Here is yet another case of the kind of bizarre juxtaposition that continues to characterize the Vietnam War well into the first decade of the new century. I refer on the one hand to the recent loss of Admiral James B. Stockdale, a highly decorated Navy aviator and prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese for seven grueling years. His funeral services were held, appropriately, on the Navy carrier the USS Ronald Reagan with the full military honors the Medal of Honor winner deserved.
Meanwhile, in the Peoples Republic of Hollywood actress Jane Fonda announced that she is launching an antiwar crusade – on a 1960s-style vegetable-oil-powered bus – in order to protest continuing American military operations in Iraq. Recall that Fonda earned the sobriquet “Hanoi Jane” after being photographed posing in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun emplacement grinning vacuously, empty head adorned with an NVA pith helmet with a blazing red star. She also abused American POWs on this visit, demanding publicly that they denounce their “crimes against the brave, peace-loving people of North Vietnam.”
Stockdale at the time was locked inside the Hanoi Hilton. He was the senior ranking Navy officer – known respectfully by his fellow POWs as Commander Air Group or CAG. He personified and exemplified resistance to the unremitting mental and physical torture that the North Vietnamese used on our POWs. If Jane Fonda was not then aware of these facts it was because she was naïve, obtuse, or willfully blind. But as the cruel history of American POWs in Vietnamese hands has been exhaustively detailed there is no longer an excuse for her ignorance. Nor is there sufficient rationalization for continued popular acceptance of her traitorous behavior or of the terrible damage – mental and physical – that her “peace mission” brought down upon fellow Americans.
Therefore, one would hope that with the passage of time, cooling of emotions, and the benefits of historical perspective, Fonda would have recognized the folly of her youthful actions and acknowledged the horror her irresponsible behavior inflicted on American servicemen. She has not. She has issued bogus apologies that were characteristically self-forgiving and simply reopened wounds among Vietnam veterans. One fellow vet, Colonel Oliver North, notes that she is still the hard-Left anti-military activist of old. North recommends that her nickname be upgraded to reflect the times. “She may well become known as ‘Jihadist Jane.’ It has a better ring. More alliteration.” You can change her name, Ollie, but you’ll never change her mind. She still praises America’s enemies, despises American values, and reflects the destructive secular humanism of the Boomer generation. Fonda has taken this self-absorbed mission to protest the Iraq War, because, as she vacuously explains, “It's another example of the government lying to the American people in order to get us into war.” She’s the same rattling empty bucket of conflicted psycho-babble nonsense.
Stockdale was firmly grounded in moral values. He well understood that defense of liberty did not necessarily mean that all conflicts would be restricted to America’s immediate geographical borders. He recognized the mounting threat of worldwide attacks by an implacable enemy. And that defense of an American ally – even a flawed, imperfect one such as the South Vietnamese government at the time – meant both increased protection for America and a far better chance for the ally to develop ultimately into a free market democracy. The analogy to Iraq is brutally clear: we abandoned Vietnam and we failed. If we stay in course in Iraq we will win. That’s the real similarity in the two wars and one that the Fonda promoters hope you’ll miss.
We have seen many countries transition from military authoritarian to democracy with American help: Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, El Salvador are examples. It requires time to build a secure environment in which the foundations for individual freedom and economic growth can flourish. And it means that America’s fighting men and women have to place themselves in harm’s way in those distant places. Stockdale knew all this. He accepted the personal danger because of his commitment to a universal greater good: freedom for the oppressed.
But such lofty goals were rejected by the flower children of the 60s. Instead a coalition of red-diaper professors, anti-war protestors, “useful idiots,” smug media, and venal politicians colluded to bring down an ally that put its faith in America’s word of honor. In the process these self-appointed few cynically trashed the reputations of hundreds of thousands of American fighting men by characterizing our veterans as losers, drug addicts, psychological misfits and criminals. As a consequence, the unfortunate people of Vietnam lost their chance for freedom. And America lost its first war, not by battlefield inferiority but by a general lack of purpose and confidence. The country was awash in self-pity; its leaders bereft of moral clarity.
It was exactly this moral clarity that drove Jim Stockdale to the awesome acts of defiant courage that served to thwart the unceasing cruelty of his North Vietnamese captors. There are many kinds of courage – one type is the flash of bravery. This is what is needed to make that terrifying catapult shot off the bow while strapped into a massive fighter aircraft, twin engines red-lined at full military power. Another kind of courage is quieter but more impressive. It is the courage to endure. This is the ability to accept deprivation, fatigue, pain, hunger, mental anguish and physical torture for an extended period of time. A few have the flash of bravery required for immediate acts of courage. A very, very few have the courage to endure the way Admiral Stockdale did for seven long years. His was an amazing example of awesome strength of character. He became a beacon for his fellow prisoners and for his country. When we learned of the character of men like Jim Stockdale we began to repair the damage Fonda and her ilk brought down on America's Vietnam veterans.
Perhaps the juxtaposition of these two seemingly unrelated events – the loss of an American hero and the reprise of an American traitor – has meaning after all, albeit unintended. Had Admiral Stockdale not passed to a greater reward at this time we may have let Jane Fonda’s shameful “peace tour” go unchallenged. Instead his loss causes us to attend to her true nature: empty-headed, sad, self-promoting. A woman wrapped in her own false sense of importance off on yet another hate-America journey of futility.
So we see on the one hand James Stockdale, casket draped in dignity and honor with the flag of his proud country, carried to rest by 12 Medal of Honor winners. Simultaneously Jane Fonda launches a ridiculous, self-absorbed “protest” awash in vegetable oil and media sycophants. The old CAG must be grinning: he won this battle too.