Did John McCain make up his prisoner of war cross in the dirt story?

Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 09:41 am
Did John McCain make up his prisoner of war cross in the dirt story at the Pastor's faith forum? The following is an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's book. You decide! ---BBB

The Sign of the Cross
Fr. Luke Veronis

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian author who spent many years in the gulag of Siberia, bears witness to the power of the cross. After long suffering in the work camp of Siberia, he fell into despair. Like other prisoners, he had worked in the fields day after day, in rain and sun, during summer and winter. His days were filled with backbreaking labor and slow starvation. On a particular day, the hopelessness of his situation became too much. He saw no reason to continue living, to continue fighting the system. He thought that the rest of his life was meaningless since he would most likely die in this Siberian prison. His life made no difference in the world. So he gave up.

Laying his shovel on the ground, he slowly walked to a crude work-site bench and sat down. He knew that at any moment a guard would order him to stand up, and when he failed to respond, the guard would beat him to death, probably with his own shovel. He had seen it happen to many other prisoners.

As he waited, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly, he lifted his eyes and saw a skinny, old prisoner squat down next to him. The man said nothing. Instead, he drew a stick through the ground at Solzhenitsyn’s feet, tracing the sign of the Cross. The man then got back up and returned to his work.

As Solzhenitsyn stared at the sign of the Cross, his entire perspective changed. He knew that he was only one man against the all-powerful Soviet empire. Yet in that moment, he knew that there was something greater than the evil that he saw in the prison, something greater than the Soviet Union. He knew that the hope of all mankind was represented in that simple Cross. And through the power of the Cross, anything was possible.

Solzhenitsyn slowly got up, picked up his shovel, and went back to work. Nothing outward had changed, but inside, he received hope.

Years later, Solzhenitsyn’s writings enlightened the entire world, telling us not only about the horrors of the Soviet prisons, but also witnessing to the power of God and the hope of the Cross.

On the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the adoration of the precious and life-giving Cross. This message is appropriate not only for our journey through the Lenten season, but for our situation in Albania and for suffering people everywhere. We lift up today a sign of hope in the midst of despair.

Many people tell me that they see no hope and have no future. They say this is a cursed land. They are in despair. But remember the story of Solzhenitsyn. He also had no logical reason to hope, yet the power of the Cross is beyond logic, it is beyond reason. God offers us hope that is unexplainable.

Whenever you see a Cross, what do you think of? In ancient times, people would have thought about pain, suffering, and death. The Cross was a sign of the worst torture one could suffer. It was a cursed sign. And yet, when Jesus willingly accepted the Cross, when he willingly accepted to die a criminal’s death, when he willingly accepted to be ridiculed, hated, and killed, he changed the Cross from a symbol of death and despair into a symbol of life and hope.

Why do we Christians place the Cross in our Church, in our homes, in our cars? Why do we continually make the sign of the Cross, and wear a Cross around our neck? Because for Christians, the Cross has become a symbol of love, joy, hope, power and victory.

First of all, the Cross reminds us of God’s love. St. John the Evangelist tells us, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16) What greater love is there than to lay down your life for others?

The Cross reminds us of joy, the joy of paradise. Many hymns of our church recall how Adam and Eve were sent out of paradise because of a tree. They ate fruit from the forbidden tree. And yet it is also a tree that has opened the doors of paradise once again for all believers, the tree of the Cross.

The Cross reminds us of hope, a hope that is greater than the darkest despair. When Jesus was crucified, his disciples and followers all despaired. They had abandoned Jesus. They had betrayed him. They had denied him. They had placed all their hope in him, and now he was dead. For three days they lived in complete despair. And yet, after the resurrection, they understood the Cross in a new way. It was no longer a symbol of despair, but it was now a sign of hope for all people, a hope for new life.

The Cross is a symbol of power. Often in the world, it seems that evil conquers good and that sin is stronger than virtue. Yet the Cross reminds us that sin will not have the last say. Evil will not last forever.

The Cross reminds us of the resurrection. Evil and suffering appear to win, but then comes the resurrection. In Albania, the evil that abounds seems great, but be assured, the evil will not last. The resurrection is coming. The 45 years of communism and atheism did not conquer Albania. In the end, God prevailed and now we are in this church worshiping God, while Hoxha lies in the ground. The chaos of today will not last. God will have the last say.

