I grew up during World War II. My childhood was influenced by the roles my father played in his movies. Whether Abraham Lincoln or Tom Joad in the Grapes of Wrath, his characters communicated certain values which I try to carry with me to this day. I remember saying goodbye to my father the night he left to join the Navy. He didn’t have to. He was older than other servicemen and had a family to support but he wanted to be a part of the fight against fascism, not just make movies about it. I admired this about him. I grew up with a deep belief that wherever our troops fought, they were on the side of the angels.
For the first 8 years of the Vietnam War I lived in France. I was married to the French film director, Roger Vadim and had my first child. The French had been defeated in their own war against Vietnam a decade before our country went to war there, so when I heard, over and over, French people criticizing our country for our Vietnam War I hated it. I viewed it as sour grapes. I refused to believe we could be doing anything wrong there.
It wasn’t until I began to meet American servicemen who had been in Vietnam and had come to Paris as resisters that I realized I needed to learn more. I took every chance I could to meet with U.S. soldiers. I talked with them and read the books they gave me about the war. I decided I needed to return to my country and join with them—active duty soldiers and Vietnam Veterans in particular—to try and end the war. I drove around the country visiting military bases, spending time in the G.I. Coffee houses that had sprung up outside many bases –places where G.I.s could gather. I met with Army psychiatrists who were concerned about the type of training our men were receiving…quite different, they said, from the trainings during WWII and Korea. The doctors felt this training was having a damaging effect on the psyches of the young men, effects they might not recover from. I raised money and hired a former Green Beret, Donald Duncan, to open and run the G.I. Office in Washington D.C. to try and get legal and congressional help for soldiers who were being denied their rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I talked for hours with U.S. pilots about their training, and what they were told about Vietnam. I met with the wives of servicemen. I visited V.A. hospitals. Later in 1978, wanting to share with other Americans some of what I had learned about the experiences of returning soldiers and their families, I made the movie Coming Home. I was the one who would be asked to speak at large anti-war rallies to tell people that the men in uniform were not the enemy, that they did not start the war, that they were, in growing numbers our allies. I knew as much about military law as any layperson. I knew more than most civilians about the realities on the ground for men in combat. I lived and breathed this stuff for two years before I went to North Vietnam. I cared deeply for the men and boys who had been put in harms way. I wanted to stop the killing and bring our servicemen home. I was infuriated as I learned just how much our soldiers were being lied to about why we were fighting in Vietnam and I was anguished each time I would be with a young man who was traumatized by his experiences. Some boys shook constantly and were unable to speak above a whisper.
It is unconscionable that extremist groups circulate letters which accuse me of horrific things, saying that I am a traitor, that POWs in Hanoi were tied up and in chains and marched passed me while I spat at them and called them ‘baby killers. These letters also say that when the POWs were brought into the room for a meeting I had with them, we shook hands and they passed me tiny slips of paper on which they had written their social security numbers. Supposedly, this was so that I could bring back proof to the U.S. military that they were alive. The story goes on to say that I handed these slips of paper over to the North Vietnamese guards and, as a result, at least one of the men was tortured to death. That these stories could be given credence shows how little people know of the realities in North Vietnam prisons at the time. The U.S. government and the POW families didn’t need me to tell them who the prisoners were. They had all their names. Moreover, according to even the most hardcore senior officers, torture stopped late in 1969, two and a half years before I got there. And, most importantly, I would never say such things to our servicemen, whom I respect, whether or not I agree with the mission they have been sent to perform, which is not of their choosing.
But these lies have circulated for almost forty years, continually reopening the wound of the Vietnam War and causing pain to families of American servicemen. The lies distort the truth of why I went to North Vietnam and they perpetuate the myth that being anti-war means being anti-soldier.
Little known is the fact that almost 300 Americans—journalists, diplomats, peace activists, professors, religious leaders and Vietnam Veterans themselves—had been traveling to North Vietnam over a number of years in an effort to try and find ways to end the war (By the way, those trips generated little if any media attention.) I brought with me to Hanoi a thick package of letters from families of POWs. Since 1969, mail for the POWs had been brought in and out of North Vietnam every month by American visitors. The Committee of Liaison With Families coordinated this effort. I took the letters to the POWs and brought a packet of letters from them back to their families.
The Photo of Me on the Gun Site.
There is one thing that happened while in North Vietnam that I will regret to my dying day— I allowed myself to be photographed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. I want to, once again, explain how that came about. I have talked about this numerous times on national television and in my memoirs, My Life So Far, but clearly, it needs to be repeated.
It happened on my last day in Hanoi. I was exhausted and an emotional wreck after the 2-week visit. It was not unusual for Americans who visited North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations and when they did, they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I was told to wear during the numerous air raids I had experienced. When we arrived at the site of the anti-aircraft installation (somewhere on the outskirts of Hanoi), there was a group of about a dozen young soldiers in uniform who greeted me. There were also many photographers (and perhaps journalists) gathered about, many more than I had seen all in one place in Hanoi. This should have been a red flag.
The translator told me that the soldiers wanted to sing me a song. He translated as they sung. It was a song about the day ‘Uncle Ho’ declared their country’s independence in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. I heard these words: “All men are created equal; they are given certain rights; among these are life, Liberty and Happiness.” These are the words Ho pronounced at the historic ceremony. I began to cry and clap. These young men should not be our enemy. They celebrate the same words Americans do.
The soldiers asked me to sing for them in return. As it turned out I was prepared for just such a moment: before leaving the United States, I memorized a song called Day Ma Di, written by anti-war South Vietnamese students. I knew I was slaughtering it, but everyone seemed delighted that I was making the attempt. I finished. Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me, overcome on this, my last day, with all that I had experienced during my 2 week visit. What happened next was something I have turned over and over in my mind countless times. Here is my best, honest recollection of what happened: someone (I don’t remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed. I got up, and as I started to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what had just happened hit me. “Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes.” I pleaded with him, “You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published.” I was assured it would be taken care of. I didn’t know what else to do. (I didn’t know yet that among the photographers there were some Japanese.)
It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. But if they did I can’t blame them. The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake and I have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for it. Had I brought a politically more experienced traveling companion with me they would have kept me from taking that terrible seat. I would have known two minutes before sitting down what I didn’t realize until two minutes afterwards; a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever. The gun was inactive, there were no planes overhead, I simply wasn’t thinking about what I was doing, only about what I was feeling, innocent of what the photo implies. But the photo exists, delivering its message regardless of what I was doing or feeling. I carry this heavy in my heart. I have apologized numerous times for any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph. It was never my intention to cause harm. It is certainly painful for me that I, who had spent so much time talking to soldiers, trying to help soldiers and veterans, helping the anti-war movement to not blame the soldiers, now would be seen as being against our soldiers!
So Why I Did I Go?
