Lest We Forget: The Case Against Jane Fonda

Culture Watch

Mr. Renehan Jr. is the author of several books, most recently, The Kennedys at War, 1937-1945 (Doubleday, 2002). Click here for his homepage.

Jane Fonda's 1972 visit to North Vietnam - during which she made speeches over Radio Hanoi, posed astride anti-aircraft guns used to shoot down U.S. planes, and cooperated in the propaganda-exploitation of American POWs - shocked and horrified many of her countrymen at the time. Others, however, applauded Fonda's conduct. In the intervening years, Fonda has seen virtually no negative consequence from her anti-American activities. In fact she has made millions. She has been feted and lionized, and has enjoyed to the maximum all the benefits of a country she once called imperialist: a nation whose servicemen and women she once branded as war-criminals.

In their new and important book Aid and Comfort: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2002. $39.95), Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer - attorneys both - give us an invaluable brief against Fonda on the charge of treason.

Throughout Aid and Comfort, the Holzers quote a great deal from Jane's own statements made during her sojourn in North Vietnam. They then, with devastating effect, use those same words against her.

When Jane arrived in Hanoi on July 8, 1972, she told her welcoming hosts that she carried with her"greetings" from revolutionary" comrades" in America. She was there, say the Holzers, willingly and knowingly,"to provide grist for the North Vietnamese propaganda mill ..."

During one of her subsequent speeches over Radio Hanoi (there were 19 in all), Fonda commented on her recent meeting with seven"U.S. aggressor pilots." She said she had found them"healthy and repentant." She also said of the meeting:"We had a very long talk, a very open and casual talk. We exchanged ideas freely. They asked me to bring back to the American people their sense of disgust of the war and their shame for what they have been asked to do. ..." According to Jane, the pilots requested that she encourage their"loved ones and friends ... to please be as actively involved in the peace movement as possible."

In fact, the pilots with whom Fonda met were neither healthy nor repentant. Nor had they been at liberty to engage in conversation with the starlet.

As one former-POW later recalled:"I was informed ... to get ready to leave. We were put on a bus, blindfolded and driven away. Others were loaded on the bus at another stop and the bus left again. We were unloaded, lined up and had the blindfolds removed. We were then taken into a room and seated. The next thing that occurred was the appearance of Hanoi Jane and she began to speak." He remembers that"Fonda ... was doing a script. At one point she got lost in what she was saying, went back and used exactly the same words again for about two sentences to get back on track. I never got a chance (nor did I want to) say anything. It was a listen and be on display thing ... anything else would have brought on problems."

Problems, of course, is a euphemism for physical punishment. Writing in his Foreword to Aid and Comfort, Col. George"Bud" Day - a holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross - informs us that upon his release from Hanoi and repatriation to the United States in 1973, he was in terrible shape after years of physical abuse."There were scars on my knees and Achilles tendons from torture, and my buttocks were raw from several hundred strokes of a fan belt. Some of my injuries were shown to the press. Jane immediately insisted that any POW who claimed torture was a liar."

In later years, with the war behind her, Jane proceeded untarnished through a host of frantic crazes. From radical politics she went on to environmentalism, exercise, Ted Turner, Jesus, and other fleeting passions. Through it all, there seems to have been but one constant: her short attention-span.

Some names, in the course of history, have become linked forever with the idea of treason. As the Holzers explain:"Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr escaped legal punishment as contemptible traitors, yet their names were, appropriately, sullied for all time. The names Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose remain synonymous with betrayal of their country. Apart from legal guilt, these four names have become generic descriptions of persons whose conduct was morally reprehensible at times when their country was at risk."

Admirably, Aid and Comfort goes a long way toward making sure"Hanoi Jane" makes it on to that short but indelible list.

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Kenneth T. Tellis - 11/15/2003

Today we know about 101st Airborne Division's Tiger Force and its atrocities in Vietname that were hidden by US government for 28 years. There must be a lot more that has been hidden from us about that war, as I knew and know now from experience. This is my own personal experience. In the early hours of the foggy morning (02:09 A.M.)of August 4, 1964 the British Merchant Ship the M/V "Kohinur" that I was serving on was fired upon by the destroyer the USS "Maddox." Our Marconi (wireless operator) contacted the USS "Maddox" and asked why they were firing on a British merchant ship? The answer came that they thought that we were a North Vietnamese gun-boat. After which we were asked where our ship was headed. We replied to Tsamkong, Red China. And we then got the message "Too Bad We Missed!" Is that not very nice of the US navy? A few days later listening to the radio we heard that North Vietnamese gun-boats had fired on the USS "Maddox" which was called the Gulf of Tonkin Incident by the LB Johnson Administration. We were shocked, because that incident in the Gulf of Tonkin was not with a North Vietnamese gun-boat but the M/V "Kohinur." Who can ever believe the propaganda put out by any US administration is the moot point.
After that experience, I just cannot believe anything the US government puts out, because they lie through their teeth. Even the Iraqi news via CNN or any American channel is doubtful. Can you really blame anyone for questioning US sponsored news?

