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Patriot Jane An Article by Jeff Jacoby
ANOTHER HONOR FOR JANE FONDA: At its national convention in Washington, DC,
next week, the American Association of University Women will bestow its new Speaking Out for Justice Award on the famous actress and aerobics queen.
She is being hailed, the AAUW says, as "a committed activist who champions the environment, human rights, and the empowerment of women and girls."
To judge from the AAUW's two-page biography of its honoree, Fonda has also championed anti-gang efforts in California, rural villagers in Tanzania, student theatrical work in Georgia, and open-space preservation in Montana.
The bio mentions the Oscar she won for her role in "Klute," her "books, cookbooks, and videos," her work on preventing teen-age pregnancy, and the Fonda Family Foundation, which promotes "gender, racial, and environmental justice." It talks about the children's camp she used to run, it lists the
boards of directors she serves on, and it even has something to say about her roles in "The China Syndrome" and "9 to 5."
But the AAUW document leaves a few things out. There is no mention of "Barbarella," for instance. Or of Ted Turner. Or of Jim Jones and his People's Temple cult, which Fonda praised -- a few months before the mass suicide in Guyana -- as "the church I relate to most" for its "sense of what life is all about." Above all, the AAUW makes no reference to what was surely the most dramatic illustration of the lengths this "committed activist" has been willing to go in support of her ideals.
I am looking at a picture that ran in The New York Times on Sunday, July 16, 1972. The photo shows Fonda clapping, with a wide grin on her face and three cameras around her neck, as she watchesa helmeted soldier operate an anti-aircraft gun. Six or seven other men, most of them in uniform, can be
seen as well.
The picture was taken in Southeast Asia. Fonda had flown over to assist the war effort -- the North Vietnamese war effort. The rocket launcher she was so gleefully applauding was used to shoot down US pilots. Fonda had come to Hanoi to provide aid and comfort to a vicious dictatorship at war with the
United States, and specifically to assist in demoralizing American prisoners of war. In a series of broadcasts for Radio Hanoi, Fonda denounced "US imperialism," praised the valor of North Vietnamese, and urged American GIs to disobey orders.
"I'm speaking particularly to the US servicemen," she said in one broadcast. "I don't know what your officers tell you ... but [your] weapons are illegal and ... the men who are ordering you to use these weapons are war criminals according to international law. In the past, in Germany and Japan, men who
committed these kinds of crimes were tried and executed."
Fonda's North Vietnam propaganda tour is rarely spoken of today. It is considered churlish to bring it up, a sign that one is ideologically stunted, a rigid Cold Warrior unwilling to let bygones be bygones.
But where is the integrity in giving Fonda a "Speaking Out for Justice" award without acknowledging what she said and did at the most outspoken moment of her life? Fonda's behavior in 1972 was horrible, no less for its disloyalty than for its cruelty. She did more than applaud North Vietnam's anti-aircraft
artillery. She also climbed into the gunner's seat, donned an enemy helmet, and peered through the gunsight -- "as if," Fred Cherry, a POW whose F-105 had been blown out of the sky by just such a weapon, would later say, "she was attempting to shoot down an American aircraft.... It was very upsetting knowing an American celebrity was doing that kind of thing."
Even that wasn't the worst of it. POWs were tortured for refusing to meet with Fonda and pose for propaganda shots with her. Navy Captain David Hoffman was hung by his broken arm from a hook in the ceiling until he agreed to take part. Michael Benge, a civilian POW, was forced to kneel on a concrete floor, arms extended, with a heavy metal rebar laid across his hands; every time his
arms sagged from the weight, he was whipped with a bamboo cane.
Later, when the POWs came home and told what they had suffered in Hanoi's prison camps, Fonda called them "hypocrites and liars."
So far as I am aware, she has never apologized for that slander. Nor for championing a Communist victory in Southeast Asia. Nor for denouncing Joan Baez in 1979, when the former antiwar activist asked Fonda to join her in condemning the communists' massive human rights violations.
She did say -- once -- that she was sorry for the "men who were in Vietnam who I hurt." That was in 1988, when veterans' protests in New England were delaying production of a movie she was making. Fonda went on "20/20" to tell Barbara Walters that she regretted having been "thoughtless and careless" -- but insisted that she had nothing against the soldiers she had called war
criminals and liars. "My intentions were never to hurt them or make their situation worse."
Jane Fonda was 34 in 1972. Her decision to abet the totalitarians who were engaged in killing her fellow-Americans was not an adolescent whim. It was an adult choice, and it was beneath contempt. And now she is to be honored for "speaking out for justice?" What can the American Association of University Women be thinking?