For three decades Jane Fonda obfuscated, distorted and lied about virtually everything connected with her wartime trip to North Vietnam: her motive, her acts, her intent, and her contribution to the Communists’ war effort. With the aid of clever handlers, she so successfully suppressed and spun her conduct in Hanoi that many Americans didn’t know what she had done there, and, more important, the legal significance.
Three years ago, our book, “Aid and Comfort”: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam (McFarland & Co.), laid bare the incontrovertible facts, applied the American law of treason to them —and proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jane Fonda should have been indicted for (and would have been convicted of) treason.
With the recent publication of Fonda’s autobiography, My Life So Far —which, with one minor exception, does not contain a single cited source to support any claim she makes in her text, or any quotation she uses—the woman justly dubbed “Hanoi Jane” makes statements and provides details that inadvertently lend support to every key charge against her.
Especially noteworthy is that she devotes 50 pages of her nearly 600 page book—which spans about seventy years of her life—to the two-week trip to Communist North Vietnam that tarnished her public image forever. One of these chapters is called “Framed” which is a pun referring to the infamous photograph of her sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-craft gun and also the characteristically perverse claim of innocence by a defendant whom that same photograph has caught in the act. Since her conduct in wartime Vietnam continues to inflame Americans – vets harassed and even spat on her during her book tour -- and to dog her heels at every turn, one might have expected her to put some substance into her account of this period in her life. Instead, the public is served up with lies that are transparent and omissions designed to bury the truth.
In Aid and Comfort we discussed at length the important legal distinction between “motive” and “intent.” In essence, it’s the difference between wanting to kill your neighbor because he’s been sleeping with your wife (motive), and acting in furtherance of that motive by putting a bullet in his head (intent). In a courtroom it is the latter that matters. One of the elements of the crime of treason is an intent to betray the United States. We wanted to make clear that, whatever motivated Fonda to make the trip to Hanoi, it was her intent in going there, and in doing what she did there, that would be relevant to a tribunal determining whether she committed treason or not.
Still, we did wonder why an American citizen would have traveled to the capital of a ruthless enemy of the United States who was torturing American prisoners of war and killing our fighting men. Accordingly, we raised the question and explored some answers:
Why did Jane Fonda travel to Hanoi during her country’s war with North Vietnam? While no one can know for certain—perhaps not even Fonda herself, because of the complex psychological drives at work within her—and while motive (as distinguished from intent) is not a defense to the crime of treason, still, it is useful to consider why Fonda acted as she did in Hanoi. That consideration is rooted in an examination of Fonda’s background, in which much can be found to explain her radicalization and her later propaganda broadcasts and other pro-Communist, anti-American conduct. Based on that background, we offer an opinion: Jane Fonda’s desperate psychological need to overcome early parental rejection, to acquire a sense of identity and self esteem, and to fill her empty value system, caused her, first, to become an antiwar militant, and then to journey to wartime North Vietnam.
How right we were.
In a mere two sentences, on page 290 of her book, Fonda gives her reason for going to North Vietnam: “Heightened public attention—even if it took controversy to achieve it—was what was needed to confront the impending crisis with [threatened American bombing] of the [North Vietnamese] dikes. I would take a camera and bring back photographic evidence (if such was to be found) of the bomb damage to the dikes we’d been hearing about.”
Fonda wants readers to believe that at the time she went to Vietnam there was no “heightened public attention,” no “controversy” about bombing the dikes, when of course there was. It was seen in Washington and opposed on the left as a measure to stop the North Vietnamese aggression and end the war. But Fonda wants readers to believe that no one else in the international antiwar, anti-American, pro-Communist movement was “confront[ing] the impending crisis” and that the North Vietnamese were not conducting a ferocious propaganda campaign to prevent destruction of their dikes. It was up to her, Jane Fonda, an actress with a “small 8-millimenter film camera” and a “still camera” to in her autobiography’s oft-repeated mantra, “make it better.”
That Fonda would dream up by herself such a heroic, history altering project is in fact belied by the self-portrait she paints in the preceding 289 pages in which she repeatedly confesses that she “would become whatever I felt the people whose love and attention I needed wanted me to be”; that she had “a lifelong feeling of not being good enough”; that she believed herself to be “weak and worthless;” that “it was always men I was concerned about pleasing.”
