Like the “Cone of silence” kerfluffle, I am bemused at the desire of some to denigrate McCain’s “cross in the sand” comment.

Obama’s reply about his religious beliefs was genuine, saying how Jesus’ grace after being born again inspired him to devote his life to helping people by establishing government programs. Many Christians would agree with him; others who disagree with his politics should nevertheless realize his sincerity in trying to live his faith.

Yet in contrast, McCain’s story seems to have stirred up hatred and scoffing.
These people obviously don’t know the entire story, which is about quiet faith, charity, and forgiveness.

First of all, notice that the hero of Christian charity in the tale is not McCain, but his guard, who risked punishment for his kind action. The cross is how the guard later explained his actions. Not mentioned by McCain, and not noticed by the critics, is the question why the guard knew McCain was a believer (the answer is that McCain led prayer services, an action that could have led to his punishment).

The tale is a contrast to the expected answer: no “born again” stuff here. On the surface it seems to say little about McCain’s relationship to the deity.

But the small act of kindness had consequences, because it helped McCain forgive those who mistreated him.

Many things in religion are joyful, including a life of service to the poor. But the real test is that of Job: struggling with the demons of fear, hatred, and temptation. This is where the battles of the soul are fought, and few of us will  ever know the details of another’s spiritual struggles.

Fast forward to the 1990’s.

When President Clinton started to reopen relations with Viet Nam in the early 1990’s, McCain’s help was invaluable: seeing a former POW defend the normalization of relations with a former enemy inspired many other Vietnam veterans to forgive and move on.

McCain’s help earned him hatred on the far right. THIS is a typical attack on his actions, implying he was a traitor and his actions helping that draft dodger Clinton can only be explained by his acceptance of favors as a POW. HERE is another stark criticism of his willingness to help his previous enemy.

At this point you need to know about Vietnam.After America left, Viet Nam faced two further wars (with Cambodia, and with China) that few Americans know or care about. And the imposition of communist economics resulted in famine and near economic collapse.

Enter Vo Van Kiet.

As prime minister, Kiet helped craft policies that attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment, vastly expanded trade and enabled the economy to grow at an annual rate of better than 8 percent.

Impatient with Communist Party functionaries trying to protect their own turf, Kiet argued that the party could only stay in power if it loosened its tight hold over the government and business, allowing them to become more efficient.

Kiet, who died this June, established more liberal economic and social policies, including an outreach to the US to reestablish formal diplomatic and trade relations. The result of his actions has not made VietNam an “Asian tiger”, but it has allowedd that county to grow economically.

So a guard helped McCain; by showing the cross, he signaled his actions were inspired by the Christian dictum to do good to your enemies; this heroic action helped McCain in his own struggles to forgive his captors.

And McCain’s forgiveness made him willing to take criticism and cross party lines to help President Clinton to reestablish relations with an old enemy.

As Paul Harvey says: So now, you know the rest of the story.

Or not quite: in this case, forgiveness works both ways, you know:

Although his first wife and two children were said to have been killed by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, Kiet was a firm supporter of normalizing relations with the United States, finally achieved in 1995.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about human rights in Africa at Makaipa blog.

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