On May 8th, 1972, President Nixon had ordered underwater, explosive mines to be placed in Haiphong Harbor, something that had been rejected by previous administrations. Later that same month, reports began to come in from European scientists and diplomats that the dikes of the Red River Delta in North Vietnam were being targeted by U.S. planes. The Swedish ambassador to Vietnam reported to an American delegation in Hanoi that he had at first believed the bombing was accidental, but now, having seen the dikes with his own eyes, he was convinced it was deliberate.
I might have missed the significance of these reports had Tom Hayden, whom I was dating, not shown me what the recently released Pentagon Papers had to say on the subject: in 1966, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, searching for some new means to bring Hanoi to its knees, had proposed destroying North Vietnam’s system of dams and dikes, which, he said, “If handled right- might…offer promise…such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after a time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided—which we could offer to do at the conference table.” President Johnson, to his credit, had not acted upon this option.
Now, six years later, Richard Nixon appeared to have given orders to target the dikes—whether to actually destroy them or to demonstrate the threat of destruction, no one knew.
It is important to understand that the Red River is the largest river in North Vietnam. Like Holland, its delta is below sea level. Over centuries, the Vietnamese people have constructed –by hand!– an intricate network of earthen dikes and dams to hold back the sea, a network two thousand five hundred miles long! The stability of these dikes becomes especially critical as monsoon season approaches, and requires an all-out effort on the part of citizens to repair any damage from burrowing animals or from normal wear and tear. Now it was June, but this was no ‘normal wear and tear’ they were facing. The Red River would begin to rise in July and August. Should there be flooding, the mining of Haiphong Harbor would prevent any food from being imported; the bombing showed no signs of letting up; and there was little press coverage of the impending disaster should the dikes be weakened by the bombing and give way. Something drastic had to be done.
The Nixon Administration and its US Ambassador to the United Nations, George Bush (the father), would vehemently deny what was happening, but the following are excerpts from the April-May 1972 transcripts of conversations between President Nixon and top administration officials.
April 25th 1972
Nixon: “We’ve got to be thinking in terms of an all-out bombing attack [of North Vietnam}…Now, by all-out bombing attack, I am thinking about things that go far beyond…I’m thinking of the dikes, I’m thinking of the railroad, I’m thinking, of course, of the docks.”
Kissinger: “I agree with you.”
President Nixon: “And I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?”
Kissinger: “About two hundred thousand people.”
President Nixon: “No, no, no…I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: “That, I think, would just be too much.”
President Nixon: “The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.”
May 4, 1972.
John B. Connally (Secretary of the Treasury):…”bomb for seriousness, not just as a signal. Railroads, ports, power stations, communication lines…and don’t worry about killing civilians. Go ahead and kill ’em….People think you are [killing civilians] now. So go ahead and give ’em some.”
Richard Nixon: “That’s right.”
[Later in same conversation]
Richard Nixon: “We need to win the goddamned war…and…what that fella [?] said about taking out the goddamned dikes, all right, we’ll take out the goddamned dikes….If Henry’s for that, I’m for it all the way.”
The administration wanted the American public to believe Nixon was winding down the war because he was bringing our ground troops home. (At the time I went to Hanoi, there were only approximately 25,000 troops left in South Vietnam from a high of 540,000 in early 1969) In fact, the war was escalating…from the air. And, as I said, monsoon season was approaching. Something drastic had to be done.
That May, I received an invitation from the North Vietnamese in Paris to make the trip to Hanoi. Many had gone before me but perhaps it would take a different sort of celebrity to get people’s attention. Heightened public attention was what was needed to confront the impending crisis with the dikes. I would take a camera and bring back photographic evidence (if such was to be found) of the bomb damage of the dikes we’d been hearing about.
I arranged the trip’s logistics through the Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace talks, bought myself a round trip ticket and stopped in New York to pick up letters for the POWs.
Frankly, the trip felt like a call to service. It was a humanitarian mission, not a political trip. My goal was to expose and try to halt the bombing of the dikes. (The bombing of the dikes ended a month after my return from Hanoi)
The only problem was that I went alone. Had I been with a more experienced, clear-headed, traveling companion, I would not have allowed myself to get into a situation where I was photographed on an anti-aircraft gun.
My trip to North Vietnam never became a big story in the Summer/Fall of 1972–nothing on television, one small article in the New York Times. The majority of the American public, Congress, and the media were opposed to the war by then and they didn’t seem to take much notice of my trip. After all, as I said, almost three hundred Americans had gone to Hanoi before me. There had been more than eighty broadcasts by Americans over Radio Hanoi before I made mine. I had decided to do the broadcasts because I was so horrified by the bombing of civilian targets and I wanted to speak to U.S. pilots as I had done on so many occasions during my visits to U.S. military bases and at G.I. Coffee houses. I never asked pilots to desert. I wanted to tell them what I was seeing as an American on the ground there. The Nixon Justice Department poured over the transcripts of my broadcasts trying to find a way to put me on trial for treason but they could find none. A. William Olson, a representative of the Justice Department,  said after studying the transcripts, that I had asked the military “to do nothing other than to think.”
But from the Nixon Administration’s point of view, something had to be done. If the government couldn’t prosecute me in court because, in reality, I had broken no laws, then the pro-war advocates would make sure I was prosecuted in the court of public opinion.
The myth making about my being responsible for POW torture began seven months after I returned from North Vietnam, and several months after the war had ended, and the U.S. POWs had returned home. “Operation Homecoming,” in February 1973, was planned by the Pentagon and orchestrated by the White House. It was unprecedented in its lavishness. I was outraged that there had been no homecoming celebrations for the 10s of 1000s of men who had done combat. But from 1969 until their release in 1973, Nixon had made sure that the central issue of the war for many Americans was about the torture of American POWs (the very same years when the torture had stopped!). He had to seize the opportunity to create something that resembled victory. It was as close as he would come, and the POWs were the perfect vehicles to deflect the nation’s attention away from what our government had done in Vietnam, how they had broken faith with our servicemen.
I became a target the government could use, to suggest that some POWs who had met with me while I was in Hanoi had been tortured into pretending they were anti-war. The same thing was done to try and frame former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whose trip to North Vietnam followed mine.
According to Seymour Hersh, author and journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre and, later, the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal, when American families of POWs became alarmed at the news that there was torture in North Vietnam prisons, they received letters from the Pentagon saying: “We are certain that you will not become unduly concerned over the [torture] briefing if you keep in mind the purpose for which it was tailored.”
But, according to what the POWs wrote in their books, conditions in the POW camps improved in the four years preceding their release—that is, from 1969 until 1973. Upon their release, Newsweek magazine wrote, “the [torture] stories seemed incongruent with the men telling them – a trim, trig [note: this is actually the word used in the article] lot who, given a few pounds more flesh, might have stepped right out of a recruiting poster.”
