Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Jane Fonda

Born-again Christian and actress Jane Fonda, who lots of rightwingers still love to hate because of her antiwar activities during the Vietnam and especially her visit to North Vietnam, is publishing an autobiography.  The Guardian is running excerpts.

In the second one, she talks about that controversial trip to North Vietnam (The framing of Hanoi Jane Guardian [UK] 04/06/05:

[I]n spring 1972, reports began to come in from European scientists and diplomats that the dykes of the Red river delta in North Vietnam were being targeted by US planes. The delta is below sea level but, over centuries, the Vietnamese people had constructed - by hand! - an intricate network of earthen dykes and dams to hold back the sea, a network 2,500 miles long. The stability of these dykes became especially critical as monsoon season approached. The Red river would begin to rise in July and August. Should there be flooding, the rice harvest would be ruined, and the mining of the Haiphong harbour would prevent food from being imported. People would starve.

She follows this with quotes from the Nixon tapes indicating his interest in bombing the dykes.  I'll have to admit that I don't know the details of the story on bombing the dikes.  But it was a big public controversy at the time.  National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger tells Nixon in the excerpt she quotes that destroying the dikes could kill around 200,000 people.  Most of them, of course, civilian noncombatants.

"I want to speak on your radio," I said to my hosts. "I want to try to tell US pilots what I am seeing here on the ground." I had come to bear witness, and while I had not planned this, I felt it a moral imperative. I did not stop to consider that this would have consequences for me later - especially since I knew that other American travellers to Hanoi had spoken on Radio Hanoi. Some would later accuse me of treason for urging soldiers to desert - something I did not do.

She describes her most notorious moment of the trip in this excerpt:

My interpreter, Quoc, briefly went over the schedule for my visit. I noticed that the trip to an anti-aircraft installation was still on the agenda for the last day, despite my message saying I was not interested in military installations. I told them I did not want to keep that visit on the agenda. Altering the plans appeared to cause consternation. Decisions had been made. I was too tired to protest. ...

It was my last full day in North Vietnam. It was not unusual for Americans who visit North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations, and when they did they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I had been given to wear during the air raids.

I was driven to the site of the anti-aircraft installation, on the outskirts of the city. A group of about a dozen young Vietnamese soldiers in uniform greeted me. There was also a horde of photographers and journalists - many more than I had seen all in one place in Hanoi.

This should have been a red flag. ...

What happened next is something I have turned over and over in my mind countless times since. Here is my best, honest recollection of what took place. Someone (I don't remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding the singing of the soldiers. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. 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 US planes! The gun was inactive, there were no planes overhead - I simply wasn't thinking about what I was doing, only about what I was feeling - innocent of what the photo implies. Yet the photo exists, delivering its message, regardless of what I was really doing or feeling.

I realise that it was not just a US citizen laughing and clapping on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun: I was Henry Fonda's privileged daughter, who appeared to be thumbing my nose at the country that had provided me with those privileges. More than that, I am a woman, which made my sitting there even more of a betrayal: Barbarella become their enemy.

I had spent the past two years working with GIs and Vietnam veterans, listening to them, supporting them. Now by mistake I appeared in a photograph to be their enemy. I carry this heavy in my heart. I always will.

The next day, departure day, Quoc said to me, "I think you need to prepare yourself. There are some US congressmen who are askingthat you be put on trial for treason." It was my broadcasts on Radio Hanoi that had triggered the charges.

She adds this confirmation to her account:

Two months after my return, Nixon was informed in a briefing paper that "according to excerpts being studied by Congress, Fonda used her Hanoi radio time to pose questions to the US GIs, but limited her advice to pleas for ending the bombing, and didn't urge defections". The bombing of the dykes stopped that August, a month after I got back.

On the one hand, I can understand why serious people, even many critics of the Vietnam War, would be genuinely upset with her over all that.  As her own account acknowledges, allowing herself to be photographed on the anti-aircraft gun was a bone-headed move.  I actually find it hard to make a real judgment about her speaking on North Vietnamese radio, which from the excerpt it appears she still defends.  Certainly, there were other Americans who visited North Vietnam while the war was going on, among them Telford Taylor, who had been US chief counsel at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials after the Second World War.  I don't know which other visitors were interviewed on North Vietnamese radio or how the content of what they said compared to what Jane Fonda said.  I suppose I should take some time one day to do a Web search on "Americans on North Vietamese Radio."

