At 01:25 AM 9/7/98 +0300, you wrote:
"Acting from these assumptions, I think it was the duty of the youth to rebel, to disobey orders. To burn flags, in short."
I've been reading your "thoughts worth thinking" page with great interest, and I commend you for setting it up - it is truly a treasure and since visiting it last night, I've sent the URL to all my friends. I took particular interest in the "Jane Fonda" page, always having interest in the US during the 1960s and the Vietnam war. I agree with most of what you've written, yet have one quibble:
Sometimes it is neccessary to burn the flag and the military offices (what is ROTC, by the way?). Sometimes your country commits such criminal acts of warfare, that you have to do more than just protest. Israel, where I live, has reached that point, in my opinion, during the Lebannon war, when pilots dropped booby-trapped dolls into refugee camps; and, I can understand why people in the US thought their country has crossed that line after Mai Lai (sp?). As recent evidence proves, Mai Lai was not the act of one lunatic junior officer, but was known of and approved by the divisional command. Then there was Operation Phoenix. True, the American people did not make a willing decision to use genocidal techniques, but elements in its military - deranged and without support as they may be - did. Acting from these assumptions, I think it was the duty of the youth to rebel, to disobey orders. To burn flags, in short.
I have no objection to anyone using their minds to argue for a change in governmental policy - as did many Americans during the Vietnam War. However, when someone tries to persuade me to think in a certain way by protesting in as mindlessly and provocative a manner as to burn the American flag, then I am already lost to their logic and reasoning. It are haughty college students during the Vietnam War who burned American flags - as do mobs of blockhead Iranian or whatever flavor-of-the-month militants today; they are hardly the bloom of intellectual reasoning against American foreign policy. To burn the flag is the last resort of the deaf mute who cannot find a better, more insightful way to make his or her point; observe how Camille Desmoulines contemptfully answered Robespierre (the French Revolution spiraling out of control and on the verge of devouring itself) after his newspaper the Vieux Cordelier was publicly put to the torch: "Burning is no answer." And then to go to the capitol of an enemy country and pose for pictures with soldiers trying to kill your countrymen - as did Jane Fonda - is even worse. It is damn near treason in even the most "free" country. Fonda has been forever marked by that ill-advised trip, as she should be.
You claim it is the "duty of the youth to rebel, to disobey orders." Young people are bound by the same rules as anyone else in society with regard to good taste and perspicacious personal conduct - and their lack of life experience and, sometimes, good judgement is ultimately no good excuse. There is an extremist air to your comments which comes across as hasty and dangerous. I agree with United States Supreme Court Justice William Brennan when in 1989 he declared flag burning constitutionally protected speech: "We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration for in so doing we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents." This is a source of national strength, not weakness; let this be the law. (On the other hand, I hope any American who burns the stars and stripes in public gets an extemporaneous punch in the chops from the next passerby! And what do I care what mobs do in foreign countries?)
I would be moved to burn governmental offices, flags, etc. if I lived in a country like Nazi Germany. But living in a liberal democracy where I have other routes of expression open to me, I will refrain from such wild-eyed acts. And I will objurgate and distance myself from any of my fellow countrymen and women who do so. This has been the tradition in the United States since 1789 which has helped America effect change -- the vast majority of the time -- through the ballot box instead of by the bullet. I see many examples of violent rebellion in other countries which lead me to doubt the wisdom of such a path as a way to better society.
Be well over there in Israel.
Very Truly Yours,
P.S. This is the "tradition" - through the offices of Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) - which helps to bring in from the universities citizen-soldiers who help to ameliorate the tendency of career soldiers to take things too far. My father, a Vietnam Veteran and graduate of Harvard University ROTC in the 1960s, stepped in and overruled various "gung ho" sergeants who wanted to summarily execute some poor 19-year old private soldier who fell asleep on guard duty in rear echelon areas. To end ROTC, as many wanted to do during the Vietnam War and still do even today, would be to leave the military even more strongly dominated by those who have made the armed forces their main focus in life and may or may not share the larger concerns and/or scruples of the general population. It would, in short, most likely make the various abuses you refer to even more prevalent. Think about it.
At 11:35 PM 1/31/99 -0500, you wrote:
On your Jane Fonda page, you said in response to Yossi :
"I have no objection to anyone using their minds to argue for a change in governmental policy - as did many Americans during the Vietnam War. However, when someone tries to persuade me to think in a certain way by protesting in as mindlessly and provocative a manner as to burn the American flag, then I am already lost to their logic and reasoning. It are haughty college students during the Vietnam War who burned American flags - as do mobs of blockhead Iranian or whatever flavor-of-the-month militants today; they are hardly the bloom of intellectual reasoning against American foreign policy. To burn the flag is the last resort of the deaf mute who cannot find a better, more insightful way to make his or her point...Since you seem to be engaged in a fair-minded historical investigation into Jane Fonda's trip to Hanoi, which happened before you were born, let me give you some of the background that led to the flag-burning.
Back in the days of the Vietnam war, we didn't have the diverse, competitive news media that we have today. We only had about a dozen major newspapers, the TV stations followed the lead of the newspapers, and the radio networks did even less. We didn't have op-ed pages to give dissenting views. We did have alternative newspapers, but their circulation was tiny compared to the major news media, and they didn't reach the people whose minds we were trying to change.
This was before the Pentagon Papers, and before Watergate. Newspapers were very different then.
The major newspapers censored themselves. The State Department used to meet with newspaper editors and publishers and tell them what the government thought they should print if they wanted to be "responsible." Some of the members of the board of directors of the New York Times had worked for the State Department in top policy positions.
So A.M. Rosenthal, the managing editor of the New York Times, used to remove reporters who he felt were too skeptical of the war effort in Vietnam--reporting things that he didn't want to hear.
