While Ford, Kissinger and Schlesinger turn the tragedy of Vietnam 's US-created orphans into a political spectacle aimed at securing more aid for Thieu, the United States media, willfully or not, works to back tip the government's propaganda efforts. Obviously distorted and one-sided coverage emphasizing orphans, refugees and "communist terror" is creating a severe lack of presentation of the viewpoint of the other, largely faceless side. To try and obtain a more balanced and cogent perspective on the current state of the war in Indochina, and find out more about just who, in the words of the US media, South Vietnam is being "lost" to, the SUN inveriewd Jane Fonda of the Indochina Peace Campaign last week. The interview was conducted by Michael Castleman and David Fenton, over the phone from Jane's home in Santa Monica, California, on Saturdav, April 5.
SUN: The media in America never present anything from a Vietnamese point of view. All their information comes straight out of the U.S. Embassy. They never talk to the PRG (Provisional Revolutionary Government) or to any refugees. We thought you could present a more balanced view of the situation.
Jane: It will take a long time for a truly balanced picture to emerge, just as it has all throughout this war. Given the fact that the U.S. has consistently refused to implement the Paris Peace Agreements, the current situation is predictable. By the Agreement, the U.S. was prohibited from providing financial, military, or politica! support for the Thieu regime. The U.S. was supposed to stop support of any personality or party in South Vietnam, and was to have allowed the formation of a National Council of Reconciliation and Coneord. The Council was to be composed of the Thieu administration. the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG: also known as the Viet Cong), and the Third Force, which are the neutralist elements. This tri-part Council was to organize free elections. But the Council was never formed because the U.S. and its ally, the Thieu regime, refused to negotiate with the other side.
The PRG has been saying for years: we stand for implementation of the Peace Agreement. In fact, until October of 1973, the PRG allowed territories they held at the signing of the Agreement to be overrun by Saigon. Even the U.S. Congress has acknowledged that Thieu launched a massive offensive after the signing of the Peace Accords in an attempt to take back territory occupied by the PRG. The PRG allowed this to happen until October '73, then it announced it would carry out reposts, it would attack when it was attacked. The Indochina Peace Campaign, the group I'm affiliated with, and the groups that IPC works with have been trying to point out that today's offensive was inevitable because the U.S. has refused to honor the Peace Agreement. Since a political solution was denied to the Vietnamese, military escalation was inevitable. And given the balance of forces: the ARVN (Army of South Vietnam) weak, demoralized, unmotivated, fighting a rich man's war for the U.S., is unable to deal with the PRG army with its high motivation and determination to win. This is exactly what's happening.
Recently we spoke to representatives of the PRG in Paris, and asked them if they were surprised by what was happening in Vietnam. I'll paraphrase their answer, they said: We have always known that will and determination were more important than arms. Hence, the PRG is in the stronger position. What they said they did not expect was the rapidity with which the Saigon side would deteriorate. They said this is happening largely because local populations have risen up against Saigon. It began with the city of Ban Me Thuot in Darlac Province, in the central highlands. It was essentially the ethnic minorities in Ban Me Thuot who rose up and overthrew the Saigon administration there - that was the turning point of this current phase of the war. And similar uprisings have occurred over and over as province after province falls. The PRG does not call this an offensive. They say it's a series of popular uprisings against Saigon. Their position is the same as it's always been: they prefer a political settlement. They would much rather have a political settlement than a military settlement. They say the moment that Thieu is replaced and an administration takes over in Saigon which is prepared to negotiate in the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement, then there will be a total halt to the military side of the war. They continue to be prepared to participate in the formation of a National Council of Reconciliation. This is what they want. But continued U.S. support of an intransigent like Thieu means they have no political recourse, only military options.
The PRG is in control of much of the Mekong Delta now, not officially because they don't control the provincial capitals, but in fact, they control at least half" the Delta. They say there is no question about the fact that Saigon's defenses are negligible, and that they can win militarily if the U.S. insists.
SUN: There is never any information in the American media about the lives of people in the liberated zones of Vietnam and Cambodia. What happens when a PRG administration is set up?
