Rob Kall / Op Ed New – 2008-10-28 20:12:11
Interview: McCain Fellow Hanoi Hilton POW & Naval Academy Dorm-mate; Why He Won’t Vote For McCain
Rob Kall / Op Ed News
(October 27, 2008) — Transcript of Interview with CDR, USN, Phil Butler on the Rob Kall Bottom-up Radio Show (1360 AM WNJC). Transcription by Jay Farrington and Paul Hawley
Kall:— Great to have you with us here on the Rob Kall Show at 1360 AM.
Butler:— Thank you.
Kall:— It’s interesting; I’ve had a couple of emails. Now you wrote this article, “Why I won’t Vote for John McCain” and you talk about your experience having been a POW for eight years, huh?
Butler:— Yes, that’s right.
Kall:—Oh! I’ll bet you know exactly how many days after eight years it was, too.
Butler:— Well, two thousand eight hundred and fifty five days and nights—as a POW.
Kall:— Oh my God, it’s hard to imagine; it’s mind boggling; thank you for your service!
You know, a couple of people have said, “This guy’s doing to John McCain what John Kerry had done to him by the ‘Swiftboaters’.”
Butler:— No, that’s not true, because I think the swiftboaters got some preconceived lies that they were pushing about John Kerry’s service; that he was not a bona fide veteran; his medals weren’t real and so forth, and in my article that I’ve written here —”Why I Won’t Vote for John McCain” — I say clearly that I respect John (McCain) and I respect his service as a naval officer and also as a POW.
Kall:— Yeah, let me read what you wrote: “Senator John Sidney McCain III is a remarkable man who’s made enormous personal achievement. He’s a man that I’m proud to call a POW who returned with honor.”
Kall:— So you’re not any way like a Swiftboater; I just wanted to kind of clear that up right from the beginning.
Butler:—No, I’m not in any way in concert with the Swiftboat Liars.
Kall:— Yes. OK, what I wanted to do was kind of go into some of the things you said in your article, and kind of go into them in a little more detail. Sound OK?
Kall:— All right, so, you say, you were basically, you got there; you were a freshman when he was a senior, so you spent a year at the Naval Academy, with him, living directly across the hall from him, apparently, right?
Butler:— Yeah, as improbable as that is, because you know, strangely, out of three thousand six hundred midshipmen—we had spread out in twenty four companies; I happened to fall into the Seventeenth Company, and right straight across the hall from John McCain and his roommate, I and my two roommates found ourselves living in the Seventeenth Company.
Kall:— So you write he was intent on breaking every U.S. Naval Academy regulation in our four inch thick Naval Academy Regulations book and I believe he must have come as close to his goal as any midshipman who ever attended the academy.
Butler:— We used to say that for John it was an art form, I mean, you know, it took more than intelligence and an active imagination; it was an art form for him, and he was a wild and irascible midshipman in those days.
Kall:— What kind of rules did he break?
Butler:— Everything you can imagine from being out over the wall at night, to just– There were thousands of rules that could be broken and John, I think, had a go at all of them and he spent a lot of time also on detention his first class year, on, as we called it, restriction. Because of the ones that he broke and got caught at.
Kall:— I’m wondering, were there any that were really bad or were they just misbehavior–?
Butler:— I think they were misbehavior, I think that they were just in his “wild and wooly” nature, which, by the way carried on after he graduated when he became a Navy pilot; before he was shot down over Vietnam, he crashed several airplanes. He was a wild risk-taker and he still, I think to this day, If you watch him and read things about him, I think he practices– brinkmanship.—
Kall:— Brinkmanship. So would you think that the average student at the Naval Academy could have gotten away with this, or would they have been thrown out?
Butler:— Well, there was talk amongst those of us who I know and knew in that day, and not just my classmates but his classmates and those in between that he probably had a leg up in surviving this because he was the son of what was then a pretty high ranking Navy captain, who later became an admiral, and the grandson of a Navy admiral, so he was in a lineage of, you know, admiralty, in McCain.—
Which probably happened more often than not, there at the Naval Academy; there were numerous midshipmen whose fathers were captains or admirals and so on and so forth, but John came from a special rarified navy lineage, and so you know, I remember–
Kall:— So he came into the Naval Academy a child of privilege, who was able to get away with stuff that the average Naval Academy person who didn’t have those privileges would never have gotten away with.
Butler:— Well, that was said. Those were things that were being said at the time and I know that he did on at least one occasion have to go over and have a talk with Admiral Smidberg, the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, which was extremely unusual. I never heard of any other midshipman getting a — as we called it— a “Dutch Uncle” talk at Navy, for being dressed down.
