Why I am forgiving John McCain

In the years that Senator John McCain was imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam, I was a grade-school kid being beaten u...

Posted: Jun 4, 2018 4:11 PM
Updated: Jun 4, 2018 4:11 PM

In the years that Senator John McCain was imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam, I was a grade-school kid being beaten up on a playground in suburban New York -- and all because I was Chinese. I was called "gook," "chink," "Viet Cong," "Jap," "ching-chong Chinaman" and "slant-eye."

One older boy, in particular, used to pin me against a fence and sing a then-popular commercial song, which featured a character named "choo-choo Charlie," because "Charlie" was a name given to the Viet Cong.

So, in 2000, when McCain was reported to have not only used the word "gooks" to refer to his Vietnamese captors, but then doubled-down on his use of the racist term by stating that he thought it was an appropriate term for those who had tortured him, I was angry.

I was also ashamed because his use of the word brought back memories of the fear I had felt as a bullied child. After being decked by the older boys when I tried to fight back, I had quit fighting out of fear and been ashamed of my cowardice. I even lied to my father about winning a fight against the bullies.

Given my strong reaction to McCain's use of a racist term, I was somewhat surprised at how little outrage there was over his comment. The story quickly died down, and I did nothing more than complain about it to friends and family.

But I did not forget it, and I did not forgive it -- until now.

As McCain heroically battles cancer, I am again thinking about his remarks -- but this time through a different prism. And in doing some new research into the furor around his remarks, I have learned two facts I hadn't known before.

First, the story had died down quickly because there had been almost no coverage of it besides an article in the San Francisco Chronicle and one in the Huffington Post. Second, McCain reportedly had apologized and sworn off ever using the term again. His apology made me think about the importance of forgiveness and how to determine what is worth forgiving.

I find it easy now to forgive McCain's hurtful use of that racist word when balanced against the greater weight of his good deeds and bravery. Such actions as McCain's stand against torture, his efforts with Senator John Kerry to revive diplomatic relationships with Vietnam, his bravery as a young prisoner of war and his bravery now as he faces a terminal disease better represent the measure of his life.

Importantly, I realize that the pain and shame the word raised within me was due to my own failure to forgive my young self for being unable to fight back. In hindsight, I see that it took some work to forgive myself.

I became an amateur boxer to force myself to fight back, and my career as a prosecutor may be seen as a way of fighting for victims unable to defend themselves.

So, I think I've made peace with that little boy version of me now. And I've made peace with McCain.

But what am I not at peace with?

I'm not at peace with the fact that so little was done to hold accountable a public figure's use of a racist term. I hesitate to forgive the media for not reporting on the story with a fraction of the energy and focus devoted to the daily reporting of the current President's troubling statements on race -- or, in the case of Roseanne Barr's racist tweet, his failure to condemn them.

I hesitate at forgiving the failure of Asian American advocacy groups to make the media pay more attention to the story. And I hesitate to forgive myself for not doing more than complain to friends and family at the time of McCain's remark.

McCain and I both have travelled long roads since he was imprisoned and I was bullied. He could have done better by never having used that racist term and apologizing more quickly. But we all should have done better. And we all must do better by calling out wrong when we see it and practicing forgiveness toward ourselves and each other.

Lafayette
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 50°
Kokomo
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 45°
Rensselaer
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 38°
Lafayette
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 50°
Danville
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 43°
Frankfort
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 46°
Frankfort
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 46°
Monticello
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 42°
Monticello
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 42°
Logansport
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 43°
Rather Dry, Windy Forecast
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 700775

Reported Deaths: 13167
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion956451709
Lake51038935
Allen38781670
Hamilton34153404
St. Joseph33552538
Elkhart26950431
Vanderburgh21987393
Tippecanoe21560212
Johnson17387373
Porter17124297
Hendricks16690309
Clark12628190
Madison12271337
Vigo12126243
Monroe11302166
LaPorte10716204
Delaware10271184
Howard9590211
Kosciusko9037113
Hancock7896139
Bartholomew7824153
Warrick7665155
Floyd7526176
Wayne6865197
Grant6753168
Boone651099
Morgan6356138
Dubois6060117
Marshall5729108
Cass5662102
Dearborn566175
Henry5554100
Noble535583
Jackson490769
Shelby476095
Lawrence4322118
Gibson426188
Harrison425770
Montgomery415586
Clinton414753
DeKalb404883
Huntington375180
Whitley373939
Miami370865
Knox364689
Steuben360757
Putnam351460
Wabash345777
Jasper343746
Adams337452
Ripley332868
Jefferson307479
White306654
Daviess288299
Wells284480
Decatur278592
Fayette276962
Greene269385
Posey268033
Scott259053
Clay251544
LaGrange250170
Randolph234179
Washington229629
Spencer227331
Jennings224247
Fountain207445
Sullivan207341
Starke200352
Owen191056
Fulton190039
Jay185329
Carroll184820
Perry178936
Orange176152
Rush169824
Vermillion165643
Franklin165135
Tipton160843
Parke143616
Blackford132431
Pike129834
Pulaski112845
Newton102834
Brown99340
Crawford96914
Benton95313
Martin82215
Warren78815
Switzerland7698
Union69510
Ohio55511
Unassigned0405

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events