Note: This article was written in response to We Won't Forget, Jane by former P.O.W. Michael Benge.
I would only add that one anti-Vietnam protester who was far more effective than Jane Fonda was John F. Kerry, who in order to further his political ambitions betrayed those he left behind in Vietnam--and 58,000 who came home in body bags, if at all--by siding with the so-called "Vietnam Veterans Against the War" and taking part in the "Winter Soldiers Investigation" in January 1971 in Detroit. There, more than 100 men took turns denouncing America and saying it was standard practice for U.S. soldiers to commit rape, murder, and other war crimes in Vietnam. I remember it well, because I was a junior Army Captain on my second Vietnam tour when it happened. Later, it was disclosed that many of Kerry's "veterans" were total imposters, who if they had served in uniform at all were often mechanics and clerks in places like South Carolina and Germany, far away from Vietnam. But Kerry then went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and told these same kinds of stories, portraying Americans who served in Vietnam as horrible monsters. Little wonder that when we finally came home people spat upon us and called us "baby killer" and "war criminal." (For the record, just as in World War II and Korea, there were some real war crimes in Vietnam--a very small percentage of them, including My Lai, were committed by Americans. But a tiny percentage of American soldiers committed war crimes, and most of those who were identified were tried and punished by the military.)
For the past 15 years or so I've been teaching seminars on the war at a major university. Many of the most knowledgeable experts on the war agree that--after years of incompetent mismanagement by McNamara, who totally ignored the advice he was given by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the intelligence community--by 1972 we had the war essentially won. The Viet Cong had ceased to exist as a viable military force, and the North Vietnamese Army had failed in a major Easter Offensive to take over the south -- driven back by South Vietnamese soldiers with only U.S. air power for support. The December 1972 bombing of North Vietnam (Operation Linebacker II) was tremendously effective at destroying military targets, although by Hanoi's own figures only about 1400 North Vietnamese people were killed in 12 days of heavy bombing. It was the first time "smart bombs" had been used in large numbers. Hanoi had fired all of its SAM missiles and was helpless against further B-52 attacks, and our POWs in Hanoi later reported the obvious collapse of enemy morale. (Read Adm. James Stockdale's In Love and War.) Hanoi returned to the Paris talks and signed a peace accord.
What most Americans still don't realize is what happened next -- the rest of the story. Under pressure from people like Kerry, in May 1973 Congress passed a law making it unlawful to spend appropriated funds on "combat operations" anywhere in Indochina. The once demoralized North Vietnamese perked up, and Prime Minister Pham Van Dong announced gleefully "The Americans won't come back now even if we offer them candy!" Hanoi sent almost its entire army (saving only the 325 division to protect Hanoi) into South Vietnam (and Cambodia), which both were taken over in April 1975. If Congress would only have permitted us to use air power, we could have broken the back of that offensive. (I left Saigon during the final evacuation at the end of April 1975, and I still remember the terrified looks on the faces of people we had promised to protect as we abandoned them to their fate.)
The "peace movement" asserted that we had to cut off aid to South Vietnam in order to "stop the killing" and "promote human rights." But in the first two years of "peace" after the "liberation" of South Vietnam and Cambodia (and don't forget Laos), more people were slaughtered by the Communist regimes than had died in the previous 14 years of war. In tiny Cambodia alone, out of a population of 7-8 million people, an estimated 2 million human beings--men, women, and children--were slaughtered. (To put that in perspective, it would be as if someone took over this country and butchered about 70 million of our fellow citizens -- including anyone who professed a faith in religion, anyone who wore glasses (evidence they could read), and everyone who was seriously ill in a hospital. [They dumped over the hospital beds and forced the patients to march miles into the jungle, where those who didn't die were often murdered.]) Tens of millions of South Vietnamese--where there were tens of thousands of executions of "class enemies"--were then consigned to a Stalinist tyranny that continues to rank among the world's dirty dozen worst human rights violators. (Oh--and Senator John Kerry reportedly blocked legislation that would have tied U.S. assistance to Vietnam to improvements in its human rights record.)