The man she was intent upon pleasing then – who actually sent her to North Vietnam -- was antiwar activist, pro-Vietnamese Communist and self-styled anti-American “revolutionary” Tom Hayden. Hayden had previously traveled to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia with an SDS delegation to meet with the Vietnamese Communists and counsel them on how to conduct psychological warfare against the United States.
“Tom felt strongly that I should go,” she writes. “Perhaps it would take a different sort of celebrity to get people’s attention.” (In other words, as a political activist, Hayden didn’t have celebrity enough.)
So actress Jane Fonda, encouraged by her pro-Communist husband-to-be, and wearing the proud mantle of a “different sort of celebrity,” journeyed to the Communist capitol – the capitol of the aggression against South Vietnam – to provide its regime with propaganda support for its war. This was precisely the support that our American prisoners of war refused to give their Communist captors even at the price of physical and mental torture and, in some cases, death.
Propaganda was an integral part of the psychological warfare strategy of the North Vietnamese Communists. They used it to rally their own citizens. They used it to undermine successive governments in the South, to strengthen Hanoi’s ties to China, to the Soviet Union, and to other communist regimes. They used it to shake morale in American and allied forces and to enlist sympathy and aid from non-Communist countries around the world. Most importantly, they used it to undermine the will of the American people to carry on the war, which they knew was the key to their victory since they could not match America’s military strength. As we wrote in Aid and Comfort: “[D]espite the ‘public relations’ risk of torturing American prisoners of war, the North Vietnamese chanced it because of the high value they placed on propaganda.” (More about Hanoi’s torture of American prisoners of war below).
In the fifty or so pages Fonda devotes to her trip to Hanoi, the only time Fonda even alludes to the possibility that the Communists might be using her for propaganda, is when she claims that on arriving there, it occurred to her to “wonder whether this is a group of seasoned cadres whose job it is to manipulate me.”
She didn’t wonder long. Fonda was in fact a willing accomplice to such manipulation. She would participate in multiple photo-ops, press conferences, official meetings, guided tours and radio broadcasts. She would work from scripts that were provided for her. And in the end she would satisfy the Communist propagandists beyond their wildest dreams.
Of all her disreputable achievements in these two weeks, it was her Radio Hanoi broadcasts and her meeting with seven American POWs that most profited the North Vietnamese regime. Fonda made about eight broadcasts, some live, some taped. She would have us believe that not until several days after her arrival in Hanoi—and then only as a result of what she had seen on the ground—did the idea of radio broadcasts arise. She claims the broadcasts were solely her idea:
As we step from the Viet Duc hospital into the sunlight, I have made up
my mind. “I want to speak on your radio,” I say to my hosts. “I want to
try to tell U.S. pilots what I am seeing here on the ground.” * * * I must
try to make what I am seeing as personal an experience for them as it is
for the soldiers on the ground in South Vietnam. I have come
to bear witness, and while I have not planned this, I feel
it as a moral imperative.
Lies and Omissions
Of her broadcasts over Radio Hanoi, Fonda writes in her autobiography, “Aside from a few notes I have scribbled to myself, I speak extemporaneously, from my heart, about what I have witnessed and how it made me feel.”
This claim, as we showed in Aid and Comfort, is ludicrous: “Consider some of the statements made by this young actress who lacked political sophistication, who was ignorant of history, who had an almost non-existent knowledge of international affairs, and who probably had never before written anything more complicated than a check: “neocolonialism,” the 1954 Geneva Accords, what constituted a military target, different types of aircraft and ordnance . . . and more. It is obvious that in Hanoi, Jane Fonda was acting as a willing tool of the Communists, to a considerable extent simply reading “canned” material created by professional Communist propagandists (albeit with perhaps an occasional ad-lib). Indeed, some of the words and syntax are those of a person or persons for whom English was not a first language, and it is doubtful that the political language came from Fonda herself.
Fonda also lies about why she made the propaganda broadcasts. She writes: “I want to speak on your radio, I say to my hosts. I want to tell U.S. pilots what I am seeing here on the ground.”
If, as she claims in her autobiography, the purpose of her broadcasts was to apprise pilots and ground troops of what our bombing was doing to the North, why did she broadcast the following statements (among others like them)?
