23 combat missions he flew over North Vietnam, especially the last of these, when he was shot down over Hanoi, severely wounded, and captured by the North Vietnamese. During his captivity over the next five and a half years, more than two of which he spent in solitary confinement, he demonstrated not only physical but also moral courage while enduring the worst possible forms of torture. Perhaps his most courageous act as a prisoner of war came when he refused to accept early release, in order to remain with his fellow Americans and deny the North Vietnamese

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