In July, 1972, in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jane Fonda became infamous. The Vietnam War had been raging for nearly 10 years. U.S. citizens did not yet know about the burglary that had taken place at the Watergate hotel the month prior. Jane Fonda, actress and daughter of actor Henry Fonda, was passionate about exposing governmental lies and protecting the lives of civilians like those massacred at My Lai four years earlier.
HBO will be airing a documentary entitled Jane Fonda in Five Acts on September 24, 2018. Her Vietnam activism is sure to play a large part in the story.
Fonda was convinced that the soldiers themselves are being lied to, and that they were unaware they were killing innocent people. She used every means she could to get the message out, including accepting an invitation from the North Vietnamese to visit Hanoi Province for two weeks, where she used the Voice of Vietnam radio waves to speak directly to the U.S. troops, whom she was barred from visiting. She implored them to stop bombing civilian fields and dikes.
“I appealed to them to please consider what you are doing. I don’t think they know,” Fonda said in a stateside news conference upon her return.
Little did she know, photographs taken by the North Vietnamese of her sitting on an antiaircraft gun would haunt her for the rest of her life.
The Washington Post writes that Fonda recalls the incident in her 2005 memoir, saying that she was led to the gun and told to sit, but wasn’t paying attention to what was sitting on. She says camera flashes went off and the translator led her away, and it was only then she realized what had happened. She pleaded with the North Vietnamese not to release the photos, but the photos were, of course, released.
She has apologized for the incident many times and tried to explain it, but has never been able to shake the vitriol and cries of treason heaped upon her by American military personnel. To them, she was a traitor who fraternized and sympathized with the enemy, and used their resources to try and interfere with the U.S. mission in Vietnam.
The anger directed at her spawned numerous lies about her actions, chief among them being that when she met with seven U.S. prisoners of war, they smuggled pieces of paper to her, asking her to give them to their families. Supposedly, she turned those pieces of contraband in to the North Vietnamese, after which prisoners were either killed or tortured. Snopes points out the fallacies of this lie; all of the prisoners of war involved have categorically denied that anything of the sort happened.
Upon her return from Hanoi, the State Department’s spokesman, Charles L. Bray, issued a statement saying, “It is always distressing to find American citizens who benefit from the protection and assistance of this government lending their voice in any way to governments such as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam — distressing indeed.”
For many people, especially those associated with the military, this remains the view of “Hanoi Jane,” and one against which Fonda continues to fight.