Saturday, December 17, 2016

How to Re-write History

History is often re-written by those who purport to "set the record straight". And I'm talking about Snopes, Politifact, etc. How it's done is an interesting sleight-of-hand.

I see a scenario playing out here with the "Russian intervention" in our recent US Presidential election (and I may get to that in a minute), but I first would like to address something that came up in an unlikely place: "The Vault of Retro Sci-Fi 2.0".

Someone posted a picture of Barbarella... the one I'm posting here.  Now that's perfectly on-topic for the group... Barbarella was an over-the-top sci-fi heroine of the 1960s, portrayed on-screen by Jane Fonda.

The reactions were interesting, though. Half the comments were predictably about the fact that she was hot (and she was), but the other half were reminders of her role in the Vietnam War as "Hanoi Jane".

Just as predictably, someone appeared to declare that the "Hanoi Jane" was debunked. Specifically, they wrote, "All you idiots still going on about the false story over Vietnam...its false people.. Do some legit research and reading"

That "legit research" is the subject of this post. Let's start by noting that this fellow believes that there exists "THE false story", when in fact there are many stories, some of which are false. But "the false story" to which he's referring is one regarding a photo of Jane Fonda sitting at a North Vietnamese gun, taken on the last day of a trip to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War:

Fonda herself says that she was tricked into the photo-op, and that it was only afterward that she realized it would look as though she had been operating the gun. You can listen to her own account as related on "Oprah's Master Class" (right).

Note that she believes this photo-op to be her "one unforgivable mistake". One. And this, along with a story of Fonda turning over notes from POWs to their Vietnamese captors is what is "debunked" every time that the record is "set straight" by sites like Snopes.

Except... that's not the story.

Snopes gets this right:
In July 1972, during the waning days of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, actress Jane Fonda incurred the enmity of untold thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families (as well as service members for generations to come) when she arrived in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and began a two-week tour of the country. Fonda visited North Vietnamese villages, hospitals, schools, and factories damaged in the war, weaving her comments about what she observed at those sites with denunciations of U.S. military policy in recordings broadcast as propaganda to U.S. servicemen via Radio Hanoi; met with international visitors and reporters who were also in North Vietnam; spent about an hour chatting with seven U.S. POWs at a meeting arranged by her North Vietnamese guides; and posed for photographs at an antiaircraft emplacement set up in a rural area just outside Hanoi.
They go on to brush this aside because that's not the story they're debunking. The problem with relying on this sort of reference is that the servicemen's ire wasn't because of one stupid photo-op on a gun. And nobody believes, then or now, that she was actually operating the gun. Nor did she turn over messages from POWs to their captors. These are embellishments (as Snopes says), but if one is to set the record straight on those details, one can't forget the actual factual core. That is, if you are debunking the embellishments, that doesn't in any way debunk the facts.

Jane Fonda earned the name "Hanoi Jane" (the form of which is in imitation of famous war propagandists like "Axis Sally" and "Tokyo Rose") because at least 10 times she broadcast on Radio Hanoi, addressing demoralizing messages directly to our troops... specifically calling them "war criminals". Here are some transcripts [LINK]. Note that these weren't simply comments that were recorded during her visit and played over the radio. These are on tape, were not coerced, were done at her behest, and were directed at the troops themselves. Furthermore, as she has stated on-camera for "60 Minutes", she does not regret them.

Some apologists note that relatively few troops heard her broadcasts. That doesn't change the fact that she made them, and that within hours everyone knew of them, as did the people at home. This was at a time when counter-culture was still new. The veterans of WWI were still alive; the veterans of WWII and the Korean War were still in their prime. They were well acquainted with admonitions like, "Loose Lips Sink Ships". It was still usual for citizens to trust the government. And this ire at Jane Fonda was not as politically polarized as one would think when looking at it from today's perspective. Both WWII and the Korean War were carried out under Democratic administrations (FDR and Truman, respectively), and the vast bulk of the Vietnam war was pursued under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. This was not party-driven; it was generational. The people at home were incensed, even when magazine and news editors avoided printing it. Vietnam was the first televised war. War has always been horrific, but rarely were the American people acutely aware of it other than those who fought. Fonda thought she was making a necessary statement, but her location and timing could not have been worse.[1]

History is what it is, and Fonda did what she did. "Explaining" that she was tricked into the photo doesn't change the broadcasts. Debunking the stories of her turning over POW messages doesn't change the broadcasts. The troops heard what they heard. They didn't like it, and acted accordingly. You are certainly free to disagree with their reaction, but that doesn't make it "false". And whether you agree with her reasons is completely beside the point. "Agreement" is merely exercising the privilege of 45 years of hindsight, and it's no way to understand history. For that matter, this isn't a matter of ancient history for which reading is sufficient research. There are still witnesses. There are recordings. For my part, it was current events. I'm old enough that I have friends and family who were there. She's still "Hanoi Jane", and she still earned the title.

