Lesson of ‘Hanoi Jane’ Leads Antiwar Forces to Shift Strategy
As the United States readies for war, the antiwar movement faces a dilemma.
Mindful of the hostility that greeted actress Jane Fonda when she returned from a trip to Hanoi in 1972, at the height of the Vietnam War, antiwar leaders held a conference call this week to plan their strategy. With many Americans feeling a tug to rally round the flag in a time of conflict, the antiwar movement is planning to emphasize its support for U.S. troops.
Angry, rhetoric-filled protest rallies are giving way to more prayerful actions -- including silent marches, like the one planned for Saturday in New York, and candlelight vigils, like the one held Sunday in 140 countries. Instead of a virtual “march on Washington” using e-mails, there is talk of a hunger strike by religious leaders. One of the smaller antiwar groups, United for Peace and Justice, is planning civil disobedience, including a noon walkout from work and school on the day after U.S. bombing begins in Iraq.
But mostly, the antiwar movement that blossomed in the months of wrenching U.N. diplomacy plans to respond to the war it tried to stop by underscoring its commitment to U.S. troops. As soon as the war begins, the Win Without War coalition, an umbrella group of more than 35 organizations, from the Sierra Club to the NAACP, plans to launch a fund-raising campaign, soliciting contributions for both Iraqi civilians and U.S. veterans. Arguing that the Bush administration is slashing medical benefits for veterans, the group hopes to raise money for families of reservists who have lost their paychecks and veterans returning from Iraq with disabilities.
Tom Hayden, the California peace activist who was a leader in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War, said it is natural that opponents of war want to protect their efforts from being tagged as unpatriotic.
“We know we’ll be attacked by the White House and right-wing radio broadcasters for disregard of the troops, when in fact it’s the White House that’s putting them in harm’s way,” he said. “Even the most modest critics of this administration’s policy, like [comedian] Bill Maher, have been tarred with that brush already. Now you can expect more of the same.”
Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister and a former six-term Pennsylvania congressman, is general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which is made up of 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Christian denominations with about 50 million members. Under the Win Without War umbrella, the National Council of Churches is contemplating hunger strikes and other means of nonviolent civil disobedience promoted by India’s independence leader, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and later by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“The Jerry Falwell crowd will always try to shade us as being unpatriotic,” Edgar said. “We have tried to be generically nice and polite since November, but this could be a moment when we follow King and Gandhi. We used those tactics to end apartheid in South Africa, and we are prepared to use them now.”
Antiwar leaders insist that their concern for the troops predates the launch of war, and that they are merely giving voice to humanitarianism.
“For us, it’s not about public relations, it’s about serving people’s instincts,” said Wes Boyd, a software entrepreneur and founder of MoveOn.org, the Web site that began with a call on Congress to “move on” from its Clinton impeachment battles and has become a robust, innovative contributor to the antiwar effort. “We know that our folks will first and foremost be concerned about victims of war. Real people think about real people.”
Opponents of war are reluctant to acknowledge that the shadow of Fonda’s trip hovers over their strategic decisions, but Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the incident has left an imprint on political memory. “We’re not going to have a steady stream of visitors to Baghdad sending out radio broadcasts telling soldiers to defect,” he said.
Fonda visited the capital of North Vietnam in July 1972 and was photographed in the gunner’s seat of a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun. She also broadcast appeals on Radio Hanoi urging U.S. pilots to stop bombing North Vietnam. The State Department rebuked her, several members of Congress urged that she be tried for treason and the Manchester Union Leader, a conservative newspaper in New Hampshire, editorialized that she be shot if convicted. Dubbed “Hanoi Jane,” she apologized, years later, to veterans. Many in Hollywood believe her career suffered as a result of her trip.
Hayden, who was once married to Fonda, said the Nixon White House used the visit to vilify Fonda, in the process discrediting the peace movement.
But Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter on American politics and elections, said Fonda’s antiwar legacy is still debated in Washington. Recalling a recent conversation among political types discussing the forthcoming Academy Awards, she said, “We were wondering how many people will use their time at the podium to say their piece, and whether they will turn into Jane Fonda.”
Still, opponents of this war are convinced there will be other wars like it to come, more preemptive military actions in President Bush’s war on terrorism, and they are eager to keep the levers of protest in place.
“We’re not going to run scared,” said Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org, which is planning to post messages of support to soldiers on its Web site. “If war doesn’t make sense, it’s critical that we continue to talk about it.”