Tom Hayden’s Vietnam Memorial

Stalinist Vietnamese regime used his broadcasts as soundtrack for torture sessions of American POWs.

Tom Hayden has passed away at 76 and the New York Times obituary recalled him as a “civil rights and anti-war activist.” That bears little resemblance to the real person, especially in regard to Vietnam.

For the full story of the war, millennials might want to check out America In Vietnam, by Guenter Lewy. The conflict pitted the Communist North, backed by the Soviet Union, against the non-Communist South, backed by the United States. Many Americans opposed U.S. involvement in the conflict, for a variety of reasons.

Many questioned whether, based on its own interests, the United States needed to be involved, and on that people of good faith could differ. The United States intervened on the basis of its post-World War II containment doctrine, shared by Republicans and Democrats. As John F. Kennedy put it, the USA would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty,” then under assault from Communist imperialism.

Some questioned whether young Americans should be conscripted to fight, arguing for an all-volunteer military. Many others, such as Martin Luther King’s colleague Richard John Neuhaus, protested the way the USA conducted the conflict. As Neuhaus and other activists learned, some of those in the so-called anti-war movement were not against war in principle, just opposed to U.S. involvement. 

Beyond that, some wanted the National Liberation Front (NLF), backed by North Vietnam, to win. As the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chant had it “Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win.” The North Vietnamese Stalinists were so grateful, they used Hayden in other creative ways. 

The North deployed Soviet surface-to-air missiles and shot down American pilots, including Fred Cherry, an African-American who endured torture during his seven years as a prisoner of war. So did Lee Ellis, author of Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he described American POWs kept in cages and punished with tortures such as the “pretzel.”  The POW’s legs were tied together and arms laced tightly behind his back until the elbows touched. Then the torturer would push the bound arms up and over the head. But the torture wasn’t all physical. 

The captors piped in propaganda and, Ellis explains, “the afternoon broadcasts were especially disheartening because they featured Americans spouting words that could have been written for them in Moscow and Hanoi.” American Tom Hayden “was a regular speaker,” later joined by his wife “film star Jane Fonda.” For this pair, American POWs were war criminals and their reports of torture were lies.

In 1973, the United States pulled out of Vietnam but Tom Hayden did not oppose the war that continued. When the Soviet tanks of the North rolled into Saigon, Hayden counted it as a victory, a fulfillment of the SDS chant. Then he turned his wrath on those fleeing the “re-education” camps of a regime more repressive than its Soviet sponsors. None of this hindered Hayden from became something of a celebrity, with wife Jane Fonda giving him money toward the purchase of a political office, a radical-to-riches story. 

After Vietnam, many who had played leading roles in the New Left had second thoughts, David Horowitz and Peter Collier among them. Not so, Tom Hayden, who remained shrink-wrapped in leftist superstition to the end. 

In a December 20, 2014 oped piece in the Sacramento Bee, Hayden wrote that he first went to Cuba in 1968. He made five more trips but remained uncritical of the Castro regime, one of the most repressive in the world, never championing the cause of a single dissident or political prisoner. 

“The Cuban Revolution has achieved its aim,” Hayden wrote, “recognition of the sovereign right of its people to revolt against the Yankee Goliath and survive as a state in a sea of global solidarity.” The next year Heydon’s name was on the cover of Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.  His last book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement will be released in March, 2017. 

Tom Hayden should be remembered as a shill for totalitarian regimes, the man who provided the soundtrack for the Hanoi Hilton, and a man who never got what he deserved. Any of those tortured Americn POWs could have been forgiven for smacking the excrement out of Tom Hayden. As the New York Times obituary confirmed, he was certainly full of it.