And YET... it is now ingrained in some minds that there is ONE story, about that photo, and it is "thoroughly debunked."  How?

Simple. When somebody mentions "Hanoi Jane", you just reference the photo. Only the photo. You nonchalantly say, "Oh, that old story", and "do your research." Point only to the discredited pieces. Ignore the meat of the story, always. After a bit of repetition, this becomes the only story, and it's "thoroughly discredited". And if anyone happens to mention anything else approaching the core truth, then simply brush it aside with, "Everybody did X" (in this case, propaganda). Unabashedly ignore the fact than no, not everybody wrote propaganda for the enemy and then broadcast it live to one's own troops from behind enemy lines.


The same process is used in every case where the facts are "inconvenient". An easily-handled or lesser controversy is substituted for the one of substance. Through constant repetition it becomes "the" controversy.  We see it played out over and over again. For instance, regarding the 2012 Benghazi attack we were told by Hillary Clinton's State Department that the violence was caused by a tasteless Internet video (this one). First the video, then the lie about the video, was "the" controversy. In reality, the controversy was much more severe: a CIA weapons-smuggling operation to arm rebels in Syria (these rebels reportedly became what we now know as ISIS). Eventually Hillary Clinton asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "what difference, at this point, does it make?" She then brushed aside the State Department actions that actually led to the violence, claiming that it was more important to retaliate.

Regarding the ATF gunwalking scandal (aka "Fast and Furious") we were told that "the" controversy was a witchhunt aimed at Obama and Eric Holder, with the defense that "Bush did it" (referring to a similar sting, which the Obama administration continued). This was to deflect attention from more serious focus on the amateurish implementation, which had no chance of success, as the US had provided no way of actually tracking the weapons; and the heinous consequences when the guns found use in numerous crimes including 69 killings; and issue of cover-up when the executive branch refused to fully cooperate when Congress exercised congressional oversight.

More recently, regarding the 2016 Presidential elections, we are notified of "the" controversy surrounding alleged Russian interference in our election process. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that the Russians were the ones that hacked James Podesta's emails, and Julian Assange of Wikileaks flatly says that the Russians were not his source (video). This faux controversy is intended to deflect focus from the larger issue of the actual content of those emails, and the very genuine corruption that the DNC employed in the Democratic primaries.

This last has resulted in the bizarre situation where the Democrats have pretzeled themselves into opposing the things they support. In 2009, Hillary Clinton presented the Russians with a (poorly translated) "reset" button symbolizing a renewed relationship. And why not? We have no territorial disputes or serious trade disputes with Russia. Despite the fact that the current Russian Constitution is a Democrat's wet dream, US/Russian relations have since deteriorated into language describing another "Cold War". Following the election, the Democrats have found the Russians to be a convenient boogeyman. They have only scaled up the rhetoric, leaving the next administration with a dangerously damaged foreign relations mess to clean up. Their desired outcome is poorly thought out (and that's the subject of my next post), but their tactics are clear. It's the same decades-old practice of constantly repeating falsehoods in hopes that the will become "the truth".

[1] I would argue that although it's axiomatic that the Vietnamese were better off without war than with it, they would have been better off yet if the South were not fighting under rules of engagement that made it effectively impossible to win. I point to South vs. North Korea for an example. Rather than making war more humane, these rules dragged out the horror for at least a decade.

  1. The photo on Facebook that got me thinking.
  2. "Jane Fonda's Unforgivable Mistake" (YouTube) - Jane Fonda's account and explanation of the photo-op.
  3. Jane Fonda, Radio Hanoi (web) - contains quotes of Fonda's broadcast, taken from the book Citizen Jane (ISBN:0-8050-0959-0)
  4. "In the words of Jane Fonda" (YouTube) - Contains debunked elements and incendiary language, but included because it also contains recordings of Fonda's broadcasts from North Vietnam. They verify the quotes from Citizen Jane.
  5. Jane Fonda Betrayed American POWs (Snopes) - Debunks a specific email regarding a specific story.
  6. "Jane Fonda: Wish I Hadn't" ( - 2005 interview with Lesley Stahl in which Fonda expresses regret for the photo shoot and that alone.
  8. Russian Reset ( -  Describes Clinton's failed "reset" of Russian relations.

No comments:

Post a Comment