It is now more than 30 years since the last Americans left Saigon, and while most of the embers stoked in the 1960s have cooled, the visit by anti-war activist Jane Fonda to North Vietnam still inflames many. Given the temperature of the topic, any indictment of Fonda should be documented thoroughly and analyzed rigorously. The review of Fonda's activities should be divorced from any discussion of the merit of the war itself (or whether the United States was right to have been involved.) This book fits the bill on all counts.
Unsurprisingly, since one of the authors is a law professor emeritus, this book is written as a legal brief would be: the Holzers discuss the facts in detail; then explain the law; and finally apply the law to the facts. "Aid and Comfort" starts with a discussion of Fonda's early life and her involvement as a young adult with left-leaning French friends of her then-husband Roger Vadim. None of this background is necessary for the indictment, as Fonda's motive in going to Vietnam is irrelevant -- what counts are her acts. Nonetheless, it is interesting, and provides a picture of a very insecure woman whose political opinions were formed and shaped by the men with whom she was involved.
The next chapter is a harrowing discussion of the treatment of American POWs by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. It is hard to read, but is necessary to demonstrate the effects that Fonda's words would have on these servicemen. After all, broadcasting propoganda aimed at destroying the spirit of those who were barely clinging to life is more serious than disseminating it to a well-fed population with other sources of news. (In either case, as the Holzers demonstrate, a charge of treason could be levied.) The authors then discuss Fonda's actual speeches (reproduced in full at the end of the book.) They make an eye-popping read. I was unaware, for example, that Fonda had falsely accused the POWs themselves of taking anti-war positions -- a charge which could only sap the strength and morale of these men when the broadcasts were later played to them.
The Holzers then devote two chapters to a detailed discussion of the law of treason. Although legal discussions sometimes can be dry for non-lawyers, the facts of the cases (including the prosecutions of "Axis Sally" and "Tokyo Rose") are interesting and the authors clearly explain the standards for treason. The book then demonstrates why there is enough evidence against Fonda to at least bring a case to a jury. That the government did not do so was due more to the politics of the time than any lack of proof.
Many believe that we should put the Vietnam War behind us and stop ripping scabs off festering wounds. This, in my opinion, is the wrong way to view it. As with Holocaust survivors, the POWs of Vietnam need some measure of justice, no matter how late it comes. While the US government will never actually prosecute Fonda, this book provides necessary healing by trying -- and convicting -- Fonda in the "moral" court.