Jane: We have some information from both the PRG and the Quakers. During our recent conversation with the PRG, they said that in DaNang and in Hue many administrators from the Saigon apparatus have stayed behind. For example, the head of all medical services for the province of DaNang is staying behind to work. Catholic priests are remaining in DaNang, as well as a number of Third Force organizations, like the Committee to Defend Women's Right to Live, headed by Mme. No Bam Than. These organizations have issued calls for their members to remain in liberated areas and to participate in coalition governments. In Hue and DaNang, the National Council of Reconciliation has been implemented, and coalitions of PRG, Third Force groups and the Saigon administration are running things. Life in the liberated zones is as normal as one could expect under the circumstances. Even the New York Times says Iife is continuing relatively normally. There's food, the markets are functioning, people are shopping, and the PRG has asked the Red Cross to come in. I think the real tragedy is the manner in wliich the ARVN soldiers have treated the refugees, the killing and raping.
As you know, large sections of South Vietnam have been under the control of the PRG for several years. I visited Quang Tri with Torn Hayden and the film maker, Haskell Wexler in April '74 (Ed. note: "An, Introduction to the Enemy" is the excellent film of this tour) and life is extremely difficult. This area was heavily bombed by B-52s for months on end, but as of last April, there was no starvation, people had at least some kind of roof over their heads, and they were beginning to export rice. Supplies were minimal, but people had what they needed to survive Life was organized and the people seemed very spirited and unified. There were people there who had fought with the ARVN, who said they expected to be treated badly back home, but one man was a school teacher and said he'd been received warmly. There were many more women than men. Women said their sons had been drafted into the Saigon army, or they were in jail in Saigon. We don't know where they are, they said, but we are told they're informed that we're dead; that the Viet Cong have killed us, so they' won't want to come home.
The Quakers have a medical project in the province of Quang Ngai, which is under PRG control. The Quaker staff have requested to remain, and the PRG says that anyone who stands for peace and independence in Vietnam can stay. The Quakers at Quang Ngai say they see at least as many people going into the liberated zones as they see fleeing the area.
SUN: Let's talk about the refugees we see on tv. We never hear anything from their lips. What's the refugee situation in the liberated zones? We heard Hanoi says that there are 6 million refugees who have fled the ARVN into liberated zones. But all we hear is: people fleeing the communists.
Jane: I'm sure a lot of them are fleeing the communists. In the cities of Vietnam there are millions of people who are not communist, and who have been subjected to unprecedented anti-communist propaganda by the U.S. So when a Saigon man gets on the bullhorn and tells people they better flee because the communists are about to overrun the city, it's natural for people to want to leave, and then panic ensues. One can assume that there are lots of people who are afraid of communism, or whatever they think that means. One thing the Quakers say, though, is that many people are simply fleeing war - and with good reason. They know from the past that if the PRG take a city, then that city will probably be bombed. They're frightened of being caught in a contested war zone.
It's true that 6 million people are now living in PRG controlled areas. So when you look at the numbers of people fleeing, it's a relatively small proportion.
But it's certainly a very emotional issue. I'm very sympathetic to that. In 1967, the first way that concern for Vietnam manifested itself in me was wanting to adopt a Vietnamese child. It was a gut level humanitarian reaction, and I think it's true of many Americans. I think Americans are good people; they care about suffering. But I think it's important to remind people there have been other refugees and orphans in the past ten years, and it's too bad we couldn't feel as much sympathy during the B-52 bombing when hundreds of thousands of children were displaced. I don't disparage the genuine reaction of the American people to the plight of the orphans. We just have to be reminded that this issue has existed for a long time and will continue to exist as long as the U.S. maintains its present policies in Indochina:
"The PRG says the offensive is really a series of popular uprisings against Saigon. They would much prefer a political settlement, but continued US support of Thieu, in violation of the Peace Agreement, leaves them with only military options."
Like in Cambodia, the members of Congress who were there recently were shocked and stunned to see the plight of the refugees in Phnom Penh. But where was Pete McCloskey, where was Millicent Fenwick when Cambodia was being carpet bombed by B-52s?
SUN: The American press keeps harping on the rocket attack against Phnom Penh. How intensive are they?
