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Biography of Jane Fonda’s Activism

3365 words (13 pages) Essay in History

08/02/20 History Reference this

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How Jane Fonda earned the name as ‘Hanoi Jane’

Jane Fonda today has grown to what people call as a super star but back in her younger years she was one Hollywood’s busiest activist’s. Fonda was involved in many different activist groups. “She was active in the Black Panthers. She marched for the rights of American Indians, soldiers and working mothers. She and actor Donald Sutherland started an “anti-USO” troupe to counter Bob Hope’s famous shows for the troops. They called it FTA, which they said stood for Free the Army, but it was also a not-so-subtle nod to the expression “f — the Army.”[1] Fonda was growing evermore in popularity just before she decided to attempt an all-out war against her own’s country military. She was aggressively against the war in Vietnam and even earned herself the nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’. She received this name while in North Vietnam, when she was infamously and controversially was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunner on her 1972 visit to Hanoi, during which the name was bestowed on her by the locals for her continuous support against her own country. Fonda visit to the country of North Vietnam and her actions during that infamous visit, is what earned her the title “Hanoi Jane”. It was and still is felt that Fonda committed treason against the United States and when that came about it would spread like wildfire throughout the supporters of the armed forces and many civilians as well. Vietnam veterans have kept a continued hatred for Fonda after nearly forty years. A detailed account of her actions, words, and political alliances while in North Vietnam provides the greatest insight that helps create the emotional reactions that continued throughout the years. Her actions also brought to light that the sometimes-narrow line, in some way has not been crossed since the Vietnam war and that line lies between antiwar ideology and committing treason. Although her idea was that she was just an antiwar activist promoting peace, it was discussed that maybe she should be tried as an enemy of the state for treason. 

Jane Fonda was born in New York City to acclaimed actor Henry Fonda and her mother Frances Seymour Brokaw. Fonda found herself being thrust in the lime light at an early age although it never really seemed to bother even though she had a rough beginning. “Her father could be cold and distant. Her mother, socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw, committed suicide when Fonda was 12 years old. Not long after her mother’s death, Fonda developed an eating disorder, which she struggled with for years.”[2] Fonda’s early childhood was filled with disaster and loneliness especially after her mother committed suicide and after she was sent to boarding school where she spent her younger years before leaving to go to college at Vassar College. After attending college and then decided to study art in Paris, until she “returned to New York and did a bit of modeling for a time. Before long, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. In 1954 she co-starred with her father, Henry Fonda, in a production of The Country Girl. Fonda began to study her craft with Lee Strasberg at the famed Actors Studio a few years later.”[3]  This Is where Jane Fonda would get her start before she would explode onto the big screen and before her activist days. Fonda found her start while working with Strasberg who ran his own actor training institute, to help train actors. This is where Fonda would have an outbreak with her type of method acting which is what Strasberg was known for teaching. This type of acting one of the reasons why Fonda was strong in her stance against the Vietnam war. Another view could be the one where she simply used her war stance to help promote her movie, “The following year, Fonda won her second Academy Award for the Vietnam War drama Coming Home with Jon Voight.”[4] She would have used all the commotion caused by the war to help promote her movie which would then push her to winning her second Academy Award something her father was only able to do once. 

Although Fonda believed she was right in her actions it was perceived that way by most of the people back at home including the veterans. Fonda wanted to make a difference in that she believed that she long with some other activist did not want the Unites States to invade Vietnam but allow them to settle it themselves. She grew in her hatred after her march in the Maryland Mall where she said that “The Army builds a tolerance for violence,” she shouted at the crowd. “I find that intolerable.” [5] Fonda wanted the people to follow behind her in that the military was using excessive force against the North Vietnamese. After her first official protest she would then use the next few years to become “of the most prominent public faces in the anti-Vietnam War movement. But it wasn’t until she traveled to Hanoi in July 1972 that she really enraged critics and fundamentally altered how the world viewed her for decades to come.”[6]  Fonda growth in the political eye was never that great but she was never seen as a traitor until she began her crusade against the war. Fonda began her transformation from academy award winner actress to Vietnam war activist early in the 1970’s.