· The Vietnamese people were peasants—leading a peaceful, bucolic life before the Americans came to destroy Vietnam.
· The Vietnamese seek only “freedom and independence”—which the United States wants to prevent them from having.
· The Vietnamese fighters are her “friends.”
· The million infantry troops which the United States put into Vietnam, and the Vietnamization program, have failed.
· The United States seeks to turn Vietnam into a “neocolony.”
· Patrick Henry’s slogan “liberty or death” was not very different from Ho Chi Minh’s “Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom.”
· Nixon violated the 1954 Geneva Accords.
· Vietnam is “one nation, one country.”
· The Communists’ proposal for ending the war is “fair, sensible, reasonable and humanitarian.”
· The United States must get out of South Vietnam and “cease its support for the . . . Thieu regime.”
· “I want to publicly accuse Nixon here of being a new-type Hitler whose crimes are being unveiled.”
· “The Vietnamese people will win.”
· “Nixon is continuing to risk your [American pilots’] lives and the lives of the American prisoners of war . . . in a last desperate gamble to keep his office come November. How does it feel to be used as pawns? You may be shot down, you may perhaps even be killed, but for what, and for whom?”
· Nixon “defiles our flag and all that it stands for in the eyes of the entire world.”
· “Knowing who was doing the lying, should you then allow these same people and some liars to define for you who your enemy is?”
· American troops are fighting for ESSO, Shell and Coca-Cola.
· “Should we be fighting on the side of the people who are, who are murdering innocent people, should we be trying to defend a government in Saigon which is putting in jail tens of thousands of people into the tiger cages, beating them, torturing them . . . . And I don’t think . . . that we should be risking our lives or fighting to defend that kind of government.”
· “We . . . have a common enemy—U. S. imperialism.”
· “We thank you [the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese] for your brave and heroic fight.”
· “Nixon’s aggression against Vietnam is a racist aggression [and] the American war in Vietnam is a racist war, a white man’s war.”
· Soldiers of the South Vietnamese army “are being sent to fight a war that is not in your interests but is in the interests of the small handful of people who have gotten rich and hope to get richer off this war and the turning of your country into a neocolony of the United States.”
· “The only way to end the war is for the United States to withdraw all its troops, all its airplanes, its bombs, its generals, its CIA advisors and to stop the support of the . . . regime in Saigon . . . .”
· “There is only one way to stop Richard Nixon from committing mass genocide in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and that is for a mass protest . . . to expose his crimes . . . .”
· “In 1969—1970 the desertions in the American army tripled. The desertions of the U.S. soldiers almost equaled the desertions from the ARVN army . . . .”
· American soldiers in Vietnam discovered “that their officers were incompetent, usually drunk . . . .”
· “Perhaps the soldiers . . . who have suffered the most . . . [are] the black soldiers, the brown soldiers, and the red and Asian soldiers.”
· Recently I talked to “a great many of these guys and they all expressed their recognition of the fact that this is a white man’s war, a white businessman’s war, that they don’t feel it’s their place to kill other people of color when at home they themselves are oppressed and prevented from determining their own lives.”
· “I heard horrifying stories about the treatment of women in the U.S. military. So many women said to me that one of the first things that happens to them when they enter the service is that they are taken to see the company psychiatrist and they are given a little lecture which is made very clear to them that they are there to service the men.”
Whoever scripted this blatant anti-American, pro-Communist propaganda, one thing is certain: it had nothing to do with apprising pilots and ground troops of the consequences of American bombing in North Vietnam. Fonda’s transparently crude attempts to provide the Communists with a famous American voice to mouth their propaganda and undermine our war efforts in Vietnam could have had only one purpose: to provide aid and comfort to our enemy.
Doubtless because the accusation has dogged her for over three decades (we made the same charge in Aid and Comfort), Fonda found it necessary to disabuse her readers by tossing in a single throwaway sentence: “[S]ome will later accuse me of treason for urging soldiers to desert—something I do not do.”