Kall:— Do you remember what he did to cause that?
Butler:— I don’t; it was fifty years ago, so that one I can’t remember, I’m sorry.
Kall:— You know, you’ve talked about him being–engaging in brinkmanship and in wild, crazy kind of behavior, how do you think that would translate into his functioning as a president?
Butler:— Well, that’s a problem I have. Like I said, I really respect him and I have to say that I like him very much. He’s a funny guy if you’re ever around him, he’s got incredible wit, he’s funny, he’s likeable; if you’re with him for a few minutes, you’re immediately going to like the fellow.
Kall:— Yeah, the guy you’d like to have a beer with– or a couple.
Butler:— Yeah, exactly. “To have a few drinks with, and interesting…but for me, the only problem I have is that electing a person to be the President of the United States of America falls into a whole different category. It obviates anything like a former friendship or a former liaison or partnership, or family member or anything else; it has to be somebody with special qualifications. I don’t see that John has those qualifications; he has a personality that concerns me were he to become president of the United States.—
And the other thing is that it’s not just his military service, but what has John done, how does he actualize, how does he take lessons from his military service in terms of how he sees the world today, and I think it’s all wrong; I think his lessons from Vietnam are all wrong; he’s helped lead us right back into another Vietnam in the Iraq War.
He’s a bellicose kind of a guy, he’s aggressive, he’s a black and white thinker. He doesn’t see nuances, just like George Bush doesn’t see nuances; he thinks that things are black and white.—
He does his campaigning — the other day he was being interviewed asked a couple of questions, and he answered, “yes, yes and no.” and then everybody clapped, but that’s the wrong kind of thinking than we want in the President of the United States; we want somebody who sees the complexity of the World Order.
Kall:— I’m curious. In his role in the Navy. Did he ever play a role as a leader?
Butler:— When he came home, I understand that he was the Commanding Officer of a training squadron, a replacement aircraft squadron on the east coast; I believe that it might have been in Jacksonville, but in that squadron he was a squadron commander. And I understand that he was well thought of as a squadron commander. But there again, that job doesn’t translate to President of the United States.
Kall:—What’s it involve being a squadron commander?
Butler:—It’s like being a CEO. They probably had multimillions of dollars worth of aircraft and supplies and material goods under his command and maybe a couple of hundred people, so it’s tantamount to the military version, if you could draw somewhat of a comparison to being a CEO.
Kall:— Of a medium sized company, maybe.
Butler:— Yes, I would say so.
Kall:— and his reputation was that he did a decent job there.
Butler:— I heard that; I wasn’t there to see or hear; I’m on the west coast, but I heard that he was pretty well received.
Kall:— And before, you mentioned that he had a couple of crashes or accidents before he was captured?
Butler:— Yeah, I read anywhere from two to four, but that keeps coming up; it’s three different airplanes that he crashed and least one or two of them were from pilot error—and there again, that’s highly unusual, because normally, a naval aviator that crashes one or two airplanes immediately loses their wings and they find themselves to be a deck officer on a destroyer at sea.
Kall: I hear that at least one of those crashes, he disobeyed orders and that was why it happened too. Or he ignored orders or information or something like that. Do you know about that?
Butler: I don’t know the details, but that does come through as logical, and I believe that something on that order is true. That’s just part of the brinkmanship. He is fairly careless, he didn’t follow procedures closely, just like he didn’t at the Naval Academy, and I think he’s still pretty much that way. I think he still shoots from the hip. We used to have a saying in the Navy that we had certain kinds of senior officers that were “ready, aim, fire,” and some were “ready, fire, aim.” And I think John fits the latter category.
Kall: Now there’s an awful lot of talk about him being a hero, because of what he did while he was a prisoner. And you write, “John allows the media to make him out to be the hero POW, which he knows is absolutely not true, to further his political goals.” Could you get into that a little bit more?