Jane: A hundred people have died in Phnom Penh since the offensive began in January. The tv impression is that thousands upon thousands of people have died, but according to the Western press, 100 have died. The number that died during the years of B-52 bombing is incalculable. The solution in both South Vietnam and in Cambodia is that for the bloodshed to stop, the U.S. must change its policy. In Cambodia, the Lon Nol regime has no base of popular support; it has no economy; it is totally U.S.-created, and it's probably the most bankrupt regime in the world. The Khemer Rouge controls 97% of the country, and a majority of the people. Jack Leslie pointed out in the LA Times that the people have a stable existence in the Cambodian countryside. They have a surplus of rice. They have People's Revolutionary Committees that govern various regions. Women play a very central role in both the administration and the military. In other words, it's absolutely understandable why the other side feels it is the legitimate government of Cambodia. That government is the Royal Government of National Union in Cambodia, the GRUNC, headed by Nordom Sihanouk, who was the Chief of State in Cambodia until 1970 when U.S. backed forces overthrew him and installed Lon Nol. The Cambodian countryside is stable. There is enough food and weapons, and they don't depend on any outside countries, despite what the Pentagon says. They see no need to negotiate with anyone - they are the government of Cambodia. A growing number of Congressmen have realized that the only solution there is surrender, but it's a bitter pill for the State Department to swallow. But if, in fact, people are concerned about saving Cambodian lives, the only thing to do is to sit down with the other. side, and arrange for a peaceable transfer of power to GRUNC.
SUN: When do you expect the liberation of Phnom Penh? Will Sihanouk be reinstated as the head of the government?
Jane: A representative of GRUNC we spoke to in Paris said that the day Cambodia is liberated, Sihanouk will be there to receive foreign diplomats, politicans, and journalists. He's in some sense a figurehead, and he admits it. He has stated repeatedly that he accepts the GRUNC as the true representatives of the Cambodian people. They are the patriots. He's a playboy, and he admits it. He's led a different kind of life. He hasn't lived in the liberated zones during the war. He has said, more or less, that his major role will be as an Ambassador-at-Large. He'll spend most of the year traveling as a representative of the government. The reins of government will be taken over by the people who have put their lives on the line inside Cambodia. Apparently, he views these people as the rightful heirs of power, and he supports them.
SUN: American media tell us nothing about Cambodian people. Who are the Khemer Rouge? Who is GRUNC? How does the U.S. relate to them?
Jane: The State Department has no idea who they are. Last March, Tom Hayden and I met with representatives of GRUNC in Paris. Then we went to Washington and met with Pete McCloskey who had come back from that Congressional tour of Cambodia and Vietnam. He was the one who carne up with a compromise plan for the U.S. to continue funding the Lon Nol regime until at least June when the waters of the Mekong River rise during the rainy season, so that people who want to flee Phnom Penh can get on sampans and get out. We talked to him about the fact that the other side does not care how much aid the U.S. gives. The writing is on the wall. The Phnom Penh regime cannot survive and the only way to save lives is the peaceable transfer of power through negotiations. And he said, "Yes, but there's no one to negotiate with. The State Department told us they'd love to negotiate, but with Who?" And we said, "First off, there's Sihanouk in Peking." And he said, "Oh, but the State Department says he doesn't represent the revolutionary forces inside Cambodia." And we said, "Well, there's GRUNC." He said he was under the impression that whoever it was carrying out this resistance were faceless, blood-thirsty savages -
SUN: That's the impression the media have created.
Jane: Right. So we said, "Well, GRUNC is the Royal Government of National Unity." And he said, "That's a new one on me." Now, here is a member of Congress who was proposing aid to Lon Nol that would have continued the war for three more months, and he didn't even know there's a government on the other side. So we gave him an address and phone number in Paris, and said, "Call this number if you want to speak to a representative of GRUNC." But, you're right, the impression here is that they are faceless. Many people in GRUNC and the Khemer Rouge were Paris educated at the Sorbonne. I think they're portrayed as faceless savages so Americans won't have to think about who they really are.
SUN: What do you know about the situation in the Thieu regime?
Jane: Only what I read in the papers. Thieu has refused to step down, and he's blaming Congress for causing the debacle. It's difficult to imagine who the U.S. would replace Thieu with if they want to get aid from Congress. Certainly not Ky.
SUN: The U.S. is desperate for a strategy. Do you have any prediction when Saigon will be liberated?
Jane: Very difficult to say. On the one hand, it's hard to imagine that things can go on much longer, since Saigon has no real defenses, and since the PRG controls at least half the Delta. That's where most of the population is and that's where the rice comes from. But on the other hand, over the last decade people have thought, it can't go on much longer, and they've been surprised. I don't think we should underestimate Ford, Kissinger, and Rockefeller.
SUN: Do you think there's any possibility we'd reintervene militarily?
Jane: I doubt they'd have the chutzpah.
SUN: Public opinion has tied their hands.
Jane: But we should not underestimate the importance of Indochina to them, both materially and psychologically,