That, in a phrase, was the underlying assumption of much of the anti-war Left. It’s a pretty awful assumption. The short answer is yes, they were that bad if you were a member of the clergy, or a landowner, or a capitalist, or wealthy, or valued freedom, or were opposed to inescapable state control and indoctrination, or if you wore glasses (a sign of deviationist intellectualism at various times in Cambodia or China), or became in any way an enemy of the Communist Party. Globally, Communism was the largest and most deadly social experiment known to mankind. When it collapsed in the 1990s, it had killed, according to the best estimates, 100,000,000 men, women, and children. More than 30,000,000 more were killed in its wars against other countries.
This was the ideology of the North Vietnamese regime that was supported by the movie stars, college students, professional agitators, academics, and leftist journalists who prided themselves on being anti-war. And they weren’t the only ones. Most people assume that it was the young in the 1960s and 1970s who were most opposed to the war. That’s because most media coverage was of student protests. But actually, statistically speaking, if you were opposed to the war, you were an “old woman.” Polls taken throughout the war were consistent—older people were more opposed to the war than younger people, and women more than men. In a series of twenty-two polls taken from May 1965 through May 1971, support for the war was greater among those under thirty than those over forty-nine. In fact, the support for the war was greater from those under thirty than those between the ages of thirty and forty-nine in all of the polls except September 1966 and September 1969. As late as February 1968, the majority of Americans were definite hawks. Twenty-five percent wanted to “gradually broaden and intensify our military operations,” and another 28 percent wanted to “start an all-out crash effort in the hope of winning the war quickly even at the risk of China or Russia entering the war.” If the polls are to be believed, support for the war declined after 1968 (hardly surprising after the defeatist blather of the media after TET). But the most important polls to remember are the presidential elections. The American people elected Richard Nixon in 1968 and reelected him in a landslide in 1972.
So who were the visible and angry protesters? Surely the most visible would be actress and political activist Jane Fonda. Her actions during the Vietnam War defined her for most Americans. For those few who don’t know—she supported the enemy. There really is no other way to put it. She traveled to Hanoi, called American soldiers “war criminals,” thanked the Russians for supporting the North Vietnamese, posed for photos sitting in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, and dismissed American POWs as liars when they said they had been tortured. Jane Fonda bought the whole anti-war program down to accepting Communism as not such a bad thing after all. Or, as she put it in a speech to Duke University students in 1970, “If you understood what Communism was, you would hope and pray on your knees that we would someday become Communist.”
Fonda’s understanding of the war always seemed a bit sketchy, though this did not inhibit her in the slightest in leading protests against it. During her tour of North Vietnam she said, “Every man, woman and child in this country has a determination like a bright flame, buoying them, strengthening their determination to go forward, to fight for freedom and independence.” Fonda was perhaps unaware that North Vietnam was independent; it was trying to deny South Vietnam’s independence. And freedom Well, Jane thought the North Vietnamese had a better idea about that than we did. “And what interests me so much is that as an American . . . the one unifying quality I believe about the American people, the common denominator that we all share, is the love for freedom and democracy. The problem is that definition of freedom and democracy has been distorted for us, and we have to redefine what that means. But the Vietnamese who have been fighting for four thousand years know very well.”4 Tell it to the boat people, Jane.
Only in America could a woman like this be made a gazillionaire through aerobics videos and Hollywood stardom. Jane Fonda pandered pathetically to the Communists; she used her celebrity to flatter anti-war activists; and anti-war leaders flattered her by feigning to take her seriously.
Editor’s Note: Phillip Jennings is the author of the “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War.” You really should buy one – you will like reading the truth!
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter