It’s Time to Forgive “Hanoi Jane”
Her actions since have called attention to pressing social issues, as opposed to the need for a career boost.
If Jane Fonda was not a celebrity and she apologized for an egregious mistake she had made nearly 50 years ago, she likely would have been forgiven as a wayward adult of 34.
Though Jane Fonda is a celebrity who has apologized, repeatedly, for an egregious mistake she had made in her past, she is still held as a pariah by many.
She was wrong.
It’s time to move on.
Anyone who perceives a celebrity or public figure as a role model by virtue of being famous is dangerously foolish. Jane Fonda has time and again publicly exhibited her imperfections, and has long been an activist led by her heart first.
Certainly Fonda, a canny multi-millionaire at an early age from a showbiz family (her deceased father, Henry, is a veritable acting legend, and her late brother Peter had seen his share of success) has long traded her name for attention. Over the past 20 years, though, she has been semi-retired and a tad reclusive, largely until her regular co-starring role in 2015’s “Grace and Frankie” — still airing new episodes on Netflix — which has since become a surprise hit for the streamer.
In other news …
Antarctica reached 60 degrees last week. I’ve been in New York on vacation all week, in mid-late-February. There has not been a lick of snow during this height of the winter season, and the weather yesterday was 63.
The President of the United States says climate change is a “hoax” and does nothing to fight it.
Jane Fonda gets arrested several times monthly, it seems, protesting government inaction towards this and other contemporary concerns.
The degree of her fame in 2020 is debatable, but the standing ovation she received at the most recent Oscar ceremony showed she certainly has her admirers in largely “liberal” Hollywood, an influential group who are also largely anti-war.
Especially needless wars, those that many of us protest against either in public or in private.
Does any of this matter? Liberals lauding liberals? Yes, it does.
I’m liberal. Do I consider myself anti-military?
God no. I have vets in my extended family who have fought in wartime. As for Jane Fonda, she indeed disrespected each and every one.
48 years ago.
But was she anti-military … or shortsighted due to her perception of “innocent” casualties of war?
By way of comparison, I’m a Jew who has criticized the Israeli government.
Does that make me self-loathing, or anti-Semitic?
Or somehow unpatriotic when it comes to my spiritual homeland?
You don’t know me. So try me.
My response is these are separate issues, in each event, of which many are understandably unable to distinguish.
Jane Fonda has returned to the news of late, in her 80s, by fighting battles she believes she should.
Like most emotionally-driven undertakings, her efforts have not been perfect. But to ignore the good she has facilitated is a mistake.
For example, three years earlier, in 2017, she took part in a “women’s respect rally” at the Sundance Film Festival.
Jane Fonda, Tessa Thompson Fire Up Women's Respect Rally in Sundance
After a fiery storming of Park City's Main Street in 2017, the Women's March returned to Sundance on Saturday with a…
The rally was well-attended and received a great deal of positive publicity. Jane Fonda embraced her “lightening rod” label long ago. Because of the controversy that surrounds her wherever she appears, her presence is guaranteed to receive coverage.
And so she has become a champion of women. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
And yet …
Jane Fonda Is "Ashamed" She Didn't Speak Up About Harvey Weinstein Sooner
Jane Fonda is adding her name to the list of movie stars coming forward about Harvey Weinstein. In the last few days…
Convenient? You decide.
She has been criticized in this fight as being “two-faced” and “hypocritical.”
Fonda has been there before.
The impetus behind this article was a simple Facebook entry, posted the morning after the 2020 Oscars, that garnered its fair share of emotional response:
While most who commented agreed with my statement and kept their words on-topic, not everyone believed it appropriate to compliment Fonda in any capacity:
I should thank Neil Yuzuk and Joshua Todd James for the inspiration to complete this piece. I should note that both mutually apologized, on Facebook, later on.
But the comments, as heated as they may have been, were expected. Such is the passionate debate that Fonda most frequently elicits.
And it went on from there … until the mutual apology.
For those who are unaware of exactly the issue at hand, in 1972 Jane Fonda was photographed near Hanoi on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. She was immediately given the nickname “Hanoi Jane,” and was accused of not only disrespecting servicemen who had died in the war, but their families and anyone who had ever fought for our country.
Fonda has not shied from the issue. In 2011, she posted on her website: There is one thing that happened while in North Vietnam that I will regret to my dying day — I allowed myself to be photographed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. I want to, once again, explain how that came about.
As you read, I will point out that Fonda’s memoirs, “My Life so Far,” was published in May of 2005. An HBO documentary, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” aired in 2018.
Fonda had nothing concrete to promote or otherwise clarify in 2011, other than an attempt to perhaps tweak her legacy …
It was not unusual for Americans who visited North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations and when they did, they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I was told to wear during the numerous air raids I had experienced. When we arrived at the site of the anti-aircraft installation (somewhere on the outskirts of Hanoi), there was a group of about a dozen young soldiers in uniform who greeted me. There were also many photographers (and perhaps journalists) gathered about, many more than I had seen all in one place in Hanoi. This should have been a red flag.
Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me, overcome on this, my last day, with all that I had experienced during my 2 week visit. What happened next was something I have turned over and over in my mind countless times. Here is my best, honest recollection of what happened: someone (I don’t remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed. I got up, and as I started to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what had just happened hit me. “Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes.” I pleaded with him, “You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published.” I was assured it would be taken care of. I didn’t know what else to do. (I didn’t know yet that among the photographers there were some Japanese.)
It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. But if they did I can’t blame them. The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake and I have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for it.
It is unconscionable that extremist groups circulate letters which accuse me of horrific things, saying that I am a traitor, that POWs in Hanoi were tied up and in chains and marched passed me while I spat at them and called them ‘baby killers. These letters also say that when the POWs were brought into the room for a meeting I had with them, we shook hands and they passed me tiny slips of paper on which they had written their social security numbers. Supposedly, this was so that I could bring back proof to the U.S. military that they were alive. The story goes on to say that I handed these slips of paper over to the North Vietnamese guards and, as a result, at least one of the men was tortured to death.
However, such torture stopped two and a half years prior to Jane’s arrival, according to USN retired Captain Mike McGrath.
For Captain McGrath’s words, and more on Fonda’s explanation for the sequence of events, see here:
The Truth About My Trip To Hanoi - Jane Fonda
I grew up during World War II. My childhood was influenced by the roles my father played in his movies. Whether Abraham…
Do I believe her account? Not entirely. I believe her memories are shrouded by a desire for self-preservation and a bettered legacy. Do I believe any of her words? I do, or I doubt she would have apologized over the years.
Apologized for what, in that case?
Her explanation aside, however, when Americans heard some of Fonda’s radio interviews — exploited by the North Vietnamese as propaganda — many were stunned and saddened, but not surprised.
As an example:
“One thing that I have learned beyond a shadow of a doubt since I’ve been in this country is that Nixon will never be able to break the spirit of these people; he’ll never be able to turn Vietnam, north and south, into a neo-colony of the United States by bombing, by invading, by attacking in any way. One has only to go into the countryside and listen to the peasants describe the lives they led before the revolution to understand why every bomb that is dropped only strengthens their determination to resist.”
The above mugshot was taken in the U.S. while Fonda was protesting the war. For many years, she was indeed unapologetic about it all.
But the war was unpopular with innumerable other Americans, from all walks.
Not just this actress.
Fonda was a symbolic stripe of another color. She was listened to more than most, and was once reported to have called home-bound military who accused the North Vietnamese of torture as being “hypocrites and liars.”
“I think probably some of these professional pilots were probably beaten to death by the people whose homes and families they were bombing and napalming. But the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that that’s a lie. … These men were bombing and strafing and napalming the country. … If a prisoner tried to escape, it is quite understandable that he would probably be beaten and tortured.”
Needless to say she did not endear herself any further with those words, regardless of any veracity in her statements.
I’ve met and spoken to Jane Fonda. She’s a petit woman with a big voice who knows how to garner attention. That is not a crime. She will not stop fighting for what she believes in any time soon, at least for as long as we’re still listening and responding with either loathing or appreciation.
She’s human. She’s not a monster, though some would argue both statements.
As a writer taking a side, I anticipate but cannot fear repercussions on my end. I’ve said it before: Writers must be truth-tellers. My opinion matters as does yours, it has been fully expressed and nothing further is implied, in subtext or otherwise, in this article.
To summarize that opinion in full so there is no misunderstanding: I am anti-war with the caveat that such conflict in extreme circumstances may be unavoidable. I believe Jane Fonda was wrong regarding her actions in Vietnam and I despised her for that reason for many years.
People can change, though.
I’ve since moved on and give her credit for tossing pride aside and admitting her mistake when she had little to gain, while (still) fighting for what she believes in.
Specifically regarding her “celebrity,” I also work in the film and television business. Neither industry is nearly as glamorous as you may have been led to believe. A “star” is only someone with visibility whom audiences repeatedly pay to see or make time to watch. Fonda won an Oscar early in her career for 1971’s “Klute,” and prior (1968) became an international sex symbol starring in the title role of “Barbarella.”
She escaped from her father’s coattails long ago and has wielded her influence, then as now, of sound mind and body.
Fonda alone has been responsible for her words and actions, and she alone has had to make amends.
I understand the resentment and even the hate. She has hurt friends and family of mine. For myself — not a veteran, in disclosure — I’ve moved on.
They have too, at their pace.
It was time.
I appreciate the work Jane Fonda is doing now, which again she does not have to do. I believe she is making a difference.
If I saw her today, I would thank her for those efforts.
Separately, I thank you for reading.
If you have found this article of value, feel free to recommend, share and follow me here on Medium (and I will follow you back), where I publish new stories daily on a variety of topics.