Once the POWs were home, the Pentagon and White House handpicked a group of the highest ranking POWs–senior officers, to travel the national media circuit, some of them telling of torture. A handwritten note from President Nixon to H.R. Haldeman says that “the POW’s need to have the worst quotes of R. Clark and Fonda” to use in their TV appearances, but this information shouldn’t come from the White House. These media stories were allowed to become the official narrative, the universal “POW Story,” giving the impression that all the men had been subjected to systematic torture—right up to the end–and that torture was the policy of the North Vietnamese government. The POWs who said there was no torture in their camps were never allowed access to the media.
Not that any torture is justified or that anyone who had been tortured should have been prevented from telling about it. But the Nixon White House orchestrated a distorted picture of what actually occurred.
In my anger at the torture story that was being allowed to spread, at how the entire situation was being manipulated, I made a mistake I deeply regret. I said that the POWs claiming torture were liars, hypocrites, and pawns.
I said, “I’m quite sure that there were incidents of torture…but the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that’s a lie.”
What I didn’t know at the time was that although there had been no torture after 1969, before then there had been systematic torture of some POWS. One of the more hawkish of them, James Stockdale, wrote in his book, In Love and War, that no more than ten percent of the pilots received at least ninety percent of the punishment. John Hubbell, in P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, agreed, and affirmed the fact that torture stopped in 1969.
When the POWs came home, some who had been there longest told the press how they clogged up prison toilets and sewers, refused to come when ordered, or follow prison rules. One of the most famous, Jeremiah Denton, said, “We forced them [the guards] to be brutal to us.” I relay this not to minimize the hardships that the POWs endured, nor to excuse it– but to attempt belatedly to restore a greater depth of insight into the entire POW experience with their captors.
Still, whether any torture was administered to certain, more recalcitrant POWs and not to others is unacceptable. Even though only a small percent of prisoners were tortured by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, it wasn’t right. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s standards, torturing prisoners to get information is justified. It isn’t. Not ever. All nations must adhere to the Geneva Convention’s rules of warfare.
As anyone who knew or worked with me in those years knows that my heart has always been with the soldiers. I should have been clearer that my anger back then was at the Nixon Administration. It was the administration, in its cynical determination to keep hostilities between the U.S. and Vietnam alive and to distract people from the administration’s mistakes, who tried to use the POWs as pawns.
Addressing The Internet lies
By the end of the Nineties, even more grotesque torture lies began to be circulated about me over the Internet—the ones that continue to this day.
Let me quote a former POW, Captain Mike McGrath (USN Retired), president of the POW-NAM Organization. In a letter to Roger Friedman, at the time a columnist for Fox411, on Friday, January 12, 2001 (he gave Friedman permission to make the letter public) McGrath wrote:
Yes, the Carrigan/Driscoll/strips of paper story is an Internet hoax. It has been around since Nov 1999 or so. To the best of my knowledge none of this ever happened. This is a hoax story placed on the Internet by unknown Fonda haters. No one knows who initiated the story. I have spoken with all the parties named: Carrigan, Driscoll, et al. They all state that this particular story is a hoax and wish to disassociate their names from the false story. They never made the statements attributed to them.
In his letter, McGrath also said to Friedman that by the time I went to Hanoi in 1972, treatment of the POWs was starting to improve and that I “did not bring torture or abuse to the POWs,” but that one man [Hoffman], the “senior ranking man in a room full of new guys,” was tortured (“hung by his broken arm”) to make him come to the meeting with me. McGrath wrote:
Why one man (name withheld by request) was picked out for torture of his broken arm is unknown…
The answer is, it never happened!
Will what I have written here stop the myths from continuing to be spread on the Internet and in mass mailings to conservative Republicans? I don’t know. Some people seem to need to hate and I make a convenient lightning rod. I think the lies and distortions serve some right-wing purpose—fundraising? Demonizing me so as to scare others from becoming out-spoken anti-war activists? Who knows? But at least here, on my blog (and in my memoirs), there is a place where people who are genuinely interested in the truth can find it.
 PP Vol. 1V, p. 43 (Italics in the original)
 As Hitler had done to the Netherlands during World War II. German High Commissioner Seyss-Inquart was condemned to death at Nuremberg for opening the dikes in Holland.
 Oval Office Conversation No. 719-22, May 4, 1972; Nixon White House Tapes; National Archives at College Park, College Park MD
 Hearings before the Committee on Internal Security, House of Representatives, 92 Congress, Second Session, Sept. 10 & 25th, 1972 (Washington: Government Printing Office): 7552
 Hersh, The P.O.W. Issue: A National Issue is Born, Dayton (Ohio) Journal-Herald, 13-18 Feb 1971
 Newsweek, 4/16/73
 Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, White House Special Files: Staff Mamber & Office Files: H.R. Haldeman: Box 47: Folder: H. Notes Jan-Feb-Mar 1973 National Archives
 NYT, 7 April 1973,11
 In Love and War, p.447
 P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, John G. Hubbell, 91,430
 New York Times, 30 April 1973.
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As Jefferson said and wrote, a democracy requires an informed citizenry. Individuals are not absolved simply out of ignorance. Should we absolve all of the Nazis who believed the propaganda of Hitler and were lied to? Eisenhower warned us of the military industrial complex upon leaving office. Today that smae military industrial complex is alive and well, profiting from our professional army in the middle east. I opposed the Vietnam War back in the 1960s; and I oppose our country killing civilians in the middle east today. We are all responsible for allowing these endless wars, and we cannot absolve ourselves by claiming simply that we were lied to. It didn’t work at Nuremberg, nor should it here and now.
You can always count on American’s to do the right thing after they try everything else.- W. Churchill
I think the next election will determine America’s fate.
As Jefferson said and wrote, a democracy requires an informed citizenry.
Robert K Owen
Dear Ms. Fonda – I have read your account with interest, and I am glad that I have found it. You visited our barracks when I was at Fort Ord in 1972. I was at Company C, 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade…assigned as Admin Asst (Company Clerk) to the Company Commander. I always wondered how it was that you came to our Company. I felt our CO was relatively progressive, and that may have played a part. I don’t now recall much of what you said to us, specifically…just the general jist of your message. But, I do recall you counseled us to “always question why” and “think for ourselves”…something along those lines. That was a part of your talk that managed to stick with me. That was good advice, not only for those times, but for all times. Thanks for that!
A significant part of my job there was helping some of the kids through the process of discharge or designation due to their inability to adapt to the military environment or desire for conscientious objection status. That was very interesting to me. I did not serve in Vietnam. I received orders for assignment there, but my First Sergeant raised a fuss with HQ about needing me here, so they rescinded. I was lucky.