Fonda was not only a part of the antiwar front, but she also took part in other activist groups like “the Black Panthers. She marched for the rights of American Indians, soldiers and working mothers.”[7] Fonda assisted he Black Panthers in one of the more recent showings against the unlawful use of excessive force against people. In October 1970 the Black Panthers moved their headquarters to New Orleans to help even though “N.O.P.D. along with the national government and FBI, wanted the Black Panthers eliminated, the residents of the Desire and the surrounding community welcomed their presence with opened arms.”[8] Although the government wanted them to leave the Panthers were there to stay to help support the community with food  and protection from law enforcement. The civilians completely believed in the Panthers because of their continued protection from racism and so the civilians, in turn protected the Black Panthers from government forces. The people of the Desire community believed in them so much that when it was time for the standoff “between the N.O.P.D. and several BPP members, who were holed up inside of the Desire apartments.”[9] When the New Orleans Government attempted to force out the Black Panthers it caused a standoff between them and the police which was stopped by the  “Thousands of residents (including children) from the community, stood in front of the Desire buildings to prevent the officers from shooting and killing the Panthers at will.”[10] Although the residents stood in front of the buildings it was known by the people that the Black Panthers had big time weapons like “artillery and grenades.”[11] After the officers retreated it was soon realized that they city or New Orleans would be in a battle against panthers who wanted civil rights for the Desire community. After the stand off the Black Panthers reached out to Jane Fonda to receive help in their fight for justice. The stand of occurred on November 19th and Fonda arrived and “by November 24, she was in New Orleans, leading a protest that challenged the Housing Authority of New Orleans for previously denying Black Panther member, Harold Holmes, a right to rent an apartment in the Desire Project without any just cause to do so.”[12] Fonda helped to lead the charge in the protest and even praised the Panthers in them media for not backing down to the New Orleans police department. Even though she spoke for them it still was to not much avail because the injustice would ensue. 

 While she was an activist for the Black Panthers, she helped actor Donald Sutherland in creating the “anti-USO” troupe to counter Bob Hope’s famous shows for the troops. They called it FTA, which they said stood for Free the Army, but it was also a not-so-subtle nod to the expression “f — the Army.”[13] During Fonda’s visit in July 1972 she wanted to see what was being bombed in the dike system. This system was a place that had been rumored to be intentionally bombed by the United States, even though this rumor is still being denied by the U.S. government to this day. While in Vietnam, she concluded that United states air force was bombing farmland that was far from the initial action of the war. She would then go on record attempting to stop the air raids by making “several radio announcements over the Voice of Vietnam radio to implore U.S. pilots to stop the bombings.”[14] She made this attempt at appealing to their better nature in hopes that the pilots would stop attacking the farm land but yet what she failed to realize that during a time a war is that having the ability to limit the resources can help to bring the war to a quick end. Also, while in Hanoi Fonda met with American Prisoners of war. These prisoners were rumored to have given her letters that were supposed to be given to the Americans but then she supposedly betrayed the prisoners by handing over the notes to North Vietnam. Even though this rumored spread it is still being denied. Although this rumor was turned away it was not a rumor that Fonda was pictured on a antiaircraft gun which would be used to shoot down American planes, And so this action is “probably more than anything, earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”[15] When Fonda took over the persona of Hanoi Jane she in some ways would take he persona to far and cause a big up roar at home. She would even be prosecuted by certain lawmakers for treason. Another way was when the “Veterans of Foreign Wars passed a resolution calling for her to be prosecuted as a traitor.”[16] This did not climax until March of 1973 when Maryland decided to have all of  her works removed and banned from the state. Even after all the massive amounts of determent from the United States she would continue to fight against the injustice she believed was being done unto the North Vietnamese. It was even said by “William Burkhead, a Democrat from Anne Arundel, said, “I wouldn’t want to kill her, but I wouldn’t mind if you cut her tongue off,” [17] He felt that her position against the United states was wring and seemed to very mislead. Although all of this was affecting Fonda she still found the time to attempt and apologize for what was her one of her greatest mistakes. Fonda did an interview that was completely her describing the incident with the air plane gunner. Fonda apologized for the picture and insist it was a big mis understanding. Fonda said that “leads me toward the gun, and I sit down, still laughing, still applauding. It all has nothing to do with where I am sitting. I hardly even think about where I am sitting. The cameras flash. I get up, and as I start to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what has just happened hits me.”[18] Fonda has been hurt by this photograph ever since the day it was taken she would honestly never recover from it socially even though she would go onto have a great acting career. 

