By Jim Tuck
A Bleeding-Heart Liberal Looks at Jane Fonda
Though the Vietnam War has been over for several decades, one of its burning issues was dramatically revived in a recent book titled Aid and Comfort. The authors, Henry and Erica Holzer, argue that Jane Fonda should have been tried for treason for her activities during a 1972 visit to North Vietnam.
The authors’ argument seems unassailable. The Constitution defines treason as giving “aid and comfort” to an enemy power in wartime. While in Vietnam, Fonda made anti-American propagandist statements, urged GIs to shoot their officers and desert, and later went to the extent of calling returning POWs “liars and hypocrites” when they revealed they had been mistreated during captivity. On the cover of the Holzers’ book is a picture of Fonda posing with the crew of a Communist anti-aircraft gun. Her hands are clenched together and on her face is a look of ecstasy that seems almost orgiastic.
There’s a line between dissent and treason and Fonda most definitely crossed it. Like most liberals—and some conservatives—I came to oppose our involvement in that un-winnable war. But principled dissent does not take the form of actively aiding the enemy.
Looking at the picture in a broader perspective, what angers me more than anything else is that there seems to be one brand of justice for rich, well-connected traitors and another for those who don’t fall in that category. I have no brief for John Walker Lindh or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They committed offenses that deserved punishment. But talk about overkill. A confused and pathetic young man converted to Muslim fanaticism gets a stiff twenty-year sentence. In the case of Ethel Rosenberg, due to a deficiency in the electric current her execution amounted to a torture slaying.
By contrast, consider the case of the fascist traitor Ezra Pound. During the Second World War, he went on the Rome radio and made vituperatively anti-Semitic broadcasts in which he urged U.S. troops to desert and advocated the assassination of President Roosevelt. There were other radio traitors—notably Robert Best and Douglas Chandler in Berlin. Best and Chandler received life sentences and both died in Leavenworth. And Pound? Thanks to the efforts of powerful establishment figures who admired his poetry, Pound was allowed to plead insanity. During his twelve-year confinement, he played tennis, presided over a salon of visiting admirers, and enjoyed conjugal visits from both his wife and his mistress. On return to Italy after his release, an unrepentant Pound’s first act was to give the Fascist salute.
Fonda got off with no penalty whatsoever. Where Pound was at least indicted for treason, no charge of any kind was ever brought against Fonda. If the cases mentioned above were examples of overkill, this is a grotesque example of “under-kill.” I have friends who, even today, would cheerfully wish Ethel Rosenberg’s fate on Jane Fonda. Being a bleeding-heart liberal, I have to dissent from so Draconian a solution.
However, there is a precedent if we wish to correct this longstanding case of justice delayed. In 1949 a guilty verdict was handed down on a woman named Mildred Gillars. Better known as “Axis Sally,” she made Fonda-Pound type broadcasts denouncing the U.S. war effort, castigating American political leaders, urging troops to desert, etc. Axis Sally received a 10-30 year sentence, of which she served 13 years. This seems a pretty fair sentence. Treason, like murder, has no statute of limitations.