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Remembering Senator John McCain (1936-2018)

The American Academy in Berlin mourns the passing of Senator John McCain, who was a longtime friend of the Academy, of its chairman, Gahl Burt, and particularly of founding co-chairman Henry A. Kissinger. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Senator McCain’s family and to his colleagues in the United States Senate.

McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25, 2018, after battling brain cancer since July 2017. He was 81. At his memorial service in Washington, DC, founding chairman of the American Academy in Berlin Dr. Henry Kissinger said of McCain, “The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his ebullience, his faith in America, and his instinctive sense of moral duty.” (Read the full text of Dr. Kissinger’s eulogy for Senator McCain, delivered on September 1, 2018.)

Senator McCain was last at the American Academy on June 10, 2013, when he delivered the laudatio for the recipient of that year’s Henry A. Kissinger Prize, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist (1922-2013). “I have had the honor of knowing quite a few brave and inspiring people in my life, but never someone quite as brave as Ewald,” Senator McCain said of the founder of the Munich Security Conference, who on two occasions, as young military officer, attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. “He was twice prepared to sacrifice his life to rid the world of one of the cruelest, most depraved and dangerous tyrants in history. It is never easy to answer fully the demands of conscience and to have always the courage of your convictions. There is always some price to be paid to live that honorably. But the kind of choice Ewald made—to choose honor and duty over every personal consideration, to choose the world over his place in it, to choose history over his own future—that is a price that only people who possess the most sublime sense of honor and humility are willing to pay.”

Senator McCain’s laudation was complemented that evening by remarks by then-German minister of defense Thomas de Maizière and chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger. The award was received posthumously by von Kleist’s daughter, Comtesse Vera de Lesseps.

As we mourn the passing of Senator McCain, the words he delivered about von Kleist could easily be said of him—choosing honor and duty over every personal consideration, choosing the world over one’s place in it. Indeed, these were among the qualities that led to McCain’s receipt of the Kissinger Prize himself, in May 2018, in a private ceremony. The late senator’s decorated military service, resilience under torture, principled leadership throughout six decades of public service, and inspiring devotion to duty are all qualities both exemplary and rare. Even during the most critical periods of his political and military life, Senator McCain embodied the most honorable traditions of statesmanship, the highest ideals of citizenship. Throughout this decorated career, he showed unwavering political courage, loyalty to principle, and a persistent and pragmatic ability to rally colleagues to pursue bipartisan solutions to some of the most difficult challenges facing the United States. On the world stage, Senator McCain consistently advocated for a strong European Union, a committed NATO, and the unwavering support of the transatlantic alliance. For these reasons among so many more, he garnered extraordinary regard across party lines and around the globe.

He will be deeply missed.

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