To take a couple of classic well-documented examples, the New York Times knew that a CIA-sponsored army was going to invade Cuba, but they didn't print the story because the government asked them not to (as Gay Talese recounted in his book *The Kingdom and the Power*). Reporters knew about John Kennedy's sexual escapades with White House secretaries in the White House swimming pool, and they knew about Kennedy's divorce before he married Jackie, but they didn't write about it.
A reporter named I.F. Stone used to publish an entire weekly newsletter, which you can look up on microfilm in a big library, containing news stories that the major newspapers wouldn't print.
Those of us who opposed the Vietnam war couldn't get the attention of the major news media. Even though the New York Times style book said that a news story is supposed to be objective, and present opposing views, they never did in their coverage of the Vietnam war. They would print State Department and White House statements, without bothering to quote people who argued that we would lose the Vietnam war (who turned out to be right).
The only way to get the attention of the big newspapers and tv networks was to do something dramatic and outrageous--like burning a flag. When we tried to give them reason, facts and arguments, they ignored us. When we burned a flag, or a draft card, or had an illegal demonstration, *then* they paid attention to us. The news media actually encouraged the most violent elements of the anti-war movement, because they would cover violent demonstrations but not non-violent demonstrations. The Weathermen got on TV, while the peaceful protesters, the college professors with their detailed facts and arguments, were ignored. That's why anti-war demonstrators burned the flag.
Of course these things are multiply determined. Burning the flag conveys other messages as well.
The flag itself conveys many messages. The supporters of the Vietnam war siezed upon the flag as a symbol of support for the war, and as a symbol of support for a lot of other nationalistic, conservative, violent ideas (the construction workers who beat up students at a peaceful anti-war demonstration in Stony Brook where I went to school were wearing American flag patches on their shoulders). They were using the American flag in a similar way that southern segregationists used the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of segregation. I'm sure some people burned the flag in an attempt to challenge the use of the American flag as a right-wing symbol. If you think it's mindless and provocative to burn the flag as a means of expression, is it not also mindless and provocative for the pro-war party to adopt the flag as their own symbol?
I noticed that in the passage you quoted from Jane Fonda's broadcast, she refers to bombing hospitals. What makes you more upset--Americans bombing hospitals, or Americans burning their own flag?
I never subscribed to the "love it or leave it" America. In essence, I hardly see much difference between a group of blue-collar construction workers who beat people up in the name of America or those who would (like spoiled children) burn the flag for shock value. To dissent or object to the policies of the government is a uniquely American activity. To kill people (as did the Weatherman) or to scream and pout (as did many students of that generation) is to draw attention to a cause but not really to convince anyone. America decided to leave Vietnam when the middle class decided the war was a mistake and unwinnable, not because of student demonstrations. It are, ironically, the excesses of the anti-war protesters that enabled conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan in California and Richard Nixon nationally to get elected to office so easily. The practical bottom line is this: if you burn the flag, you are going to alienate far many more people than you are going to persuade. To have to say so simple a truth to you is symbolic of something.
You mention from Fonda's bulletin about Americans bombing hospitals and comparing it to burning the flag. First of all, I would not believe anything the North Vietnamese had Fonda say over their air waves. Secondly, I think if we had truly decided that some poor, Godforsaken country in SE Asia was worth fighting over, we should have bombed them much more intensely and intelligently than we did. Why bomb relatively insignificant targets in the middle of the jungle and not take the war to downtown Hanoi? It is for these reasons that I was completely behind the Bush Administration's full-scale bombing of Iraq in the early 1990s. I knew we were killing people in the tens of thousands in that war, and I supported such action. I hoped because of that the business in Kuwait might be brought to a conclusion sooner rather than later. If the business be serious and worthy, then cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
You sound very taken in the context of the tempestuous, unhappy times of the 1960s. I think it important always to keep a sense of perspective; and if you resort to such drastic actions as burning the national flag and killing people through terrorism, the reasons had better be able to stand the test of time. I look at the Weatherman and the flag burners of the 1960s and it does not seem their acts age gracefully with the years. The most outspoken of the 1960s radicals -- such as Jane Fonda -- have been permanently stained in the eyes of the majority of Americans for their actions in those times. Rightly so. ( It does not ultimately matter that they were basically children at the time. If you are over 18, it seems what you do becomes part of the public record.) A Republican here in California, I recently crossed party lines and voted for Democrat Gray Davis for Governor of this state in part because I noticed he served honorably as an army captain in Vietnam and earned the Silver Star in combat. Enough of the rhetoric and spinning by media consultants; this man Gray Davis served, he put his butt on the line - whether the war was a mistake, or not! (And, in part, this led me to vote for the man.) I have much respect for those who went to jail rather than serve, but I don't feel the same admiration for those who hid from the war in academia or fled to Canada. I think about the riots in Berkeley, the Colombia building occupations, the days of rage in Chicago, and they all seem a sad affair which confers honor on nobody involved. But let history judge. Especially in this flag burning business.
You complain about the lack of democracy and diversity in the media of the post-WWII, and you have a point. On the other hand, I think overall it was preferable to the noisy, scandal-ridden, profit motivated media for idiots we have today. We used to get the news from Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Ted Koppel, men of exceptionally high caliber; now we suffer the likes of Geraldo Rivera, Rush Limbaugh, and Don Imus. You paint the "New York Times" as a former distributor of government propaganda, but I would rather have old-school aristocrats like A.M. Rosenthal making editorial decisions for me than myopic, self-serving businessmen like Robert Murdoch. I recently read biographies of Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, and it seems we have descended so much in caliber and integrity today with the indulgent, opportunistic Clinton Administration and the "baby-boomer" generation generally; and such will be the historical legacy, I fear.
At any rate, be well over there in New York.
Very Truly Yours,