New Book “Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal”

Hanoi Jane
War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal
By Jerry Lembcke

A provocative analysis of how and why Jane Fonda the person became Hanoi Jane the myth

From Aristophanes’ Lysistrata to the notorious Mata Hari and the legendary Tokyo Rose, stories of female betrayal during wartime have recurred throughout human history. The myth of Hanoi Jane, Jerry Lembcke argues, is simply the latest variation on this enduring theme. Like most of the iconic femmes fatales who came before, it is based on a real person, Jane Fonda. And also like its predecessors, it combines traces of fact with heavy doses of fiction to create a potent symbol of feminine perfidy—part erotic warrior-woman Barbarella, part savvy antiwar activist, and part powerful entrepreneur.

Hanoi Jane, the book, deconstructs Hanoi Jane, the myth, to locate its origins in the need of Americans to explain defeat in Vietnam through fantasies of home-front betrayal and the emasculation of the national will-to-war. Lembcke shows that the expression “Hanoi Jane” did not reach the eyes and ears of most Americans until five or six years after the end of the war in Vietnam. By then, anxieties about America’s declining global status and deteriorating economy were fueling a populist reaction that pointed to the loss of the war as the taproot of those problems. Blaming the antiwar movement for undermining the military’s resolve, many found in the imaginary Hanoi Jane the personification of their stab-in-the- back theories.

Ground zero of the myth was the city of Hanoi itself, which Jane Fonda had visited as a peace activist in July 1972. Rumors surrounding Fonda’s visits with
U.S. POWs and radio broadcasts to troops combined to conjure allegations of treason that had cost American lives. That such tales were more imagined than real did not prevent them from insinuating themselves into public memory, where they have continued to infect American politics and culture.

Hanoi Jane is a book about the making of Hanoi Jane by those who saw a formidable threat in the Jane Fonda who supported soldiers and veterans opposed to the war they fought, in the postcolonial struggle of the Vietnamese people to make their own future, and in the movements of women everywhere for gender equality.

“This is not a narrowly focused effort to compare the ‘real’ Jane Fonda to the image of ‘Hanoi Jane.’ Rather, Lembcke shows how Fonda’s demonization played an important part in a powerful right-wing campaign to attribute American defeat in Vietnam to left-wing scapegoats and to reconstitute U.S. power as well as the ideal of aggressive masculinity.” —Christian G. Appy, author of Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides “Pulsing with brilliant insights and invaluable scholarship, Hanoi Jane is much more than a biography of a single myth. It is an exploration of some of the tangled cultural, psychological, and historical strands that constitute American memory of the Vietnam War, memory with profound influence on American culture and behavior in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first.” —H. Bruce Franklin, author of Vietnam and Other American Fantasies

Jerry Lembcke is professor of sociology at The College of the Holy Cross and author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

American Studies / Cultural Studies
224 pp. $22.95 paper ISBN 978-1-55849-815-0
$80.00 cloth, ISBN 978-1-55849-814-3 June 2010

A volume in the series Culture, Politics, and the Cold War

Download a PDF of this article

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  1. Hello Jane,

    Ouch!!! I wouldn’t like to have to read books about myself. Would I have the objectivity and honesty to relate correctly to its content?

    It’s decided! I don’t want to be a star like you are! 😉

  2. I enjoy getting a look inside your world and thank you for what you share. When I read a book about a celebrity or public figure, I try only to read what that person has written or what that person has collaborated on, or gives the thumbs up, I don’t like seeing people like you exploited, I might miss out on a lot of juicy reading but I do feel othat you all have a private life and I truly hate seeing it invaded, that is why I thank you for opening a window to let me peek in, I don’t read the tabloids and have pretty much given up magazines like People, I avoided the gossip sites on the internet, it might be a small effort on my part but I truly don’t want to be a part of the craziness that to me seems so invasive. That said, by post this book are you giving it an endorsement of sorts, did the writer talk with you for his information?

