California’s Vietnam War

For Golden State Democrats, some Asians are more equal than others.

The Vietnam War, the ten-part, 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, is running on PBS. Thursday’s episode 5 showed the conflict on the brink of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Future episodes will deal with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973, which paved the way for the victory of the Soviet-backed North Vietnamese Communists in 1975. One California state senator has considerable experience on that front.

The Communists changed the name of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City and Janet Nguyen was born there in 1976. Her father was a South Vietnamese soldier and imprisoned when the family tried to escape. The Communists assassinated her uncle, a South Vietnamese Army officer, in front of his village and family. 

The Nguyen family became part of the “boat people” exodus and made their way to Thailand. California governor Jerry Brown spearheaded an effort by high-profile Democrats to keep the refugees – even orphans – out of the United States

Brown tried to block flights of refugees into Travis Air Force Base and said it was “a little strange” to bring in refugees when one million Californians were out of work. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman of New York likewise pitted the refugees against her constituents. Rep Don Riegle of Michigan sought to bar funds for the refugees. Rep. Joshua Eilberg of Pennsylvania, chairman of a subcommittee on immigration, accused the Ford administration of acting “with unnecessary haste” in evacuation of the orphans. 

Sen. Joe Biden tried to slow down the refugee bill in the Senate, complaining that he needed more information. Senator George McGovern said 90 percent of the Vietnamese refugees “would be better off going back to their own land,” and sponsored an amendment to return them. For Janet Nguyen’s family, there was no going back. 

With sponsorship from an American church group they flew to California, whose former governor Ronald Reagan was now President of the United States. “He was the president who finally allowed Vietnamese refugees into the country,” Janet Nguyen told George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times. “He fought against dictatorships and communism and kicked down the Berlin Wall. I related to what Ronald Reagan stood for.”

California’s Democrats stood for something else. Jerry Brown named Jane Fonda to the California Arts Council, a poke in the eye to all Vietnam veterans. Fonda famously posed atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun and otherwise shilled for the Communist side. So did her husband Tom Hayden, and neither could be accurately described as an anti-war activist. 

Those were people who opposed the draft, thought the United States should not be in Vietnam, criticized the way the war was conducted, and opposed war in principle. Fonda and Hayden wanted the Communists to win and aided the north by recording propaganda broadcasts that became the soundtrack for American POWs, as Lee Ellis showed in Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Jane Fonda bankrolled Tom Hayden’s campaign for the California Senate in 1992 and he served until 2000. In 2014, Republican Janet Nguyen became the first Vietnamese woman elected to the state Senate. 

In his emeritus years, Hayden lent his talents to Cuba’s Stalinist regime with Listen Yankee: Why Cuba Matters. He died at 76 on October 23, 2016, and on February 21, 2017, the California Senate paid tribute to the New Left patriarch. 

State Democratic Party Chairman John Burton called Hayden “one of the great visionaries.” Senate boss Kevin de Leon said “He was a maverick. He was an independent thinker. He was an intellectual. He was a true progressive. He dedicated his life to the betterment of our state and our great country through the pursuit of peace, justice and equity.” 

Two days later, Janet Nguyen rose to speak, first in Vietnamese: “Mr. Hayden sided with a communist government that enslaved and/or killed millions of Vietnamese, including members of my own family. Mr. Hayden’s actions are viewed by many as harmful to democratic values and hateful towards those who sought the very freedoms on which this nation is founded.”

When she switched to English, Sen. Ricardo Lara, Bell Gardens Democrat, cut off Nguyen, who continued to speak even after Democrats shut off her microphone. When she refused an order to take a seat, Lara had Nguyen “forcibly removed” by the Sergeant at Arms. The Democrats also cut off the feed to the California Channel, preventing viewers statewide from hearing Nguyen’s statement. 

An allegedly “deeply troubled” Kevin de Leon took “full responsibility for what transpired and making sure it never happens again,” but an investigation of the smackdown went nowhere. The same thing happened to Republican senator Joel Anderson’s resolution condemning persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Anderson amended the resolution 17 times, to no avail. 

Meanwhile, The Vietnam War is worth watching but whatever it says about Tom Hayden he was the Uncle Tom of the Vietnamese Communists. California Democrats hail Hayden as a visionary and deny his critic her free-speech rights. In similar style, Democrats dump a resolution critical of China’s Communist regime.

California opted to use cheap Chinese steel for the new span of the Bay Bridge, which came in ten years late and $5 billion over budget. When Jerry Brown was informed of the bridge’s lingering safety issues, he said “I mean, look, shit happens.” 

“Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world,” wrote historian Edward Gibbon, “a hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule.” That is also proving true of California’s hereditary, recurring governor.