In a book, at campaign stops and in an ad John McCain tells a story about a North Vietnamese prison guard drawing a cross in the dirt:
In his 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers
“We both stood wordlessly looking at the cross until, after a minute or two, he rubbed it out and walked away. I saw my good Samaritan often after the Christmas when we venerated the cross together.”
In his campaign ad in December, he adds mention of “the true light of Christmas”:
“We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas. I will never forget that no matter where you are, no matter how difficult the circumstances, there will always be someone who will pick you up.”
At the Saddleback Civil Forum:
“For a minute there, it was just two Christians worshipping together.”
Well guess what, a Kos diarist has come up with something interesting: Cross in the Dirt" story stolen from Solzhenitsyn,
A story about Alexander Solzhenitsyn from his times in the Soviet Gulags.
Slowly he looked up and saw a skinny old prisoner squat down beside him. The man said nothing. Instead, he used a stick to trace in the dirt the sign of the Cross. The man then got back up and returned to his work.
As Solzhenitsyn stared at the Cross drawn in the dirt his entire perspective changed. He knew he was only one man against the all-powerful Soviet empire. Yet he knew there was something greater than the evil he saw in the prison camp, something greater than the Soviet Union. He knew that hope for all people was represented by that simple Cross. Through the power of the Cross, anything was possible.
The source of that story about Solzhenitsyn is The Sign of the Cross, Fr. Luke Veronis, In Communion, issue 8, Pascha 1997 but clearly the story was known before 1997 for Fr. Veronis to cite it here. Update – the source is Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, published in the West in 1973.
In the winter of 1974, unbound and mimeographed samizdat copies of The Gulag Archipelago began being surreptitiously passed between Soviet citizens. These initial readers were normally given 24 hours to finish the work before passing it on to the next person, requiring the reader to spend an uninterrupted day and night to get through the work. Years later, this initial generation of Soviet readers could still recall who had given them their copy, to whom they had passed it on, and who they had trusted enough to discuss their thoughts about the book.
Here is McCain in his ad:
Here is McCain, being “reluctant” to tell this “powerful story” about his “faith”:
John McCain is more reluctant to talk about his own faith. And he has had rocky relations with religious conservatives. But McCain is a believer, and he has a powerful story about the time his own faith was tested — when he was being tortured as a prisoner of war.
One Christmas morning, he was allowed out of his cell for a few moments. As he stood alone in the prison courtyard, one of the Vietnamese guards — who had shown some small kindness to McCain in the past — walked up to him.
“Then with his sandal, the guard drew a cross in the dirt,” McCain said. “We stood wordlessly there for a minute or two, venerating the cross, until the guard rubbed it out and walked away. To me, that was faith: a faith that unites and never divides, a faith that bridges unbridgeable gaps in humanity. It is the faith that we are all equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is the faith I would die to defend.”
… That story is often about all the Arizona senator will say about his faith, much to the chagrin of his evangelical supporters.
Here is the Dallas Morning News, writing about last night’s event:
It is a well-worn story for veterans of the McCain campaign, but it was concrete and direct, without a whiff of Christian apologetics, and it produced one of the evening’s many bursts of sustained applause.
So, is this story just more carefully-crafted Republican propaganda, one more “powerful story” intended to trick the Christians into voting for them, so they can give ever-greater tax cuts to the rich and subsidies (and drilling leases) to oil companies?
Update – Andew Sullivan points out that McCain’s early accounts of captivity do not include this story, and asks when McCain first told it.
Update – No “cross in the sand” for McCain in 1973,
Shortly after John McCain came back from Vietname in 1973, he wrote a detailed 12,000 word report of his experiences that was published in US News and World Report.
Even though McCain goes into a lot of detail in that story and mentions religion a few times, there is no mention of the cross in the sand story, even though it would have fitted in well with the whole narrative. There are numerous mentions of Vietnamese guards in the reports, mostly bad ones but also good ones, but there is no indication at all that any of them would have been Christian, although “[a] lot of them were homosexual”.
And in 2000 McCain told the story – saying it was a different prisoner.
Looks like McCain really WAS telling a whopper to get votes. And he’s been caught red-state-handed.