    • I met the author yeas ago when he was considering writing this book. I have read his important book about the myth of anti-wat activists spitting on soldiers, “The Spitting Image.” Based on what I sensed (and read) of his values and research ability, I endorse the book (which I have not yet read and which may well say unfavorable things about me) because I think this is an important topic.

  3. Wow Jane, Interesting to be part of the culture of American Memory. I been writing some on Irish history in the Myth concerning Culture, Politics, and the War. It has been some time within my mind to view the day of The Vietnam War Remembered as my War. Only as time move to a point so far as to be in our ture view ,can we see the fact and a kind of truth of there is any real truth in life.
    Your life is a matter of record and facts and word the combine to be more that a book could state. As any person sees the view of self in time.
    I do not believe that the men who served in uniform in Vietnam have been given the credit they deserve. You will find yourself strongly agreeing with some and strongly disagreeing with others. Such is the nature of war. I never could support War in general, The vietnam was wrong , and time ,facts and truth seem to be on our side Jane.Someone did say “There never was a good war, or a bad peace” War makes good history; but Peace is poor reading. In war, truth is the first casualty , so maybe there is a truth for you Jane in the end ar true peace.

  4. Jane, it is Wednesday 13th of January according to your blog, which up until now I have mostly enjoyed, except I find it all rather self indulgent. As a humanitarian, worldy and caring person, why talk about this. What about Haiti?? You are off to the hairdresser and a party…. thousands, maybe a hundred thousand people are dead…. write about your feelings about this perhaps.

    • I understand your feelings, Mary, but life goes on. We do what we can. I do what I can. I cannot fly to Haiti and help. I have posted Bill Clinton’s info on my blog so that people who read me can know how to help by sending money.

  5. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

    – thank goodness you did something Jane – on behalf on GenX – how would we have ever known the other side of the story!!!

    leah (from NZ)

  6. Book looks like a winner. May help those who need to understand how pervasive the need is for many to find an explanation that lets them off the hook or supports their bias.

    If you had not posed for that one photo??? I recall that the photo of the young girl running down the road with phosphorus burns covering her probably had more to do with public opinion galvanizing around “no more.” Similar to photos of dogs attacking people on the Pettus Bridge to Selma, Alabama.

    The photo of you served to create a history that did not exist. Fundamentalists of many different stripes do the same to justify their killing to create a future in which they get to force everyone to believe as they do.

    Thanks for posting this.

  7. you were the ideal scapegoat in this issue, courageous jane! frederique dhenein

  8. It’s amazing how people need a scapegoat and how rumors and untruths sometimes prevail. It amazes me how journalists can print whatever they want to as truth, particularly if it’s about celebrities. I have a real disdain for paparazzi and how the mag rags can print such nonsense, and people believe it!

    I had heard all the stories about you and the war, though I didn’t think much of them either way (I was young). Then I read your book and your explanation of what happened suited me fine. I believed you. Since then, if or when someone tried to harp on the rumors, I’d stick up for you.

    I have so much respect and admiration for you. You’ve been a great role model for so many, and you do so much good. Thank you for being you!

  9. Unfortunately, as usual, those who need to read the book never will. Those sitting in the VFW’s and the American Legion Halls. They formed an opinion years ago, and they don’t want that opinion changed. If it did they would have to face facts about themselves, the war, and those that sent them to war, and it’s better to not face that and stay engulfed in a world of blame, shame, and justification.

    You will never reach the men that need to be reached, no one will. I talk about this occationally to the vets that I ride with, and they don’t want to hear it. They have formed an opin and will not hear of anything else.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

  10. Oh boy, this one fired up some comment, hey! If you endorse it, I will read it. As for Haiti, you have tweeted about looking after the victims, and you are always there when there is help and support for a worthy cause. I am sorry about that lady who gave you a hard time. I am sure that you are thinking about the Haiti crisis, and life has to go on. Take care.

  11. After reading these comments, some people just don’t ‘get it’!!! I haven’t found your blog ‘self indulgent’! You describe a ‘different world’, interesting and real. We need a balance, not all tragedy or comedy….that isn’t life! Please continue to be you…no one else!

