ON WILL. Over the weekend, The New York Times published a story comparing the Vietnam experiences of John McCain and Chuck Hagel, purporting to analyze the connections between those experiences and their positions on Iraq today. The story did a reasonably good job making the connection with regard to Hagel:

Mr. Hagel has described seeing a sniper take off the top of the head of a young captain crouching near him in a cemetery. A mine sheared off a fellow soldier at the hips. The execution of the war was baffling. �I saw strange things, as all our guys did,� Mr. Hagel said. �We would take a village, inflict casualties, hold it for a day or two. Then orders come down to get out. You wondered: What was the point?�

But the Times made virtually no attempt to really get at what effect McCain�s Vietnam experiences might have had on his thinking, beyond offering some clich�d sound bites from his staff. So at the risk of engaging in bogus armchair psychoanalyzing, let me speculate a little here.

A number of bloggers have commented on the Green Lantern Theory of Iraq, which essentially says that all that is necessary to win is Will. This seems to be McCain�s theory. We just have to be strong and resolute, never give up, and things will work out in the end.

Something like this theory is probably what saved John McCain�s life and allowed him to endure unspeakable torture as a prisoner of war. His Vietnam was not complicated. He didn�t really have to worry about whether a particular operation was a good idea or accomplished its goals, or whether hearts and minds were being won, or whether the way the war was being carried out would be likely to succeed in the end. What he had to do was endure his suffering. If he was strong and resolute, he could survive. Each day no doubt required a Herculean application of will. And in the end, it worked: he did survive, and to all appearances, did so with a damaged body but a spirit largely intact, unlike many people who have endured similar circumstances.

The things that got McCain through that awful five and a half years -- will, strength, perseverance, a refusal to give in -- are the things he now says will bring �victory� in Iraq. Now to be fair, he�s hardly the only one saying these things, and most of those echoing that argument never had to endure anything worse than a bad hangover during Vietnam. But is it any wonder that McCain believes what he does?

--Paul Waldman

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