Evidently she didn’t ask John McCain or any of the many many American POWS who were tortured in contravention of the Geneva codes. Or, she did ask them and fearing more torture if they told her the truth and possibly death, they lied to her. In fact, this meeting and her anti-American propaganda following it was so palpably a charade that even Fonda, after noting the presence of at least one guard, “realize[d] that the men could have been lying to protect themselves, but I certainly see no signs in any of the seven that they have been tortured, at least not recently.” (Emphasis ours).
Here is what really happened that day in Hanoi, as related in Aid and Comfort [our footnotes appear in brackets]:
“At least three POWs were unwillingly made to meet with Fonda. One prisoner didn’t even know where he was being taken:
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. [Email in possession of authors]
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” was a euphemism. Lack of cooperation at this show interview would have resulted in more torture. The source of the former POW’s quotation is an email in possession of authors] [Emphasis in original]
What was Fonda’s “script”—conveniently omitted in her nearly 600-page autobiography? While pointing at a chart,
. . . Jane Fonda’s theme was that we [the United States] were
committing genocide on the Vietnamese people. She also
asserted that we were bombing the dikes which was against
the rules of war. [Email (from one of the POWs) in possession of authors]
Fonda was quick to lie about her meeting with the POWs, even as she continued to parrot the North Vietnamese propaganda lines being fed to her:
This is Jane Fonda speaking from Hanoi. Yesterday evening . . . I had the opportunity of meeting seven U.S. pilots. Some of them were shot down as long ago as 1968 and some of them had been shot down very recently. They are all in good health. 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.
They told me that the pilots believe they are bombing military targets.
They told me that the pilots are told that they are bombing to free their buddies down below, but, of course, we all know that every bomb that falls on North Vietnam endangers the lives of the American prisoners.
They asked me: What can you do? They asked me to bring messages back to their loved ones and friends, telling them to please be as actively involved in the peace movement as possible, to renew their efforts to end the war.
One of the men who has been in the service for many, many years has
written a book about Vietnamese history, and I thought that this was very moving, that during the time he’s been here, and the time that he has had to reflect on what he has been through and what he has done to this country, he has—his thought has turned to this country, its history of struggle and the people that live here.
They all assured me that they have been well cared for. They—they
listen to the radio. They receive letters. They are in good health. They asked about news from home.
I think we all shared during the time I spent with them a sense of—of deep sadness that a situation like this has to exist, and I certainly felt from them a very sincere desire to explain to the American people that this was is a terrible crime and that it must be stopped, and that Richard Nixon is doing nothing except escalating it while preaching peace, endangering their lives while saying he cares about the prisoners.
And I think that one of the things that touched me the most was that one of the pilots said to me that he was reading a book called The Draft, a book written by the American Friends Service Committee [Quakers], and that in reading this book, he had understood a lot about what had happened to him as a human being in his 16 years of military service. He said that during those 16 years, he had stopped relating to civilian life, he had forgotten that there was anything else besides the military and he said in realizing what had happened to him, he was very afraid that this was happening to many other people.
I was very encouraged by my meeting with the pilots [because] I feel that the studying and the reading that they have been doing during their time here has taught them a great deal in putting the pieces of their lives back together again in a better way, hopefully, and I am sure that when—when they go home, they will go home better citizens than when they left. [Hearing Report, 7670]
Back in the United States, Fonda telephoned the wife of one of the POWs:
She [Fonda] called me after that meeting to let me know [my husband] was fine. I said I just didn’t see how he could be fine held in prison, kept from his country, his home and his family. She hung up on me. [Email in possession of authors]
Fonda’s live broadcast from Hanoi, directed at American troops (both free and captive) throughout Vietnam, was replete with blatant falsehoods.
· The prisoners were not “all in good health” or “well cared for.” By Fonda’s own admission, one of them had been in captivity since 1967, when torture was routine.
· Nor did Fonda have “a very long talk” with the POWs. Again, by her own admission, her diatribe took “twenty minutes or so.” “It was a listen and display thing,” one of the POWs reported later.
