Jane Fonda

Love her or hate hate. There are people on both ends. She is an academy award winning actress and fitness trailblazer, and also Hanoi Jane.

Fonda will never live down her trip to Hanoi in 1972, where she posed with an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American planes. She also made media statements critical of America’s policies and war against the North Vietnamese people.

Fonda was vilified for the Hanoi trip. While there were massive anti-war activities in American cities and college campuses, and elsewhere around the world, the Hanoi visit was condemned even many who were against the war.

In the following years, Fonda was forced to confront her actions, mostly through her own sense of responsibility and reflection. Publicly, groups protested her, and she responded honestly to the criticism and her own mistakes.  Remember, it also took American decades to deal with the Vietnam experience.

Fonda kept acting and won numerous awards for her roles. She created a fitness empire, creating the home video workout business. At least publicly, Fonda seemed to downplay her politics, although all the money from her workout business went to fund her and Hayden’s economic democracy organization to promote their causes.  While Fonda was still an activist, she seemed to many as an affluent, family-focused, middle-aged celebrity, than the angry Vietnam protester.  After divorcing Hayden, she married the billionaire Ted Turner.

Fonda and Ted Turner at an Atlanta Braves baseball game.

Later in life, Fonda and third husband Ted Turner, focused their attention on Turner’s business and sports interests, and his various environmental efforts, like land and wildlife conservation. Fonda also put a lot of time and money into programs to empower girls to be successful.  More than any other causes, Fonda has worked tirelessly for women’s rights and economic independence and access to healthcare.  Fonda never gave up causes she was interested in, in fact, even late in life, she often got out and knocked on doors for political candidates.

But many did not forget or forgive her for her anti-war activities. She would always be Hanoi Jane. Emotions run hot toward Fonda. No matter her apologies or contrition for her actions, many believed that she betrayed America. Sitting on that anti-aircraft gun, smiling and posing for photos – that is the image seared into minds of many.  That was 46 years ago and some of her critics weren’t born or were children then. Those were the times of “America, love it or leave it.” Funny, once again we are living the America, love it or leave it syndrome.

During her Ted Turner years, Fonda had retired from acting, but after her divorce she returned to acting. She even wrote an autobiography and did a book tour, where she met with some critics. One even spat at her. The division, and the passion, remains.

I mentioned that people either love or hate her, there is a third category of those of us who are torn. While I respected Fonda’s anti-war sentiment, going to Hanoi was foolish and disrespectful, both things she has long acknowledged. She was used by the North Vietnamese for propaganda purposes. There were American pilots risking their lives flying missions over North Vietnam, being fired at from guns like the one Fonda was sitting on for photos.

In 2011, Fonda posted this on her website:

“It happened on my last day in Hanoi…The translator told me that the soldiers wanted to sing me a song… The soldiers asked me to sing for them in return…I memorized a song called Day Ma Di, written by anti-war South Vietnamese students. I knew I was slaughtering it, but everyone seemed delighted that I was making the attempt. I finished. Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me… 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…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… I have apologized numerous times for any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph. It was never my intention to cause harm.”

Fonda and Hayden had grandiose ideals of living in a socialistic paradise, and actively campaigned with that philosophy. Maybe that was naive, or just impractical.  She seemed to believe that socialism, and even mentioned the virtues of communism, as a better alternative to American capitalism. There are texts of her comments from 1970 that reflect this view.  History shows us that communism has failed. Even in China and Cuba, communism has morphed into a version that embraces more individual economic freedoms and capitalist realism.  Instead of communism, our greatest threat to freedom today is fascism, a political form we defeated in a world war.

The world was much different in 1972, but in many ways our country is the same as now. We are still a divided nation, there are wars and terrible situations in the world where millions are deprived of freedom, and face war, famine and health catastrophes.

Jane Fonda is 80 years old; still acting and carrying the weight of Hanoi Jane on her shoulders. Some still say she should move to Vietnam and will never forgive her. They do not believe her apology for the photo, citing her other comments about U.S. soldiers and anti-American rhetoric that she never directly denounced.

Others didn’t get hung up on her history and bought her exercise videos and went to her movies. And still others moved on from her politics  and forgave her. People make mistakes, they put their faith in things that prove wrong, they mature, and they change.

“It hurts me and it will go to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”

America is about second chances, it’s the country of compassion and rooting for the underdog.  After World War Two, we rebuilt Germany and Japan. We have a relationship with Russia and Vietnam. Enemies do not stay enemies. Time to remove the Hanoi from Jane’s name.  Forty-six years is a long time to carry a grudge. Some will disagree, that’s fine, I respect that. My view is, let’s show compassion and move on. We’re Americans. It’s who we are.

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