After service, I worked my way through college, with help from the GI Bill…and on to a 31-year career in Finance with Quest Diagnostics. I retired in 2014. I have also been a singer/songwriter/musician since my teenage years. Two years ago, a colleague and I formed a Chapter of Soldier Songs and Voices, here in Portland, Oregon. We are helping to establish community for vets by providing guitar lessons and writing workshops, free of charge. My inspiration for this came from a news article I saw about Roger Waters (songwriter/musician in Pink Floyd), who was doing something similar in New York City. This endeavor has been both challenging and rewarding for me. It has been a good way for me to give back.
Over the years, I have always been able to separate (in my mind) the service in the military from the politics of war. Looking back, your visit to us in 1972 helped me begin to establish that mindset. Thank you.
Robert, I remember vividly my visit to Ft Ord. It was very important to me. I totally agree with you about the importance of separating the servicemen (and now women) from the politics of war. Everyone in the Peace Movement that I knew felt the same way. I think it’s the hawks, beginning with the Regan administration, that started the myth of the Peace Movement blaming the soldiers. Thank you for writing. x
Ms. Fonda, you make me proud to be an American! I had to “school” someone today on how your actions in Vietnam were from love and concern, not malice. I am grateful for people like you who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they feel is right and important. Those who fight for truth have paved the way for equality and,as a gay man, I couldn’t be more appreciative. We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” -William Faulkner
My name is Chelsie, I’m in my early 20s, and a University student from Melbourne, Australia. Having never studied the Vietnam War in depth (until now) I had no idea of your significance in the antiwar movement. In my Vietnam War class at Uni, we are to write an essay on an area of the war of our choosing. I have chosen to write about you and the misunderstanding and depth of feeling against you which still continues today. From all of my reading and research so far, all I really have to say is: “Thank you for standing up for humanity, thank you for sharing the truth, you are an absolute inspiration!”
Kindest regards, all the way from Melbourne, Australia
Thank you, Chelsie
Jane, I can relate to your statement about unknown people receiving attention when they went to N. Vietnam.
I’m an unknown author who wrote a book, The Rise And Fall of America’s Middle Class (why it happened and what you can do to restore prosperity). It’s about middle class history from 1900 to the present and the major events and legislation that caused it to rise (the New Deal 1933 to 1981) and fall (the Raw Deal 1982 to present) The book has facts and statistics from official government sources showing every single long term economic indicator has gone down since 1982. Examples: Performance charts that show minimum wage raises are directly linked to lower unemployment rates and greater GDP growth rates.
I need your help to get the word out about this book. I’m sure you want to read this 124 page book before promoting it. [email protected]
Thanking you in advance,
PS, I place so much importance on the next election I am willing to give a free copy to anyone upon request.
Jane, is a chapter in my book.
The Letter That Changed America
By the late ’60s many people began to believe the liberal movement had taken the nation to far to the left. I was one of them. A survey revealed nearly 40 percent of college students favored socialism. Most people thought the unions went too far trying to get legislation passed that would have made strikers eligible for welfare and food stamps, which enraged corporate America and most of the public. Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe At Any Speed” ignited the consumer movement forcing automobile manufactures to add safety features. (It is not well known but some auto executives advocated safety features but could not compete if they produced them and urged legislation setting standards) President Nixon supported the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Clean Air Act. After a river in Cleveland, Ohio caught on fire, and burned out of control for days, he created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The Poor People’s Campaign set up a six-week encampment on the National Mall in Washington. Nixon proposed a guaranteed annual income and declared, “I am a Keynesian.” One business leader publicly declared “they want to roll up the business community and put it in a trash can.” Meanwhile a bewildered business community just sat there taking hit after hit everyday, in the media, fearing bad publicity if they responded.
They did respond, however, by using one of the most successful strategy’s ever in history. A single letter written to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, and a Supreme Court decision set in motion the dynamics that brought on the conservative movement and enabled corporate America’s takeover of the political process. In 1971 a distinguished corporate lawyer, who was a member of 11 corporate boards, wrote a 14-page confidential letter to his friend, Eugene Sydnor, the director of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce titled, “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” which became known as the “Powell Memorandum.” Mr. Powell specialized in corporate mergers and takeovers, served on the board of Phillip Morris, represented the tobacco industry in several cases and was a former president of the American Bar Association. Mr. Powell was famous in legal circles for structuring sentences when arguing in court and applied that skill composing his letter (I think he was a natural born bullshit artIst). Just read the following “quotations”!
The Powell Memo outlined ”a bold policy of how big business could control key elements of American society in a manor the public wouldn’t notice.” Mr. Powell noted “criticism was coming from all respectable elements of society; from the campus, the pulpit, the media, artist, scientists, and politicians.” Powell, a Democrat, advised the Chamber and corporate America to “become heavily involved in molding public opinion, politics, and law” and outlined a “blueprint on how to
become far more politically active in order to defend free enterprise against socialist, communists, or fascist trends.” Powell advocated “constant surveillance of textbook, newsprint,
television content and a purge of left wing elements.” As a result conservatives began purchasing publishing companies, newspapers, radio, and TV stations and staff them with conservative personnel and commentators in order to achieve that goal. Powell told conservatives they “had to confront liberalism everywhere and in any way possible.” He told them they “would have to build a new group of organizations and needed a scale of financing only available through a joint effort.”
Powell said that conservatives would have to “put aside political differences, ego, and competing differences in order to achieve common goal’s including less government, lower taxes, and deregulation, by challenging the left agenda everywhere by any means possible”
Although Powell isn’t known to have played a role in implementing his proposals, his brilliantly crafted memo galvanized nervous business leaders, and working through the Chamber, they began implementing his ideas with a vengeance. Business leaders and conservatives organized a new generation of think tanks, media monitors, legal groups, and networking organizations all dedicated to “the values of free enterprise, individual freedoms, and limited government.” That effort was well under way when the first one was incorporated as the Heritage Foundation. The Manhattan Institute, Cato Institute, Citizens for A Sound Economy and Accuracy In Academia, are some of the better-known ones that followed later.
One goal was to “convince the public that corporate interests are in the public interest and that labor, health, safety, and the environment are special interests.” Another goal was to “influence legislation, government policy and the legal system”
Today if Rush Limbaugh wants something on vouchers it’s immediately in his hands. If Bill O’Reilly needs a guest to talk about death taxes (estate taxes) he has one from one of these think tanks. More than 400 million dollars a year fund their think tank operations. In 2009 Heritage Foundation’s budget alone was $80,378,250 and listed assets of $164,819,678. People in the know estimate 36,000 conservatives have been trained on values, leadership, use of the media, and agenda development at the conservative Leadership Institute in Virginia. Insiders affectionately call its graduates, and mainstream media outlets the “Conservative Media Machine.” About 2,000 of the graduates are core leaders who make between $75,000 and $200,000 and all of them are monitored by other professionals for performance. You see them regularly on TV, including Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) commenting and making recommendations. The founder of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquest, is one of the core leaders. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell attended the Leadership Institute. The Conservative Media Machine operated at full speed to get George Bush reelected in 2004. They operated through a network of right leaning TV and radio channels including, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel which provides GOP presidential candidates a free 24/7 campaign infomercial. The Christian Church community has created an electronic media giant as a result of aid and advice provided by conservatives and is considered part of the Conservative Media Machine as well.
