Defending Jane Fonda

Recent hate articles about Jane Fonda presented us again with the famed 1972 photo of a young actress-activist sitting at a North Vietnamese communist anti-aircraft gun emplacement aimed at the sky where American fighters and bombers frequently swarmed, dropping bombs to send communists to their just reward for defying American power.

"Traitor" and "turncoat" is the theme; eternal punishment the purpose. The complainers will punish Jane forever due to a mistake in judgment she has often admitted. It was an offense to American servicemen, most of whom had little choice whether to fight or otherwise enable the US war in Southeast Asia. In the passions of the day and fervor of the moment, little-understood with today's easy acceptance of governments-by-lies and governments-of-liars, Jane Fonda's action is understandable and forgivable. As a former marine and a rarity in the antiwar movement, I totally forgive her "carelessness."

The ongoing tirade is only another chapter in America's war against humility.

From The Telegraph:

Speaking at an event at an arts centre in Maryland, she said: "Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad. It hurts me and it will, to my grave, that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers."

She made her latest comments during on-stage interview. The event drew demonstrators including dozens of veterans carrying signs that read: "Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never."

But forgiveness is forgetfulness. Debt forgiven is debt forgotten.

It happened on my last day in Hanoi. I was exhausted and an emotional wreck after the 2-week visit ... The translator told me that the soldiers wanted to sing me a song. He translated as they sung. It was a song about the day 'Uncle Ho' declared their country's independence in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square. I heard these words: "All men are created equal; they are given certain rights; among these are life, Liberty and Happiness." These are the words Ho pronounced at the historic ceremony. I began to cry and clap. These young men should not be our enemy. They celebrate the same words Americans do. The soldiers asked me to sing for them in return ... I memorized a song called "Day Ma Di", written by anti-war South Vietnamese students. I knew I was slaughtering it, but everyone seemed delighted that I was making the attempt. I finished. Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me ... Here is my best, honest recollection of what happened: someone (I don't remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed ... It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. But if they did I can't blame them. The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen ... a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever ... But the photo exists, delivering its message regardless of what I was doing or feeling. I carry this heavy in my heart. I have apologized numerous times for any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph. It was never my intention to cause harm.

In a 1988 interview with Barbara Walters, Fonda said:

I would like to say something, not just to Vietnam veterans in New England, but to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families. [...] I will go to my grave regretting the photograph of me in an anti-aircraft gun, which looks like I was trying to shoot at American planes. It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless. [from Wikipedia]

Few understood the Vietnam War--few understand it now--but nearly everyone perceived that something was wrong with the world's richest nation and greatest military power shooting and bombing millions of poor, working people in one of the poorest countries of the world. It's stated purpose was to defend an ally and freedom and prevent communism in southeast Asia. Apologists of the day said it was to contain Soviet and Chinese, "communist aggression," but a more candid President Eisenhower had stated that the Vietnam War was to defend Japan--a third of our economy--from encirclement by foes that would deny Japan's access to resources.

But what was the cause for American antiwar activists? Communism? No. If any people have been inoculated against communism and socialism, it is we Americans. We have been indoctrinated against socialist ideas since Karl Marx and the First International Workingmens'Association and the first stirring of American unionism became known to capitalists after our Civil War. There were communists and Marxists of all persuasions in the antiwar movement--many of them government agents--but they were a minority-within-a-minority. Perhaps they had an agenda. Whatever it was, we still are the leading non-communist nation. Even liberals are blazed with the brand of communism. 

The cause of most antiwar activists was to stop an illegal and immoral mass murder and relieve the suffering of a nation that fought for independence above all. The cause was to make Americans live up to their own ideals. The cause was to dry up a cascade of lies that hid the truth of our motive for war in the first place.

The insults directed against Jane Fonda are only another distraction from the issue of the Vietnam War, which many still fail to understand for what it was: illegal, immoral, unnecessary, and unjustified. Vietnam was "only a pawn in their game." (Dylan) Many war veterans shut the war from their minds for years, and many never understood anything about policies that produced it. Many who saw the trees of battle never saw the forest of history. The war has to this day largely been ignored and misunderstood.

The Vietnam War was a crime. It was a war crime. The real criminals were never investigated, charged, tried, or punished. But they have been exposed.

The upside of Jane's purgatory is that it gives Americans another chance to reckon with the most-shameful episode in our history, after African slavery and Indian genocide.

Millions of Indochinese people were killed or wounded. That is, 3.5 million Vietnamese, one million Laotians (half the population of Laos), and 2.5 million Cambodians, who died as a result of a 10-year secret bombing campaign that crippled traditional Cambodian society, destroyed infrastructure, and unleashed the murderous
teenagers of Pol Pot and the Rouges Khmer (backed by China).


Soldier dangling remains of an unauthorized, napalmed human.

Jars of deformed fetuses at Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam [Corbus Images]

If you thought American torture began with Guantanamo or Abu Graib prison in Iraq...A wax dummy in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City tells a different story.

David Harris, the great antiwar activist and journalist, imprisoned 20 months for draft resistance, covered it in his fine book, "Our War--What we did in Vietnam and what it did to us":

"A year and a half after I sent my draft cards back, the FBI came by to talk. Since the door was open, they walked in without knocking. By then we had a printing press in the garage and had been organizing civil disobedience against the Selective Service System for more than six months, living from cereal boxes, most of the time on the road in my Rambler. The FBI said they were looking for David Harris. I said I was he, though they seemed to know that already. They said they wanted to talk. I said fine. They said out in their car, and I said fine again. They had me sit in the shotgun seat, with an agent behind the wheel and another behind me. They said I should know that whatever I said could be used against me. I said I had figured as much. They said they'd heard that I had been advocating that people violate the Selective Service Act. I said I certainly had and went through the previous month, day by day, providing places and times. I started to do the same for the month before, but the FBI said that was enough. They said they would be in touch.

I, of course, can never forget that the war was the law, and being against the war was treated as being against both. Nor should the rest of us forget it. That's just the way things were: to be young, scruffy, against the war, and outspoken was automatically to be treated as a suspect. From there it was a short step to outlaw, a step a lot of made in a lot of different ways. And all those steps ended up a metaphor for the drift of the whole: we were forced to give up the comfort of the entrenched and the safety of silence and wander the badlands, looking for a place from which to hold off the forces of the tunnel without light at its end, outlaws of the heart at least.

We also have our own admissions with which to reckon: we sometimes drifted into the self-righteous, were plagued by a compulsion to push the envelope, to reinvent ourselves over and over again. We were faddists and could easily take ourselves too seriously and forget that our own position on the war had come at the end of a long and tormented personal migration. Too often our talk was cheap and our listening hard to come by. We latched onto simple truths no one else wanted to recognize and rode them until their wheels fell off. We were too quick to license all disbelief and too slow to reach outside our own presumptions. We were often too loud.

All that said, I still remember: we were also right."

Harris' book leads the field explaining the Vietnam antiwar movement. His memory is excellent and his view of the war is personal and uncompromising.

We can explain and explain Jane Fonda's acts until forever is gone, but nothing will abate the hatred of those that need scapegoats and someone to blame for their own nation's failures.

If you didn't catch Jane playing Leona in The Newsroom you missed one of her best performances ever.


Jelapi free said…
I was in the resistance to Vietnam, helping young men get to Canada. This was powerful and sad and good to read. thank you. hope you are well?

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