Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
John McCain is one of the most admired leaders in the United States
government, but his deeply-felt memoir is not a political one and ends
before his election to Congress. With candor and ennobling power, McCain
tells a story that, in the words of Newsweek
, "makes the other
presidential candidates look like pygmies."
John McCain learned about life and honor from his grandfather and
father, both four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy. This is a memoir about
their lives, their heroism, and the ways that sons are enriched and
shaped by fathers. McCain's grandfather was one of the navy's greatest
commanders, and led the strongest aircraft carrier force of the Third
Fleet in key battles during World War II. McCain's father followed a
similar path, equally distinguished by heroic service in the navy, as a
submarine commander during World War II. He, too, rose to the rank of
four-star general, making the McCains the first family in American
history to achieve that distinction.
John McCain faced the most difficult challenge of his life in
Vietnam. A naval aviator, he was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and was
seriously injured. When Vietnamese military officers realized he was the
son of a top commander, they offered McCain early release in an effort
to embarrass the United States. Acting from a sense of honor taught to
him by his father and the U.S. Naval Academy, McCain refused the offer.
He was tortured, held in solitary confinement, and imprisoned for five
and a half years.
Faith of My Fathers
is about what McCain learned from his
grandfather and father, and how their example enabled him to survive
those hard years. It is a story of three imperfect men who faced
adversity and emerged with their honor intact. Ultimately, Faith of My
Fathers shows us, with great feeling and appreciation, what fathers give
to their sons, and what endures.
Questions for Discussion
- John McCain and John Sidney McCain lived much of their childhoods
without their fathers. However, even with this absence, their fathers
became a major force and influence in their every day lives. How did
this come to be?
- According to McCain, an officer's honor is greatly defined by his
obligation to the enlisted men he commands. How did this relationship
between the officers and enlisted men influence the type of military
career McCain, his father, and his grandfather had?
- McCain writes that he "wince[s]" at the racist overtones of his
grandfather's comments on the Japanese during WWII, but believes that
they only stem from a need to hate your enemy. Are you able to
understand or distinguish a difference between racism and war-time
hatred? How have these differences in sentiment and connotation
affected society during WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and now
the war in Iraq?
- McCain describes in detail some of the hazing and rigorous
structure imposed on the "plebes" at the Academy. How do you feel
these practices prepared McCain for combat and later for his
experiences as a POW?
- McCain writes, "Communicating not only affirmed our humanity. It
kept us alive." The prisoners had secret ways of contacting each other
and found their only real strength came from each other. What does
this say about human resilience? Do you think McCain would have been
able to survive the camp had he been alone?
- Throughout his story McCain mentions faith and its role in helping
him not only survive his time as a POW but also in becoming a man his
father and grandfather could be proud of. What different things did he
need to have faith in to become the man he is today? When he writes,
"... all I had left of my dignity was the faith or my fathers," to
whom does "fathers" refer? How was he able to draw on his faith to
survive his continual torture?
- Towards the end of his story, McCain states that the United States
was afflicted with an "identity crisis" after the Vietnam War.
However, he goes on to say that "America's period of self-doubt" has
ended. Do you agree with this statement? How would you define
America's identity now? What do you think the largest factors in
creating this identity are?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of HarperPaperbacks.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.