Even though Fonda apologized, the mistake she made caries on into today. Her mistake with the picture has never been let go or forgotten as was shown in 2015 when “about 50 veterans stood outside the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md., to protest Fonda’s appearance there. They held signs that read “Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never.” and booed people attending the event”[19] Although this is years after the Vietnam war it shown just how sore the subject still is with some if the veterans. Fonda also went live in defending her position against the war but she would apologize for anything she did or said that made it seem as if she was against the veterans, and even though she apologized a Vietnam vet would come on the show and said “Referring to this apology,’ one vet states his anger simply, “I will forgive Jane Fonda when the Jews forgive Hitler.”[20] This will be one of the most descriptive ways in how some of the Vietnam vets feel towards Jane Fonda.

In conclusions Fonda’s attempts at changing the United States minds from for the war to against the war in some ways worked for her and in some ways it did not. Fonda grew in popularity but not in the way most celebrities did she would become loved by few but hated by most people who she said was fighting for. Fonda still must live with the decisions that she made then and it seems to still hurt her to this day.

Works Cited


[1] Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed November 19, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[2] “Jane Fonda.” Biography.com. September 20, 2018. Accessed December 08, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/jane-fonda-9298034.

[3] “Jane Fonda.” Biography.com. September 20, 2018. Accessed December 08, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/jane-fonda-9298034.

[4] “Jane Fonda.” Biography.com. September 20, 2018. Accessed December 08, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/jane-fonda-9298034.

[5] Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[6] Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[7] Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[8] “Here’s How Jane Fonda Boldly Helped Black Panthers After Dangerous Police Stand-Off.” I Love Old School Music. September 12, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.iloveoldschoolmusic.com/jane-fonda-boldly-helped-black-panther-members-dangerous-police-stand-off/.

[9] “Here’s How Jane Fonda Boldly Helped Black Panthers After Dangerous Police Stand-Off.” I Love Old School Music. September 12, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.iloveoldschoolmusic.com/jane-fonda-boldly-helped-black-panther-members-dangerous-police-stand-off/.

[10] “Here’s How Jane Fonda Boldly Helped Black Panthers After Dangerous Police Stand-Off.” I Love Old School Music. September 12, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.iloveoldschoolmusic.com/jane-fonda-boldly-helped-black-panther-members-dangerous-police-stand-off/.

[11] “Here’s How Jane Fonda Boldly Helped Black Panthers After Dangerous Police Stand-Off.” I Love Old School Music. September 12, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.iloveoldschoolmusic.com/jane-fonda-boldly-helped-black-panther-members-dangerous-police-stand-off/.

[12] “Here’s How Jane Fonda Boldly Helped Black Panthers After Dangerous Police Stand-Off.” I Love Old School Music. September 12, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.iloveoldschoolmusic.com/jane-fonda-boldly-helped-black-panther-members-dangerous-police-stand-off/.

[13] Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[14] Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[15]Thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[16] thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[17] thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[18] thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[19] thelilynews. “How Jane Fonda’s 1972 Trip to North Vietnam Earned Her the Nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ – The Lily.” Https://www.thelily.com. January 09, 2018. Accessed December 09, 2018. https://www.thelily.com/how-jane-fondas-1972-trip-to-north-vietnam-earned-her-the-nickname-hanoi-jane/.

[20] Burke, Carol. 2004. “Why They Love to Hate Her.” Nation 278 (11): 14. http://libproxy.troy.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=12473951&site=eds-live.

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