My Country, Wrong or Wronger
A friend of mine recently posted to Facebook about how much he hates Jane Fonda because she betrayed American POWs in Vietnam, yaddity yaddity yaddity. My wife promptly posted a link to a Snopes.com page exploding that particular myth. My friend's response: well, okay, she didn't do that, but I still hate her.
I posted this long response to him in his FB comment thread... and then pulled it, because his family reads that thread, and they also mostly mindlessly hate Fonda for things she never did, and this probably won't do much good in that context.
But I think it's a pretty good statement of how I feel, so I'm posting it here.
* * * *
Soldiers aren't automatically heroes because they put on a uniform and get shot at. Wars/military actions are not automatically extended acts of national heroism which cannot under any circumstances be questioned or criticized. And the act of questioning or criticizing national policy, especially when that policy involves invading foreign countries and inflicting enormous damage on those countries and enormous harm to those countries' peoples, is not automatically a villainous or dastardly act.
I'm not saying Jane Fonda is a hero, but I certainly don't think she's a villain. She was young and had strong opinions about something that people certainly should have had strong opinions about at the time and probably should have strong opinions about now, since the U.S. continues to invade other countries for vaguely articulated reasons, inflicting enormous damage on those countries and enormous harm on the people who live there. Those who think that such policies and actions are wrong headed, immoral, and/or outright evil should certainly be free to state their opinions and express themselves.
With the myth that Fonda deliberately betrayed captive POWs to their captors exploded, I can see little else to revile her for. We shouldn't have been in Vietnam, we should not have been dropping napalm on Vietnamese villages, we should not have been shooting people and blowing them up for the crime of being Communist (or, worse, for the crime of doing what they were told to do, on pain of death or torture, by a repressive Communist regime). We simply should not have been there making war on that country and those people. We had no moral right whatsoever to be doing what we were doing.
I don't like the fact that Fonda went over and apparently displayed sympathy for people who were killing and torturing American servicemen... but I also don't like the fact that the U.S. essentially fought the Vietnam war with slave soldiers... draftees almost entirely conscripted from America's most impoverished regions, predominantly urban blacks. Fonda had an opinion about the war, much of which I happen to agree with, and she went to an enormous amount of personal trouble and endured enormous difficulty and inconvenience to express that view. And because she did, she is still widely reviled... and why? Because she said it was an unjust and immoral war, that Americans should not have been there bombing and killing and maiming... and because, while she was there, she made an effort to discover the truth about how American POWs were being treated.
What would Jane Fonda have had to do, or not to do, to not be vilified and loathed now? Wave a flag and chant "U.S.A U.S.A U.S.A" while we were dropping napalm on a country we had absolutely no right to be in at all? No, no, her detractors would not insist on that.
She should have just shut the hell up and done nothing, kept her subversive hippie liberal pinko Commie mouth shut, stayed in the kitchen, and baked some fucking cupcakes. With little American flags sticking in them. Right?
Mindless support, as is embodied in the particularly pernicious jingo "My country, right or wrong", is not heroism. Vocal dissent that cannot be ignored, that draws attention to immorality and abuses being committed on an international scale, that creates controversy across generations and down decades... acts of dissent that exact enormous personal costs... well, maybe these are not heroism either. But they are sure as hell more courageous than posting to the Internet.
Beyond that, and this is directly to [my friend]: I don't think you disagree with Fonda's views. I don't think you really think we should have been in Vietnam, that we should have been in Iraq, that we should be in Afghanistan now (and we're still in Iraq, too, and, for that matter, we're still in Vietnam, don't kid yourself). I think you were just steeped in an atmosphere of unthinking hatred for this woman in your childhood and you have never stopped to really rationally analyze what she did in terms of what you now believe as an adult.
If I won a lot of money and decided to go over to Afghanistan and demonstrate sympathy for the Afghan people and interview American POWs to see how they were being treated, would you revile me for it? If I visibly protested against our drone policy? Would that make me vile in your eyes?
If I went to Gitmo and similarly interviewed the prisoners our country keeps illegally confined there (if I were allowed to) and behaved in ways calculated to draw attention to how badly those people are being abused, would you revile me for it?
What exactly is it that Jane Fonda actually did that pisses you off so much?