Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jane Fonda And America’s Vietnam War

Jane Fonda is news again. The issue is America’s Vietnam War. Memories of the war still haunt many. The war memories are also bright in the brains of those who resisted and opposed the war.
The acrid memory is difficult to blank out for those who had to accept defeat. For those standing against imperialism, it is impossible to forget the war.
In mid-July, in a blog posting on show business website, Jane Fonda wrote that she was scheduled to appear on home shopping TV network QVC to introduce her book Prime Time about aging and life cycles. But QVC reported receiving angry calls regarding her anti-war activism of the 1960s and ’70s, and it decided to cancel Jane’s appearance. She wrote at the website: “[T]his has gone on far too long, this spreading of lies about me! … I love my country. I have never done anything to hurt my country or the men and women who have fought and continue to fight for us.” QVC, a unit of Liberty Media Corp, acknowledged Fonda’s appearance was cancelled, but said it was because of a “programming change.” She described it as QVC’s caving in to “extremist” pressure to cancel her appearance.
Jane Fonda, daughter of late screen legend Henry Fonda, won Oscars for roles in the films “Coming Home” (1978) and “Klute” (1971). Her 1972 visit to Hanoi, the capital of erstwhile North Vietnam, angered Vietnam War mongers. They nicknamed her “Hanoi Jane”. She is still ridiculed by hawks as they fail to get rid of memories of defeat. During her North Vietnam visit, she posed for photos showing her sitting atop a Viet Cong anti-aircraft gun seat. She expressed regret about those images.
An Empire’s manipulation with its subjects’ minds, its power for the manipulation, and its confusing definitions get exposed with this incident. To it, aggression is patriotism, opposing war of aggression is synonymous to treachery. It turns indifferent to people making supreme sacrifices for independence, sovereignty, honor and dignity, and the right to self-determination. Its statements are made to appear authentic, although the authenticity stands on a void foundation of propaganda and media manipulation. It makes “truths”, and unmakes those when necessary; it hides truths and leads eyes and ears to its desired target that it intends to appear as stark fact although a single ingredient of fact is absent there. On behalf of the entire humanity, brave Vietnam stood for humane senses and duties. The Empire cannot provide an explanation to the supreme sacrifices the monks made on the streets of Saigon (now, Ho Chi Minh City), it cannot defend its action in My Lai, it cannot dissect the murder of Nguyen Van Troi.
That’s the reason the “American public”, as Jane Fonda writes about America’s Indo-China War (the war the Empire carried on in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia only a few decades back) in her My Life So Far, “did not yet know that the United States had been secretly bombing Cambodia since March 1969. Nor did we know that U.S. bombers, from 1964 through 1969, had secretly obliterated an entire civilization in the Plain of Jars in northeastern Laos.”
Jane tried to know the truth. Time keeps a role for itself in life. In many cases, age influences posture and type of action of individuals. So, Jane “mistakenly thought that the more militant [she] appeared, the more seriously [she] would be taken.” (ibid.)
That was not only a time of America’s war against peoples in Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia; that was a time “an America at war with itself…”; that was a time “antiwar sentiment was growing among active-duty servicemen”; that was a time “Master Sergeant Donald Duncan, a much decorated member of the special forces, the first enlisted man in Vietnam to be nominated for the Legion of Merit”, brought to Jane “newspaper articles about GI dissent and told stories about the ways servicemen were being denied their constitutional rights.” That was a time “soldiers questioned why, once they put on a uniform, they were deprived of the rights they had been conscripted to defend – the rights to speak freely, petition, assemble, and publish – and that when they claimed those rights, unjust punishments were meted out with no legal recourse.” That was a time “while the civilian anti-war movement was primarily white and middle-class, the GI movement was made up of working-class kids, sons and daughters … of farmers and hard hats, kids who couldn’t afford college deferments, and a preponderance of rural and urban poor, particularly blacks and Latinos.” “[W]hile dissent within the military had started in the mid-sixties mainly as random, individual acts, after the Tet offensive, things began to change. Dissident was no longer a matter of individual acts. GIs began to organize, not just around the growing antiwar sentiment in the military rank, but in response to the undemocratic nature of the military system itself.” (ibid.) That was a time, as Robert D. Heinl Jr., retired Marine Corps colonel and military historian, describes: “[O]ur army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous.” (Armed Forces Journal, quoted in My Life So Far) That was a time she “had heard and read things that threw into question everything [she] believed about [her] country.” Jane felt she “couldn’t slow down while people’s rights were being violated, while people were being killed, while the war continued.” That was a time “the war had become an American tragedy…” That was a time in “a battle that pits bamboo against B-52, the victory for bamboo symbolizes hope for the planet.” (ibid.)
