You may have heard that Jane Fonda apologized to Vietnam veterans in her current book. That’s incorrect. She expressed “regret” for one photograph, but remains proud of her Radio Hanoi broadcasts, her efforts to achieve a Communist victory, and her attacks on American servicemen as war criminals. She never uses the word “apology.”
Fonda’s latest foray into her past–with her pseudo-apology for having been photographed while sitting on a Communist North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, along with her continued vigorous defense of all other aspects of her trip to North Vietnam and her support for the North Vietnamese and Cambodian Communist wars–reminds us that apologies can be very tricky things. An unqualified apology offered with sincere regret for the full scope of the wrong by someone who recognizes the harm inflicted on others can help in reconciliation. But a “pseudo-apology,” offered with limitations by someone who still defends the bulk of the wrong, only serves to aggravate the injury.
Everyone knows the negative effects of the common pseudo-apology, the refrain of which goes, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” Pseudo-apologies attempt to subtly shift the blame to the injured party, who apparently misunderstood the good intentions of the offender.
So it is with Jane Fonda’s book. In My Life So Far, “Hanoi Jane” expresses “regret” for one thing–being photographed with an anti-aircraft gun. “I do not regret that I went. My only regret about the trip was that I was photographed in a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun site.” Fonda amplifies: “That two minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until I die.” She is “innocent of what the photo implies,” but “the photo exists, delivering its message, regardless of what I was really doing or feeling.” She makes it abundantly clear, without apology or regret, that what she was “really doing” was aiding the Communist enemy (who “touch our hearts”), and that what she was “really feeling” was that U.S. aviators were war criminals.
The photograph is not Fonda’s primary transgression. Of course, the photo itself became the everlasting graphic proof of her outrageous behavior. So in a way Fonda is right–in practice, it is the photograph that reminds generations of who Jane Fonda really is. In her “regret,” limited to the photograph alone, Vietnam veterans see Fonda’s endeavoring to ameliorate the harm to herself with virtually no regard to the harm she caused to others.
Hanoi Jane’s wrongs go far beyond the photograph. First, of course, are the facts that she joined the enemy gun crew at all and made two visits to North Vietnam. Second, Fonda’s self-initiated broadcasts on Radio Hanoi accused Americans of being war criminals. It was these broadcasts from the enemy’s capital (not the gun photo) that gave her the lasting handle “Hanoi Jane” in emulation of “Tokyo Rose,” an American who broadcast Japanese propaganda in World War II. In her self-proclaimed FTA (“F*** the Army”) rallies, she claimed that personal atrocities “were a way of life for many of our military”.
Third, Fonda exploited American POWs for Communist gain, asserting that the POWs were being treated humanely following a Communist-controlled visit. In fact, the remarkable POWs who showed any resistance to the Fonda visit were beaten severely and she betrayed the POWs by falsely claiming that they expressed “disgust” and “shame” over what they had done. When the returning POWs reported their torture, showing their broken bodies as proof, Fonda called them “hypocrites and liars.” She claims in her book that she was “framed.”
Fourth, Fonda ignored the non-Communist Vietnamese and Cambodians who resisted the Vietnamese Communists and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, showing no concern for their fate. Fonda continued to support the Communists against indigenous non-Communists even after American withdrawal. She was not “anti-war”; she was “pro-war”–for a Communist victory. She was not even “anti-atrocity” per se, remaining silent on Communist executions of Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians (such as the 3,000 slaughtered with their hands tied in Hue in 1968, or the final tragedy following Communist victories in 1975).
Fonda’s hopes for a Communist victory in South Vietnam and Cambodia were fulfilled. But her hopes for fame as an instrument of Communist achievements have been dashed on the rocks of reality–the truth about Communist malevolence and disregard for human dignity; the truth about the commitment by most American soldiers to honorable behavior; the truth about the torture and murder of American POWs. Now her efforts to promote commercial gain through a limited pseudo-apology, which is simultaneously withdrawn by a less visible (yet explicit) defense of her transgressions, will fail on the same rocks of reality.
Jane Fonda has always lived in a kind of Wonderland–where American POWs are liars and Communist tyrants are honorable men. Now she says that “the U.S. loss represented our nation’s chance for redemption” and that the Communist victory “symbolizes hope for the planet.” Her latest foray into the Vietnam War only shows that, unlike Alice, Jane Fonda has yet to emerge from Wonderland.
–Dexter Lehtinen was severely wounded as a reconnaissance platoon leader in Vietnam. He later graduated first in his class from Stanford Law School and served as a Florida state senator and United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.