  12. I don’t understand people who write to say they think you should only be commenting on the causes you support or catastrophies around the world! These ,of course, are important, and you do mention them occasionally, but I think part of the fun of writing a blog would be to express yourself in all areas of your life! This is what you do!

    I have enjoyed the variety of things you do write about! You give us a glimpse into your private world sharing information, pictures, and your point of view about various issues! It’s always fun to check your blog! You’re not afraid to express concerns or anxieties about some things you’re going through. You remove all your “masks” to show us who you really are. That’s a very brave thing to do!

    Thank you for being so generous sharing so many things with us…..if it’s parties you go to or your thoughts about serious issues!:)

  13. I am so glad this book was written. I am so sick of people saying all these lies about you. I grew up in that time and it was horrible what they did to you.

  14. I’m glad that someone is addressing the years of lies about you and what you did to end an embarrassing time in America and Vietnam’s history.

  15. Hello Jane. I wrote back in Nov in response to the Stupak/Pitts amendment, but I guess I got off topic and didn’t pass moderators. This one is my topic. 🙂

    When I was a teenager in the 70s I was an avid fan and saw every movie you made during that time and every other one I could get my hands on. As such, I was THRILLED when my job at a small outlying Pacific Theater gave me the opportunity to work at the China Syndrome premiere at Pacific’s Cinerama Dome. Not long after, you did a fundraiser in Fullerton for Tom’s Campaign for Economic Democracy, where you were scheduled to speak after the theater played “Klute.” I of course, was there. I brought my program from the China Syndrome for you to sign. You liked my name. 🙂

    What angered me is that when the movie was over, you came out on the “stage” and you were barely able to speak before a handful of hecklers stood up and started screaming at you. I just wanted you to have your time speaking. I wanted to hear what you had to say and hear your voice. They would not have it, and you soon gave up. Thankfully, when you abruptly left, you chose to walk up the aisle on my side of the theater and I was sitting on the end. I stood up and thrust my hand out to shake yours before you stormed by and you took it.

    At 17, I wasn’t old enough to completely understand why these people interrupted (basically protested) your appearance, but I did know you had made Coming Home but I knew the meaning of that movie and your participation in it, which was evidently lost on them. It made me so angry.

    Years later, after I’d spent a career in the Navy myself, experiencing overt sexual harrassment as a woman and internal oppression as a lesbian, I was once again confronted with the realization that you were still experiencing the outlandish backlash from all those years before.

    My Uncle was a Helicopter pilot in Vietnam and he sent me an email that’s sole purpose was to spread hatred for Hanoi Jane, and request that people write letters against some award you were getting – they wanted to protest – all these years later – you getting an award for something you said some 30 years before. I could not BELIEVE how absolutely ridiculous this was. I searched through the email until I found the original author, and wrote him a terse response. I asked this Master Chief Petty Officer (E9 – highest enlisted rank) if when he was a young sailor there might not be anything he did that he now regretted; I reminded him how it is part of our creed to give our sailors a second chance (which is why the Navy does not consider records prior to E5 when going up for E7 and above), since most of us trip and often fall when we are young and still finding our way.

    I asked him to take his blinders off and give you the same second chance as anyone else and to take your life and career and all the good you have given to the world, all the apologies you have given, all the efforts you have made – and forgive you for a mistake you did when so young. Your heart was in the right place, you were just too young to really understand how to go about it or know what your impact would be.

    Of course, I didn’t expect much from him or the others on that email – it is how a segment of our country has been and even worse become – to put on blinders and think not about the life and soul of another, but to bond together on sound bites and spew and encourage hatred. Our world is almost scarier than it was then, but its not your fault. People allow themselves to remain ignorant.

    Thank you, Jane, for everything you have given and done.

    Ms Morgan M. Hurley, ITC (USNR, Ret)

    • Thank you, Ms Morgan, for this comment. It means a lot to me. Glad I shool your hand low those many years ago!!