These incidents and senses took her to Hanoi. She watched from the aircraft window, before her plane made landing, her “country’s planes – bombing a city where” she was “about to be received as a welcomed guest.” (ibid.) She learns in Vietnam: “It is the long-term, cumulative effects of seemingly weak things that achieve the impossible.” During that trip, she innocently and mistakenly sat atop an anti-aircraft gun seat. “But the gun was inactive, there were no planes overhead…” (ibid.) Consequently, she was criticized, condemned, a call was made to boycott her films.
But the “story” doesn’t conclude there as it didn’t begin there also. As a flash back an editorial comment can be recollected that can help fill in the gaps of the war path: “And”, Paul M Sweezy, Leo Huberman and Harry Magdoff wrote editorial comment in June 1954 in Monthly Review, “if we send American forces into Indo-China, as Dulles and other high government spokesmen have repeatedly threatened to do in the last two months, we shall be guilty of aggression ourselves.” (“What Every American Should Know About Indo-China”)
But the aggression was made.
“It was June 14, 1965, and Johnson reached out to former President Eisenhower for his counsel on the Vietnam War. A decision was looming over whether to expand the U.S. troop commitment to the conflict. Eisenhower advised not only supporting South Vietnamese forces in action but also urged direct offensive action by American troops. ‘We have got to win,’ he said. … Meanwhile, the debate among Johnson’s advisors was growing. ‘In raising our commitment from 50,000 to 100,000 or more men and deploying most of the increment in combat roles we are beginning a new war -- the United States directly against the Viet Cong,’ Under Secretary of State George Ball warned President Johnson. ‘Perhaps the large-scale introduction of American forces with their concentrated fire power will force Hanoi and the Viet Cong to the decision we are seeking. On the other hand,’ he presciently cautioned, ‘we may not be able to fight the war successfully enough -- even with 500,000 Americans in South Vietnam -- to achieve this purpose.’ Ball confronted President Johnson with lessons from recent history. ‘The French fought a war in Viet-Nam, and were finally defeated -- after seven years of bloody struggle and when they still had 250,000 combat-hardened veterans in the field, supported by an army of 205,000 Vietnamese.’ Ball’s dissent was aggressively countered by the administration’s hawks. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara strenuously argued that if South Vietnam fell, Thailand would be lost, too. Rusk envisioned a wave of falling dominoes – even India would collapse under the control of the Chinese communists.” (Gordon M Goldstein, former international security advisor to the strategic planning unit of the executive office of the UN secretary-general, Lessons in Disaster, 2008)
The number of the US forces increased. The war escalated as the years rolled on. The aggression experienced effective resistance unparallel in human history. The ruling classes in the Empire faced a critical time full with uncertain choices.
The resistance to the aggression and the significant resentment within the aggressor forces, as Jane Fonda mentioned, weakened the aggressor. They had to concede defeat that saved them from bigger and graver defeat.
But Jane is still being condemned for sitting atop a seat of an inactive AA gun.
And, the Lessons in Disaster are not being learnt in the Middle East, in Africa, in Latin America as empires deny learning from history, as that is a limitation of Naked Imperialism.