Memo to Jane Fonda: Will You Please Stop Apologizing?

Speaking Out Against an Illegal War was the True “Noble Cause”

Published at CounterPunch January 23, 2015

by HOWARD LISNOFF

On January 16, 2015, Jane Fonda spoke before a group in Frederick, Maryland at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. A spokesperson for the arts center stated that Fonda had been asked to speak because of her success in several roles ranging from acclaimed actress to writer and fitness guru. But that’s not what brought about fifty demonstrators to the center to protest Fonda’s appearance. They were there because of Fonda’s antiwar activism during the Vietnam War that included a trip in 1972 to the capital of North Vietnam, Hanoi, in protest of the U.S. war against the North that had raged for 8 years (The trip included the inspection of dikes bombed during the U.S. air war against the North). Most notable about her appearance in the North was the picture taken of her sitting on top of an anti-aircraft gun that was used by the North in response to the air attacks. Fonda has never recanted her antiwar activism, but in a kind of ritual, she has repeated a nearly endless apology to the veterans of that war, which she called a “huge, huge mistake” at the time of her Maryland speech.

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Jane Fonda in North Vietnam.

The U.S. air war against Vietnam dropped more bomb tonnage in what was called Operation Rolling Thunder than all of the bombs that had been dropped during World War II. Three million (probably a significantly higher number when the killing in Laos and Cambodia is taken into account) Vietnamese died in the war, as did 58,000 Americans. North and South Vietnam were reunited in 1975 following the North’s rout of South Vietnamese forces. That victory accomplished what the Geneva Accords (separating North from South Vietnam in 1954 with the promise of future elections that never took place) could not do because of successive puppet governments installed by the West following World War II and the failed French war in Vietnam. U.S. forces left Vietnam in 1975 following its unsuccessful war there.

What was most notable about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was its brutality. Words and places such as My Lai, Tiger Force, strategic hamlets, carpet-bombing, free-fire zones, and napalm all have been well-documented by U.S. soldiers who took part in the war and were seared into the memory of those involved and by those who opposed it. That the Vietnamese people were reduced to the racist term “gook” is further evidence of the degradation of that war. The Winter Soldier Investigation, sponsored by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against The War, held in January-February 1971 in Detroit, Michigan, was perhaps the most significant compilation of individuals’ testimonies of the viciousness and brutality of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The testimony of atrocities by the U.S. was so compelling that the Fulbright Hearings were convened in the U.S. Senate in April-May 1971 to further investigate the allegations. Most soldiers who served in Vietnam did not commit atrocities, but a small minority did and those actions were supported at the highest levels of government, punished by what amounted to a slap on the wrist, or ignored by the government.

In May 1970, the war came home to Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State College in Mississippi, when National Guard troops and police (at Jackson State) killed and wounded U.S. students. In fact, the war had come home in many, many ways years earlier. The latter was best documented by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic in his memoir of the war, Born On The Fourth Of July (1976), that eloquently and powerfully depicts the family and community battles and tensions across this nation that were brought to the surface by the specter of fighting communism in Southeast Asia and a generation that was coming of age to new realizations of how the world could be seen in ways not limited by ideology.

Some of the veterans in Maryland who protested Fonda’s presence called her a traitor because of her appearance in North Vietnam during the war. However, Fonda served the peace movement well during the war and her years of agonizing over her role in the antiwar movement and apologizing to vets has outlived any useful purpose.

The anger of pro-war veterans was used cynically by former President Ronald Reagan who rewrote history and labelled the war a “noble cause” to facilitate his own wars of the 1980s and to put an end to the Vietnam Syndrome (the hesitancy of people in the U.S. to support war following the debacle of Vietnam).

Vietnam represented superpower Machiavellian realpolitik further poisoned with Cold War unthinking anticommunism. Millions lay dead in its lethal wake. And the adversary of the U.S. was a weak nation struggling to reunite after the bloodbath of World War II. Some “noble cause.”

The Vietnam War was the first televised war and its nightly appearance on the 3 television networks that existed at that time was a contributing factor to “hasten” the war’s end. Ordinary people were sickened by what they saw on the nightly news and it did not take an in-depth knowledge of the international laws of war or history to know exactly what the U.S. and its allies got right (and soon forgot during the Cold War) following World War II. What history got right  was enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, the Charter of the United Nations, and the Nuremberg Principles. Article VI of the Principles got it exactly right when it forbid aggression by nations, the ill-treatment and murder of civilians, and the “wanton” destruction of towns, villages, and cities, all hallmarks of the U.S. war in Vietnam. And what is most remarkable in the Principles is that it vested responsibility in both governments and individual soldiers for acts that would become so common during Vietnam. The majority of the antiwar movement in the U.S. was all about pushing back against the notions of the hubris and self-righteousness of war.

In April 1967, exactly one year before being assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his most famous antiwar speech at Riverside Church in New York City. He said,  “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.’”

