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Jane Fonda is 76 years old, and she says theawareness of her own advancing mortality brings her to tears.
Fonda will die someday, as we all will, and not every American will mourn her passing. Some will always remember the actress’ 1972 visit to North Vietnam, an act of political courage in some eyes but treason in others.
I did not serve in Vietnam, but my father did.Every time Fonda is in the news, or whenever a relevant holiday approaches – as Memorial Day does next week – the same question nags at me.
Some people will never forgive her. Should I?
Life is short, as Fonda is now reluctantly acknowledging. Forty-two years is a long time to hold a grudge, especially when it involves someone you will never meet, and one who has apologized for mistakes she concedes she made.
I never spoke about Fonda with my dad, who died at 96 in 2010. My deceased mother was no war hawk, but I believe she always resented Fonda, whose Hanoi trip came five years after my father had returned from a tour of duty in the final and most dangerous year of his Air Force career.
Like many people who lived through the time, my opinions on Vietnam have changed. With modern history as our guide, it’s easy in 2014 to mock the fear of Communism’s domino effect, but it seemed very real in 1964.
The war was nonetheless a mistake from the start. It was horribly mismanaged by politicians who ignored the lessons of French Indochina, mistakenly confused American influence with American hubris, and failed to understand the impact of TV on the public’s appetite for war.
Fonda’s political allies therefore say she was right. By 1972, when she visited Hanoi, the issue with Vietnam was not whether we could win but how we could withdraw with honor.
Her visit did not encourage the North Vietnamese to keep fighting, for they needed no such boost by then. But even if her trip did not lose the war, it drove a stake into the hearts of Americans who believed our fighting men had been betrayed and were being tragically and unjustly blamed.
I never bought one of those “I’m not Fond-a Jane” bumper stickers which I thought trivialized the matter. But 42 later, this son of a military family cannot forgive her.
I am not terribly proud of that fact. Neither am I embarrassed nor apologetic about it.
I have purposely never seen a Jane Fonda movie, though I am told “On Golden Pond,” was quite good. My dad loved it, so my boycott had not been joined by the man who had much better reason.
Yet my own resentment remains after 42 years, and it’s powerful. So does this question: Is it worth it?
She has had an enormously successful, glamorous and profitable life, what with movies and fitness videos and the like. Families of Vietnam veterans, some shattered and all affected, have not enjoyed such luxuries.
In 2005, Fonda said she did not regret her anti-war stance but deeply regretted the infamous photo in which she was seated on an anti-aircraft battery in Hanoi.
Claiming she had been manipulated and was horrified by the images, Fonda took responsibility. She called it “a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever.”
She has apologized many times for, as she put it, “any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph.”
Is that enough? The photo came at the end of a trip that involved 10 radio broadcasts denouncing American leaders as “war criminals.”
Whatever opinions of her politics exist, Fonda is a brilliant woman who does nothing by accident. She has not apologized for the trip itself, only the photo – and implicitly, for whatever blame it attached to servicemen whose presence in Vietnam, however ill-conceived by our leaders, was based on patriotism and duty.
My logical conscience tells me it’s time to let it go. I have done that for the most part with other anti-war activists, the recently deceased Pete Seeger coming to mind.
My heart, though, will not let go. A lot of us would do and view things differently if we had the 1960s and 1970s to do over again.
That should allow people like myself to accept Fonda’s apology, which I am willing to believe is sincere. But I can’t, not yet, anyhow.
Fonda is right about dying. Someday, she will – though probably not soon, from the looks of her – and so will I.
I often wonder whether it will be worth carrying my hostility toward her to my grave or to hers, whichever comes first. And whenever she is back in the news, I wonder even more, 42 years later.