Powell encouraged “corporations and trade organizations to create their own citizen organizations with names that would mask their corporate sponsorship and true purpose.” The National Wetlands Coalition, whose logo had a duck flying over a swamp, was sponsored by oil and gas companies to ease restrictions on wetlands for developing oil and business ventures while advocating “responsible” EPA policies. The Consumer Alert organization fought government regulations of product safety and at the same time advocated “responsible” consumer protection legislation in media adds. Keep America Beautiful, sponsored by the bottling industry, promoted anti litter campaigns but successfully fought recycling legislation they deemed unfavorable and urged the public to write Congress. (You old timers remember when a deposit was required for soda glass bottles that had to be returned to get your deposit back.) Hundreds of them have been set up over the years and they were extremely effective at masking their true purpose and some even solicited donations from an unwary public. Recently the airwaves were flooded with the safe, environmental friendly process known as fracking. The public airwaves were void of scientist and activist wishing to present their side. An activist with “what the frack is going on” printed on his forehead was removed from a public hearing when police noticed it as he objected to and questioned why “no liability clauses” were written in leases. His name was Jim Davis. The police were considerate to me and one even expressed admiration for my cause. He didn’t “approve of my (news worthy) method” — even though it worked!
Powell advised the Chamber to “establish a roster of eminent, highly qualified social science and economic scholars, and invite them to speak at conservative-sponsored public and media events.”
“It should include several well known names whose reputation would be widely respected even when disagreed with.” Scholars like Milton Friedman are an example of those who were invited to speak at these conservative sponsored media events, and conventions, and suddenly found them selves gaining fame and winning awards. Friedman won a Noble Prize in 1976 and he became an economic adviser to President Reagan. Although off topic, it is worth noting Friedman advocated abolishing medical licenses. Quackery voodoo medicine and quackery voodoo economics!
Powell advised the chamber to “recruit a staff of scholars to evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science, and sociology, whose long term objective is restoring balance essential to long term academic freedom.” Today’s children, as noted on page 3, are being taught that to think differently poses a threat to democracy! These scholars also provided incentives to independent scholars and authors, who believed in the free enterprise system, to induce more publishing. Additionally they provided incentives (bribes) to neutral authors to support conservative views. He advised the chamber to “establish a staff of speakers, thoroughly familiar with the media and with speaking skills, to speak on college campuses, at public, and media events in order to mold public opinion.” Within a couple of years an army of skilled speakers were on the college speaking circuit and by 1977 the number of college students advocating socialism had dropped significantly.
Powell recommended the “business community create a business funded legal center to promote business interests in the nations courts.” In 1973 the Pacific Legal Foundation, PLF, was formed in Sacramento California. It was the first of a number of so called “public interest” law firms dedicated to promoting business interests, fight so called frivolous lawsuits, and encourage frivolous lawsuit legislation. Because some suits were indeed frivolous, they were successful in tort reform making it harder for legitimate lawsuits to be filed against Big Business as was its real goal. Tort reform is still going on. The PLF specialized in defending business interests against clean air and water legislation, the closing of federal wilderness areas to oil and gas exploration, worker rights, and corporate taxation.
The Powell Memo recommended “Business Roundtables be set up with CEOs of competing businesses as members putting aside personal differences with the goal of finding common ground and aggressively launching campaigns to gain political acceptance and promote common interests.” The first one was organized in 1973. Prior to that in 1972, it became common to read articles, and see commentators on TV about union wages and benefits being equal to those offered by non union firms, praising unions, but raising the question if they were still needed. Between 1972 and 1975 many dues paying union members took notice and using “what have you done for me lately mentality” voted to decertify many unions. The articles didn’t mention union wages and benefit’s “set the standard” non union firms “must” offer in order to hire and retain a good quality workforce. I well remember seeing these articles and even though I was not a fan of unions at that time, I wondered
if something was up.
BUST THE UNIONS
The first Business Roundtable was set up in 1973 and consisted of 40 of the top 50 Fortune 500 Corporations CEOs. The first Business Roundtable meeting agenda was set to list priorities and included several think tank advisers who provided information and made recommendations. This is some of the information they supplied. In 1971 union PAC money made up 50 percent of all PAC money, only 175 firms had registered lobbyist in Washington, plus only 40 Fortune 500 companies had public affairs offices in Washington. By 1979, 80 percent of them had public affairs offices in Washington, full of lobbyists. The CEOs were provided statistics about the big increase of lobbyist and assured them more PAC funds were forthcoming and were confident this additional source would overwhelm union lobbying and contributions to politicians. By 1979 union PAC money was less than 25 percent of the total and more than 2000 firms had lobbyists in D.C.! The CEOs were reminded about the union news articles and predicted dues paying union members would continue succumbing to “what have you done for me lately mentality” speeding up a trend of desertification. That helps explains the sharp percentage drop in membership from 1972 onward.
From the time the National Labor Relations Act legalized unions, during the Great Depression, making them a powerful force, the business community was committed to their destruction and the Business Roundtable made it a priority. In order to increase profits using cheap foreign labor was the tool they decided to use and using PAC money to amend foreign trade policies was the strategy. Small policy changes had already been made in foreign steel and auto import quotas and since the auto and steel worker unions were the biggest and highest paid, easing restrictions on auto and steel imports was given priority. Within months foreign steel and high-quality Japanese autos were taking big shares of the market and the race to the bottom for the U. S. economy had begun. By the late 70s the big industrial cities in the Northeast were struggling to overcome the adverse effects of foreign trade policy changes. Many steel companies, appliance makers, auto production facilities, and support industries closed their doors for good and cities lost tax revenue as people moved seeking work else where. Most of them moved to “right to work” states in the south. I was one of them and felt sorry for the poor workers I met! It didn’t take long for the term “Rust Belt” to be coined and excessive union wages were blamed. Powell’s recommendations began paying off handsomely by the 1980s in coordination of President Reagan’s “hands off business” philosophy.
Many scholars credit Mr. Powell for inspiring the most brilliant strategy in history. The juggernaut he inspired more than 40 years ago is still growing and gaining influence today. Mr. Powell delivered his pernicious, brilliantly crafted memo to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 23, 1971. A few months later, on Jan 17, 1972, its author, Lewis J. Powell Jr. was sworn in as a U.S. Supreme Court
Associate Justice. As a Justice, Powell wrote the opinion for the following case.
