On July 28, as the GOP’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act met an inglorious end in the darkness of night, the most memorable moment was Arizona Senator John McCain’s thumbs-down no vote that was more about doing the right thing than voting with the right wing.

As McCain was lauded by Democrats and progressives for his vote and for returning to Washington just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, many pointed out that his colleague, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, was fighting to improve health care as she herself was being treated for stage four kidney cancer.

McCain and Hirono voted against a “skinny repeal” that would have starved tens of millions of Americans of basic health care. Their own illnesses underscore the need for better, more just and accessible health care for all Americans, no matter their position in society.

That Friday vote came amidst an outpouring of well wishes as both senators face life-threatening cancers. Regardless of one’s politics, it’s only reasonable to wish McCain and Hirono freedom from sickness and pain. That’s just basic human compassion.

Sen. Hirono addressing her colleagues about health care on July 27. 

But in watching reactions to their votes, in the context of their health, it’s worth noting that both McCain and Hirono, like most of their colleagues in Congress, suffer from a different kind of malady. It’s a kind of sickness that impairs the one’s ability to recognize the harmful effects of militarism.

Let’s call this other sickness “militarism myopia” — the inability to see, feel and acknowledge how militarism causes physical and mental harm and can ultimately lead to unnecessary, premature death.

Appearing on Face the Nation in 2008, McCain answered criticism of his suggestion that the U.S. stay in Iraq “for 100 years.”

McCain explained: “My point was, and continues to be, how long do we have to stay in Bosnia, how long do we have to stay in South Korea, how long are we going to stay in Japan, how long are we going to stay in Germany? All of those 50, 60 year periods. No one complains.”

For anyone who has spoken to people living around U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan (especially Okinawa), McCain’s statement was outrageous. Not only have large segments of the population complained, their grievances are well-documented, expressed in protests, public campaigns and as protracted legal battles.

What About Okinawa?

Last May, I had the chance to ask Hirono a question about her position on U.S. bases and weapons in East Asia.

Specifically, I asked about the new marine air base being built on reclaimed land at Henoko in Okinawa and about the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in Seongju, South Korea, both ferociously opposed by local citizens.

What stood out in her long answer (to my long question) was her statement, “It’s not as though we are forcing bases. We are generally asked to come.”

Like McCain, Hirono answered as I suspect most members of Congress would: by saying that U.S. overseas bases are welcome, we’re there at the invitation of the host country, we are defending freedom, and we are a force for good.

This sort of rosy diagnosis which ignores countless cases that prove otherwise is but a symptom of militarism myopia. Denying the harm caused by America’s deeply entrenched militarism is a kind of cognitive sickness endemic in both houses of Congress and demands urgent care.

No one deserves to have their islands and atolls used for testing bombs; their beaches wrapped in razor wire; their quiet evening skies shredded by fighter jets and helicopters.

McCain and Hirono are facing very serious illnesses and on a personal level I wish them well. I would be happy if they were both cancer free. No one deserves to suffer such illness.

Likewise, no one deserves to have their islands and atolls used for testing bombs; their beaches wrapped in razor wire; their quiet evening skies shredded by fighter jets and helicopters; their coral reefs buried with landfill; their bays polluted with concrete blocks; their sacred mountains littered with unexploded ordnance; their forests chopped and bulldozed; their earth filled with leaking drums of poison; their sisters and daughters raped; or their sovereignty trampled.

No one deserves what the people in Okinawa and Guam, Korea and Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands have endured for decades because the U.S. has deemed them to be part of its strategic interests.

Perpetuating this militarism, is a form of national sickness that requires treatment. But before this myopic disorder can be cured, it must first be diagnosed.

U.S. Marine and Navy sailors with helicopters at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. Flickr: Expert Infantry

McCain and Hirono, as chairman and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee respectively, hold influential positions in crafting legislation and policies that dictate U.S. foreign military affairs.

Through their powerful platform, they have the eyes and ears of all of Congress and the American people. What they lack — what we all lack — is an infinite amount of time.

But Hirono and McCain can take the first steps in healing. They can acknowledge the pain and injury caused by the malady of militarism.

If they choose to do so, they can start the process of bringing relief to those who are suffering. This would be a kind of shock treatment for Congress, but in doing so they could use their power and influence to initiate a healing process that would last for generations.

That is something both of them can do right now.

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