Butler: Well, look, I think Americans have a distorted vision of heroism. All the time, we have young kids who are 18 and 19 years old who are being killed and horribly maimed, in wars like Vietnam all the way up through and including Iraq and Afghanistan now. I mean, many lose their lives, lose everything, and go home to poverty, just an incredible waste.—
Prisoners of war, those of us who happened to find ourselves in harm’s way over North Vietnam, however many thousands of us there were who were shot down, and some became prisoners and some survived — I always like to tell people that not one of us took an entrance examination to get into a POW camp. We were randomly selected by bullets and missiles, and we were just ordinary, college graduate guys who’d learned how to fly airplanes and were doing our job in a war that we at that time thought was the right thing to do.—
So if you go around and pick college graduates all over this country, you have the same stock, you’ve got the same strong American psyche that can survive, that can cope with adversity. We were no different. So those of us who survived, by sticking together and by supporting each other and being a team, came home to incredible adulation, to the point of almost hero worship.—
To me, quite frankly, I think a hero is somebody like a single mother who has children, and she’s homeless and has no job, and her husband has left her, and she manages to find work somehow and pull herself up educationally and get her kids through school — those to me are the real heroes that we see every day in America.
Kall: From what you’ve written, there were about 600 prisoners who came home?
Butler: Well, no, there were actually 801, this is the final count that we have, of which 660 were American servicemen, and there were, if you do the math, 140 or so folks who were either foreign nationals or they were civilians, such as CIA or other civilian workers of one kind or another, USAID or whatever, and then nurses and what have you. There was a whole kaleidoscope of different kinds of people who found themselves captured and were not, by the way, with us up in the Hanoi area; they were kept separately.—
Kall: How many of were there with you and John McCain?
Butler: Over time, it varied.
Kall: I just want to say this is the Rob Kall Show on 1360, WNJC, and I’m talking to Philip Butler, Ph.D., Commander, U.S. Navy, retired, Vietnam prisoner of war, who was a prisoner of war with John McCain. — So, again, how many did you say?
Butler: Well, 660 U.S. military survived and came home. On August the 5th of 1964, the count was one, and then we worked our way up to seven when I was shot down on April the 20th of 1965. So they kept getting more and more of us. As we said, it got more and more popular to become a POW as the war went along. So John came along in October of ’67, two and a half years after I got there.—
Kall: You know, it makes me think: There are no prisoners of war in Iraq. They all get killed.—
Butler: Yes, this is pretty much true. It appears that the Iraqi soldiers on the other side are reluctant to keep American POWs. Some have been killed in brutal ways, shot and tortured and what have you, and we don’t have any there. The first Iraq war, there were POWs. There were, I believe, 20 or so, and they were brought home. This is back in 1991. So those folks are also part of our continuing prisoner of war medical evaluation studies that are going on in Pensacola, Florida.
Kall: Do you think that the fact that there are no prisoners of war — that our troops who are captured are tortured and then killed — has to do with the USA’s, George Bush’s policy of torturing prisoners of war that the U.S. captures?
Butler: Well, George Bush’s illegal and immoral policies of torture certainly don’t help, and they certainly don’t make us out who we try to tell people that we are throughout the world. It certainly hasn’t helped, and it certainly does put our troops and even people who are vacationing in other countries in harm’s way. But I have a suspicion that those folks in Iraq who are killing the few guys who have been captured have done it on their own hook. They probably didn’t need Abu Gahraib to do it, but that certainly helped fuel the fire, definitely.
Kall: Now, you talk in your article that “being a POW is no special qualification for being president of the United States. The two jobs are not the same, and POW experience is not, in my opinion, something I would look for in a presidential candidate.” Is it something that you would hold against him? — or could it actually be a liability?
Butler: I wouldn’t hold it against him. But I think what you need to do, to measure the man, is I think you need to measure who that man is today and how he has internalized his experiences as a naval officer, as a prisoner of war, and as a veteran of Vietnam.—
Kall: You mentioned that earlier —
Butler: How has he internalized those experiences? And you can see from the policies that he advocates that, to me, he’s turned those experiences on their head.
Kall: Could you explain that?
Butler: Well, we learned from Vietnam, you know, after 15 years of being in a Vietnam quagmire, that you cannot autocratically force another culture to see the world the way you do and to be just like you, and that they can fight guerilla warfare that you can never defeat, no matter what you have in the way of sophisticated arms and machinery and war making power — that the power of the individual who lives in the country and is part of the culture is supreme.—
And we’ve run into the same thing in Iraq, and John should have learned that lesson, but he supported the invasion of Iraq, the peremptory invasion of Iraq, the unilateral invasion of Iraq with no help from anybody else and no approval through the United Nations. We just did the same exact thing, we did the same thing in Vietnam. In 1964 we had the Tonkin Gulf incident, which was a trumped-up lie to get the American people — to scare the American people, to get Congress to approve us to attack Vietnam. And in Iraq we had the trumped-up lie of weapons of mass destruction and all that stuff to scare the American people once again and to get Congress to give President Bush all the authority he needed, and more, to attack Iraq. And here we are, stuck, once more.