    • I just received one of those emails about you getting being one of the top 100 women award. I am a Vietnam Veteran and no longer closeted about it. It took over 20 years to “come out.” Personally I have forgiven you for what ever you did, but to forget is another thing.

      Before now, I have never been interested in hearing your side and certainly will not buy a seriously slanted book to find out.

      Just which part of the story do you deny? The trip to Hanoi itself? That you should still be held responsible for your actions? Your report that the POW’s were well treated? That you failed to differentiate the warriors from the war? Or is it the turning in to the guards the messages entrusted to you secretly by the Prisoners of War? They were to communicate to their families the fact that these men were still alive. Or were you like me: A youth long on passion and energy, but short on experience and judgement who said and did some things of which I am not proud today?

      • I have written extensively about my trip to North Vietnam. Of course I don’t deny that or the terrible lack of judgement when I sat on the anti aircraft gun. It was inactive and I didn’t think what that image would come to represent which is not what I was doing or who I am or was. But all the stuff about my turning in social scurity numbers etc and spitting at pows and calling them nams is all lies. they hav been proven to be lies. But continue to be spread.

  16. I did not remember that “hanoi jane” came to the majority 5 years later. I remember seeing and hearing that dirty phrase right away.
    After all the big words are said and preferably before them: the real reason for the slander of Jane Fonda and anyone (including Michael Jackson!) is that the “right” is fighting a propaganda war against the “left” as well as fighting in Congress and fighting in private life too by forcing people out of work or whatever….back in the day, there were crosses burning and lynchings and segregation signs, and resistance to changes in law…and on and on…
    Then there were “outside agitators” and all the dirt over the protests over the war against the Vietnamese people and culture. …. now it is so overt, it should be obvious to every one of us: the right is fighting every way it can to establish a theocratic corporate-controlled fascist Amerika.
    So when am I going to be forced into homelessness for saying this?

  17. They are not fighting a war just against the “left” but they are fighting Freedom itself.
    With “principles” with law, with religion, with religons they hate,(like the Catholic Church), with the media, one on one in every day life, … literally every way imaginable.

    I feel for Morgan Hurley.

    I love you so much, Jane Fonda, because you have not been blocked from living your life or from being your own person…blocked when you were a child so that you had to spend all your energy trying to break free. You have been able to live a very beautiful life and I am very grateful for you for being able to do all that you do, especially for breaking free as a woman as you said in your autobiography…and for being able to touch the hearts of millions. I am grateful that you have a good life. Grateful that you are strong enough to have that life.

  18. What no comment?

    • Daniel, please resend your question that you askedfor my answer on. I may have “lost” it. xx

  19. Sweet Jane, you don’t have to comment on my question. The person that sent me the very derogatory e-mail concerning you had no idea what she was talking about. I’m sure she got the e-mail from someone that also knew nothing about the Vietnam War. I do agree that we need to evolve and stop war altogether. There is no reason for people to fight like barbarians, to bomb each other, to wipe out villages and people’s homes and just to kill each other. It’s 2010 and we don’t need dictators that want to show the world how tough they are when they’re sitting behind a desk and giving orders to 18-year-old kids to kill people. Countries need to be diplomatic and open lines of communication instead of putting limits and sanctions on the countries that don’t benefit them. I still would like to hear your comments and feel free to send them. Thanks Jane! Especially if you comment, but if you don’t

  20. You are a beautiful human being Miss Jane and I am proud to get in your corner and defend you still. What’s done is done and you have continued to persevere and thrive. I salute you for being an inspiration and muse to me and many others.
    Long after you’ve passed, I and many others will continue to fight the good fight in the same spirit as you.

  21. Jane, my husband a vietnam era marine pilot hates your guts and has never forgiven you but then again, he can’t forgive his ex wife either after over 30 years. So my point is, that there will always be those who will never try to understand or forgive you. That being said, you have been a positive figure for far more people than those who opposed your views during that period of your life.