· The meeting was not “very open and casual,” and she and the POWs did not “exchange ideas freely”—because, by her own admission, at least one guard was present at all times.
· Each POW did not make antiwar statements and did not attack his Commander-in-Chief (although two may have).
Small wonder that Fonda’s autobiography conveniently skips lightly over her meeting with the seven American POWs, the better to perpetrate lies she had told three decades ago. Far from regretting her deeds of thirty years ago, she in effect repeats them in her book.
Having spent all of a week in Hanoi being chaperoned by Communist functionaries and being shown only what they wanted her to see, after having engaged in a twenty-minute charade in the company of seven American prisoners of war and at least one guard, suddenly Jane Fonda is an expert on torture! While this meeting, and Fonda’s absurd statement above, was post-1969, when admittedly much of the torture had abated, American prisoners of war were even then being maltreated, not to mention being denied virtually every protection of the Geneva Convention that Fonda was so fond of invoking on behalf of the enemy.
Chapter Three of Aid and Comfort spells out the documented maltreatment and brutal torture of our American POWs. Words like “inhumane” and “barbaric” are inadequate to describe what these men endured without surcease—some of them for five or six years. As we were writing that chapter, which details everything from disease, lack of sanitation, near-starvation and withholding of medical treatment to diabolical torture devices whose primary purpose was to extract propaganda, we had to take periodic breaks—such was our emotional turmoil.
Here is one POW’s matter-of-fact description:
The techniques varied from the use of the ropes to cuffs of a rachet type that could be tightened until they penetrated the flesh, sometimes down to the bone; aggravation of injuries . . . such as twisting a broken leg; forcing a man to sit or kneel for long periods of time without food or sleep; beatings with fanbelt-like whips and rifle butts . . . [applying] an assortment of straps,
bars, and chains to body pressure points . . . .
But Jane Fonda didn’t confine herself to skepticism about our POWs having been tortured. When the POWS were finally released and allowed to come home as part of the truce agreement that removed American troops from Vietnam, instead of celebrating their release as any normal American or decent person would, Fonda went on the attack. As we wrote in Aid and Comfort, she denounced them as “liars, hypocrites and pawns,” adjectives better suited to herself:
[W]hen the last accounted-for American POW was out of Vietnam, officially April 1, 1973, stories of the brutal treatment to which they had been subjected began to surface. True to form, Fonda castigated them. Hanoi Jane called these Americans—who had suffered indescribably, and walked into freedom with their heads held high and their wounds, psychological and physical, mostly hidden from public view—“liars, hypocrites, and pawns.” She was livid at the charge that these men had been tortured: “Tortured men do not march smartly off planes, salute the flag, and kiss their wives. They are liars. I also want to say that these men are not heroes.” One of the first contingent of POWs said that, indeed, he had not only been tortured, but that the Vietnamese had tortured him—broken his arm—for the specific purpose of forcing him to see her during her visit to North Vietnam. Jane’s response was a shrug: “Nobody’s perfect, not even the Vietnamese.” [Peter Collier, National Review, July 17, 2000. This POW’s statement has not been corroborated]. [Emphasis ours]
Fonda’s impugning of POW torture stories persisted: “At home, there were some Americans who refused to believe that POWs were tortured. Others believe that their torture was somehow justified. In 1973, shortly after the American POWs were repatriated, antiwar activist Jane Fonda, after hearing reports, of Americans tortured in the camps in North and South Vietnam, commented to Newsweek reporters: ‘There was most probably torture of POW’s [sic] guys who misbehaved and treated their guards in a racist fashion or tried to escape were tortured. Some [U.S.] pilots were beaten to death by the people they had bombed when they parachuted from their planes. But to say that torture was systematic and the policy of the North Vietnamese is a lie.’” [Robert C. Doyle, Voices From Captivity, 192, citing Newsweek, April 16, 1973, 51. See also “Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden— Candid Conversation, “Playboy (April 1974): 67].
