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It's worth noting that pursuing the cross-in-the-dirt evangelical parable as it might have happened to McCain is in no way impugning anyone's war record. No one is disputing in any way what McCain did in Vietnam, his heroism, his sacrifice or any jot and tittle of his combat in arms and time in captivity. What we're curious about is how an urban legend in Christianist circles (attributed to Solzhenitsen but originating, so far as one can tell, in Chuck Colson) reshaped and altered an actual, utterly believable story of rare humanity in a prison camp. And how a campaign not only adopted the improved story but then wielded it in a campaign ad and as a critical message to evangelicals. If that ad is not actually true - and its depiction of the cross in the dirt we know is false (according to McCain, it was done with a sandal; in the ad it is done, as in Colson's account, with a stick) - it's a question of challenging a campaign's veracity, and what can only be called a cynical use of religion. Could the campaign confirm that the ad itself is visually incompatible with the Salter story? Or were they unconcerned with such detail, assuming no one would be foolish enough to question a war hero's unconfirmable anecdote - and eager merely to show the deeper (and true) point that McCain relied on God to survive the unimaginable?

This incident is not part of McCain's military service - certainly not one he thought was in any way salient in his first 12,000 word account of his experience. It is part of his 2000 and 2008 campaigns and the religious mythology they coopted in order to appeal to a very specific audience. If a blogger cannot raise factual questions about a campaign ad and a campaign narrative, he's not really worth much.

If you want a simple campaign question how's this: why did John McCain approve a message about a searing event in his life when the image in the ad is not compatible with what he said happened?

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