But I wouldn't call her actions treason, in either the practical or legal sense.  Bad judgment, yes.  She was never charged with any crime in connection with that trip.  Nothing she did there was as obviously harmful to US national security as the exposure of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA agent specializing in WMDs.  Nor as damaging as the leak through Ahmed Chalabi's group of signals intelligence to Iran that the US had broken their code.  I'm not trying to make an "everybody does it" point here, though I'll freely admit that I find Jane Fonda considerably more sympathetic a person than Karl Rove.  (I realize that's not saying much in her favor!)  But being stupid about handling a trip like that is a much lower level of damage - if any identifiable damage was done at all - than the Valerie Plame exposure or the signals intelligence leak to Iran.  The latter acts are just more substantial.

Although so far as it's been publicly reported, no one has actually been charged with breaking the law in either of those two cases, either.  But it's very clear in both of them that somebody did break the law, and big-time.  Loosely accusing people of treason is a despicable political tactic.  But just because false charges of treason are despicable, that doesn't mean that acts of treason don't happen.


sanforized6 said...

I was one of those that despised her, at the time, as I was on active duty, BUT, by this time I had become much more of a DOVE than a HAWK, so I had to be silent. Now, all these years later, it's obvious that her "trip" had little or nothing to do with the eventual outcome. The other two, probably caused security breeches that may or may not have cost peoples lives. rich

sandrae303 said...

More than any comments in this article I cannot forget how Jane Fonda was led into meetings with POWs.  Some of them snuck notes into her hands.

She did not turn them over to US military or contact family, or follow what was written.  Instead, she turned the pieces of paper with private & secret notes over to the enemy.  Many of the POWs were forced to endure torture because of that.  That to me is more than lack of knowledge or stupidity.  It is consciously playing into the hands of the enemy and inflicting harm on our U.S. POWs.

If treason is like many things, it is not the intent that counts.  Rather it is the outcome.  Things often go astray in life.  We should not place ourselves into situations we cannot have control over.  
If Ms. Fonda felt it was a bad situation when she arrived it would have been better if she had remained in the vehicle or used her acting skill to convince the North Vietnamese that she was too ill and needed to return to her hotel.  I note she didn't say anything about trying to avoid the situation.

If Ms Fonda was that ignorant, she should not have gone to Hanoi.  It would have been better left to leaders in control, not people wanting new footage or sound bites.

Who really needs to go to the location?  One can just as easily voice concern while on U.S. soil without putting our soldiers into Harm's way.

bmiller224 said...

There were a number of American who were going to North Vietnam at the time.  There's nothing inherently wrong with that.  In some circumstances, contacts like that can lead to useful negotiating opportunities.  It's unlikely, it's true, that any government at war would give people invited as observers the chance to see much that might be militarily useful.

The only thing I would add to what I've said in this post in response to the last comment is that present-day circumstances give us an opportunity to put things into some context.  Karl Rove a few weeks ago invited all good Republicans to see Democrats and other critics as giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which of course is the Constitutional definition of treason.

Now it's clear to everyone whose brain hasn't been pickled in OxyContin that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's head of staff Scooter Libby were actively trying to expose the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent who had been working without diplomatic cover on hunting down "weapons of mass destruction".

George H.W. Bush was the main sponsor of the law that specifically outlaws such exposures.  And he said back in 1999 that he regarded people who do such things as "the most insidious of traitors."

For those with eyes to see, as the saying goes, whatever propaganda stupidity Jane Fonda committed on her trip to Hanoi, it certainly was no conscious act harming national security like Rove and Libby did.

Lots of rightwingers love to yell "treason" about anyone who disagrees with them. They seem to especially enjoy having women to direct the insult against, as the Dixie Chicks incident in 2003 showed. Some take those accusations with the critical thought they deserve.

Unless you don't mind being suckered by sleazy rightwingers. - Bruce