A transmission error changed the meaning of a sentence in a June 12 op-ed column by Joan Baez. The sentence should have read: "I have sung concerts on behalf of political prisoners [not figures ] everywhere in the world, visiting them from Venezuela to the U.S.S.R. to the United States." CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Picture, Joan Baez walks through Gialam International Airport in Hanoi after the Dec. 19, 1972, U.S. bombing.
On May 30, I initiated a full-page advertisement in five major newspapers. The advertisement was in the form of an open letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Eighty-four others co-signed. The letter called for an open investigation of the prisons and reeducation camps. It was written after much soul searching, endless discussions, intensive investigation in Europe, hours of telephone calls and even investigation of the people who first called my attention to the conditions in the prisons and camps.
Before the letter was published, we spent 4 1/2 hours conferring with Vietnam's United Nations ambassador, Ha Van Lau. We told him what we had learned and what we intended to do. He assured us that there were no human-rights violations. If what we understood to be facts were rumors, I said, the ambassador could set them to rest by allowing an impartial investigation (by Amnesty International or a similar objective, non-partisan group) of the camps and prisons, to determine if human-rights violations exist, or if there had been an appreciable change in conditions since the time of the allegations to the present. To our great regret, our request was denied. The open letter was published.
Some people have seen "sudden change" in my politics. But there is none. Rather, it is an act of conscience totally consistent with my last 22 years of non-violent activism.
When I was five years old, my family joined the Religious Society of Friends. They instilled in me a deep respect for the sanctity of life. I grew up a pacifist, and in my teens became a non-violent activist, following in the footsteps of Gandhi, Tolstoy, Huxley, King and Camus. Unburdened by any ideology, my actions were based upon the overriding principle that each and every life is sacred, and that humanity must engage in a war against violence itself.
The United States brutalized the tiny country of Vietnam for 10 years. In so doing we brutalized our own lives, and the Vietnamese in turn became brutalized in their retaliation and response to us. Organized non-violence, the revolutionary tool of Gandhi and King and the ultimate tool for social change, was not a viable force known to the Vietnamese. Had it been, I am certain that the situation that we face today would not have come into existence.
My political purpose is to help bring the concept of non-violent change into reality - to help put an end to the extraordinary belief that conventional fighting, imperialistic or revolutionary, accomplishes anything beyond dead bodies and a fresh lot of tyrants.
It would appear that violence has taken its toll in Vietnam. According to many reliable sources, there exists in that country today a serious situation involving the widespread violation of human rights, ranging from detention without arrest or trial to arbitrary torture. This fact does not shock me. I never had any illusions about the revolutionary forces, and therefore am not now disillusioned. I am merely saddened and compelled to speak out.
The predominant question put to me is why I have "singled out" Vietnam. Over the last six years, strictly in relation to human rights, I have "singled out" publicly Chile, Czechoslovakia, Tunisia, Argentina, Uruguay, the U.S.S.R., Uganda, Greece, Iran and the United States. I participated in the founding of the West Coast branch of Amnesty International, and in December 1973 attended both the American and European launchings of the campaign to abolish torture. I have sung concerts on behalf of political figures everywhere in the world, visiting them from Venezuela to the U.S.S.R. to the United States. Although under a different heading, I delivered Christmas mail to the American POWs in Hanoi in 1972.
Why Vietnam? Because 200,000 people cry out for help. They cannot wait for the proper diplomatic channels to be exhausted, nor the growing pains of a new government to cease; nor can they wait for their cause to become popular. It is a time to put conscience before ideology. That is why Vietnam.