Kall: Anything else? I mean, that certainly makes sense. You’ve talked about what a person has taken from the experience of having been a prisoner, having fought in that war, having gone through that. Any other ways that he’s not met the mark of having learned from the experience?
Butler: Yeah. I think the summary for me is — you know, don’t paint me as a guy who’s after cutting John McCain apart; far be it from me to do that. I respect him totally, I admire his accomplishments and his achievements, both before and during and after the Vietnam War. But on the other hand, I think the job of president of the United States requires somebody who is a considered thinker, somebody who listens to other people, somebody who judges carefully after gathering lots of information and evidence before making rash decisions, and somebody that we can be proud of with respect to all the other brother and sister nations around the world. And to me, I’m sorry to say that’s not John, despite the fact that I like him as a guy and respect him as a fellow POW who returned with honor.
Kall: You say in here that “John has an infamous reputation for being a hothead. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced firsthand. This is not the finger I want next to that red button.” So you’ve observed his temper?
Butler: Oh yeah, oh yeah, living across the hall from him for a year. He was very explosive. There was always a lot of loud noise and arguments and crashing and banging over in his room and splitting with his roommate and yelling and screaming in the hallway. But that was then. And after that, in the Senate, you know, the stories are legion from his fellow Senators and other people who have contact with him of how he can burst into a rage with profanity. If you disagree with him, he takes it straight to his ego. And he has a hair-trigger temper, which is just not good for a president of the United States.
Kall: Sounds like it would not make it easy for somebody, an advisor, to come to him with the truth and give straight counsel.
Butler: That’s right.
Kall: He may be a straight talker himself, but he sounds like he doesn’t tolerate it very well.
Butler: Well, that’s my fear, and that’s one of the reasons I won’t vote for John McCain for president of the United States.
Kall: Now, you said that you heard noises. Did he throw things?
Butler: Well, yeah. We’d hear loud noises across the wall and we’d hear yelling, and then the two roommates would erupt, and usually the other one — Frank Gamboa was the guy’s name — would run down the hallway and go to another room. And they’d separate for a while, and they’d make up and get back together. I think Gamboa must have been an incredibly tolerant guy to put up with John McCain as a roommate for those years.
Kall: Is he still around?
Butler: He is. I understand that Gamboa is around. He’s a wonderful guy, also.
Kall: I’m curious – I wasn’t sure I got an exact number. About how many prisoners were with you and McCain in the Hanoi Hilton where you were?
Butler: We were moved around a lot. This was a fluid situation. I started off in solitary confinement, and then after six months or so I had a cellmate and we lived together for a while. And then we had two more cellmates, and this thing, you know — but the Vietnamese always kept us separated. They would punish you, beat you, starve you for trying to communicate with another cell, because they wanted to separate and dominate to get political propaganda. So you were separated from other cells, and even when we were in a cell with 40 other guys, they still tried to keep us separated from other cells of 40 guys.
And the other thing they did was that they separated us by when we came in. So if I was a’65 shoot-down, they didn’t want to put me with somebody from ’67 or ’68 because it would help my morale to know more about what was going on back home.—
Kall:— Wow. So did john have roommates or was everybody kept totally separated from each other?
Butler:— No, like I said, as time went on we had roommates and he had roommates; I think he had one or two in the beginning and later on like the rest of us he had more roommates, in the end he had 40 or 50 roommates.
Kall:—Have any of the other Prisoners of War who were with John McCain spoken up?
Butler:— You know I haven’t tried to find out, to tell you the truth. I’ve just turned 70 a couple weeks ago and I was a POW for eight years and I figured this was the time of my life to say it like it is, and I’m not going to worry about what somebody else says or thinks.
Kall:— you know it’s been said that one of the reasons he went into Iraq was to avenge his father because they tried to kill him. Do you think John McCain could be looking for a win, finally after his Vietnam experience, like W thought to avenge his father?
Butler:— Oh, gosh, Rob, I don’t know, I resist trying to…
Kall:— Fair answer.
Butler:— … make an inference by getting inside the guy’s head; you know from deep seated motivations.—
Definitely it was true of Bush because he talked, you know, he led everybody to believe, he told us he was angry because of what had happened to his father and he was going to get even. So I think it would be a giant leap to try…—
Kall:— Fair enough.—
Butler: at least to me it would, I don’t know that….