In fairness, John Kerry didn't really know very much about Vietnam. He only spent 4 months in country, most of the time hanging out with other Americans and patrolling in relatively lightly populated parts of the country. He did see combat several times, but serious doubts have been raised about the incident that he used to get himself a Silver Star. Cutting through the "spin," it appears that after one of his machine gunners on the Swift boat shot a fleeing Viet Cong teenager and knocked him to the ground, and the kid got up and continued trying to flee, Kerry (in violation of orders) landed the boat, chased after the fleeing, frightened kid, and (according to the machine gunner who first shot the kid) "shot an unarmed man in the back." According to Kerry's account, the kid was "armed" with a B-40 rocket launcher, which Kerry claims was loaded. But a wounded and frightened kid with a B-40 is hardly a match for a healthy American naval officer armed with an M-16 assault rifle--which was capable of firing 20-30 rounds of ammo in about 2-3 seconds (far quicker than even a healthy adult could shoulder, aim, and fire a B-40--not to mention the fact that the B-40 would not have armed at that close distance, and if it had armed and detonated the shooter would know he would also likely be killed by the explosion). While under some circumstances killing a wounded enemy soldier can be a war crime, that is not the case if the soldier is trying to flee and is not so severely wounded as to be incapable of defending himself. The issue is not whether Kerry was a war criminal (as I recall, he told Congress that he was), but whether his conduct rose to the level of conspicuous gallantry that is normally required to earn the Silver Star.
Some of the sailors who served under Kerry say he was a "hero," and since I was not there I won't contest that judgment. What outraged a lot of us was that--after first trying to run for Congress as a Vietnam "war hero" and learning that the voters of Massachusetts had little use for that unpopular war--Kerry started searching around for an "issue" to promote his political ambitions, and teamed up with a bunch of misfits and pretenders who marched on Washington waiving Viet Cong and North Vietnamese flags (and giant photos of American Communist leaders). John Kerry gave them something they didn't have--a relatively clean cut, well educated (in the finest Swiss boarding schools and then Yale), and articulate spokesman. And more than any other single anti-Vietnam protester, it was John Kerry who persuaded Congress to legislate a Communist victory in Indochina. As the late William E. Colby--who knew Vietnam as well as any American, having started out as CIA Station Chief in Saigon in the 1950s, served later as head of the CIA Asian division, and retired as Director of Central Intelligence--observed, Congress "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory" in Vietnam. In the process, it betrayed the sacrifices of 3.5 million Americans and the promises of a nation. (Wasn't it the other "JFK" who in 1961 promised that America would "pay any price, bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty" around the world?)
As a Senator, Kerry was on the far Left on just about every national security issue, working to weaken the military and the intelligence community at every turn. He voted with 80% of Senate Democrats to deny the first President Bush authority to enforce Security Council Resolution 678, and voted against procurement of the Abrams M-1 main battle tank and many of the other systems that made our quick victory possible. (If the 9/11 Commission does not include a lengthy discussion of the ways in which Congress undermined the military and the intelligence community between 1973 and 2001, it will have betrayed its trust.)
Ironically, one of the rare issues where Senator Kerry took a strong pro-national security stand was on the "Iraq Liberation Act" in 1998, when he spoke eloquently about the threat of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction and helped convince a unanimous Senate to support a law calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Of course, now he tells voters that there was never any WMD problem and it was all just a George Bush "lie" to trick Congress into supporting war so Bush could help his oil buddies. After years of cutting the intelligence community budget, leaking its secrets, and pressuring it not to pay money to potential intelligence "sources" with imperfect human rights records, congressional Democrats now are turning on poor George Tenet and demanding to know whether the Director of Central Intelligence--himself a former Democratic staff member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a Clinton appointee as DCI who was kept on by President Bush because of his competence--is a "liar" or just incompetent. If the 9/11 Commission wants to know why Osama bin Laden assumed that America would be intimidated by the 9/11 attacks, it ought to examine the way Congress responded to situations like Angola (1975), Nicaragua and El Salvador (1981-86), Lebanon (1982-83), Somalia (1993), and various other settings where partisan congressional attacks undermined policy.
Naming Jane Fonda one of the 100 "women of the century" makes sense only if one uses the Time magazine "person of the year" standard--which measures not positive qualities like character, public service, or contribution to making the world a better place, but merely whether someone made a difference in the world or the nation. Thus, such a list of men might include Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler as well as Ronald Reagan and FDR.
Jane Fonda clearly committed Treason against the United States. She went to a country with which we were engaged in war (one fully authorized by Congress) and made radio broadcasts lying to American military personnel and telling them to refuse to carry out their orders -- e.g., telling sailors that the bombs they were loading on planes really carried poison gas and that if they carried out their orders they might later be tried as war criminals.
But in terms of betraying America, "Hanoi Jane" was second-string as compared to "Hanoi John" Kerry, who admitted to Congress that he knew that he had probably broken the law when he went to Paris and met with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong ("Provisional Revolutionary Government") delegations. I don't know what he told them, but it clearly did not discourage them from continuing their aggression against their neighbors. And, I might add, Kerry was correct that it was unlawful--indeed, it was a felony (18 U.S.C. 953).
If you've struggled through all of this, you now may have some idea of why many Vietnam veterans are not likely to be overjoyed at the idea of "one of our own" being elected President. These views, obviously, are entirely my own.
Dr. Robert Turner
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