JR Potts - 11/11/2003

Chester, I conclude you are a communist. I say that because history has shown us that 100,000,000 people died at the hands of communists dictatorships, before this Republic, England and the Pope stopped it. To condone Hanoi Jane's sitting on a anti aircraft gun that was shooting at American planes in Hanoi under the shadow of the prison our troops were in can only show you hate America, as she does. Today is Veterians Day and people like you can publish your article because a Viet-Nam veteran died to give you freedom of speech. JR Potts

Tomasz Iljin - 10/28/2003

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Joe Caramello - 9/27/2003

I served in Vietnam because I was in the military and was ordered to go there. While there, many of my friends were killed. I learned something in Vietnam. I learned that my real enemies were not the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army regulars that we fought against. My real enemies were right here in the United States marching up and down the streets carrying Viet Cong flags and cursing us as murderers. I have long ago made my particular peace with my former Vietnamese enemies. They were soldiers like us doing their job and they fought well. However, I will never make peace with the Jane Fondas and Tom Haydens of the so-called peace movement. May they rot in Hell for every additional death they made possible by giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

Jim Lampman - 9/5/2003

This veteran has not forgotton here betrayal.... visit http://www.pe.net/~xsealtm Actor Penn has joined her on the short list!

jesse tritt - 8/26/2003

I think its time for the truth. She needs to face up. she needs to pay for everything but it doesnt matter what i say. it only matters what everyone says. i think more people should get involved in things like this so that their could be world order and so that we can make the desisions for what people should get for their punishments.

Daniel Donaldson - 6/11/2003


Remembering Then - 6/7/2003

Aside from the politics of Vietnam which will be argued forever, my recollections of 1972 were that travel restrictions had been imposed and Jane violated travel restrictions.

Jane was a crimnal without even saying anything. I never understood how she was not held accountable.

I will also never understand the American press. There are people who fought to the death, and suffered severely for the right for the American press to be irresponsible and publish and glorify a Jane Fonda or Peaceniks or antiwar sentiment. In every war there are atrocities and people suffer but I felt the press added to the suffering and we still buy those newspapers and listen to those television stations that fed the thoughtless of America who wrote that our involvement was wrong.

your a loser - 4/1/2003

you are stupid, a loser, fag, idiot, fruit cake, all around mean head who should die!!!
YOU SHOULD SUPPORT THE U.S.! stupid fagget

jim hardy - 2/20/2003

before i read this arcticle i didn't know anything about fonda all i knew was her name but if that is who she is than i think she and anybody on her side can go strait to hell. Worthless stupid scum like her is what make this world screwed up sometimes, i cant understand why people like her can get away with those things.

t - 1/2/2003

She stinks

Jim March - 10/31/2002

Didn't Pol Pot and company kill more like 1/3rd of the Cambodian population? Just from memory mind you, I could be wrong.

What's really annoying about ol' Jane is how she willfully ignored the grotesque mistreatment of the POWs because that didn't fit her worldview. Ignoring evidence is one thing; doing so when it meant the additional criminal torment of her countrymen (even if she disagreed with them politically) in the name of "peace" is just...disgusting.

Her anti-war position, even her pro-communist position, can be otherwise forgiven. Her obvious pro-torture-of-US-GIs position can never be forgiven, and won't be by those paying attention.

In contrast, while no Clinton fan, I was never concerned that he was a "draft dodger". He acted in harmony with his personal beliefs, in a fashion that didn't harm US servicemen. That, I can respect. (That's not getting into other issues, of course .)

Alex Bensky - 10/30/2002

Mr. Clark opines that without Jane Fond and people like her the bloodbath of American lives might have been greater. Perhaps, or perhaps the North Vietnamese (it's now clear that they ran the Viet Cong all along) might have withdrawn or engaged in real negotiations if they hadn't felt that all they had to do was kill more American soldiers and wait for splits in the U.S. home front.