In the face of the irrefutable evidence that Fonda callously lied about the suffering of America’s POWs, here is the spin she puts on it in her autobiography:
I made a mistake I deeply regret. I said that the POWs claiming torture were liars, hypocrites, and pawns. I said, “I’m quite sure that there were incidents of torture . . . . But the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that is a lie.” I firmly believe that the POWs I met with had not been tortured. But what I didn’t know at the time was that prior to 1969 there had in fact been systematic torture of POWs.
Like Casablanca’s Captain Renault—a regular “winner” at the roulette table, who was “shocked, shocked” to learn that illegal gambling had been going on at Rick’s Café—Jane Fonda, well-informed antiwar activist, a vocal and dedicated part of the pipeline which channeled domestic Communists and fellow travelers in and out of North Vietnam, supposedly hadn’t the faintest notion, even as late as 1972, that her comrades in Hanoi systematically tortured—as a matter of policy—American prisoners of war. This was not a mistake. It was an act of aggression against American heroes who had been subjected to horrible tortures and against America itself.
Nothing is more emblematic of Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi—nothing has caused her to be more justly scorned—than the photographs (there are several, taken moments apart) of a blissful Fonda sitting atop a 37 mm North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun surrounded by reporters and a gun crew. In the version we used on the cover of “Aid and Comfort,” Fonda is looking through the gun sight at an imaginary American plane, her face ecstatic, her hands folded almost in prayer. If there was anything about her trip to Hanoi that Fonda needed to lie about, it is this photo op.
So she does: According to her memoir, she arrived at Hanoi’s airport. Her hosts briefly went over the itinerary for her visit. “I noticed that the trip to an antiaircraft installation is still on the agenda for the last day, despite my message [a “pretrip letter”] from Los Angeles saying I was not interested in military installations. I tell them that I don’t want to keep that visit on the agenda.”
Does such a letter even exist? No evidence in her autobiography is provided to support its existence. In fact, when her itinerary was published in a Congressional Hearing Report [which we reprinted in full in Aid and Comfort], there was no entry that scheduled a visit to any antiaircraft installation. A reasonable person would conclude that she made up the entire story of her “pretrip” demurral, along with so much else.
And even though she claims to have noticed the itinerary item practically from the moment her feet touched the ground, Fonda acquiesced in the AAA visit because, as she writes, “Altering the plans [not scheduled for another two weeks!] appears to cause consternation. Decisions have been made. I am too tired to protest.” Still, she decides, “I am going.” Lots of Americans, she writes, are taken to military installations; lots of them have to wear helmets. And since such Americans were anti-Americans who believed their country was the “imperialist aggressor” in Vietnam, lots of them had beatific expressions on their face when they sat in gun turrets designed to kill their own countrymen.
As she arrives at an antiaircraft gun installation on the outskirts of Hanoi and sees a weapon used to shoot down American aircraft, Fonda purports to be surprised at “a horde of photographers and journalists.” (Sure, a Hollywood star is surprised to see cameras at a showpiece event that has been set up for her!) The Communist soldiers sing. Fonda’s translator translates: “All men are created equal. They are given certain rights; among these are life, liberty and happiness.” (We are not making this up.) Fonda is so moved by this musical version of our Declaration of Independence that “I begin to cry and clap. These young men should not be our enemy. They celebrate the same words Americans do.” [Emphasis is Fonda’s]
One good performance deserves another. The AAA gunners ask Fonda to reciprocate with a song of her own. Somehow Fonda has managed to anticipate this request before leaving the United States. She has memorized in Vietnamese a song written by South Vietnamese and antiwar activists -- i.e., supporters of the Communist propaganda offensive. “Everyone laughs and claps, including me,” she writes.
The performance is over. “Someone, I don’t remember who, leads me toward the gun, and I sit down, still applauding. It all has nothing to do with where I am sitting. I hardly even think about where I am sitting.” Give us a break.
These three sentences are the only explanation in some 600 pages of Fonda’s autobiography of why she provided the North Vietnamese Communists with a propaganda picture worth, not the proverbial thousand words, but rather thousands of American and Vietnamese lives.
As Fonda walks away, we are asked to believe that the implications of her conduct suddenly dawned on her. She writes, “Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down America planes.” [Emphasis Fonda’s] Not really, Jane. It looks just like you thought that shooting down American planes was a fantastic idea, which is evident from everything else you did and said in Vietnam and in respect to the war before and after.
