Hanoi Jane

“If you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would someday become communist.” – Jane Fonda, Nov. 21, 1970

This week (Aug. 22) in 1972, on a tour of North Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War, actress and political activist Jane Fonda made a broadcast from the Hotel Especen in North Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, in which she praised the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) for shooting down American air crews.  She also accused President Richard Nixon of attempting to turn North Vietnam into an American “neo-colony” and recommended that Nixon read the poetry of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh.  And adding injury to insult, during that tour she was photographed smiling at NVA soldiers while sitting in the firing-seat of one of the NVA’s anti-aircraft guns, which had shot down countless American pilots (including Sen. John McCain).

Her trip ignited a firestorm of controversy, which was heightened upon her return to America because she claimed that American prisoners of war were well treated by the North Vietnamese, and she called returning American POWs who had claimed otherwise “hypocrites and liars.”

Granted, 1972 was a crazy time in America, with Vietnam and race relations alternately polarizing America’s citizens, but millions of Americans, in particular Vietnam War veterans, never forgave Fonda for what they perceived to be giving aid and comfort to the enemy, if not committing outright treason.  Vets dubbed her “Hanoi Jane” and bumper stickers sprouted up proclaiming “I’m not Fonda Hanoi Jane.”

And speaking of hypocrites, in addition to making very good money as an actress, in her later years Fonda started a video exercise business in which she wrote books and released workout videos that sold millions of copies and made her even wealthier.  For someone so enamored of communism, her critics noted, she was certainly doing nicely in the world’s most capitalist society.  And it didn’t help that she later married one of America’s richest capitalists, media mogul Ted Turner.

In later years, Fonda began to soften her earlier statements about Vietnam and the war’s veterans, even claiming she was naïve and was “manipulated” into sitting on the anti-aircraft gun, and expressing regret for how her actions were perceived.  “I have learned that a picture does not capture what was actually in your heart,” she later said.

But very few Vietnam veterans believe her or forgive her, believing instead that her actions contributed significantly to the war’s final outcome, the defeat and subjugation of South Vietnam by the North.  Or as a high-ranking NVA officer, Bui Tin, replied years later when asked what effect America’s anti-war movement had on the war, “It was essential to our strategy.”