Recently the news broke Jane Fonda was to be honored as one of the top 100 women of the century. The news brought a firestorm of protests from veterans of the Vietnam War and their families. Though the war and Fonda’s actions happened decades in the past; memories are still fresh regarding her activism and how it impacted the soldiers, especially the POWs in Vietnam and when they returned home. In this day of advanced technology with the internet, there are numerous stories of her acts, some true; others though based in truth are elaborated to falsehood. Was Jane Fonda a traitor as many still belief to this day; or was she merely a pawn in the unpopular war?
Accusations About Hanoi Jane
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there are facts about Fonda’s anti-war activities neither side debate. Fonda did travel to Vietnam in 1972; she was photographed sitting in the seat of a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun; she did broadcast numerous speeches on the radio of Hanoi; she did set up coffee houses to encourage soldiers to “rethink” their position on the war though never directly asked them to desert their posts; she did engage in numerous anti-war protests and used her money and influence to rally others; and she did make a comment the Vietnam vets were liars when they claimed torture and inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors.
The Infamous Photos of Fonda on the Anti-aircraft Gun
Stories abound regarding Fonda’s activities while visiting North Vietnam. As usual, there are two sides to every story. Fonda did visit Hanoi in 1972 for a two week tour conducted by unifo
The photos of Fonda with the anti-aircraft guns show Fonda laughing and smiling, looking through the scope of one of the guns, and applauding the crew. The majority of Vietnam veterans interpret the photographs as Fonda supporting the enemy’s cause. According to Fonda, the photos were taken on the last day of her trip. She claims she was exhausted and was greeted by a large group, about twelve uniformed men and numerous media personnel. She claims they were all, including her, laughing, smiling, and clapping. She states the men sang a song for her and when translated, it made her cry. They asked her to sing a song and “as it turned out” she was “prepared for just this moment.” She sang a song she had memorized and because she “slaughtered” the language everyone was laughing and applauding her efforts. At that time Fonda claims she was led to the seat at the anti-aircraft gun and didn’t really realize where she was sitting; the clapping and laughing had nothing to do with where she was sitting. Pict
Fonda has since apologized for the photos, explaining she was young and didn’t use good judgment. She has insisted this is the only action she regrets and the only action for which she needs to apologize. She insists her actions were against the war itself; not the men who fought it. Vietnam vets point out the apologies coincide with releases of films she was promoting at the time. Most do not believe her apologies are sincere. Furthermore, most believe she has more than the photos for which she needs to apologize.
Hanoi Jane and the POWs
During Fonda’s trip to Vietnam, July 8-22, 1972, she recorded numerous interviews which were broadcast by Radio Hanoi. Twelve of the interviews focused on American servicemen as the primary target. The key themes of her speeches included endorsements of the Viet Cong “7 point Peace Plan,” allegations of the Nixon administration lying about the war, claims the U.S. was violating international law and committing genocide, demands to the U.S. to halt bombing of North Vietnam, and statements regarding confidence in the ultimate victory of North Vietnam. According to Fonda, her broadcasts on the Hanoi radio were strictly about the war itself and truths about the policies and actions of then president Richard Nixon.
Stories are circulating detailing how Fonda took slips of papers from POWs and gave them to their captors; of one POW spitting on her when forced to meet with her; of other POWs receiving beatings for refusing to meet with her. In truth, Fonda met with seven POWs, all of whom agreed to the meeting; identified as Edison Miller, Walter Wilbur, James Padgett, David Wesley Hoffman, Kenneth James Fraser, William G. Byrns, and Edward Elias. Retired Colonel Larry Carrigan who was credited with being beaten for slipping paper with his social security number written on it to Fonda, adamantly denies this ever happened. He reportedly grew so tired of denying this story; he quit talking to the media. Air Force pilot Jerry Driscoll was credited with spitting on Fonda and being beaten for it. He too, adamantly denies this happening and doesn’t know how this story came about.
