Jane Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

American film star Jane Fonda became a political activist during the late 1960’s. In 1972, she sparked great controversy when she visited Hanoi, North Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Fonda’s critics considered her visit and public actions in Hanoi to be a deep betrayal, even treasonous. Fonda, dubbed Hanoi Jane by her detractors, never could shake the controversy, which would follow her through her career.

Summary of Event

Jane Fonda, daughter of actor Henry Fonda, began her career as a model, began acting on the Broadway theater Broadway stage during the 1950’s, and then moved into film. During the 1960’s, she acted in seventeen movies, including the role of an erotic queen in the cult classic Barbarella (1968), which was directed by her first husband, Roger Vadim. In 1969, Fonda took on a new role as a political activist. She joined American Native Americans Indian protestors in their occupation of Alcatraz Island Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and was arrested. It was the first of many social and political stands for Fonda. In an era of social unrest and growing opposition to the Vietnam War, Fonda’s onscreen and personal life became much more politically charged. [kw]Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans, Jane (July 8-22, 1972) Fonda, Jane Vietnam War;and Jane Fonda[Fonda] Treason;Jane Fonda[Fonda] Fonda, Jane Vietnam War;and Jane Fonda[Fonda] Treason;Jane Fonda[Fonda] [g]Asia;July 8-22, 1972: Jane Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans[01420] [g]Vietnam;July 8-22, 1972: Jane Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans[01420] [c]Public morals;July 8-22, 1972: Jane Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans[01420] [c]Politics;July 8-22, 1972: Jane Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans[01420] [c]Social issues and reform;July 8-22, 1972: Jane Fonda’s Visit to North Vietnam Outrages Many Americans[01420] Hayden, Tom Nguyen Duy Trinh

In 1972, Fonda received an invitation to visit Hanoi in North Vietnam (now Vietnam). Her activist friend and future husband, Tom Hayden, encouraged her to accept the offer and helped make arrangements for the visit. A strong opponent of war and of U.S. president Richard Nixon, Fonda hoped her presence in North Vietnam would intensify public debate and anger over the war and help refute Nixon’s claim that U.S. involvement in the conflict was scaling back. Although other antiwar activists had visited North Vietnam without much ado, Fonda’s trip provoked decades of controversy and affected her public image.

Jane Fonda speaks to reporters in New York City after her trip to North Vietnam.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

On July 8, Fonda journeyed from the United States to Paris, France, where her husband, Vadim, resided. She then flew to Moscow in the Soviet Union and then traveled via Aeroflot Russian Airlines to Hanoi. She journeyed incognito, simply dressed and alone, without companionship from Hayden, who could not travel at that time. Upon her arrival, Fonda was greeted by five uniformed North Vietnamese servicemen representing the Vietnam Committee for Solidarity with the American People. They welcomed the famous actor, who was now well known for voicing strong criticism of U.S. involvement in war in Southeast Asia. Accompanied by her hosts, Fonda began an escorted two-week tour of North Vietnam.

During her first few days in Hanoi, Fonda visited three hospitals: the Vietnam-Soviet Friendship Hospital, where she reported experiencing air raids while being treated for a foot injury; Bach Mai Hospital, where she noted damage from bombs; and Viet Duc Hospital, which allegedly had been doing research on babies with birth disorders Birth disorders attributed to chemicals used in warfare. Over the next few days, Fonda also visited schools, factories, towns, and dikes that the North Vietnamese had chosen as examples of sites reportedly bombed by Americans. She also toured Hanoi’s War Crimes Museum, a collection of war relics apparently left in the country by American servicemembers. Fonda was horrified by the visible destruction of the region and by the artillery at the museum. The friendliness of the people she met during her tour confirmed what she already believed: It was wrong for the United States to be involved in North Vietnam. Her beliefs proved to be opportune for North Vietnam, but they stirred controversy in the United States, a controversy unabated into the twenty-first century.

Fonda soon agreed to produce ten Radio Hanoi propaganda broadcasts expressing her view of what she had been witnessing. These broadcasts, including both live and taped performances, were aired from July 14 to July 22 to U.S. military personnel, South Vietnamese soldiers, and local citizens. The broadcasts portrayed the people of North Vietnam as victims. They were described as simple folk who merely wished to return to their former calm lives and to run their own government. Fonda’s radio broadcasts also criticized U.S. involvement in the conflict, lashed out at Nixon and U.S. military leaders, called American prisoners of war (POWs) “war criminals,” and pleaded for U.S. pilots and servicemembers to return home. Fonda soon earned the nickname Hanoi Jane, and her radio addresses are now compared to those of Gillars, Mildred Mildred Gillars, otherwise known as "Axis Sally"[Axis Sally] Axis Sally, who conducted German propaganda broadcasts during World War II.