She claims, preposterously, in her autobiography that she pleaded with her translator to make sure her hosts saw to it that the potentially embarrassing photographs were not published. If this is true, how come she didn’t protest the pictures when they were published? How come it took her twenty years to “apologize” for embarrassing herself (which was the extent of her apology)? This self-serving assertion is of course belied by the fact that she went to the gun emplacement installation in the first place and allowed herself to be photographed – for what purpose? Home entertainment?
Thirty-three years later comes this grudging (and embarrassing and not credible) admission: “It is possible that the Vietnamese had it all planned.” [Emphasis ours] But, she continues, “can I really blame them?” And besides, Fonda adds as an afterthought: “the gun was inactive, there were no planes overhead.” In what reality is this woman living?
In recent months, while promoting her autobiography across the United States, Fonda has purported to apologize for some of her conduct in North Vietnam. But her words have always been equivocal and ambiguous—a technique she established many years ago and honed to a fine art ever since.
As we wrote in Aid and Comfort, What makes Fonda’s regret ring so hollow and self-serving are her revealing words in a 1989 interview, in which she stated categorically: “I did not, have not, and will not say that going to North Vietnam was a mistake . . . . I have apologized only for some of the things that I did there, but I am proud that I went.” Proud that she went to give aid and comfort to a ruthless totalitarian enemy that launched an aggressive war that killed more than 2 million people and saddled South Vietnam with a Communist police state that has lasted for more than thirty years.
Jane Fonda is 68 years old. When she started writing her autobiography, she had an opportunity to take genuine stock of her life and set the record straight once and for all. Here was a chance to prove that she really was sorry for what she had done. That she understood the meaning of the words “apology” and “making amends” and how her actions really did have serious consequences. That regrets, if sincere, require action, not just lip service.
Not only did Fonda lack the integrity and strength of character to seize the opportunity, but she was contemptuous at the mere suggestion that she had much to apologize for. How can one take seriously anything this woman says about an apology when, on page one of the North Vietnam section of her autobiography, she writes: “My only regret about the trip was that I was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun sight”?
Aid and Comfort”: Jane Fonda In North Vietnam was a time-consuming book to write. It required thoroughly researched facts, complex legal and constitutional analysis, hundreds of supporting and elaborating footnotes, and an appendix setting forth every one of Fonda’s broadcasts. We have often been asked why, given other writing projects and more pressing interests, we chose to do it.
Our answer is threefold.
First, Fonda was the most prominent American citizen to give the North Vietnamese invaluable antiwar, anti-United States, pro-Communist propaganda, which cost many American lives. She is a symbol of the willingness of members of the American left to oppose their country in war and give aid and comfort to the enemy camp – even when that enemy is a ruthless totalitarian aggressor. Because she got away with it, it was all the more important that we set the historical record straight by proving that she was indictable and convictable for treason.
Second, we felt strongly that a moral reckoning for Fonda’s conduct in Hanoi was long overdue, one that we hope will follow her to her grave—as it should.
Third, we believed then—we continue to believe—that what we think of as “Fonda-ism” must be fought whenever it appears. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language defines “ism” as “a doctrine, theory, system, etc.” By “Fonda-ism,” we mean the belief that American citizens can with impunity interfere with their country’s foreign policy by making common cause with enemies bent on its destruction.
By herself, Jane Fonda is unimportant—confused, defensive, narcissistic, empty—a woman who admits in her autobiography that “Maybe I simply become whatever the man I am with wants me to be: ‘sex kitten’ [Roger Vadim], ‘controversial activist’ [Tom Hayden], ‘ladylike wife on the arm of corporate mogul’ [Ted Turner].”
But Fonda-ism is important because Americans who give aid and comfort to our enemies – Communists then, jihadists now -- put at risk, not only our cherished institutions, but—in today’s world—our very existence.
Henry Mark Holzer (www.henrymarkholzer.com) is Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn Law School. Erika Holzer (www.erikaholzer.com) is a lawyer turned novelist.