Jane Fonda: The Truth About ‘Hanoi Jane’ Is Worse Than the Online Narrative

The other day, I was reading the news headlines, and I saw a blurb about how Jane Fonda had apologized for the infamous picture of her sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. This surprised me, as I was certain I had already heard about her apologizing for her actions in the past. What did not surprise me was when I heard that her apology was in direct association with the promotion of the soon-to-be released remake of 9 to 5. As a veteran, I found the actions of Jane Fonda during the Vietnam War to be completely unforgivable, and her apology rings hollow in my ears. However, as I quickly discovered, I was completely wrong on my views of Ms. Fonda.

Like many out there, I believed the Internet version of Fonda’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I am sure that most people with email or social media are familiar with it. Essentially, the story states that Fonda visited North Vietnam, and then after posing for the infamous anti-aircraft gun picture, went to visit the prison camp dubbed as the Hanoi Hilton. To quote the story, “[The prisoners], however, had time and devised a plan to get word to the world that they still survived. Each man secreted a tiny piece of paper, with his Social Security number on it, in the palm of his hand. When paraded before Ms. Fonda and a cameraman, she walked the line, shaking each man’s hand and asking little encouraging snippets like, ‘Aren’t you sorry you bombed babies?’ and, ‘Are you grateful for the humane treatment from your benevolent captors?’ Believing this HAD to be an act, they each palmed her their sliver of paper. She took them all without missing a beat. At the end of the line and once the camera stopped rolling, to the shocked disbelief of the POWs, she turned to the officer in charge…and handed him the little pile of notes.” According to the story, three of the four men who handed Fonda the notes were beaten to death.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the story on Snopes.com and discovered that it was completely false. Not willing to accept that one source, I continued to validate this from multiple sources, only to discover that it was a work of fiction. With this being the case, I had a hard time understanding the overwhelming hatred for this woman. Granted, she did take a picture in an anti-aircraft gun, but the overwhelming vitriol against her seemed to need more than that picture to sustain. I soon came to understand where that animosity came from.

First and foremost, I think it is important to look at the apology of Fonda. She never offered any remorse for any action other than the photo. “I am just so sorry that I was thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun at that time. The message that sends to the guys that were there and their families, it’s horrible for me to think about that.” If the apology were sincere, I believe it would be possible for myself, and some other veterans out there to accept. Unfortunately, as it was issued in conjunction with promoting a movie, I am highly doubtful of her remorse. However, let’s for a moment assume that it is in fact legitimate. This act of contrition does nothing to cover the additional egregious sins that she committed.

For example, most people are not aware of the propaganda that Fonda helped to create while in North Vietnam. She made at least two recordings, which I transcribed below, to be played in hopes of turning the military against itself. I wonder if she even realized how damaging this could have been to the morale of the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who heard it? How many men died because these words caused them to hesitate at a fateful moment? Her inability to see the damage she potentially caused is unforgivable. Yet, that is still not the worst of her crimes.

“This is Jane Fonda, from Hanoi, and I’m speaking particularly to the U.S. servicemen who are stationed on the aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin, 7th Fleet in the Anglico Corps in the south of Vietnam. You are very far away, perhaps, and removed from the country that you’re being ordered to shoot shells at and bomb. And the use of these bombs or condoning the use of these bombs makes one a war criminal. The men who are ordering you to use these weapons are war criminals according to international law, and in, in the past, in Germany and in Japan, men who were guilty of these kind of crimes were tried and executed,” said Fonda.

Her other recording is as follows: “This is Jane Fonda, in Hanoi, speaking to the men in the cockpits of the Phantoms, in the B-52s, in the F-4s. Those of you here fighting the war. All of you, in your heart of hearts, know the lies. Cheating on body counts, the falsified battle reports, number of planes shot down, what your targets really are. Knowing who was doing the lying, should you then allow these same liars to define who your enemy is [unintelligible]…examine the reasons given to justify the murder you are being paid to commit. If they told you the truth, you wouldn’t fight, you wouldn’t kill. You were not born and brought up by your mothers to be killers. So you have been told lies so that it would be possible for you to kill.”

“Jane Fonda’s 1972 trip to North Vietnam earned her the nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’
Perhaps the most famous instance of this type of sensationalism was Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi in July of 1972. As she openly posited, Fonda was a pro-communism socialist supporting Ho Chi Minh. Her two week, congenial visit to North Vietnam was meant to recognise the efforts and progress of the North Vietnamese while castigating the Nixon Administration, claiming that American tactics should be considered ‘genocide.'” (Credit: Facebook/ Andy Alexander)

In researching her actions, I discovered her blog. What I discovered there filled me with the utmost vile contempt for her. To quote her own words, “In my anger at the torture story that was being allowed to spread…I made a mistake I deeply regret. I said that the POWs claiming torture were liars, hypocrites, and pawns.

“I said, ‘I’m quite sure that there were incidents of torture…but the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that’s a lie.’

“What I didn’t know at the time was that although there had been no torture after 1969, before then there had been systematic torture of some POWS…Still, whether any torture was administered to certain, more recalcitrant POWs and not to others is unacceptable. Even though only a small percent of prisoners were tortured by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, it wasn’t right. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s standards, torturing prisoners to get information is justified. It isn’t. Not ever. All nations must adhere to the Geneva Convention’s rules of warfare.”

Fonda’s (and the rest of the politically left’s) overtly juvenile view of world politics is pathetic, as is her inability to correctly use comparative analysis. The torture of POWs at Abu Ghraib was heinous, and those involved were prosecuted. It was in no way sanctioned by our government, nor overlooked. In my view, those MPs got off very easy in their punishments. However, the same cannot be said of the government of Vietnam. I cannot find any examples of those committing these crimes being brought to trial. Further, there is the statement that there was no torture after 1969 at all. There is truth that after 1969, the government of North Vietnam ratcheted down on torture in fear of turning the rest of the world against them, but to say that it stopped is, in my view, akin to denying the Holocaust. According to pownetwork.org, multiple forms of torture still occurred, albeit with much less frequency. However, Fonda’s words from an April 1973 interview make me even question her view of torture on the American military: “If a prisoner tried to escape, it is quite understandable that he would probably be beaten and tortured.”

It is funny how sometimes the truth can be so much more potent than the rumors or disinformation. I had previously thought Fonda to be a disgusting excuse of a human being. In now seeing the error of my judgement, not only do I know that the hate felt by so many Vietnam vets is well placed, but I have also come to realize that we lack the ability in the English language to properly encapsulate the vileness of this woman.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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