The "Jane Fonda is a traitor" fable

I received the "KEEP THIS MOVING; ACROSS AMERICA HONORING A TRAITOR" email (22 Feb 2002, 9:34 AM):

This is for all the kids born in the 70's that do not remember this, and didn't have to bear the burden, that our fathers, mothers, and older brothers and sisters had to bear. Jane Fonda is being honored as one of the "100 Women of the Century." Unfortunately, many have forgotten and still countless others have never known how Ms. Fonda betrayed not only the Idea of our country but specific men who served and sacrificed during Vietnam.

The first part of this is from an F-4E pilot. The pilot's name is Jerry Driscoll, a River Rat. In 1978, the former Commandant of the USAF Survival School was a POW in Ho Lo Prison-the "Hanoi Hilton." Dragged from a stinking cesspit of a cell, cleaned, fed, and dressed in clean PJs, he was ordered to describe for a visiting American "Peace Activist" the "lenient and humane treatment" he'd received. He spat at Ms. Fonda, was clubbed, and dragged away.

During the subsequent beating, he fell forward upon the camp Commandant's feet, which sent that officer berserk. In '78, the AF Col. still suffered from double vision (which permanently ended his flying days) from the Vietnamese Col.'s frenzied application of a wooden baton. From 1963-65, Col. Larry Carrigan was in the 47FW/DO (F-4Es). He spent 6 years in the "Hilton" the first three of which he was "missing in action". His wife lived on faith that he was still alive. His group, too, got the cleaned, fed, clothed routine in preparation for a "peace delegation" visit.

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 SSN on it, in the palm of his hand. When paraded before Ms. Fonda and a cameraman, she walked the line, shaking each man's hand and asking little encouraging snippets like: "Aren't you sorry you bombed babies?" and "Are you grateful for the humane treatment from your benevolent captors?" 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 papers. Three men died from the subsequent beatings. Col. Carrigan was almost number four but he survived, which is the only reason we know about her actions that day.

I was a civilian economic development advisor in Vietnam, and was captured by the North Vietnamese communists in South Vietnam in 1968, and held for over 5 years. I spent 27 months in solitary confinement, one year in a cage in Cambodia, and one year in a "black box" in Hanoi. My North Vietnamese captors deliberately poisoned and murdered a female missionary, a nurse in a leprosarium in Ban me Thuot, South Vietnam, whom I buried in the jungle near the Cambodian border.

At one time, I was weighing approximately 90 lbs. (My normal weight is 170lbs.) We were Jane Fonda's "war criminals." When Jane Fonda was in Hanoi, I was asked by the camp communist political officer if I would be willing to meet with Jane Fonda. I said yes, for I would like to tell her about the real treatment we POWs received different from the treatment purported by the North Vietnamese, and parroted by Jane Fonda, as "humane and lenient." Because of this, I spent three days on a rocky floor on my knees with outstretched arms with a large amount of steel placed on my hands, and beaten with a bamboo cane till my arms dipped.

I had the opportunity to meet with Jane Fonda for a couple of hours after I was released. I asked her if she would be willing to debate me on TV. She did not answer me.

This does not exemplify someone who should be honored as part of "100 Years of Great Women." Lest we forget..."100 years of great women" should never include a traitor whose hands are covered with the blood of so many patriots. There are few things I have strong visceral reactions to, but Hanoi Jane's participation in blatant treason, is one of them. Please take the time to forward to as many people as you possibly can. It will eventually end up on her computer and she needs to know that we will never forget.

After doing a little research, I responded (24 Feb 2002, 11:09 PM):

One of the unfortunate aspects of the Internet is that misinformation and disinformation can both circulate quickly and persist for years. This particular tirade has been adequately debunked before (for one example, check out Urban Legends) but outrage over criticism of the military seems to have a long shelf life.

To correct the most egregious fabrications of "keep this moving":

1. Former pilot Jerry Driscoll calls the 'spitting and clubbing' tale "the product of a very vivid imagination."

2. Retired Colonel Larry Carrigan describes the 'slips of paper' anecdote as "a figment of someone's imagination," and states, "I never met Jane Fonda."

3. To top it off, the "100 Years of Great Women" program ran on 30 April 1999. Getting worked up over Jane Fonda's inclusion now is nearly three years too late to have much of an effect. Mike McGrath, President of Nam-POWs, explains the e-mail screed's persistence by saying: "There are a lot of folks out there who would love to have a story like that to hang their hat and their hate on."

I just thought you should know.

P.S. It is true, of course, that Jane Fonda slandered returning vets as "hypocrites and liars" and denied that they had been tortured. She met with Vietnam veterans in 1988 to apologize, and said in a later interview, "It hurt so many soldiers...[i]t was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless."

Although her apologies were belated and rather tepid, one wishes that those who fabricated these email stories had even her minimal respect for the truth. (I, for one, doubt they will be making any public retractions.)

Later, this rejoinder arrived (25 Feb 2002, 8:44 AM):

I lived thru that era and read the papers and newsmagazines, and watched the news on TV every evening. I saw her gladly pose for a photo op at a North Vietnamese gun battery when we were at war. She is a traitor. When it gets down to a case of "he said - they said - she said - etc.", I choose to believe the worst of her, because she earned it. I am sure that she knows of this "keep this moving" e-mail and has her spin doctors trying to refute it, because she lately has been trying to rehabilitate her image.

We musn't let that happen.

