“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe”. — The New York Times
Early this morning as I combed the net in search of knowledge, I stumbled on the lovely words above in the latest edition of The New York Times. It was a frontal statement in honour of John McCain, the American senator who passed on Saturday at 81. A true American hero.
The newspaper itself quoted a family statement put out to capture the totalising idea of the life and times of senator McCain and what he represented. Even children who are not yet teens were led by their parents and older siblings to that mortuary in Phoenix where the remains of McCain laid, to lay wreaths in honour of a man who actually came from a family of heroes.
McCain’s father and grandfather were admirals. He himself a war veteran who almost died in Vietnam – at a point his entire body weight came down to 100LBS from 160 following a devastation of his body in the war. He survived and continued to raise his voice to uphold the banner of the true meaning of service and the American spirit – rekindling by every pronouncement the true meaning of service and patriotism, jettisoning partisanship for love of country to take rational decision when it mattered most. A man who wished Obama delivers a speech in his honour at his memorial but who didn’t wish that Trump attended his funeral certainly exemplified a different specie of politician.
Since 2014 when I began to understudy McCain, I have always wished he came from my part of the world. When McCain voted in favour of Obamacare the battle line between him and Trump was set for an irreconcilable phase. He voted for America rather than his political party. I had wished this patriotism resonate here among the legislators in my country and I had serially even encouraged those in the national assembly to emulate American legislators and be united not by filthy lucre but by genuine love of country and its people, irrespective of circumstances of birth, religion or regional ancestry.
Indeed, between 2008 and 2015, while I served as the frontline liaison officer with NASS for a federal government agency, I gave copies of Profiles In Courage written by President JF Kennedy to some members of the National Assembly in Nigeria. I needed them to read and study the book so their works, contributions and attitudes could be shaped – so their names will be etched in gold when they are gone. I particularly referred them to a section of the book where Kennedy recalled a debate in the American senate in the 1850s and 1860s between senators Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Henry Clay of Kentucky, and how those men saved the American Union from disintegrating at the height of the war between American North and the South.
The senators, like John McCain did several times, jettisoned their party differences and spoke in defence of the Union and what was good for America. But for their position, and that of senator Thomas H. Benton of Missouri, America would have been divided long ago. I remember I gave out Kennedy’s book to at least 4 legislators and I encouraged them to circulate it among themselves so that as many people as possible will read and reflect upon the lessons Kennedy passed to the readers in that book. I don’t know whether th legislators who got the book did what I advised but I never got any of the copies back.
Were Kennedy to be alive today and wished to rewrite the book, he would certainly list McCain among the very best souls that ever stepped into the American senate. McCain was a man honest enough to admit his mistakes. And we can illustrate this with his outing with Sarah Paulin. When Paulin partly bungled their joint presidential bid, McCain in retrospect wished he had picked Joe Liebermann instead of the curious lady. But despite failing in his presidential bid, McCain never overheated the American political landscape as our people are fond of doing here. McCain never tore America apart. I am particularly excited about McCain’s demonstration of love for fellow men and country.
This is precisely why I feel an angst that the ‘strongman’ in Washington had to order the lowering of the American flag in honour of McCain only after a public outcry. How can a man continue a war with an ‘adversary’ even after the supposed enemy is dead. This will be a sacrilege in Africa even as it is monstrous in America, and I am gratified that the monstrosity of President Trump’s attitude to McCain, even in death, found very eloquent expression in the way Trump was pilloried over his conduct towards McCain, Even in death.
Indeed, when I heard about the statement Mr. Trump made about my President and juxtaposed it with his conduct towards McCain, I decided to hold my peace. I decided not to be angry that he insulted my President because Ola Rotimi had put the matter to rest in The Gods Are Not To Blame when he noted that if crocodiles eat their own eggs, what can’t they do to the flesh of the frog.
May the great soul of senator John McCain rest in peace. May God in His infinite mercy empower Nigeria to produce more of McCain.
Omoniyi Ibietan is a student at North-West University in South Africa