  22. What is important in life is sharing and caring and Jane is perhaps unknowingly doing this action since her earlier years date back to youngage.She reaches out to people in distress and does what she is capable to do.Jane Fonda is made up of a different stuff as per the career graph.

  23. I read a story in, I believe, “The Nation” a few years ago by Tom Haden who endeavored, with verification, to refute the phony stories and hyperobole about the person the title refers to. When your ex defends you so elequently you must really be fantastic. I’ve been a steadfast admirer/fan since I was a teenager. Somehow I knew that Nixon and Agnew (such admirable, exemplary men) were the problem. As long as their agents could attack an uppidy woman they could be made to look like super patriots and law and order Republicans. Agnew told us over and over that what a L&O R he was. And what did we find out about them? I’m glad more people can now find out about Jane. I have sometimes been called that since it’s half of my name. Time for the truth. Hey, Anita Hill has now essentaiiy been vindicated. And what do we have on the Supreme Court for life?

  24. I have for a long time felt that you were in fact the “whipping girl” (whipping boy) for John McCain a real American traitor. I know this sounds pretty wild.

    I was a vietnam soldier also, a lot of us, even though we were not gung ho, were taught and respected the UCMJ and particularly the Code of Conduct. He violated that Code seriously by giving info to the “enemy” as he admits.

    Now take into consideraation that his father an Admiral was the ranking officer in charge of Vietnam and his son a POW was spilling his guts to the world and admitting he bombed women and children in city bombings, then you will realize why his father hardly spoke to him when he returned home. All of this is according to his own autobiography “Faith of our Fathers”

    So Jane Fonda who was a peace activist and in fact helped the troops morale in the FTA shows was an easy target and very handy in excusing our imperialism and loss to the North Vietnamese and misdirecting the attention of the right wingers who would have strung McCain up if they had known the truth.

    So everybody was directed to you and the left as the reasons we lost that war. It was so vicious it was suspicious (sorry for the unintentional rhyme) and helped cover-up the real traitor, McCain. He certainly was responsible for great damage to our image by his TV and radio broadcasts to the whole world, except the USA.

    I think they were laying cover because of your trip to North Vietnam, the possibility that you knew of his actual situation and that you spoke French which I assume means you could communicate with most Vietnamese. And now we find McCain had his interrogation records sealed.

    Imagine the Commanding General of Armed Forces in Iraq, and lets say his son an officer, was a POW, and was telling the rest of the world we were killing Iraqi women and children etc. Big Story? Unimaginably big.

    One little item shows how McCain was part of this was his lack of class when he had to take a cheap shot at Tom Hayden (and Jane) as he remarked in his book that Tom Hayden “reluctantly” delivered a letter from his mother, what a petty and cheap shot, and offensive.

    When I see McCain he disgusts me deeply, he is such a phony, and when I returned from Vietnam and heard what you had actually done, I had no problem defending you when they seemed to amp up the hatred of you.

    I don’t mind if you delete my post, I just wanted you to know there are other theories out here, because something was driving this hatred and you didn’t deserve it, the nation owes you an apology and we deserve the truth.

  25. Jane,
    “Blessed are the peace makers.”

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for everything you did to try to end the war in
    Viet Nam.
    I was an anti-war GI who served as an Army medic in the Americal Division in 1969-70. We were very much aware of the peace movement back home, and some of my fellow GIs had bought into the idea that this was somehow un-American and that it was directed against us, the individual soldiers. My response was always, “Hey, these people are trying to get our asses out of here. You think Nixon cares about you?”
    To whatever extent that the FTA shows, the visit to Hanoi, and the demonstrations in the streets helped to shorten the war, I thank you and all the other public figures (like Muhammed Ali) who had something to lose by opposing the government. As a member of VVAW and VFP I have continued to defend your actions. I truly admire your passion and courage.
    Let’s hope that some of the Jane-hating vets will actually read Mr. Lembcke’s book.
    Wishing you continued success and much happiness,

    Frank Bessinger

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