Peter Fonda has been generating a little buzz today because of a murky and unclear statement he made at Cannes that seems to be about his training his grandsons to shoot Obama if some sort of class war starts up. As best I can tell, this Hollywood has-been (or never-quite was, with the possible exception of the movie “Easy Rider,” which IMHO was a big yawn) blew his mind quite some time ago with drugs and a few other things and isn’t worth much attention at all.
So why am I giving him some? It’s because of another statement of his that caught my eye. While all the attention was focused on his stupidly incendiary remark about Obama, I noticed the following [emphasis mine]:
It’s more of a thought process than an actuality, but we are heading for a major conflict between the haves and the have nots. I came [to Cannes] many years ago with a biker movie and we stopped a war. Now, it’s about starting the world.
What the movie “Easy Rider” had to do with stopping the Vietnam War I don’t quite know, and I was around at the time. Perhaps Fonda is confusing himself with his sister Jane, who was somewhat more active in that particular cause. But he, like so many boomers from those times, appears to be quite proud of how things turned out.
Hollywood people are funny, and I don’t mean funny ha-ha. The Fondas got a double or maybe a triple dose, having been raised as Hollywood royalty in a home so dysfunctional as to have been deeply traumatic. An inflated sense of their own importance in the world no doubt goes with the territory.
Fonda may be unusual in his personal background, but he’s hardly unusual in his attitude towards the end of the Vietnam War. In fact, I wrote a piece about that in November of 2009, which I think bears repeating here. It was called “Vietnam: they lost the war, but won the battle.”
Who are “they?” The Left.
What war? Vietnam.
What battle? The one that determines who gets to write history.
It’s said that history is written by the winners, and that’s true. But Vietnam just may have been the first war in which those who opposed the conflict “won” in the forum of public opinion by convincing their fellow citizens and government to abandon the war itself, and then got to write most of its chronicles.
Case in point: this piece in the NY Times Magazine, which states the following foregone conclusion [emphasis mine]:
In the decades after Vietnam, despite having been proved right about the war itself, a generation of Democrats who opposed the war nonetheless struggled mightily to find a credible response to armed conflict, to reconcile the breach that separated the antiwar left from the broader swath of Americans who disdained reflexive pacifism.
Proved right? Hardly. But the Left and even most Democrats consider it axiomatic that those who opposed the war have been “proved” right. I’ve spent many hours and many words discussing the proof that exists for the opposite side: that our abandonment of Vietnam in the mid-70s was an unnecessary tragedy and a shame (see the category “Vietnam” on the right sidebar). And I’m hardly the only one.
But word doesn’t seem to have penetrated a huge swath of liberals and the Left that there still might even be another side—much less that it might have some validity, and that it offers arguments that require responses.
I’ve encountered this “everybody knows” attitude about Vietnam many times before, including on the occasion of John Updike’s death. Updike, a liberal Democrat, had angered most of his fellow literati during the 60s by offering a principled and compelling argument that the war may have been a well-intentioned effort by the US to allow the South Vietnamese to maintain their freedom from tyrannical Northern Communists. Updike got much condemnation and little praise for his pains, even after his death, at which time I wrote the following:
Last night…as I was watching a Charlie Rose tribute to John Updike that featured a panel composed of Updike’s editor Judith Jones, former New Yorker editor David Remnick, and New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, the latter casually mentioned, amidst the praise and reminiscence, that “of course, Updike was on the wrong side about the Vietnam War.”
Of course. Everybody who’s anybody knows that.
[NOTE: See this for Updike's position on the war, in his own inimitable words.]