Near the end of her stay in North Vietnam, Fonda was invited to a press conference with several American POWs. The meeting took place under the surveillance of North Vietnamese officials. During her interview, Fonda introduced herself as a war protestor and then asked the POWs about their health and feelings of safety. Because the POWs responded positively, Fonda considered all to be well with them and reported this when she returned to the United States. Her conviction that the POWs were treated humanely proved detrimental later in her career. After POWs returned home, many reported maltreatment, but Fonda insisted that what she saw was the only truth.

On her last day in Hanoi, Fonda’s hosts guided her to a military site. Dressed in Vietnamese-made clothing and a military helmet, Fonda exchanged songs with the Vietnamese soldiers. Afterward she sat in the gunner’s seat of a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun and, still smiling, viewed antiaircraft military shells. She posed and laughed while seated on an instrument used to destroy U.S. aircraft. On that same day, Fonda also met with several senior North Vietnamese officials, including Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh. She was allowed to leave the country carrying a twenty-minute film of her visit.

Impact

After returning from North Vietnam, Fonda joined Hayden and others in creating the national antiwar organization Indochina Peace Campaign Indochina Peace Campaign (IPC), which included a two-month tour that raised funds for and supported their war protests. This campaign became the roots of IPC Productions, later known as Jane Fonda Films (which produced films such as Coming Home in 1978, The China Syndrome in 1979, Nine to Five in 1980, and On Golden Pond in 1982). Fonda continued her antiwar activities and returned to Vietnam in 1974 with Hayden. While there they created the documentary Introduction to the Enemy (1974).

Over the next sixteen years, Fonda was variously described as a poorly educated but talented actor caught up in the moment, a victim of circumstance, a seductress with a cause, and a traitor to the United States. While some people applauded her actions and honored her for her bravery, the vast majority of people believed that her dealings in Hanoi were inappropriate, even treasonous. The scandal followed Fonda wherever she went. In 1984, she was forced to cancel appearances scheduled to promote her new line of exercise products. Conservatives attempted to bar her from filming Stanley & Iris (1990) in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Under unyielding pressure, Fonda chose to make a public statement regarding her actions in Hanoi in 1972. On June 17, 1988, ABC’s 20/20 broadcast Barbara Walter’s interview “Healing Wounds,” in which Fonda expressed some regrets. Some people consider this interview to mark the end of the Vietnam era for Fonda, but many veterans and military supporters believe that her acknowledgment of having some misgivings was too little, too late, and less than apologetic. Many felt betrayed by Fonda; in 1962, she had posed as Miss Army Recruiting for a military advertising campaign. On March 31, 2005, Fonda reiterated in an interview with Lesley Stahl for CBS’s 60 Minutes[sixty minutes] 60 Minutes that she did have some regrets about her visit, and that the image of her sitting atop the antiaircraft gun was “a betrayal.”

Through the years, Fonda continued to make films and oppose war. After the Vietnam War, she raised money to help rebuild the Bach Mai Hospital and became active with the Campaign for Economic Development, women’s rights, and social justice issues. Fonda, Jane Vietnam War;and Jane Fonda[Fonda] Treason;Jane Fonda[Fonda]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andersen, Christopher. Citizen Jane: The Turbulent Life of Jane Fonda. New York: Henry Holt, 1990. Andersen’s account of Fonda’s life is a strongly opinionated and politically charged account that focuses on her foibles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burke, Carol. “Jane Fonda, the Woman the Military Loves to Hate.” In Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender Folklore, and Changing Military Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. Burke explores scandals and myths in the culture associated with the military. This chapter discusses why many military personnel, especially men, are hostile to Fonda.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davidson, Bill. Jane Fonda: An Intimate Biography. New York: Dutton, 1990. Davidson follows the changing phases of Fonda’s life and concludes that while not always making the best of decisions, Fonda should be admired.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fonda, Jane. Jane Fonda: My Life So Far. New York: Random House, 2005. Fonda presents her life in three acts: the years of childhood, activism, and maturity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hershberger, Mary. “Peace Work, War Myths: Jane Fonda and the Antiwar Movement.” Peace and Change 29, nos. 3/4 (July, 2004): 549-578. A supportive examination of Fonda’s life and work in the context of her activism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kiernan, Thomas. Jane: An Intimate Biography of Jane Fonda. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1990. Details Fonda’s life from childhood through 1972, the year of her Hanoi visit. The story is from the perspective of someone who knew her at that time.

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