Claim: During a trip to North Vietnam, Jane Fonda turned smuggled messages from U.S. POWs over to their captors.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1999]
"In 1978, the Commandant of the USAF Survival School, a colonel, was a former POW in
"In '78, the AF colonel still suffered from double vision — permanently grounding him — from the Vietnamese officer's frenzied application of a wooden baton.
"From 1983-85, Col. Larry Carrigan was 347FW/DO
"They, however, had time and devised a plan to get word to the world that they still survived. Each man secreted a tiny piece of paper, with his Social Security number on it, in the palm of his hand. When paraded before
"Believing this HAD to be an act, they each palmed her their sliver of paper. She took them all without missing a beat. At the end of the line and once the camera stopped rolling, to the shocked disbelief of the POWs, she turned to the officer in charge ... and handed him the little pile of notes.
"Three men died from the subsequent beatings.
"For years after their release, a group of determined former POWs, including
"I, personally, think that this is shame on us, the American Citizenry.
"Part of our shortfall is ignorance: Most don't know such actions ever took place.
"The only addition I might add to these sentiments is to remember the satisfaction of relieving myself into the urinal at some air base or another where 'zaps' of Hanoi Jane's face had been applied."
Origins: It is perhaps indicative of the divisive nature of U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s that one of the persons most commonly associated with the war was neither a world leader nor a politician, neither a general nor a soldier, neither a participant nor a casualty of the war, but an American actress. And in ironic fashion, that actress is most notorious for something she didn't do in Vietnam rather than all the things she did do.
In July 1972, during the waning days of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, actress Jane Fonda incurred the enmity of untold thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families (as well as service members for generations to come) when she arrived in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and began a two-week tour of the country. Fonda visited North Vietnamese villages, hospitals, schools, and factories damaged in the war, weaving her comments about what she observed at those sites with denunciations of U.S. military policy in recordings broadcast as propaganda to U.S. servicemen via Radio Hanoi;
Although Fonda's actions in visiting North Vietnam were sufficient to earn her the wrath of many Americans, in the years since those events took place they have been embellished to the point that the one tale most commonly associated with her Vietnam trip is an incident that never took place: a tale about U.S. POWs who furtively slipped messages to Fonda while she was meeting with them and whom Fonda promptly betrayed by turning those messages over to the POWs' North Vietnamese captors (resulting in several of those prisoners' being beaten, tortured, or killed). The fact is that while in North Vietnam, Fonda met with only a single group of seven U.S POWs: all seven of those POWs agreed to meet with her, no POWs were tortured for declining to meet with her (or for behaving inappropiately during the meeting), and no POWs secretly slipped Fonda messages which she turned over to the North Vietnamese. The persons named in inflammatory claims about this apocryphal incident have repeatedly and categorically denied the events they supposedly were part of.
First of all, the whole premise on which this tale is based is contradicted by the plain reality of the situation: none of the POWs Jane Fonda met needed to furtively hand her messages encoding their identities in order to "get word to the world that they still survived." Fonda spent about an hour talking with a single group of seven POWs whose names she had ample opportunity to learn during that time; the POWs didn't need to sneak Fonda pieces of paper with their Social Security numbers written on them, as she could simply have remembered their names and repeated them once she returned home. Plus, there was no reason for the POWs' identities to have been kept a secret in the first place — since the North Vietnamese arranged the meeting between Fonda and the POWs for its propaganda value, they very much wanted the American public and the world at large to know exactly whom she'd met with.
The POWs also had no need to rely on Fonda to secretly relay other messages from them to the outside world. After politics disrupted the delivery of letters to and from American POWs in North Vietnam via U.S. Mail, many visitors who traveled to Hanoi during the war years (such as members of the group Women Strike for Peace) regularly brought POWs letters from their families and took letters from POWs back to the United States with them. Jane Fonda was no exception: she brought mail for imprisoned U.S. servicemen with her to Hanoi, and she returned to the U.S. carrying 241 letters from American POWs back to their families. (Fonda even called the wives of some of the men she met with to provide them with updates about their husbands.) None of the POWs who met with Jane Fonda had any need to resort to the form of subterfuge claimed in these Internet rumors in order to get information about themselves carried to friends and family back home.