Finally, the Cross is a symbol of victory. Through the death of Jesus on the Cross, the greatest evil, death itself, was destroyed. Before the Cross, the devil thought that death was his greatest weapon. All who died would enter his dark kingdom. And yet, when Jesus went to hell, the devil trembled. The Cross, which had been a tool of evil, became a power of death for hell itself. One of the morning hymns describes the devil trembling when he sees Christ himself enter into Hades and cries out, “My spirit trembles, and now I must cast out Adam and his posterity. A tree brought them to my realm, but now the tree of the Cross brings them back again to paradise.”

In the end, Satan no longer has power over us. He can no longer keep man captive in hell for all eternity. The Cross is our reminder of that victory. It is the reminder of the power that all of us possess. “Death has been swallowed up in victory! Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (I Cor 15:54)

During these dark days of Albanian history, we must not forget the meaning of the Cross. Although events and logic tell us to despair, the Cross says something else " to hope. In the end, the Cross will prevail.

Fr. Luke Veronis is an American priest serving in Albania. His sermon was preached on the Sunday of the Cross, March 30, 1997, at St. George Church in Durres, Albania. For more information on the ministry of the Orthodox Church in Albania, check this web site: http://web.lemoyne.edu/~pavlakos/oma.html

reprinted from In Communion (issue 8, Pascha 1997)
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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:14 am
I don't know, do you?
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:20 am
The Cross In The Dirt, Ctd
Atlantic Magazine
18 Aug 2008 04:43 pm

Many readers have noted that versions of this story - attributed to Solzhenitsyn by Chuck Colson - have been a staple of evangelical sermons for a very long time. They aren't always attributed to Solzhenitsyn, but this sermon, preached by Father Luke Veronis, is a classic of the genre. It's a trope, a kind of urban legend in evangelical circles - and, of course, rooted in deep spiritual truth. Used in a sermon as a way to talk about Christ's redeeming power is one thing. Actually saying it happened to you in a specific place and time is another.

And of course, none of this would be salient were it not for the obvious motive for coopting the story. McCain has never been a very devout man. He doesn't come across that way in his first account of the story; and he doesn't come across that way now. But as the Christianists took over the GOP, he must have understood that this was a problem - especially against Bush in 2000. So in 1999, the story, already poignant and true in its particulars, changes into a much more grandiloquent and sectarian affair, echoing deep evangelical themes and tropes.

And it would not be salient if McCain hadn't deployed the anecdote in his own words - with a misleading image - in a campaign ad, and used it again in front of an evangelical audience Saturday night. And it would not be salient if religious fanatics had not a strangle-hold on the Republican party, seeking doctrinal assurances and echoes of their own type of faith in political candidates.

Here are the perfectly legitimate questions reporters should now, in my opinion, ask McCain:

why did you not mention this transcendent story in 1973? Why, in discussing three Christmases in captivity in Vietnam, was this story - far more powerful than any of the other anecdotes - omitted? How was it possible for the gun guard of May 1969 to be present at Christmas that year when McCain had been transferred to another camp? Is it possible that McCain's memory has faded with time and that he has simply fused his own memories with other stories - as Clinton did with Bosnia sniper fire and as Kerry did in remembering another Christmas he could not have actually witnessed where he said he did?

And why are we not allowed to ask these questions, when they relate to one of the most important questions anyone can ask about a president: the question of integrity? If McCain has fabricated a religious epiphany for political purposes, it is about as deep a betrayal of core integrity as one can imagine, and the latest example of how pernicious the religious domination of political life in America has become.

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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 01:32 pm
It's difficult enough to navigate the new site, but tagging a new discussion about whether John McCain made up a POW story with the generic tag "Able2Know" is not helping anyone.

"Politics" ... "McCain" ... "POW" ... Did none of those potential tags cross your mind as possibilities for your new discussion? Are you planning on tagging every single new discussion of yours -- and we know there will be thousands -- with the tag "Able2Know"???

Since you are one of the most prolific new thread posters at this site, please ... PLEASE ... for the sake of everyone else who has to wade through your threads .... learn how to tag things a little more intelligently.

Better yet: tag each one BumbleBeeBoogie.

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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 05:34 pm
Instead of attacking McCain for the story (and I'm not saying you are), why doesnt anyone ask the people that were there?


Fellow POW: I Remember McCain Telling the "Cross in the Dirt" Story [Byron York]

You've probably seen that there are some out there in the blogosphere questioning the authenticity of John McCain's "cross in the dirt" story, which McCain told Saturday night at the Saddleback Summit. But there doesn't seem much mention of the fact that McCain had a lot of fellow POWs in Vietnam, and they can be asked for their recollections. So I called Orson Swindle, a fellow POW who is campaigning for McCain, to ask him about it.