But how curious that he should refer to bloodbaths. After peace fell across Vietnam a hundred thousand or so people were executed, hundreds of thousands were sent to what were politely referred to as "re-education camps," from which some came back. Although few people left Vietnam when it was easy to do so and there was a hot war going on, after peace came hundreds of thousands fled, knowing that at best they stood a fifty-fifty chance of making it to some stinking refugee camp.

As to Cambodia, I shouldn't be surprised if Mr. Clark agrees with William Shawcross's syllogism: a) the Khmer Rouge were bad guys; b) the U.S. fought against them and tried to stop them; c) that made the K.R. really mad, so what else could they do but slaughter maybe a quarter of the population?

Mr. Clark is no doubt proud of whatever small role he played in ending the war in the manner it did. He would be, wouldn't he?

Walter Hearne - 10/29/2002

Chester Clark is apparently incapable of distinguishing between opposition to the war and support for a Vietnamese Communist victory. Many on the "anti-war" left opted for the latter. When protestors marched with Vietcong flags and chanted "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh," they were not agitating for "peace," unless you count as "peace" the invasion of South Vietnam and the brutal imposition of a Communist tyranny that has kept the Vietnamese people in misery even as other countries in East Asia have flourished. That's a kind of peace, I suppose.

Clark seeks to defend Jane Fonda, not by addressing her actual conduct squarely and honestly, but changing the subject and attacking an argument that her critics are not making. The issue is not whether a citizen is required to uncritically support her government, it is whether she is to be held morally responsible for lending her active and knowing support to the propaganda effort of a hostile foreign government (which was also a client of America's principal adversary, the Soviet Union).

Clark writes that Fonda "helped us all see the folly of the war and brought it a little closer to an end." Of course, that "end" did not involve a stable peace settlement or the orderly transition of power, but the very North Vietnamese victory that Fonda and elements of the "anti-war" left actually sought. But of course aging sixties people like Clark will go to their graves claiming that Fonda et alia were "on the right side of the war issue." But the Vietnamese Communists were not the "right side," Mr. Clark, and Fonda and the pro-Hanoi left should be held morally culpable for their actions.

W. Walter Hearne
Alexandria, VA

Chester Clark - 10/26/2002

I lived through the Vietnam War. I opposed it actively, refused to go and nearly landed in jail but for a technicality. In the late 1960’s I saw my high school mates returning from duty in shreds, literally. One died a heroin addict six months after being released, mutilated with part of his cheek and an eye missing. Another still awakens with nightmares, 30 years later.
They saw the vast mayhem, destruction and terror waged by all sides in their rightful causes and at the expense of the innocent civilians caught in the macabre game between Hanoi and Saigon and their paymasters in Washington, Beijing and Moscow. Other people said as much or more about that war. Many of us in demonstrations, manifestos, press releases, campus and civic platforms or organisations, even when travelling in other countries, used the same rhetoric and language. The problem is not what anyone in particular said; it is that Jane Fonda said it and where she said it. Moreover, many servicemen did in fact oppose the war, while there or after. Are they traitors too?
In the bigger picture, the problem is that there are too many myopic elements in this nation, many of whom have never even been outside the USA, fought in a war or been caught in one, who advocate that the only form of patriotism is unswerving alignment to the official government line, war or not. Are not Agent Orange and Napalm chemical weapons? Is the burning of people defensible war strategy? We are losing respect for dissent and pluralism, debate and disagreement. In the process of stifling debate, we are stifling the core value of democracy.
Each person has the guaranteed right to free speech, at least for now. One may disagree, but one is not necessarily a traitor for expressing their patriotism by disagreeing with this unilateralist, government-imposed view of the nation and its policies. A different view of the nation is not automatically betrayal.
Without the brave albeit perhaps dramatic acts of the likes of Jane Fonda, duped as she may have been by the N. Vietnamese regarding some issues, this nation’s bloodbath in Vietnam might have been worse. She may have saved lives by raising awareness of the madness of those policies.
One may or may not agree with her or her views on sundry topics. One may even think she lengthened the war by giving aid and comfort to the ‘enemy’. However, one cannot escape the inevitable reality that the war was wrong, and fifty thousand US soldiers, drafted and from poorer sections of the land, died for the ego and patriotism of those who had it wrong.
Whether her acts could be considered treasonous or not, she helped us all see the folly of the war and brought it a little closer to an end. Perhaps what troubles and motivates the authors and their fellow travellers is that they cannot accept the plain fact that she was on the right side on the war issue and are now trying to mutilate her.

Ima Wale - 10/21/2002

Just love the tangy flavor of a well-aged peacenik, marinated in hate, and served on a bed of left-over irrelevancies. Yum, yum.