Then they were taken on a tour of war museums and shown the remains of American planes and cases of objects taken from downed pilots. "I hated looking at the pictures," Betty wrote. "It seemed to me that we were getting our noses rubbed in the war, and I didn't like it. There were rooms full of newspaper clippings and pictures of pacifists around the world decrying American brutality.
They were driven to outlying villages and shown the effects of American bombing. They were taken to hospitals in Haiphong and Hanoi and introduced to children crippled by American fire. One child, Tran Thi Minh, 8, had shrapnel in her spinal chord, which was cut through. She was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
"The child was very thin. . . watched us warily with huge dark eyes," Betty wrote, In the glare of camera lights, "the doctor rolled her over to show us all the scars and wounds on her back. He said that the shrapnel from the antipersonnel bombs makes a very small cut on the surface but tears a large swathe inside the body. She whimpered when he moved her. The Vietnamese gave me a big bouquet of flowers to give to her as all the photographers (theirs and ours) snapped and whirred away. The scene was being exploited for all it was worth, but I didn't care. There was a beautiful child lying hopelessly hurt, and that was the real truth. . .
"I still can't think about it without crying and wanting to shout and do violence to those who use the grossest kind of force and violence to satisfy their lust for greater and greater power and riches."
They were subjected to frequent speeches about how the Vietnamese people were suffering from the imperialism and barbarism of the U.S. government and army. Their hosts told them their people would never allow the United Nations to negotiate between the parties because that would mean being "co-belligerents with the U.S." They said they "would rather be dead than enslaved by the U.S."
On April 4, the day the Phoenix was scheduled to sail, the Viet Cong invited them to visit one more hospital in Haiphong. "As a matter of fact, we were pressured to do it," Betty writes, adding, "so, piling into the huge Russian cars once more, we set off for the hospital."
This time they were shown four patients injured in the air attack which had taken place while the Phoenix was in the harbor. "Earle was irritated at the bright lights which the Vietnamese cameramen used on the patients while they took pictures of them and the visiting Americans. He tried to interrupt the doctor who was describing a woman's injuries, and finally the doctor stopped while Earle explained that it was cruel to subject these people to such discomfort while they were being exploited for the benefit of the war effort. The doctor answered that all of the people were in the war together and that the only way any Vietnamese could have a decent future was for all of them to do what they could to end the war with the enemy defeated. 'The patients,' he said, 'understand the need and are glad to help the world's people understand what is happening here. They don't mind the lights if it will help their cause.' He went back to his explanations and Earle spun on his heel and walked out."
The Americans came home convinced that their government was not only the unjustified aggressor but was deliberating designing weapons to target civilians. They were persuaded that Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary communist who had forcefully united Vietnam (semi-retired at that point) was benign, even noble, and universally popular.
From Hong Kong, on April 10, the crew issued the following statement: "We returned on the yacht Phoenix to Hong Kong today from our Quaker voyage of humanitarian aid to the people of North Vietnam. We nine Americans, representing A Quaker Action Group from Philadelphia, spent eight days in the Haiphong-Hanoi area speaking with citizens and officials, and observing the effects of the bombing. Our medical aid was personally delivered to the Red Cross Society of North Vietnam,for distribution throughout the country. We were met by friendship and good will everywhere, and we found a sound basis for friendly relationships between America and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, following an end to the war in the near future.
"In our discussions wit the Vietnamese people and officials, we made our pacifist position quite clear. We are opposed to the use of war to settle conflicts, no matter what the cause: our willingness to undergo hardship and risk on behalf of the victims of war should not be interpreted as support for any military effort in this war. We further explained that we are united with the people of Vietnam in our desire for an end to the U.S. military intervention. We recognize that the U.S. government is currently the largest single threat to independence and peace for the Vietnamese people, both North and South.
"We were guests of the Red Cross, and we visited hospitals, bombed villages, textile factories, museums, and theaters. We had meetings with the Red Cross of Vietnam and of Haiphong plus the Committee for the Defense of Peace, the Youth Union, the Women's Union, and attended many friendly receptions and dinners, together with an official welcome and appreciation by Nguyen Duy Trinh, Vice Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In meetings with over forty representatives of Vietnamese women, youth, and trade unions, we presented the history of A Quaker Action Group, plus background details about the Quakers.
"Considering the shortness of our stay, contacts were extensive. We returned with several conclusions. We feel justified by what we observed in saying that the people of North Vietnam are untied behind the government of Ho Chi Minh, and that they are no more intimidated by American bombing than the civilians of London were intimidated by the Nazi bombing. There is a great deal of evidence that, regardless of the stated U.S. policy of bombing military targets and nothing else, civilians are being treated as legitimate targets, and hospitals, schools, and homes are being destroyed. Moreover, men, women, and children are being killed and maimed by bombs specially designed for that purpose.
"However, A Quaker Action Group has taken the first tentative step towards opening the doors of healing and reconciliation. Our medical aid work will go on as long as we have the resources to continue. in a time of increasing military escalation against the people of Vietnam, we cannot remain content to bind up the wounds which are caused by both sides. Any solution must begin with the immediate end to U.S. bombing, plus the withdrawal of U.. troops. This war must be stopped."
*Boardman, Elizabeth Jelinek, The Phoenix Trip: Notes on a Quaker Mission to Haiphong, Burnsville, N.C.: Celo Press, 1901 Hannah Branch Road, Burnsville, NC 28714, 1985
I (Jessica) was and still am conflicted about the voyage of the Phoenix to Vietnam. We, the Reynolds family, had sailed into the American nuclear test zone to protest American testing, to the USSR to protest Soviet testing. We did not take sides for or against either country.
We were--and are--against nuclear weapons. We called each nation we approaches to be accountable for their own wrongs--and we sought to see the potential good in both sides.
With the Vietnam voyages, the message of the Phoenix became political. Though still sincere, it was no longer unbiased. It was not about merely giving humanitarian aid to the innocent victims of war. It was choosing sides, blasting only one country's actions and allowing the other one to use us.
I personally doubt that the pacifist message the crew made "quite clear" got past the government-appointed interpreters. The eight days they spent in a communist country were tightly controlled and orchestrated--for the Vietnamese they met as well as for themselves. Any questions they attempted to ask were angrily rejected as "inappropriate." The script that had to be dutifully followed did not allow for give and take. The constant speeches against America turned Betty Boardman, a gentle, reasonable woman, from disapproving of and wanting to change our leaders' policies to hating the leaders themselves, wanting to "do violence to those. . . who use violence," diverting her from looking for "that of God in every man" to rejecting the possibility of "that of God" in our own leaders."
I attribute this imbalance to the propaganda they were subjected to and hope it was only temporary.