In January of 1966, a military manual bearing the unassuming title "U.S. Army FM 33-5" crisply outlined the psychological goal of enemy insurgent forces during the Cold War: "...to convince the world and the local population that the motives of nations assisting the threatened government are false. Through national and international media, the insurgent will attempt to malign the motives of all assistance to the local government. Economic exploitation, neo-colonialism, genocide, and capitalism seeking raw materials and markets are some of the numerous themes used to elicit sympathy and support." As the anonymous author wrote those words, the Cold War's most effective strategic disinformation campaign was just getting underway.
Bertrand Russell's International War Crimes Tribunal opened in Stockholm, Sweden in May of the following year. The members of the tribunal were well-known supporters of North Vietnam, and the "evidence" presented was supplied largely by the Soviet KGB and other communist sources. It came as no surprise when the participants concluded that American forces were engaged in "massive extermination" in South Vietnam, and were committing "genocide in the strictest sense." Later researchers were able to confirm neither the evidence nor the conclusions, but then, that wasn't really the point of the exercise.
Also operating in Stockholm was the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam, described by former Soviet bloc spy chief Ion Mihai Pacepa as "a permanent international organization to aid or to conduct operations to help Americans dodge the draft or defect, to demoralize its army with anti-American propaganda, to conduct protests, demonstrations, and boycotts, and to sanction anyone connected with the war." This operation was "staffed by Soviet-bloc undercover intelligence officers and received about $15 million annually from the Communist Party's international department; all delivered in laundered cash dollars." Between 1966 and 1972 it generated "thousands of 'documentary' materials printed in all the major Western languages describing the 'abominable crimes' committed by American soldiers against civilians in Vietnam, along with counterfeited pictures." Indeed, according to General Pacepa, "KGB priority number one at that time was to damage American power, judgment, and credibility. One of its favorite tools was the fabrication of such evidence as photographs and 'news reports' about invented American war atrocities."
In the United States, a key component of the international propaganda effort was the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), which used a series of remarkably effective protests and hearings to taint the image of America's military by recounting, dramatizing, and publicizing alleged atrocities. The VVAW's best-known events took place during 1970 and 1971, while current presidential candidate John Kerry was the organization's spokesman, and its most charismatic leader.
In September of 1970 more than one hundred VVAW members marched for three days from Morristown, New Jersey to Valley Forge. Along the way, they simulated American "war atrocities" against civilians and handed out flyers to inform the citizenry that they might well have been raped, murdered or tortured by the U.S. Infantry if they had been Vietnamese. The flyers stated that "American soldiers do these things every day." This charming event concluded with a rally featuring speakers such as John Kerry, Mark Lane, author of "Conversations With Americans" -- a now-discredited book that purported to document American war crimes -- and Jane Fonda, who proclaimed that "My Lai was not an isolated incident but rather a way of life for many of our military."
Notes from a VVAW Executive Committee meeting attended by Kerry a few days after the Valley Forge event include plans for an "appropriate induction center action for purpose of making clear transition from citizen to war criminal." The organization's leaders also planned a "turn in of war crimes testimony to UN" after the forthcoming Winter Soldier event, and agreed to send executive secretary Al Hubbard on a speaking tour of college campuses in tandem with Jane Fonda, to raise funds and start new chapters for the VVAW.
The Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit in early 1971, was funded primarily by a series of benefit concerts arranged by Jane Fonda. The participants described hundreds of horrific incidents of atrocities against innocent civilians, including rape, arson, torture, murder, and the intentional shelling or napalming of entire villages. They claimed that these acts were being committed casually and routinely by American troops in Vietnam as a matter of official policy. Though rich in gruesome details, the accounts were strangely vague in terms of names, dates and locations, making them extremely difficult to confirm or disprove. Later military investigations were unable to verify any of the claims, though they did identify several participants as pretenders using the names of real veterans. Many of the witnesses refused to be interviewed, despite promises from the investigators that they would not be asked about their own actions.
In March, Jane Fonda met with Madame Binh, lead negotiator of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG) -- the political arm of the Vietcong. Fonda then flew to London, where she charged American troops with "applying electrodes to prisoners' genitals, mass rapes, slicing off of body parts, scalping, skinning alive, and leaving 'heat tablets' around which burned the insides of children who ate them."
John Kerry, interestingly enough, had already met with Madame Binh and Hanoi's representatives in Paris the previous spring, before he joined the VVAW, while he was still a little-known Naval Reserve officer and fledgling politician.
In April, the VVAW held a week-long protest in Washington D.C., where they "re-enacted" the murder of civilians on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and in front of the Justice Department, complete with fake blood. As reported in the communist Daily World's lead article on April 21, "Today in the Capitol they staged a mock search-and-destroy mission to demonstrate to tens of thousands of tourists here the torture and genocide practiced under orders in Vietnam." Two days later, John Kerry represented the VVAW before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he testified about "war crimes" in Vietnam that were being "committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." Kerry also claimed that torturing and killing prisoners was an "accepted policy" for many units, and characterized Lt. William Calley of My Lai massacre infamy as "a man who followed orders and who interpreted those orders no differently than hundreds of other men in Vietnam." From Paris, Madame Binh and lead North Vietnamese negotiator Xuan Thuy offered support for the VVAW protest, as reported in a Daily World article entitled "Vietnamese patriots praise anti-war vets." An editorial a few days later described demonstrators in the massive April 27 rally as "determined to compel the Nixon Administration to free hundreds of thousands of GIs still consigned to military aggression and destruction in Vietnam."
Finding a note of sympathy for GIs in the Daily World may seem peculiar, but in leftist mythology American troops are portrayed as both monsters and victims. The true responsibility for "war crimes" is inherent in the wicked capitalist system. For an American to have fought in Vietnam was seen as profoundly shameful -- Kerry had told the Senate that "we are ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia," and Fonda later broadcast from Hanoi that American POWs wished to convey their "sense of disgust of the war and their shame for what they have been asked to do." Still, a convenient path to redemption was available; veterans might shed their guilt and begin the recovery process by becoming pro-Hanoi activists.
Jane Fonda's most infamous work on behalf of the North Vietnamese communists took place in July 1972, though it was merely a continuation of what she had already been doing for years. In Hanoi, Fonda posed with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft crew and made radio broadcasts charging the United States with committing genocide against peaceful Vietnamese civilians. She falsely described the American prisoners who had been forced to meet with her as "well cared for," and said she "felt from them a very sincere desire to explain to the American people that this was a terrible crime and that it must be stopped." Upon departing North Vietnam, Fonda accepted from her hosts a ring made from the wreckage of a downed American plane -- a symbol of her solidarity with their cause. When the POWs returned home the following year they reported having been starved, beaten and tortured by their captors in an effort to make them sign papers confessing to war crimes. Fonda proceeded to call the freed prisoners "hypocrites and pawns," and stated that; "Tortured men do not march smartly off planes, salute the flag, and kiss their wives. They are liars."
Throughout all these events, the theme connecting the actions of Jane Fonda, John Kerry, the VVAW, the Daily World, Hanoi, the PRG, and the Soviet KGB was the relentlessly repeated lie that it was America's presence in Vietnam, rather than the war of aggression initiated by the North, that was characterized by systematic war crimes and atrocities. The intent of the propaganda campaign was to turn the American public against the war by inspiring disgust and horror at America's own armed forces, and its ultimately successful goal was not peace, but rather to help a communist regime conquer our former allies in South Vietnam.
Once that was accomplished, the real Southeast Asian genocide would begin.