Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Hard Lesson for Joan Baez

Some history is escaping from the Internet Black Hole
Google archive of this 1979 article.
We seem to be emerging from another period of hidden news and hidden history.  Since the Internet became popular (I will peg that in the 1990s just for discussion's sake) there has been a tendency of people to not believe anything unless they could find it online.  Like most things, there is a good and bad to that approach.  I recall telling people quite often "you need to look that one up in a library" when items like the rift between Joan Baez and the hardcore Left came up.  With Google's newspaper archive, those who wish to find original articles can save a few trips to the library.

In this case, I had heard about Joan Baez catching flack over daring to acknowledge thousands of people were fleeing the newly united Communist Utopia of Vietnam.  You see, Joan Baez was one of the pacifists that the hard Left used for propaganda against anybody not as Left as them.  Once the Communists took control of all of Vietnam, she was supposed to shut up about any injustices that happened under the Ho Chi Minh City regime.  She didn't.

Folk singer Joan Baez
Joan Baez found out in short order that under no circumstances can anybody on the Left complain about any action of a Communist country and get away with it.  For those unfamiliar with the Vietnamese Boat People issue, it was another case where people fled in droves away from socialism.  It is one of those reality rules that Leftists ignore at best, or lie about at their worst: People always flee Socialism, the more hard-core the Socialism the greater the number of refugees.  When Vietnam was divided into North/South, the exodus from the North numbered an estimated one million people.  Some say "they fled both ways," which is technically correct and laughable at the same time.  Yes, over 100,000 Communist operatives "fled" North, on Soviet and Polish ships.  The stampede South overshadowed this just a little.

In 1979, (as recorded in the Toledo Blade on 2 July, 1979), Baez was urging President Carter to use the US Seventh Fleet to rescue the latest wave of refugees.  Of course, the Left view was the refugees were "nothing but assassins and colonels".  Jane Fonda had some angry words for Baez about Baez' Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (in full at the end of this post).

Jane Fonda pretending to operate NVA Anti-Aircraft System.
Joan Baez, Jane Fonda duel over Vietnam issue - AP via Milwaukee Sentinel, 3 July 1979

Ms. Fonda responded with a letter to Ms. Baez. questioning the reliability of her sources and her definition of repression.
"I don't know if we can expect the Vietnamese people to turn free those millions of people overnight, people who were involved in a war much more hideous than any repression," Ms. Fonda wrote.
"I hope you will reconsider the assertion of your ad: that the Vietnamese people are 'waiting to die.' Such rhetoric only aligns you with the most narrow and negative elements in our country who continue to believe that Communism is worse than death," she added.
Baez had an excellent counter to Fonda's boilerplate defense-of-Communism-by-any-means-necessary.
"What we're (sic) really saying is that I'm betraying 17 or 18 geriatric Stalinists who are running the government - not the people."
"I've said it for 22 years, till I'm blue in the face . . . I believe in people, not systems. I don't have any ideological yoke around my neck that binds me to human rights violations."
This is a bit of history that I have been trying to document for over a decade.  I had no luck with search engines in the 1990s - 2000s, they are of course limited by what is out there to search.  For some strange reason, every bit of Joan Baez information related to Vietnam was centered on her days supporting the North over the South.  I try to run a fair and balanced blog here, and nothing is more fair than the truth.  In my attempt to find any of the famous video of Baez singing in a North Vietnamese bomb shelter (clips I will add if anybody wants to send me links to them), the best I could find was not even close.  So here is the introduction to her appearance on Firing Line (link is to Amazon DVD of full show), with the great William F. Buckley, Jr. where Baez lays out her non-aggression position (clip lasts 4:46).
In the clip, Baez mentions her Quaker roots.

The Baez open letter, in full:
Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Four years ago, the United States ended its 20-year presence in Vietnam. An anniversary that should be cause for celebration is, instead, a time for grieving.

With tragic irony, the cruelty, violence and oppression practiced by foreign powers in your country for more than a century continue today under the present regime.

Thousands of innocent Vietnamese, many whose only "crimes" are those of conscience, are being arrested, detained and tortured in prisons and re-education camps. Instead of bringing hope and reconciliation to war-torn Vietnam, your government has created a painful nightmare that overshadows significant progress achieved in many areas of Vietnamese society.

