Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stopping War Crimes is Patrioitc. A Few Words on Jane Fonda and Vietnam

In 1972, actress Jane Fonda went to Vietnam to call attention to what America was doing to that country. Four decades later, she's still being pilloried for making the trip. And as far as I can tell, there are few people who know, or want to know, what that trip was about.

On April 25th, 1972 President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had the following conversation:
Nixon: “We’ve got to be thinking in terms of an all-out bombing attack [of North Vietnam]…Now, by all-out bombing attack, I am thinking about things that go far beyond…I'm thinking of the dikes, I'm thinking of the railroad, I'm thinking, of course, of the docks."
Kissinger: "I agree with you."
Nixon: "And I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?"
Kissinger: "About two hundred thousand people."

The White House quickly moved to make good (or rather bad) on this plan. In Jane Fonda's own words,

"On May 8th, 1972, President Nixon had ordered underwater, explosive mines to be placed in Haiphong Harbor, something that had been rejected by previous administrations. Later that same month, reports began to come in from European scientists and diplomats that the dikes of the Red River Delta in North Vietnam were being targeted by U.S. planes. The Swedish ambassador to Vietnam reported to an American delegation in Hanoi that he had at first believed the bombing was accidental, but now, having seen the dikes with his own eyes, he was convinced it was deliberate.

That May, I received an invitation from the North Vietnamese in Paris to make the trip to Hanoi. Many had gone before me but perhaps it would take a different sort of celebrity to get people’s attention. Heightened public attention was what was needed to confront the impending crisis with the dikes. I would take a camera and bring back photographic evidence (if such was to be found) of the bomb damage of the dikes we’d been hearing about.

It quickly became clear to Fonda and to others investigating the matter that the bombing campaign was a methodical attempt to commit genocide against the people the Vietnam. Fonda began publicizing the bombings, for which then U.S. Ambassador to the UN George H. W. Bush accused her of lying.

Rick Perlstein of the London Review of Books describes what happened next,

"At a press conference in Paris Fonda presented film proving that they had taken place. That same day, the State Department cancelled its scheduled rebuttal. One of the diplomats laid low by the humiliation was America’s UN envoy, George H.W. Bush. ‘I think that the best thing I can do on the subject is to shut up,’ he told the press, after promising them evidence of American innocence."

Thus was the Nixon White House embarrassed into stopping the bombing of the dikes before potentially hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians were killed by flooding. And how is Jane Fonda remembered today for her courageous acts? As a beloved American patriot?

Yeah, not exactly.

For millions of Americans, Jane Fonda will always be their personal whipping-girl for all the dirty hippie protestors they've always hated. You see, Jane once said, of American POWs in Vietnam, "I’m quite sure that there were incidents of torture…but the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that’s a lie." Well, it turns out torture was the policy. Jane also made radio broadcasts from Hanoi asking American pilots to refrain from bombing the country. And most significantly, in most people's minds, she was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. She described that incident in this way,

"I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed. I got up, and as I started to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what had just happened hit me. “Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes.” I pleaded with him, “You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published.” I was assured it would be taken care of. I didn’t know what else to do."

Hardly a day goes by in America without someone reminding us how evil Jane Fonda is. Recently, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky suggested that if drone weapons had been around during the Vietnam War, one might have been used to kill Jane Fonda. But Senator (and former Vietnam POW) John McCain was kind enough to come to Jane's defense, "I must say that she is not my favorite American. But I also believe that, as odious as it was, Ms. Fonda acted within her constitutional rights."

Here's a Fox News article from last year describing "Growing Outrage" (frankly I think that may be an exaggeration) over Fonda's casting as Nancy Reagan in a movie,

"The Hollywood actress is of course known for her time traveling to Vietnam during the war, denouncing American political and military leaders as war criminals, and sitting on an anti-aircraft gun that appeared to be trying to shoot an American plane."

My point is this. It isn't just Fox News and Republicans who are blind to the idea that the story of Jane Fonda and Vietnam might have something more to it than, "actress loves commies, hates America." Just try and find a news item, any time, anywhere, which describes Jane Fonda as, "the Hollywood actress of course known for her time traveling to Vietnam during the war, and demonstrating that American leadership had conspired at the highest level to commit genocide against Vietnamese civilians, a plan which was brought to a halt after Fonda and others exposed it to the public."

In conclusion, thinking about this makes me want to paraphrase Richard Nixon, when he said, after losing the 1962 gubernatorial race in California, "I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio, the press, recognize that they have a right and a responsibility, if they are against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize, if they give him the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then."

Dear readers, I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio, the press, recognize that they have a right and a responsibility, if they are against Jane Fonda, give her the shaft, but also recognize, if they give her the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report the good she did now and then.

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