When war has come to be accepted as the norm as it has been since 2001 by the endless wars that are now fought in our name; when a vibrant antiwar movement is nowhere to be found; when militarism is second-nature in our society; when military spending (currently $637 billion…almost twice the 2001 figure) goes unquestioned while this society is more unequal by way of income distribution than it has been in decades; and when the reporting of war is done by only the few and at great personal risk, then the example of those who spoke up against war when it was unpopular to do so must be held up as noble and not ridiculed or apologized for.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is a Vietnam-era veteran and was a war resister and activist during that war.

Heroes of Free Speech and Martyrs

 

 

 

 

 
January 7, 2015, a sad day for freedom of expression and the freedom to be provocative. All power to the pen, the cartoon, and free and provocative expression! Stéphane Charbonnier and his associates: heroes in the fight for freedom of expression!

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The Endless Madness of an Eye for an Eye

Cycles of Retribution

The Endless Madness of an Eye for an Eye

by HOWARD LISNOFF

In May 2014, The Huffington Post reported that five years of U.S. drone strikes have resulted in the deaths of 2,400 people, with about one third of those civilians (“The Toll of 5 Years of Drone Strikes: 2,400 Dead,” January 23, 2014). Simple addition would necessarily result in an increase of those numbers one year later. Half a world away, on Monday, January 5, the trial (the jury selection phase) of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will begin in Boston (despite a failed attempt to have the trial venue changed) for allegedly planting bombs, along with his late brother, Tamerlan, near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260 people (“In Search of a Boston Jury to Try Marathon Suspect,” The New York Times, January 4, 2015).

Is there any difference between the murder of innocent people by drones thousands of miles away from the remote control centers in the U.S. and the calculated murder and injury of hundreds of people in a place near where the alleged perpetrators of the Marathon bombings lived, worked, and went to school?

I asked a Boston Marathon runner what she thought about the fate of the surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, and she was quick to respond. She said that while she was an opponent of the death penalty, in this case her emotions and attachment to the Marathon were so personal that she believed that Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, should be executed by the government following his trial.

The justifications for the murder, torture, and injuring of civilians in times of war long predates the so-called War on Terror that began in earnest after the attacks of September 11, 2001. These justifications make a complete mockery of thousands of years of the development of the laws/rules of war that began with Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, both seen as saints by the Catholic Church,  and were refined after the mass murder of millions of civilians during World War II. That war saw the murder of civilians in fire bombings, atomic bombings and other aerial bombings, concentration camps, and in mass terror shootings of noncombatants for which the Nazi war machine was notorious. Concepts such as proportionality in war and the sanctity of civilian and innocent life were encoded in the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, the Charter of the United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, and in the domestic, international, and military laws of a host of nations. However, those laws were dealt a near-fatal blow following the end of the Cold War. These rules of war governed when a nation could go to war and how war was to be waged. Over thirteen years of war in Afghanistan (when a police action could have apprehended Osama bin Laden and his fellow conspirators) would never have been justified by the rules of war. Attacking an entire nation(s), or civilians working in office towers would never meet the requirements of the rules of war.

Two comments made following the September 2001 attacks typified the “anything goes” mode of warfare now incorporated in every attack and counterattack by nations and individuals. According to the surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.” The latter was left written in the boat in which the younger Tsarnaev hid until he was captured by the police. According to that line of thinking, an innocent child watching at finish line of the Boston Marathon has hurt all Muslims since he or she was part of a nation conducting the War on Terror.

When former U.S. President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, he stated that “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” According to that line of thinking, if a person took part in a wedding celebration that had been wrongly targeted by weaponized drones, then being swept up in this massive dragnet of targeting is perfectly legal and not in conflict with the established rules of war set forth in international and national laws. You are either with us or against us!

In Boston, in Syria, in the Palestinian territories, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, to name just a few nations and places, civilians have been relegated to the status of being “collateral damage” and not human beings deserving of the absolute protections of the rules of war during times of war!

The result of endless warfare is exactly how Mahatma Gandhi viewed the endless cycle of retribution: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

A Climber of Mountains

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A Climber of Mountains
In 1977, I became a hiker of mountain trails, the Long Trail ascending, winding sharply above the clouds and meadows, the rocky crags to the lightning crystalline blue sky in Stowe, Vermont on the softly padded leaf mulch trails of past years’ oak/maple/beech/birch on Mount Mansfield above the mountain shelter, amid the emerald leaf canopy where a single beautiful hiker passed with her white Planned Parenthood T-shirt that read: “Make Love Carefully.” I have since become a most dedicated climber of mountains…

Lonely Things

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Lonely Things

Red taillights of an outbound train.

Standing deep within a country graveyard

In an early winter snow squall.

Mountain ridges and summits highlighted against one another by a wintry blast of ice.

Ominous clouds passing from

A place of leave taking and ancient longing.

The endless highway leading from a friendly rendez-vous.

Jet trails passing between

Winter constellations at the apex of the heavens on a moonless night.

Abandoned and decaying silos of an ancient farm

Against the broad brush strokes of a winter/gray sky.

The end of a road trip…

The end of an era.

These are lonely things.