Kall: Fair enough.—So, you also say John is not a religious person but he’s taken every opportunity to ally himself with some really obnoxious and crazy Fundamentalist ministers, so your knowing him during the years as a student and in the prison, he was not religious?—
Butler:— John came from an elite Navy lineage, and an elite Navy lineage back in the day of the 30s and 40s and 50s and 60s was usually a member of the Episcopalian, quite often frequently a member of the Episcopalian protestant religion.
Kall:— Like George Herbert Walker Bush, I think.
Butler:— Yeah, exactly; that’s the one; you got it. Right. So that’s what John was and we had a Naval Academy Chapel and back in those dark days of the 1950s, every midshipman was required to attend the church service of their choice on Sunday morning, but you had to attend one, and of course that’s not true now because that’s illegal; it’s unconstitutional to force people to go to church, but back in those days they did. And so John and I and a whole bunch of other midshipmen who were apathetic just fell into a church party service and marched off to the Chapel every Sunday and endured the 45 or 50 minute nationalistic ceremony with the flag coming down the middle of the aisle and the “Onward Christian Soldiers” kind of songs, the Navy songs, and all that stuff, we endured it for an hour and then we came back, and we couldn’t have cared about it one way or the other, but just recently, John has, I don’t know if he’s fully joined, but he is attending I know, and purports to have joined, a Baptist Church, and that can mean only one thing to me and that is just one more instance of the “Crooked Talk Express” selling out to get votes from the Religious Right.—
Kall:— Did he ever get in trouble, I mean he broke all these rules; did he ever get in trouble with anything having to do with attending the services or anything like that?
Butler:— I wouldn’t doubt but what he did, it’s just been so long ago, I can’t remember exactly what he did other than he amused us by doing things all the time.
Kall:— Ok. Another thing you write is,
—”I was also disappointed to see him cozy up to Bush because I know he dislikes that man. He disingenuously and famously put his arm around the guy, even after Bush had intensely disrespected him with lies and slander; so in these and many other instances, I don’t se that John is the straight talk express he markets himself to be” and you just said, it’s the “Lie Express.” How did you call it?
Butler:— It’s the “Crooked Talk Express”.
Kall:— Crooked talk Express, Yeah.
Butler:— The guy changes—lately, and I think this is a more recent phenomenon; I think when the guy was first in the Senate, that he did kind of vote his conscience and go along, though I think he still tested the wind and did things that he would get some notoriety for, but nevertheless, in recent years, he has done everything he can, and I just know—you can just see the body language and you just know that he can’t stand George W. Bush, and for him to do that after the things that Bush and his group to him in that election was—just made me sick to watch that, just pure politics in action.
Kall:— So to kind of wrap up here now, knowing John McCain as you know him so well from the time you’ve spent with him both as a student and as a prisoner of war, how would you see him operating as President that scares you or concerns you? What would be some of the ways that he would function, and in a way that we wouldn’t want to see him as President, if he became President?
Butler:— I would totally completely expect four more of the last eight years.—
Kall:— In what way?
Butler:— In every way: in the Neo Con thinking; the insulated decision making; not listening to the members of the Cabinet; listening to an insulated, closed group of right-wing, politically oriented Neo Conservatives.—
I would expect him to be bellicose to other countries like Iran, I would expect him, if he took a notion, to launch missiles if something irritated him or something ticked him off.
I just would expect him to be a hair trigger kind of President; I would expect him to not really see the world of nations in all of their complexity, in all of their cultures, in all of their religions and all of the different points of view in ways of doing life, I could not expect John McCain to be a student of that, and to try to understand it, just like George Bush has not done.
Kall:— Is he an intolerant man?
Butler:— I’m sorry is he what?
Kall:— intolerant—of those differences?
Butler:— I guess—(Rob’s assistant announces time is up).
(Laughs) “Saved by the bell”
Kall:— This is Rob Kall; I’ve been talking to Phillip Butler. Retired U.S. Navy Commander, a Vietnam POW who was a prisoner of war with John McCain. Wow, what a story!
Rob Kall is executive editor and publisher of OpEdNews.com, President of Futurehealth, Inc, inventor . He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com. He is a frequent Speaker on Politics, Impeachment, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero’s journey, Positive Psychology, Stress, Biofeedback and a wide range of subjects.
He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates. He recently retired as organizer of several conferences, including StoryCon, the Summit Meeting on the Art, Science and Application of Story and The Winter Brain Meeting on neurofeedback, biofeedback, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology. See more of his articles here and, older ones, here.
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