When General Vo Nguyen Giap was my age, he was building a road that would take the Viet Minh from the Chinese border down to the Japanese and Vichy French-controlled capital and finally (years and years later) all the way to Ho Chi Minh City.
He'd go on to endure the loss of his wife and millions of comrades in his pursuit of freedom"”not as a trite abstraction, but as the right of Vietnamese people to determine their own fate.
Gen. Giap did this, it would seem, because he believed that no one life mattered so greatly as Vietnam's independence.
The irony, of course, is that Vietnam might never have accomplished everything it did without him.
A self-taught military tactician, Giap engineered the defeat of the French, the Japanese, the Australians, the Americans, the Chinese, and the Khmer Rouge.
Given his philosophy, the general might not have wanted us to make a big affair over his passing this past weekend. I almost didn't write this column. But John McCain changed my mind.
Seated in the midst of a catastrophic government shutdown engineered by his own sociopathic party, McCain took time out of his busy schedule to sit down and write Giap's obituary for the Wall Street Journal.
Leaving aside, for the moment, the generally mediocre quality of the paper itself, asking McCain to write the last words on one of the greatest military tacticians in history is sort of like asking the kid who repeated the ninth grade twice to give your school's valedictorian address.
In a way, it was a stroke of genius.
McCain, as a human being and a soldier, reminds us all of just how remarkable Giap was because he is so profoundly mediocre. Born into a naval dynasty, McCain grew up rich and spoiled.
When Giap was a teenager, he was arrested for joining an anti-colonial resistance movement. When McCain was a teenager, he was arrested for cursing out two girls who didn't appreciate his advances.
McCain graduated near the bottom of his class; Giap taught at the most elite school in Vietnam.
Giap retook his entire nation from some of the most ruthless armies the world has ever seen; McCain crashed two airplanes and blacked out a village in Spain before he ever flew his first combat mission.
After miraculously surviving the greatest disaster in the history of the US Navy by hiding in the break room of the USS Forestall, McCain signed up for Operation Rolling Thunder"”one of the most hellacious and pointless bombing campaigns in the history of mankind.
It would be one of many losing campaigns for McCain"”something Giap couldn't have told you anything about.
Naturally, "He beat us in war but never in battle" is richly flavored with the many chips that John McCain has shouldered through his long and checkered life.
Thought the piece alludes to McCain's careful reading and intelligent questions about the war, his inferences prove to be the stuff of a frat house moron.
"Americans tired of the dying and the killing before the Vietnamese did," he wrote. "It's hard to defend the morality of the strategy. But you can't deny its success."
In the end, McCain chalks America's retreat from Vietnam after two decades of savage bombing and killing as a function of our superior humanity.
The statement belies his obtuse grasp of the thinking of the various white people who engineered the war"”men who were happy to kill as many people as logistically possible in order to "scare" the Soviet Union.
In McCain's mind, it is harder to defend the morality of resisting an unprecedented bombing campaign than it is to unleash one.
Which explains why he's spent his entire political career viciously pushing for more killing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Georgia and most recently Syria.
McCain has learned nothing from his many personal and political failures, despite Giap's willingness to teach him.
"Any forces that wish to impose their will on other nations will face failure," Giap told the UK's Independent in 2004.
That's something that might look good in McCain's obituary. Or on his tombstone.