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Sen. John McCain, Ill With Brain Cancer, Tells Western Allies ‘I Am Counting on You… to Never Give Up’

6 minute read

Cindy McCain accepted an award on behalf of her husband John McCain, who is ill with brain cancer, on Saturday night at the Munich Security Conference. She read a letter from her husband in which the Republican Senator and longtime foreign policy hawk urges America’s allies to stand by the values that won the Cold War.

The Ewald Von Kleist Award is given for service to international peace and conflict resolution. It is named for a German who volunteered to wear a suicide vest in the attack on Adolf Hitler, and who founded the conference conference in Munich.

McCain’s call for unity came as many at the Munich conference criticized President Donald Trump for questioning the value of America’s post-war alliances.

McCain’s letter:

To my dear and cherished friends, and to my worthy adversaries:

It breaks my heart that I cannot be with you. But as Cindy has no doubt told you, after many polite consultations with my doctors … I was strongly advised not to travel to Munich. And as you know, I never second guess the experts.

I want to thank Joe Biden, Wolfgang Ischinger, and all of my friends in Munich for honoring me with the award named for a man who was a hero, a visionary, an inspiration to us all, and the reason we are all here—Ewald von Kleist.

Of all my many adventures and remembrances, Munich always stands out. I think about my days as a young Navy captain, escorting Senator John Tower and his colleagues to this conference, and watching as they helped steer the transatlantic alliance through the headiest days of the Cold War. I think about being with Joe Biden, and Bill Cohen, and so many others as we expanded NATO and took it to war in the Balkans. And I will always remember drinking schnapps with Joe Lieberman, and later Sheldon Whitehouse.

I offer these reflections not to bask in sentiment, but because it raises a deeper question: Why do we come Munich? Yes, it is for the fun, and friendships, and fond memories. But that is not why Ewald von Kleist first brought the Western world together here five decades ago, and why we come back, year after year.

The real reason we come to Munich is because we believe that certain values should order our world … that the peace and prosperity we cherish depend on the survival and success of those values … and that they are worth the fighting for.

We come to Munich because we want to live in a world where truth transcends falsehood, sovereignty triumphs over subjugation, justice reigns over oppression, freedom overcomes tyranny, where power is transformed into legitimacy, and the fate of people and nations is determined by the rule of law, not the whim of rulers.

We come to Munich because we know—and we can never afford to forget—that the alternative to a world ordered by these values is a dark and cruel place, where laws, and rules, and rights count for nothing, and selfish, brute force trumps all.

Put simply, we come to Munich because sustaining our vision of world order, though it requires wealth and power and realism, is not merely a material struggle. It is a moral struggle. It is about the values that will govern our world. That is why we are allies. That is why we have stood by each other, and sacrificed for each other, and invested in our common defense—and why we must continue to do so.

My friends: If there is any benefit that comes from advanced age, it is the sense of perspective it affords. I have been blessed with an extraordinary life. I have experienced my share of hardship, and suffering, and conflict. But there is no question that the world I have had the good fortune to live in is more peaceful, more prosperous, and more filled with love, and happiness, and beauty, and the values we all cherish than the world my father and grandfather knew.

My youngest children have only read about the Berlin Wall. Their world was never divided by it. Their lives weren’t affected by its shadow. But for those of us born before or during the Cold War that blessing was the achievement of ‘a long, twilight struggle.’ I remember the enormous sacrifice it entailed—the many brave souls, some of them my friends, who gave their lives to secure it. I remember a span of more than half a century when, for all our differences, Americans maintained a bipartisan commitment to the freedom and security of our allies. And together with our allies we kept faith with those on the other side of the walls that divided the oppressed from the free. We were confident they wanted the same things we did—freedom, equal justice, the rule of law, a fair chance to prosper by their own industry and talents. We kept the faith, and we prevailed.

This is our greatest inheritance, and it did not happen by accident. It was borne of imagination, and resolve, and good service, much of it rendered every year here in Munich. I have endeavored to do my small part to defend the values we hold dear. And I can assure you that the rewards I have derived from this service are far greater than any contribution I have made. I find myself, more and more, returning to the words of Marilynne Robinson:

‘It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life… Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see … that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.’

I am counting on all of you, my friends, to honor the precious, beautiful things that are still entrusted to our care. I am counting on you to be brave. I am counting on you to be useful. I am counting on you to keep the faith, and never give up—though the true radiance of our world may at times seem obscured, though we will suffer adversity and setbacks and misfortune—never, ever stop fighting for all that is good, and just, and decent about our world, and each other.

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