"I recall John telling that story when we first got together in 1971, when were talking about every conceivable thing that had ever happened to us when we were in prison" Swindle told me a few minutes ago. "Most of us had been kept apart or in small groups. Then, in 1970, they moved us into the big cell. And when we all got to see each other and talk to each other directly, instead of tapping through walls, we had 24 hours a day, seven days a week to talk to each other, and we shared stories. I vaguely recall that story being told, among other stories."

"I remember it from prison," Swindle continued. "There were several stories similar to that in which guards " a very few, I might add " showed compassion to the prisoners. It was rare, and I never met one, but some of the guys did."

As for the people who are questioning McCain's account, Swindle said, "That's garbage. These people are desperate."

So the story could very well be true.
Will the people accusing him of lying admit that they could have been wrong?

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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 08:27 pm
Solzhenytsin never told, or wrote, a cross-in-the-dirt story

Greg Sargent on TPM:

There's been a ton of buzz on the web for the last day or so -- beginning with this Daily Kos diary -- suggesting that John McCain patterned his story about a Vietamese captor drawing a cross in the dirt before him on a similar episode from Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn's time in the Soviet gulags.

But it turns out that this episode probably never happened to Solzhenitsyn at all, and according to a Solzhenitsyn biographer it appears nowhere in his published writing. Columbia University professor Michael Scammell, the author of Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, says the episode "never happened," and didn't appear in Solzhenitsyn's book, Gulag Archipelago, either.

This only solves a piece of the mystery, but it's a key piece. It doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility that McCain or his biographer, Mark Salter, picked up the tale that this happened to Solzhenitsyn elsewhere and embellished it for their own purposes.

But it takes one well-trafficked theory off the table: That McCain, a fan of Solzhenitsyn, picked it up straight from his works. [..]

Sargent specifically mentions the Veronis sermon you just posted, BBB, as source of the misinformation:

One key source being cited on the internets right now for the story that this supposedly happened to Solzhenitsyn is this sermon by Luke Veronis, an American priest who preached it in Albania in March of 1997. [..]

In the sermon Veronis described Solzhenitsyn as having toiled in the "fields" of Siberia. A "skinny old prisoner" silently "drew a stick through the ground at Solzhenitsyn's feet, tracing the sign of the Cross," Veronis says.

Some people writing about this story appear to be taking it on faith that this episode also appeared on Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. Had that been the case, McCain, a fan of Solzhenitsyn, or Salter, who first referenced the episode in McCain's 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers, might easily have read it.

But [..] Scammell says he read Solzhenitsyn's books extremely closely and studied the period of Solzhenitsyn's captivity "in excruciating detail." He says Veronis' telling of the tale doesn't fit with what actually happened to Solzhenitsyn "in any way."

For instance, the reference to the "fields" is off, Scammell says. "He never labored in any fields, Scammell says. "He labored in a clay pit."

"Nobody who's read Gulag Archipelago knows that story," Scammell continued, speaking of his scholarly peers.

"Maybe Veronis believed it," Scammell concluded. "He either made it up or heard it from someone else. It's one of those legends." [..]

Anyway, this settles two aspects of this tale: This never happened to Solzhenitsyn, and there's no way McCain could have picked it up from his works.

Sargent does add that "of course, it's still possible that McCain or Salter picked this [cross in the dirt story] up from the sort of right-wing circles," like "Chuck Colson and many other wingnuts" who "bandied [it] about" for years, falsely attributing it to Solzhenytsin.

But at the very least, it's all a fair bit less straightforward than the "OMG he read it in Solzhenytsin's book" stories would have had it.
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Reply Wed 10 Sep, 2008 07:15 pm
dunno if mccain made this up or not. but, i heard a similar story from my dad about one of his uncles during ww2.

gene had been taken prisoner by the germans around bastogne. some of the german commanders were simply executing prisoners instead of moving them to camps.

while being marched along to what turned out to be a clearing where g.i.s were being executed, a german soldier noticed my uncle gene's masonic ring. he roughly pulled him out of line and dragged him off into the woods at the roadside. gene thought the guy was gonna have a little fun with him before shooting him. but, what happened was; when they were 20 or 30 feet from the road, the guard pointed at gene's masonic ring, then made some kind of masonic gesture. this was followed by a masonic handshake between them and a few words. my uncle (like my grandfather) was only second generation american, so there had been a lot of german spoken in the house when they were kids.

the guard let loose a couple of rounds into the ground, told my uncle to stay out of sight till it got dark; then he turned and started walking back to the road.

so, to me, mccain's story is entirely believable.

whether or not his campaign is using his pow days as a boiler plate answer to any and all questions is an entirely different subject, though.
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