Additionally, no POWs were tortured to coerce them into meeting with Jane Fonda or for refusing to do so. Fonda had only a single meeting with a small group of POWs, and there were plenty of volunteers for the occasion:
The seven POWs and Fonda met around a large table surrounded by chairs. It was a typical meeting between international visitors and American airmen: low-key, filled with small talk, inquiries from the airmen about particular bits of news and sports from home, conversations about their families, requests to call them and pass on a message.
Some of the POWs who actually did meet with Jane Fonda, such as Edison Miller, have spoken out on the record over the years to disclaim the apocryphal stories about her
"I don't know who came up with [my] name. The trouble that individual has caused me!" he said, referring to the time he has spent repeatedly denying the persistent myth.
It has been reported in the media and on the Internet that two POWs were tortured in an effort to force them into meeting with Fonda. However, despite considerable effort to find independent corroboration of these stories, we have been unable to do so.
It's also not the case, as stated in some recent versions of this rumor, that Jane Fonda is slated to "portray Nancy Reagan in an upcoming film biography of the Reagans." The referenced movie (The Butler) has already been completed, and it isn't a biography of Ronald and Nancy
In 1988, sixteen years after the fact, Fonda finally met with Vietnam veterans to apologize for her actions. This nationally televised apology (during which she characterized her actions as "thoughtless and careless") came at a time when New England vets were successfully disrupting a film project she was working on, leading some to read a huge dollop of self-interest into her apology.
Fonda also apologized in 2005, an act which once again coincided with the release of a film in which she had a starring role (
2005: "I will go to my grave regretting that. The image of Jane Fonda, Barbarella, Henry Fonda's daughter, just a woman sitting on a enemy aircraft gun, was a betrayal," said Fonda.
"It was like I was thumbing my nose at the military. And at the country that gave me privilege. It was the largest lapse of judgment that I can even imagine. I don't thumb my nose at this country. I care deeply about American soldiers."
The 67-year-old actress and activist, however, defended her decision to go to Hanoi and said she had no regrets about being photographed with American POWs there or making broadcasts on Radio Hanoi because she was trying to stop the war.
"Well, both sides were using propaganda, were using the POWs for propaganda," said Fonda. "I don't think there was anything wrong with it. It's not something that I will apologize for."
Nor does she apologize for making broadcasts on Radio Hanoi. "Our government was lying to us, and men were dying because of it," she said. "And I felt that I had to do anything that I could to expose the lies, and help end the war. That was my goal."
Last updated: 1 October 2015
Abrams, Garry. "Fonda Meets with Vets, Wins a Few Hearts." Los Angeles Times. 20 June 1988 (p. E1). Andersen, Christopher. Citizen Jane: The Turbulent Life of Jane Fonda. New York: Henry Holt, 1990. ISBN 0-8050-0959-0. Elvin, John. "The Vietnam War is Over, But 'Hanoi Jane' Lives On." Insight on the News. 25 November 1996 (p. 20). Fonda, Jane. My Life So Far. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 0-375-50710-8. Grossberg, Josh. "Fonda Regrets 'Hanoi Jane.'" E! Online. 1 April 2005. Hahn, Trudi. "Ex-POW Is No Fan of Fonda, But He Debunks E-Mail Claim." [Minneapolis] Star Tribune 25 May 2005. Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda's War: A Political Biography of an Antiwar Icon. New York: The New Press, 2005. ISBN 1-56584-988-4. Holzer, Henry Mark and Erika Holzer. "Aid and Comfort": Jane Fonda in North Vietnam. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002. ISBN 0-7864-1247-X. Jacoby, Jeff. "Dubious Honor for Hanoi Jane." The [Montreal] Gazette. 18 June 1999 (p. B3). Labbe, J.R. "Dubious Honor for Hanoi Jane." Omaha World-Herald. 11 May 1999 (p. 19). London, Herbert. "ABA Invite to Fonda an Outrage." The Times-Picayune. 14 August 1999 (p. B7). Zekas, Rita. "He's Not Fonda Jane." The Toronto Star. 11 August 1990 (p. M20). Associated Press. "Viet Nam Vets Meet with Jane Fonda." The Toronto Star. 20 June 1988 (p. C4). Associated Press. "Jane Fonda Regrets N. Vietnam Photo." 20 June 2000. Reuters. "Man Spits Tobacco Juice in Jane Fonda's Face at Book Signing." Houston Chronicle. 21 April 2005.