FIRST NATIONAL BANK of BOSTON vs. BELLOTTI
Think the now-infamous “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” ruling in 2010 was the Supreme Court’s first foray into big-money politics? Think again!
In 1978 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations had a First Amendment right to make contributions in order to influence the political process. Justice Powell wrote the opinion that “a Massachusetts statute outlawing spending corporate funds to influence public opinion and voting opinions was a violation of free speech.” Because of this decision Congressmen from both parties now had access to huge amounts of special interest corporate campaign funds, if and only if, they supported
and voted the “right” way. If politicians stood by their principles and didn’t go along they were easy targets for a primary challenger. What do you think they did and what do you think you would do? Most of them, as most people would, went along. For members of Congress and the Senate, they were at the mercy of the special interest groups who would contribute campaign funds to the politicians who supported their views. The politicians could either go along or risk being outspent by an opponent and the survivors went along. This decision had a big influence on the Citizens United case decades later.
By the ’90s numerous Business Roundtables had been organized with 2300 members. Politicians, commentators and prominent, well respected business leaders began campaigning for the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. They bombarded the public with assurances, through editorials, news releases, radio and TV commentaries that NAFTA would protect and provide them with more high paying jobs, stop immigration from Mexico, and raise environmental standards. It had the exact opposite effect. Most Favored Nation Status for China soon followed. The public was led to believe globalization was a natural unstoppable phenomenon.
Increased lobbying of Congress, encouraged by the Powell Memorandum, and the Supreme Court’s First National Bank of Boston v. Bellot decision set in motion the dynamics that would dominate the political process from that time on. From that time on members of Congress realized, from the day they took the oath of office, they had to raise a huge amount of money to finance their next campaign in a few years and corporations could legally contribute if they liked your record. In the early ’70s people were shocked when the first Congressional campaign exceeded $100,000. That figure is in the millions today. The power of Big Business lobbying quickly overwhelmed the unions’ efforts to lobby against legislation that favored special interests.
The lobbying of unions had a huge positive impact on the middle class and is the most unknown and misunderstood benefit of good strong unions. Union members were all members of the middle class and statistics prove non union middle class families benefited as well. Since no other middle class lobbying organizations had the clout unions once had, what we have is a middle class, and a
nation, in decline. From the mid-70s onward not one single piece of legislation has been passed without changes to satisfy business interests. President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act is a prime example because of insurance lobbying against the “public option provision.” Although off topic, I consider the 30-year FHA home loan to be the “public option home loan” enticing conventional mortgage lenders to keep offering affordable long term 30 year loans.
Lobbyist activities led to amending the Glass-Steagall Act, which outlawed the risky activities that got us into the Great Depression. These practices that became once again legal set in motion the dynamics that led to the financial crash of 2008. (Did I mention it’s a good example of good vs bad legislation?) The Glass-Steagall Act was a law that favored the individual because it protected his savings against loss! I think it favored the banking industry by default as well. The banksters who lost nothing, due to the bailout, may not agree!
It rattled my head and blew my mind when I read the Powell Memo because I immediately understood why so many ordinary people, and small business people, vote against their own interests. I know the results had a great impact on me, the way I thought and voted.
The Powell Memo gives credence to Winston Churchill’s quote, “the truth is incontrovertible, malice may distort it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” This 14-page letter caused more change to America than anything in my lifetime, but remains unknown to most. If the information in this chapter was common knowledge I’m sure it would play a role in future politics!
This is a chapter in my book The Rise and Fall of Americas Middle Class
Ms Fonda, Unfortunately the media can and do twist, turn, spin and portray anyone in a bad light to get a sensational story, whether it’s true or not doesn’t seem to matter! You can only tell the truth but there will always be people who won’t believe you but that’s their issue. You have explained an apologizied many times over and for some peopke , it will never be good enough.. I do applaud you for taking the time again to explain yout Hanoi trip and what actually happened vs. the media’s spin on it. Hopefully this will put to rest once and for all the rumors and innuendos that have haunted you for so many years!! By the way, I think you are a terrific actress and I enjoy your movies!
Ms Fonda, Unfortunately the media can and do twist, turn, spin and portray anyone in a bad light to get a sensational story, whether it’s true or not doesn’t seem to matter! You can only tell the truth and there will always be people who won’t believe you but that’s their issue. You have explained an apologizied many times over and for some people , it will never be good enough.. I do applaud you for taking the time again to explain your Hanoi trip and what actually happened vs. the media’s spin on it. Hopefully this will put to rest once and for all the rumors and innuendos that have haunted you for so many years!! By the way, I think you are a terrific actress and I enjoy your movies!
Thanks Sheryl. I saw “Bridge of Spies” last night. A most fine film, by the way. In it, Tom Hanks says to Mark Rylance, “It doesn’t matter what people think. You know what you did.” That really struck me though, In my case, I would add “…You know what you did, and why.”
I’m glad I found this because I always believed you had no regrets about your visit to Hanoi. The regrets you’ve expressed are a comfort, but incomplete.
I’m a Vietnam Veteran (69-70).
You had the means to protest without going over there. You could’ve obtained pictures from Hanoi of bombed out dykes from your friends at the embassy.
You made a mistake, I get that… I can forgive that given the opportunity.
If you had just said forty years ago, “I understand your pain and I’m sorry that I went to Hanoi. I made a mistake, please forgive me.” No excuses… We’d be over this by now. But you still think you were justified.
You could’ve been writing *why* you did it now after we’d gotten over it and we might all be slapping our foreheads and patting you on the back now…
You f*cked up… twice.
I don’t hate you even though I feel I have suffered because of your actions and the actions of protesters encouraged by your actions. It’s perception and perception can become the truth.
Heckled, spit on, labeled as baby killers…
I was one month past my 19th birthday…
How would you feel about Jane Fonda if you served in Vietnam? Put it on and wear it around awhile before you answer that. That’s where you need real closure, with Vietnam Vets and their families. Nobody else *really* cares about your visit, don’t fool yourself…
I haven’t read all your comments here but I doubt any of them were Vietnam Veterans. Most of them probably weren’t even born then.
I’m afraid you’ve let this go on to long without an apology to those who fought and died in Vietnam. Many say our sacrifice was not in vain because it stopped the spread of Communism to other Asian countries in the region.
There’s no excuse for going to Hanoi, laughing and singing with our enemies while we held our dying buddies.
DEAR JIM, I have apologized many many times both on national TV and privately to veterans.I do not regret going to Hanoi along with the many hundreds of Americans…including Vietnam Veterans, journalists, diplomats,…who went before me. I regret sitting on the gun.
Thanks for your reply.
Forgiveness is far overdue, but what can you do but what you’ve already done, which is apologize and explain. There are some hateful, chauvinistic Americans who just want somebody to hate on while they wave the flag and say “My country is always right,” or “My country, right or wrong–or else. People with half a brain should have already resolved all this. I was against the Vietnam War and resented that those who were for it said I was un-American because of my opposition. I loved my country and wanted to right it. I think you did, as well. All I can say is go in peace.