While there may or may not be some dispute as to the specifics of certain events, it doesn't change the fact that she willingly betrayed her country.

You know there are still those who try to claim that the Rosenbergs weren't spies, the Holocaust never happened, FDR was a good president, the Earth is flat, and that the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is responsible for the stain on the blue dress.

Did the 'slips of paper' incident really happen? Maybe - maybe not. But did she "adhere to our enemies, giving them aid and comfort"? Yes. And that is the definition of treason as written in the Constitution.

Have a great day!

This was my response (26 Feb 2002, 10:44 PM):

I freely admit to the crime of not having lived through the entire Vietnam War. (Despite being born after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, however, I have studied the Vietnam War, seen some of the historic newscasts, read sections of the Pentagon Papers, etc.) What I can say is that I’ve been living with the fallout from Vietnam for most of my lifetime.

Here is what I mean by “fallout:”

• Even the most moral of recent US presidents, Jimmy Carter, has claimed that we owe Vietnam no apology because “the destruction was mutual.” (As if, somehow, three million of their dead at our hands were outweighed by the 58,000 casualties our military suffered. I won’t even mention Agent Orange or the ongoing threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance.)

• COINTELPRO and other government agencies were used for domestic spying and the violation of civil liberties.

• Three presidents could wage an illegal invasion and decade-long occupation of another sovereign nation. This has paved the way for our many recent military misadventures abroad.

• Any expression of pacifism (or other type of dissent) is demonized by the media…unless it comes from the Pope, in which case it is completely ignored.

• War can apparently now be waged without ever being declared by Congress, as the Constitution requires. The Founders were wary of a “standing army” for the very reason that any weapon left lying around invites mischief and misuse by agents of government. John Adams once cautioned that we should not “go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Renaming the Department of War to the “Department of Defense” was perhaps the first step in this ongoing sleight-of-hand.

Your calculated decision to “believe the worst” about Jane Fonda - despite the facts – is less an indictment of her than of you. Belief based solely on preconceptions is a hindrance – not an aid – in making a sound argument.

I can honestly say that I have no emotional investment in her one way or the other. What I do care about is the truth, which is abused whenever people believe in the bright shining lie that was our invasion of Vietnam. When it comes to a contest of spin doctors, a washed-up mediocre actress can’t muster enough attention to equal the combined firepower of the government and the mainstream corporate media.

As far as the “claims” you mentioned, I’m going to address those out of order:

• Given the legitimate concerns about the Rosenberg case—about what “aid,” if any, was actually provided to the USSR, the fairness of their trial (especially in light of the perjury committed by a prosecution witness), and whether or not Ethel was even involved—it is quite easy to understand that some people have doubts about the validity of the Rosenbergs’ conviction. Since my research to date has only been cursory, I have no further comment at present.

• Your Monica reference is completely false. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever claimed that Richard Mellon Scaife, Rupert Murdoch, or Kenneth Starr were responsible for staining that blue dress…merely that their boundless and senseless hatred for Clinton is as unseemly as his many failures.

• As far as FDR’s presidency, there’s no accounting for taste. (After all, some people even believe that Reagan was a good president…and we’ll be paying for his overwhelming failures for generations to come.)

It’s interesting that the remaining claims – the obvious and easily disproven ones – are primarily propagated by your fellow conservatives:

• Yes, there are those who believe that the Earth is flat…and they get their misinformation by that most conservative of routes, religious fundamentalism. (I suggest that you read Robert Schadewald’s “Flat Earth Bible” to familiarize yourself with this issue.) Taking biblical myths literally also leads some people to deny evolution (by stating that the Earth is only a few thousand years old), or to believe that our legal code should mandate stoning to death as punishment for adultery and homosexuality.

• Holocaust deniers, those ultra-conservative neo-Nazis that other conservatives wish didn't exist, also ignore facts when they conflict with their ideology. Photographic evidence, like the fossil record, can only be overcome by strong ideological blinders.

For the record, I find Fonda’s behavior appalling – as I have previously stated. In the context of Vietnam, however, even treason (if she were truly guilty of that charge) pales in comparison to the war crimes that she was protesting. She deserves scorn, but what about the elected officials who lied to our country and were the ones actually responsible for those 58,000 body bags, for the mangled bodies, and for the ruined psyches? Could we, perhaps, recognize that Fonda’s appropriate punishment is insignificant compared to that due McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger, et al?

Your reference to the “aid and comfort” definition of treason in the Constitution is incomplete. The full definition is as follows:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court” (Article III, Section 3)

This definition of “aid and comfort” was meant to discourage politically motivated accusations of treason, or at least not let them bear the poisonous fruits of prosecution and conviction. Despite many conservatives’ wishes to the contrary, treason sets a much higher bar than merely offending right-wing sensibilities; this is a major reason why there have been so few treason cases in the United States. (None has been brought before the Supreme Court since Haupt v. US in 1947.)


Perhaps America is so great because Fonda is still around, demonstrating for everyone that we live up to the standards that the Bill of Rights promises.

If she had been blacklisted, imprisoned, “disappeared,” or otherwise silenced, then we would be just like those repressive nations that fear and hate dissenters, demanding that everyone sing the party’s praises and support its every whim.

We’re better than that…at least most of the time.

how could this *&*%$# still be alive in our community and still being cast in movies?
This is America, the greatest place on earth and yet she is around. Her past behavior should make her the most endangered species on the planet.

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