Mike McGrath, the current president of Nam-POWs, has worked hard to help Driscoll and Carrigan stop the false rumors circulating under their names. According to Snopes McGrath sent out this statement:
“Please excuse the generic response, but I have been swamped with so many e-mails on the subject of the Jane Fonda article (Carrigan, Driscoll, strips of paper, torture and deaths of POWs, etc.) that I have to resort to this pre-scripted rebuttal. The truth is that most of this never happened. This is a hoax story put on the internet by unknown Fonda haters. No one knows who initiated the story. Please assist by not propagating the story. Fonda did enough bad things to assure her a correct place in the garbage dumps of history. We don’t want to be a party to false stories, which could be used as an excuse that her real actions didn’t really happen either. I have spoken with all parties claimed: Carrigan, Driscoll, et al. They all state that this particular internet story is a hoax and they wish to dissociate their names from the false story.”
According to David Emery in his article, "Hanoi Jane" on ask.com/urban legends, when confirming the details of the circulating internet stories, the last anecdote in the email detailing the experience of a POW who agreed to meet with Fonda, but told his captors he would tell her about the horrible conditions in the North Vietnamese prison camps, was true. According to the story, for three days, the POW was then forced to his knees on a rocky floor with his arms outstretched and a piece of steel placed in each hand and beaten when his arms dipped. The POW, Michael Benge, was a civilian adviser captured in 1968 and held as POW for five years. He did not however, contribute to the story in the circulating email.
In Emery’s correspondence with ex-POWs, none of them believed a good cause was ever well served by lies. One ex-POW, Paul Galanti stated while none of the ex-POWs are fans of Jane Fonda, they didn’t create the lies and falsehoods. None were able to identify who started the stories, but Carrigan and McGrath voiced doubts it was a POW. McGrath explained to Emery,
"She did enough to place her name in the trash bin of history. None of us need to make up stories on her."
In defending herself against claims of helping the North Vietnamese regarding the POWs, Fonda implies she was the scapegoat for POW propaganda orchestrated by then president Nixon. She claims she was targeted by the government to divert attention from the truth of what the United States military was doing in Vietnam. She claims the Pentagon hand-picked veterans to go on the talk circuit and talk about their treatment during capture. According to Fonda, she was so angry about the way the torture story was being manipulated she stated the POWs claiming tortu
Consequences of Jane Fonda’s Actions
In August of 1972, the House Internal Security Committee rejected a request by Representative Fletcher Thompson (R) to subpoena Fonda. Instead the Committee asked the Justice Department for a report on Fonda’s trip. Later that month, the Washington Post reported ane lawyers from the Justice Department concluded Fonda had not violated any statues, including those prohibiting Americans from attempting “to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty by any member of the military.” The Attorney General stated the damage was slight and the interest in favor of free speech was high. He described Fonda as a girl acting foolishly, but exercising her right to free speech. Other government officials and members of the Supreme Court had similar attitudes towards Fonda’s actions.
Two months after Fonda returned from Hanoi, then president Nixon received a brief reporting Congress had studied the transcripts of her Radio Hanoi broadcasts and declared though she posed questions to U.S. soldiers, she didn’t urge defections and limited her advice to pleas to end bombings. According to FBI documents, which Fonda cites in her autobiography, her file was given to three in-house reviewers to determine whether “clandestine investigation” should continue. All three reviewers reported it should be discontinued.
August 3, 1995, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Bui Tin who was on the General Staff of the North Vietnam Army and received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam. Tin was asked about the impact of the anti-war movement and he responded "It was essential to our strategy." He added the leadership of North Vietnam listened to nightly American news broadcasts to follow the growth of the anti-war movement. He also stated visits by persons such as Jane Fonda, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and several church ministers gave them confidence to hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. He concluded "America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win." According to Tin, the anti-war demonstrations and sensationalism in the media after the Tet Offensive of 1968 gave the North Vietnamese belief they could have victory if they stayed the course because America’s response of the events showed weakening of a resolve to win the war.
Despite the government’s take on Fonda’s actions, Vietnam veterans continue to condemn her for her actions in Hanoi and also for comments she made upon her return. Many vets point out the negative impact she had on soldiers in general and many believe she was instrumental in the defeat and ensuing attitude of the American people towards Vietnam vets. Some have quoted Fonda from speeches she made to various college students espousing her communist leanings.
Regardless which side of the fence one falls, Fonda did some foolish things by her own admission. The whole truth and depth of events will probably never be known as the only ones who truly know exactly what happened are the people involved; those actually in attendance; those
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The copyright of the article “Jane Fonda: Traitor or Pawn?” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.