WATERBURY, CT–While John Kerry’s handlers continue to find Vietnam War buddies to provide a patriotic prop for each campaign stop, there are thousands of others who view Kerry as one who slandered American soldiers following the war. They remember his role, along with Jane Fonda, in portraying Vietnam War veterans as sadistic soldiers willing to torture and maim innocent civilians. They recall reading his 1971 book The New Soldier, a book with a picture of an American flag flying upside down on the cover and a description of what it called “routine” war-time atrocities committed by American military “war criminals.” They witnessed his leadership in the Vietnam Veterans against the War march on Washington in 1971 when he supposedly threw his medals onto the steps of the Capital. And, most importantly, they bitterly remember his testimony before Congress in the “Winter Soldier Investigation” when his charges of American soldiers’ war crimes were so extreme that even contemporary critics of the Vietnam war have disputed his outrageous claims.
Indeed many Vietnam veterans have bitter memories of John Kerry–just as they have for Jane Fonda because they both inflicted the same kind of pain for them. Kerry and Fonda attended the same antiwar rallies in those days and Kerry will probably wish he had moved out of camera range when the photographers arrived. But, in those days he was clearly proud of his antiwar activities. The country was in a different place then and his activities helped perpetuate the myth of our sadistic soldiers in Vietnam. Perhaps he thought that veterans would have forgotten his betrayal. But, in old factory towns like Waterbury, Connecticut–a town that became famous for a while when veterans tried to stop Jane Fonda from filming a movie there in the late ’80s–there is little love for John Kerry and Jane Fonda among many veterans.
Waterbury vets have an especially long memory of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Their city suffered far more casualties in that war than comparable Connecticut cities. And, they haven’t forgotten. They still commemorate Veterans’ Day each year by erecting a “Hanoi Hilton” cage in the middle of the city’s green and veterans volunteer to take hourly shifts “imprisoned” in the cage. They have little tolerance for those they view as traitors. Even today, more than a decade after the Fonda movie controversy in town, you can still spot the bumper stickers on Waterbury cars with the slogan “We’re Not Fonda Hanoi Jane.”
During Fonda’s time in the city, veterans organized to make her life miserable. They interrupted the filming by honking horns, waving flags within camera range, and picketing the old Waterbury button-factory building where the filming took place. Although they did not stop the film production, Waterbury vets considered their campaign a success as an exasperated Fonda finally appeared on ABC’s 20/20 to publicly apologize to all of the veterans she may have offended during the war.
It is doubtful that John Kerry will ever apologize for his role in the radical and most unpatriotic movement. Many might have forgotten about his outrageous behavior and preposterous claims. But, there are certain sections in the city of Waterbury that Kerry may want to avoid as he continues his new march to the Democratic nomination.
–Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology at the University of San Diego. She is the author of The Politics of Deviance.