Here is Fonda speaking live over Radio Hanoi, and on tape, virtually inviting South Vietnamese soldiers (and, by implication, American troops) to desert:
We read with interest about the growing numbers of you [South Vietnam Army troops] who are understanding the truth and joining with your fellow countrymen to fight for freedom and independence and democracy [i.e., with the Communists]. We note with interest, for example, that as in the case of the 56th Regiment of the 3d Division of the Saigon Army, ARVN soldiers are taken into the ranks of the National Liberation Front [the Viet Cong], including officers who may retain their rank. We think that this is an example of the fact that the democratic, peace-loving, patriotic Vietnamese people want to embrace all Vietnamese people in forgiveness, open their arms to all people who are willing to fight against the foreign intruder. [Emphasis ours]
How can the Communists “embrace” and “open their arms” to South Vietnamese and American troops unless they desert?
As to encouraging “mutiny”—a word never mentioned, a subject not even addressed, in Fonda’s autobiography—Fonda’s Radio Hanoi broadcasts, unlike her veiled nuances devoted to desertion, are not so subtle: “[Although] we do not condone the killing of American officers . . . we do support the soldiers who are beginning to think for themselves.”
Which soldiers were those? Beginning to think about what? The juxtaposition of these two thoughts—killing officers and thinking for themselves—can have no meaning other than applauding, even encouraging, the “fragging” (murder by hand grenade) of officers by enlisted men.
Fonda is insistent in her autobiography about having gone to wartime North Vietnam only because she wanted to help stop the killing and end the war: “I…wanted to…stop the killing.”
Another lie. Worse than a lie—a perverse irony. By providing the North Vietnamese Communists with an abundance of timely anti-American, pro-Communist propaganda, Fonda’s trip and the activities of her comrades in the anti-war movement who were also inspired by her betrayals actually lengthened the war and, concomitantly, increased the deaths and casualties on both sides.
Fonda, herself, along with Hayden and their followers, have for years taken credit for restraining the Nixon Administration from destroying the dikes—an action which, by all accounts, would have shortened the war and perhaps even ended it, reducing at least one year’s casualties.
That Fonda’s propaganda efforts played an important role in prolonging the war and increasing the death toll is attested to by North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin. In a postwar interview with The Wall Street Journal reproduced at length in “Aid and Comfort, ” the Colonel, a dedicated Communist cadre for most of his life, confidant of Ho Chi Minh and the architect of the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” along which the North Vietnamese conducted their aggression against the South, and also one of the first officers of their army to enter Saigon on the day it fell, had this to say:
Wall Street Journal: Was the American antiwar movement important to Hanoi’s victory?
Bui Tin: It was essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear [China] was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda . . . gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses.
The identical point was made by North Vietnamese Defense Minister General Vo Nguyen Giap, the architect of France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu. This was the man most responsible for the Communists’ military strategy in their war with the United States.
Stop the killing? End the war? Jane Fonda’s treason unquestionably prolonged both. What she “ended” were the lives of many Americans, and many more Vietnamese for whom she claimed to have such sympathy.
Most chilling of all, perhaps, is that the consequences of Fonda’s actions did not begin and end with Vietnam. In facilitating a Communist victory in Vietnam, Jane Fonda, self-described woman of conscience, contributed to the genocidal bloodbath that would soon follow in Cambodia.
POWS: “Healthy and Repentant”
In writing Aid and Comfort, and now this rebuttal to the Vietnam section of Fonda’s autobiography, we have often attempted—without success—to rank her treasonous acts from bad to worse; everything she did in Hanoi, and immediately thereafter, was reprehensible.
But among the worst lies she told while in North Vietnam concerned her deliberate exploitation of American prisoners of war and the aid she gave to those who tortured them by providing them a cover of denial for their crimes.
It is no surprise that in her autobiography (which doesn’t contain a single index reference to “prisoner of war” or “POW”), Fonda devotes little more than one page to her widely publicized meeting with seven American POWs and her claims that they were not tortured. And, worse, that they were sorry for serving their country.
Here is the essence of what Fonda has written in her autobiography, tracking what she said in a Radio Hanoi broadcast:
· “The POWs appear to be healthy and fit.”
· “All of them have called publicly for an end to the war and signed a powerful antiwar letter . . . . “
· “A few of them tell me they, too, are against the war and want Nixon to be defeated in the upcoming elections. They express their fear that if he is reelected, the war will go on and on . . . and that bombs might land on their prison.”
· “I am asked to convey their hopes that their families will vote for George McGovern.”
· “I ask them if they feel they have been brainwashed or tortured, and they laugh.”
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