Thanks, Daniel. I’m with you!
Jim, people protest in their own way and it doesn’t mean they don’t love their country. Vietnam vets were treated despicably when they returned from their service, but many who protested the war were simply trying to end it and save more American young men from dying in a civil war we should not have been involved in. If you watch the documentary “Fog of War,” which won an Oscar in 2003, you will hear former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara say that the “Domino Theory” proved to be wrong. Vietnam fell and there was no domino effect. That was the bill of goods that we were sold to go over there and risk our lives and die. My vehemence is directed toward LBJ, Nixon and the Pentagon that lied to keep the military/industrial complex spinning in greased and bloody grooves and so officers could get their field promotions.
Without going into great detail, and having read some of the apologies and reasons behind some actions taken during the Vietnam War… I have to say that my father was a navigator on B-52’s during the Vietnam War. I was about 4 years old and understood that my dad may not come home. While my dad was gone, several terrible things happened to my family and when my dad returned, I no longer would have anything to do with him. I think in my little child’s mind I must have thought that had my dad been there that none of those things would have happened to me. It wasn’t until I was about 18 and had moved out of the house that I started to have a real relationship with my dad. He is 85 now and an amazing man and we are great friends… I am so happy and proud to be able to say that now. What I am getting to is that when my dad and I were first starting to communicate and become friends in my early 20’s, I heard an audio recording of what Jane Fonda had said… “I am speaking to those of you in B-52 bombers. This is an illegal war… war criminals… death penalty…” I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I literally doubled over and almost vomited. It broke my heart. That little boy of 4 years old needed his daddy, and here is this person saying that my dad should be executed. Jane, you need to know that broke my heart! It took years to sort that out in my head, to let go of the hurt and anger…. Seeing Jane at a rally standing up for the families of servicemen and women during the awful Iraq war was just the thing I had been hoping to see. To read a little bit about how Jane feels about those things now, has really helped. I am happy to say that I was able to enjoy Monster-in-Law with a dying friend, and that I absolutely LOVE “Frankie and Gracie”. I think this blog page is wonderful… to read about the past and to be able to say something that had hurt me so deeply for so long. Its so much better when we all understand and like one another. Thank you Jane.
Dear SW, what a beautiful thing to write. I am so grateful and so very sorry for the hurt I caused you as a boy. So so sorry. Thank you for your forgiveness. x
As a Vietnam veteran and retired military of 23 years, I would like to hear more about your years with the communist group Students For a Democratic Society and your connections with Bill Ayers and the violent Weather Underground. Are you holding any seminars on that subject ??
Dear Henry, I’m sorry you feel as you do but to answer your questions: Never met Bill Ayers. Wish I had. I’ve been told he’s a very smart professor. Never was a member of SDS though I married one of the founders who co-authored The Port Huron statement, SDS’s founding document. It’s a brilliant essay on what real democracy would mean. You should read it. SDS didn’t become violent till later. Never did believe in armed struggled. I’m more of a Gandhian non-violent type. Though I understand why Black Americans who have been enslaved, lynched, shot, imprisoned and denied equal education and jobs would consider taking up arms as the Black Panthers did. I’m glad you survived the war and hope you’re doing well. Jane
I don’t know much about you, save for mostly common things; your career, father, and the story of your visit to Vietnam. And to be blunt, I never cared. Until I started seeing a veteran. And saw what he has gone through. I have never been pro-war, but never really spoke up about things. I keep my head down and raise my family. Strangely enough, that is what brings me here today.
A few days ago my teenaged daughter and I were discussing her future plans. She hopes to become a doctor and because we are well under what is considered “low-income” we have been trying to consider all options. At the moment those options seem to include enlisting in the Armed Forces. Somehow the conversation turned, and I brought up the story about you. I cannot recall where I heard it, or how long ago. But I do remember being shocked and disgusted at the thought that someone could be so vile. My daughter had the same reaction.
But she did something I didn’t do. She asked me “Why?” Why would someone do that? I honestly answered that I didn’t know, and I encouraged her to look it up on her own. And because I try to lead by example, I did so myself. I Googled you, tacked “Hanoi” on the end of your name, clicked a few different links.
I will say this: I wasn’t there, or even alive, when you visited Vietnam. So I personally cannot attest to the validity of either side. But I do not agree with the captions I saw on those pictures that labeled you as “adoring” or “searching for a target” or otherwise. You didn’t give off that kind of impression to me. I also do not think that someone with as prolific career as yourself would have been as successful if there had been truth to the stories.
When I get home tonight, I am going to talk with my daughter. I am going to tell her what I have learned. I will encourage her to do her own search and her own reading, so that she can form her own conclusions here. She is smart enough to weigh facts and use common sense.
Thank you, for taking the time to pen your own version of things, so that those who wish to educate themselves can do so. And thank you for the support you have shown to our troops over the years. Now that I have personal experience with what type of hardships they endure after Serving, I am a lot more conscious of their struggles.
I just thought I would let you know that not all younger people believe everything they hear or see online.
Thank you, V. This email means the world to me. I’m glad you read my Hanoi post. Thnaks. x
Andrew P House
I apologize if this question has already been answered….and it likely has, but I wanted to ask you directly. I’m going to put my personal politics aside & just ask what I want to ask. What you did during the Vietnam War to an average citizen would have been considered high treason & the person would have been sentenced to death. Because of your celebrity status you were given a pass. How does that make you feel? I know WHY you did what you did, but as a US citizen you have to realize had you not been who you are, you’d have been tried & convicted for high treason. What are your thoughts on it?
Andrew, thanks for your question. If I’d done what some accuse me of, I agree that I should have been tried as a traitor but I didn’t. Believe me, the Nixon Administration searched for things I could be tried for. They had the Justice Department et al searching for things to pin on me but they could find none. They poured over the actual transcripts of my radio broadcasts from Hanoi—the actual words I said, not how my words were translated into Vietnamese–and found there was nothing treasonous. And trust me, if there had been anything treasonous, the Nixon administration wouldn’t have cared what kind of celebrity I was, they would have strung me up. Read my blog “What REally Happened in Hanoi”…I think that’s the title. It’s in my archived blogs. The head of the POW/MIA organization at the time of my trip said I had not done what I was accused of doing to the POWs. It’s amazing to me that despite the falsehoods said abut me, they continue to circulate.
Andrew P House
Thank you for your reply. I’m quite busy so I haven’t checked in some time. I do thank you for your reply. I have read what you suggested, and you are right. I didn’t want to admit it, but after going through various resources, I have found nothing to dispute what you have said. I grew up with many Vietnam veterans that have a bit of a hatred for you. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. I’m sure you’re used to that type of negative backlash. My resources are far reaching & I’ve found nothing at all to validate the claims I’ve heard for many years. Aside from the media. Media outlets are not valid to me.
