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What Did Jane Fonda Really Do Over in Hanoi?

Jane Fonda was more than just an actress born to a wealthy and prominent Hollywood family. She was a symbol of a divided nation. Many Americans traveled to Vietnam on “peace delegations” to end the war, yet it was Jane Fonda who was captured as a timeless image when she was photographed looking through a Viet Cong anti-aircraft gun. She so symbolized the divided nation, hawks arrayed against her and doves siding with her, that she became a personal target, most recently with allegations about personal involvement in the mistreatment of POW’s.[1] According to a recent email that circulated to various Vietnam veterans, Fonda reportedly beat one POW, and betrayed the confidence of another, resulting in his death. These horrendous claims went around the nation on the Internet, resulting in a great deal of anger and consternation among veterans.

The charges against Fonda went beyond the notion that she was an apologist for the mistreatment of American prisoners of war. Fonda was accused of engaging in war crimes on behalf of the North Vietnamese. Her attackers renewed an old strike against the image of an actress who grew up as the daughter of the All-American Henry Fonda, yet became synonymous with the various rebellions of the Sixties. Her rebellion against the foreign policies of the United States suggested to many outraged Americans that treason might have an All-American face, a familiar accent, and be closer to home than the Other that had previously been assumed to embody the enemy. It was to these traditional Americans, alienated by the Sixties, that the email was targeted, playing on their hopes that finally, at long last, Jane Fonda would have to answer for her choices.

Jane Fonda tested the limits of patriotic dissent. She did not merely criticize the authoritarian government of South Vietnam, or the dubious motives of powerful corporations that make up the American military-industrial complex. She sided with the Viet Cong as revolutionary “liberators.” And she travelled to Hanoi at a time when North Vietnamese soldiers were killing Americans. A photograph caught her looking through the scope of an anti-aircraft gun, surrounded by revolutionaries.[2] While criticizing America, she made laudatory comments about the Soviet Union.[3] And she referred to the POW's as hypocrites and liars.[4]

However, the allegation that she abused American POW’s is not true. It has simply been repeated over and over again, without proof, and duplicated on a number of websites. Respected online resources such as “Snopes”, “Truth Miners,” and “Urban Legends” have all cited key persons in the infamous email as having refuted its claims.[5] One man who was supposed to have encountered Jane Fonda, one Colonel Larry Carrigan, has denied any claim that he ever met her. According to the email she visited Hanoi in 1968. Her visit actually took place in 1972. Chris Appy, a historian who has written about Vietnam, told HNN he once asked POW Porter Halyburton about the claims made against Fonda. Halyburton told him that the POW's had tried to debunk them even though they regarded Fonda as an unsympathetic figure.

Fonda has refused to tell her side of the story to historians investigating her role, purportedly because she was saving her story for her own memoirs, which are expected to be published soon.

[1] Cited on November 24, 2004. The actual allegation took the form of an email citing the alleged experiences of a number of Viet Nam War veterans at the hands of Jane Fonda. One presumably claimed to have been struck by her, while another claimed to have had his confidence betrayed to his Communist captors.

[2] Peter Collier, The Fondas; A Hollywood Dynasty. ( New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1991) Pages 225-229.

[3] She praised the USSR for their support of the Viet Cong. She visited Russia in the early Sixties, and was personally impressed by the deference she received. Christopher Andersen, Citizen Jane (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1990) Pages 121-123.

[4]Andersen, 266-267.

[5]http://www.snopes.com/military/fonda.asp; http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/weekly/aa110399b.htm; http://www.truthminers.com/truth/hanoi_jane.htm; cited on November 24, 2004.