Some bleeding heart conservatives are unwilling to accept the realistic verdict of history that the U.S. is an empire like any other. Instead they cling to the romantic notion of "My country, right or wrong." Some such fuzzy-headed idealists have been circulating an emotive but ill-founded attack on Jane Fonda and, by implication, Barbara Walters and ABC News for including Fonda as as one of the 100 most influential women of the century. But they attack Fonda, not for a few bad movies, or for marrying a three-time visual polluter (billboards, colorization, TV), but over the Vietnam War.
No multibillion-dollar corporation, not even a media one, is anything but conservative in its outlook, habits and preferences. Despite this indisputable fact, the poor downtrodden senders of this attack on Fonda can only be excused, if then, by their apparent belief that American soldiers were more victims of the war than were Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, North and South.
Quoting truly horrid experiences of various POWs, the attack has been circulated in email since mid-1999 but only hit my inbox in the last month. But then it did so three times, from three otherwise sensible sources. The attackers' principal objection to Fonda's work against the war was that she dared to go to North Vietnam in July 1972. This was only six months before Richard Nixon gave Lyndon Johnson a fatal heart attack on January 22, 1973. I have always suspected that what killed Johnson was Nixon's phone call announcing that the U.S. was going to settle for the same ambiguous peace terms Johnson himself could have had in March 1968, 20,000 U.S. deaths earlier.
At (www.snopes.com), an authoritative source for unmasking urban legends, there is a long discussion of the Fonda issue and this particular attack email. The pertinent portion of the site's discussion, written by Barbara Mikkelson of the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society, reads: "The most serious accusations in the piece -- that Fonda turned over to the North Vietnamese slips of paper furtively given her by American POWS, and that several POWs were beaten to death as a result -- are unsubstantiated. Fonda returned to America carrying 240 letters from POWs to their families, and although there were rumors at the time that a POW was executed for refusing to meet with Fonda, the identity of this POW has never been established." Translation: Despite the best efforts of the right wing, which began at the time and have never ceased in 27 years, there is not the slightest evidence to support any charge against Fonda other than that she was as tastelessly antiwar as she was tastelessly famous.
A possible explanation for the inappropriate, distorted, and self-righteous anger hurled at Fonda might be found in a mid-October AP story. It noted that in an academic survey high-ranking military officers overwhelmingly identified themselves as Republicans. Republican officers outnumbered Democrats 8-1. The Triangle Institute for Security Studies' Project on the Gap Between the Military and Civilian Society, said the AP, included the results of mailed surveys of military and civilian leaders and a national telephone poll of the public.
The AP story reported that the U.S. officer corps is far more conservative than mainstream American society. "The long tradition of an apolitical military has given way to a new reality in which the elite military is probably the most solidly Republican professional group in American society,'' the study said.
The study was led by Peter D. Feaver of Duke University. It found 64 percent of the officers proclaiming themselves Republican while 8 percent said they were Democrats, with 1 percent declaring other parties and 27 percent claiming independence or no preference. This compares with 35.4 percent Democrats, 28.8 percent Republicans and 35.8 percent independents or other in a companion public survey, said the AP.
Those of us who fought under Gene McCarthy and Martin Luther King to make the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial unnecessary do not, and did not, have any less patriotism than those who wore the uniform and bore arms. If it is considered treason for Jane Fonda to have helped us try to put an end to an immoral, unjust, unsuccessful, and disgusting war, then a plurality of the country are traitors. Polls as early as 1967 showed declining support for the war, and by mid-1968 a majority were opposed.
The people who ought to have been tried for treason in damaging our country are those responsible for the lies and the slaughter: Lyndon Johnson, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, Sen. John Stennis, Rep. Wilbur Mills, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, William Rogers, Gen. William Westmoreland, Gen. Creighton Abrams, and all their apparatchiks at CBS, ABC, and NBC (such as John Chancellor and Eric Sevareid,) as well as at the New York Times, the LA Times, and the Washington Post (none of whom opposed the war until after Gene McCarthy and Martin Luther King led the way.)
Once the troops were in, we fought because the troops were in, not because they were in doing anything worth doing. When Kissinger and Le Duc Tho won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, Kissinger should have refused his. He should instead have given it to those B-52 airmen who refused to fly any more missions, those U.S. infantrymen who refused to march, those sailors who refused duty. The war ended because the U.S. armed forces could not contemplate the reprisals necessary to force their members to continue a senseless effort. Shooting students back home was apparently all right, when necessary, but the establishment could not face the executions of our men in uniform who had come to their senses.
Certainly Jane Fonda deserves credit as one of the 100 most influential women of the century. She stood up to all the Legionnaires, women's groups, country clubs and other forces of officialdom that were busy conspiring to waste our troops, our treasure, and our national good name on the idolatrous altar of anti-Communism. Russian mothers now hiding their draftee sons from the war in Chechnya, as reported on French Antenne-2 television news in mid-October, give credit to Jane Fonda's efforts for showing them the way to civil resistance to insane military power.
"I'm sorry if it offends you that your relatives were sent off on an immoral and unwinnable war; but just because they were doesn't mean the rest of us didn't try to stop it from happening," an email response to the attack piece read. It took real patriotism to oppose the war in Viet Nam. It still does.
"This Congress has a rendezvous with obscurity." -- John Pitney of Claremont McKenna College, quoted by Michael Grunwald in the Washington Post.
James McCarty Yeager has been hanging around across the Potomac River on the Virginia side at the U.S. Trademark Office, bemusedly watching an electronic imaging system turn paper into pixels.