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.