Your government slated in February 1977 that some 50,000 people were then incarcerated. Journalists, independent observers and refugees estimate the current number of political prisoners between 150,000 and 200,000.

Whatever the exact figure, the facts form a grim mosaic. Verified reports have appeared in the press around the globe, from Le Monde and The Observer to the Washington Post and Newsweek. We have heard the horror stories from the people of Vietnam from workers and peasants, Catholic nuns and Buddhist priests, from the boat people, the artists and professionals and those who fought alongside the NLF.

The jails are overflowing with thousands upon thousands of "detainees."

People disappear and never return.

People are shipped to re-education centers, fed a starvation diet of stale rice, forced to squat bound wrist to ankle, suffocated in "connex" boxes.

People are used as human mine detectors, clearing live mine fields with their hands and feet.

For many, life is hell and death is prayed for. Many victims are men, women and children who supported and fought for the causes of reunification and self-determination; those who as pacifists, members of religious groups, or on moral and philosophic grounds opposed the authoritarian policies of Thieu and Ky; artists and intellectuals whose commitment to creative expression is anathema to the totalitarian policies of your government. Requests by Amnesty International and others for impartial investigations of prison conditions remain unanswered. Families who inquire about husbands, wives, daughters or sons are ignored.

It was an abiding commitment to fundamental principles of human dignity, freedom and self-determination that motivated so many Americans to oppose the government of South Vietnam and our country's participation in the war. It is that same commitment that compels us to speak out against your brutal disregard of human rights. As in the 60s, we raise our voices now so that your people may live.

We appeal to you to end the imprisonment and torture-to allow an international team of neutral observers to inspect your prisons and re-education centers.

We urge you to follow the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights which, as a member of the United Nations, your country is pledged to uphold.

We urge you to reaffirm your stated commitment to the basic principles of freedom and human dignity ... to establish real peace in Vietnam.

Joan Baez
President, Humanitas/International Human Rights Committee


Ansel Adams
Edward Asner
Albert V. Baez
Joan c. Baez
Peter S. Beagle
Hugo Adam Bedau
Barton J. Bernstein
Daniel Berrigan
Robert Bly
Ken Botto
Kay Boyle
John Brodie
Edmund G. "Pat" Brown
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke
Henry B. Burnette, Jr.
Herb Caen
David Carliner
Cesar Chavez
Richard Pierre Claude
Bert Coffey
Norman Cousins
E. L. Doctorow
Benjamin Dreyfus
Ecumenical Peace Institute Staff
MiIni Farina
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Douglas A. Fraser
Dr. Lawrence Zelic Freedman
Joe Fury
Allen Ginsberg
Herbert Gold
David B. Goodstein
Sanford Gottlieb
Richard J. Guggenhime
Denis Goulet, Sr.
Bill Graham
Lee Grant
Peter Grosslight
Thomas J. Gumbleton
Terence Hallinan
Francis Heisler
Nat Hentoff
Rev. T. M. Hesburgh, C.J.C.
John T. Hitchcock
Art Hoppe
Dr. Irving L. Horowitz
Henry S. Kaplan, M.D.
R. Scott Kennedy
Roy C. Kepler
Seymour S. Kety
Peter Klotz-Chamberlin
Jeri Laber
Norman Lear
Philip R. Lee, M.D.
Alice Lynd
Staughton Lynd
Bradford Lyttle
Frank Mankiewicz
Bob T. Martin
James A. Michener
Marc Miller
Edward A. Morris
Mike Nichols
Peter Orlovsky
Michael R. Peevey
Geoffrey Cobb Ryan
Ginetta Sagan
Leonard Sagan, M.D.
Charles M. Schultz
Ernest L. Scott
Jack Sheinkman
Jerome J. Shestack
Gary Snyder
I. F. Stone
Rose Styron
William Styron
Lily Tomlin
Peter H. Voulkos
Grace Kennan Warnecke
Lina Wertmuller
Morris L. West
Dr. Jerome P. Wiesner
Jamie Wyeth
Peter Yarrow
Charles W. Yost

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