Have you ever made a mistake? Been caught up in the moment? Gone along with something without thinking it thorough. I know I have. And it sometimes got me into trouble.
Lucky for me, I was never an international superstar with impossibly thin legs and epically pouffed hair… But for Jane Fonda, it’s another story.
The Barbarella babe, all-American, golden haired daughter of legend Henry Fonda committed an unthinkable act when she posed for a photograph in North Vietnam, sitting at the controls of anti aircraft gun. A gun that was typically trained on American planes.
Today, more than 40 years later, Fonda is still apologising for that photograph. Here’s what she had say earlier this year while speaking at an art centre event, according to US Weekly: “Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad. It hurts me and it will to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”
So how did it happen? On her blog, Fonda describes the incident that has seen her referred to as Hanoi Jane.
“There is one thing that happened while in North Vietnam that I will regret to my dying day — I allowed myself to be photographed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun.
“It happened on my last day in Hanoi. It was not unusual for Americans who visited North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations and when they did, they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I was told to wear during the numerous air raids I had experienced.
“The translator told me that the soldiers wanted to sing me a song,” Fonda continued. “He translated as they sung… I heard these words: ‘All men are created equal; they are given certain rights; among these are life, Liberty and Happiness.’ These are the words Ho pronounced at the historic ceremony. I began to cry and clap. These young men should not be our enemy. They celebrate the same words Americans do.
“The soldiers asked me to sing for them in return,” she added. “I finished. Everyone was laughing and clapping… What happened next was something I have turned over and over in my mind countless times…
“Someone (I don’t remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding… I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed. I got up, and as I started to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what had just happened hit me. ‘Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes.’ I pleaded with him, ‘You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published.’ I was assured it would be taken care of. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Described like this, it sounds like an innocent mistake, but of course the question remains, what was she doing there in the first place?
This wasn’t an isolated incident, Fonda had been campaigning against the Vietnam War for a number of years. She supported the Alcatraz Island occupation by American Indians in 1969, and the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, stating, “Revolution is an act of love; we are the children of revolution, born to be rebels. It runs in our blood.” Fonda vowed to support the Black Panthers with love, money, propaganda and risk.
Fonda has never apologised for going to North Vietnam in the first place and it’s unlikely she will. The fact is, she believed in the “mission” and thought she could help bring an end to the war and Americans home.
The reason I am willing to forgive Fonda is not because she made a mistake but because she has repeatedly apologised for the poor choice of judgement in regards to the photo – yet she has also stuck to her guns (pardon the terrible pun) on the fact she believed in herself at the time.
Fonda was clearly not a communist at heart – she ended up marrying one of the richest men in America – she has clearly accepted all the transmogrifications of her self and refuses to apologise for who she was. And for that, I admire her.
For those who continue to detest her, Fonda will always be Hanoi Jane – but at 77, she has won countless awards, sparked a health revolution and, in her latest role in Grace and Frankie, helped give baby boomers a compelling presence in the media. So I think it’s time we move on, don’t you?
Do you still see Hanoi Jane when you see Jane Fonda? Or have you forgiven her too?