I am sorry if I came across as a bit brash in my last post. That wasn’t my intention. Thank you for taking the time to respond. It means a lot. 🙂
1. No American has ever been executed for treason
2. “Celebrity status” doesn’t give you a pass – it makes the authorities more determined to make an example of you. Less famous Americans who went to Hanoi were ignored.
I am a big fan of your show Grace and Frankie, I have one episode left of Season 2! In high school I took a course titled Lessons of the Vietnam War and my teacher told us the story about you turning in the social security numbers to the North Vietnamese Guards. At the time I was outraged. When I got home I told my dad what I had learned in class that day and he did not believe the story that my teacher had taught and told me that it wasn’t true. At the time I was still hesitant because I did not know why my teacher would make up such a story so I looked it up and found out that it was all a lie. I recently thought about this incident from years ago and read this article. I appreciate your story and I am glad that you clarified the whole situation. I hope that teacher is no longer telling his students that story as fact.
Thank you Jenna. xx Jane
Christopher A Howard
Dear Miss Fonda,
Somewhere I lost the plot. You courageously went to North Vietnam where you voiced the feelings and expressed the views of millions of people, not just Americans that the war in South East Asia was wrong, wrong wrong (as most wars are) and it had to stop. In 1973 the US left. That wasn’t a bad result. And 43 years later you are still being tried in the court of public opinion. That, too, is wrong, wrong wrong. Maybe you found that the NV’s were just people, capable of cruelty and humanity, that they could sing and laugh and dance and cry and everything else that makes us human. This probably wasn’t a popular view in some quarters, especially unpopular with war profiteers and their supporters.
The real deal behind all the negative stuff being levelled against you stems from the fact that you exposed a colossal lie and people sent their sons out there who died for really nothing and that must be hard to take.
Allow me to wish you good luck and success in your pursuits and endeavours.
Christopher A Howard
Christopher, thank you. xx
I very much enjoyed reading your side of the story concerning this still controversial topic.
Even before I stumbled across your blog I had always believed there was much more that “anti Fonda” folks were leaving out!
I thoroughly admire your candidness in every interview I’ve seen on various talk shows, and I always speak up for you when I hear such ignorant remarks even to this day (amazing) in regards to the Vietnam war.
I personally know that I’m a good judge of character, and I admire and respect you for being such an open person.
In closing, just wanted to say I would’ve loved to have met you when you lived here in Atlanta! I’ve heard only great things from those who have.
Thanks for this page. I’ve always wondered why Jane Fonda had to apologise for anything.
“Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes.”
Well, first of all, it’s ridiculous to think North Vietnam would recruit a famous movie star as an anti-aircraft gunner. But more importantly, what’s wrong with shooting down bombers? – any bombers, in any country, which are bombing civilians. North Vietnam committed terrible war crimes – but shooting down B-52s was not one of them.
Finding this is like opening the best Christmas present ever. You’ve written such a detailed and compelling account giving me and all of your long-time supporters such a wonderful gift. I just turned 70 years old and served in the Army from 1966-1969 with the majority of my time spent in Alaska working in a NIKE missile unit. I’m a Cold War Veteran which surprisingly most generations that followed mine are not aware of. They seem to be knowledgeable of Vietnam but know little or nothing about the decades of facing the menace of the Soviet Union. My wife Jane and I have been admirers and true supporters of you going back as far as I can remember. From the strong roles you’ve played on the big screen to your activism and dedication to others and their causes has truly affected us in a deep and positive way. I just don’t know how this ongoing controversy started let alone how long it has lasted. Just last week I received and email from my ex-sister in law dredging up the same old stories. I’ve had my battles over the years with family, friends, co-workers, and a few Army buddies and gave the information I had while encouraging them to do their own research. It’s truly mind boggling!! My support for you in this matter has never wavered and the more people have thrown it in my face the stronger I get. Both Jane and I have always been aware of all you have done for Veterans and the Military community before and after this incident and we’ve read and researched as much as we could get our hands over the years. Thank you so much for the post. I think it’s important for everyone to be aware of the full and true story. Our best to you always.
Much Love and Respect
Jay and Jane Chellew
I have had a deep abiding respect for you for over 4 decades. I have been inspired by your humanitarianism and activism over the years. I remember vividly participating at an anti-war, Vietnam rally in San Diego, CA with you. As I recall, you came with Tom Hayden, and Peter Boyle, both who are now deceased. Fortunately, I was never sent to Viet Nam. I received school deferments and then a high lottery number, 296.
I was brainwashed about the VietNam war from age 16 until 19 years of age. I was led to believe by my conditioning that the U.S. government was there to protect the world from the spread of communism, and that North Vietnam was the aggressor. It was in the late 60s or early 70s that I heard Senator Frank Church, at a local college here in San Diego, explain that the U.S. government was in violation of the Geneva Accords and that the U.S. government was fighting an illegal and immoral war.
I can attest to that the anti-war, VietNam demonstration I attended with you in San Diego was very peaceful and respectful toward our veterans. who were fighting and dying on behalf of the U.S. government as well as those who returned back to the U.S.. I recall a day prior to the demonstration I saw a friend at a local store and told him about the demonstration. The owner of the store overheard me and began screaming at me at the top of his lungs, telling me to, “Get the fuck out of his store.” These were highly charged times and Nixon had further divided the country into two groups, and he used fascist rhetoric to silence his adversaries. Thank God for you and the like, who inspired us to march in peace with you.
Thank you so much for writing your open letter here about your experiences in the VietNam era as well as being a true champion of peace, women rights, human rights over the years. I hope you become one of the iconic center points to rally against the most dangerous and corrupt man to be in the White House since the founding of our constitution. We need your loving voice more than ever.
Only love for you Jane… only love!!!!
Thank you Steve. I’m doing my best. Working and supporting manyy groups and we’re all figuring our the most effective way forward right now. We know that grassroots organizing and getting people elected to local and statewide office is critical. xxx
Jane: Please let us know when the next major “freedom march” will happen in the Los Angeles area. Things are getting more and more crazier in the country, and sadly there appears to be no end in sight. Love, Steve
Steve, see my reply to Eileen.
Jane: I searched for Eileen on this page and found no reply from you to her. I live in San Diego but I have friends that live in the Los Angeles area. I sent an email message this morning to San Diego Free Press because I am unable to find any scheduled protest meetings here in San Diego as well. The Indivisible movement is becoming a grass roots efforts nationwide but i was unable to find any planned protests as well. Love, Persist, Resist…. Steve
Steve, I’m in DC right now but will try to find out if I can if something’s happening in San Diego
Dear Mr. Fonda,
I completely agree with your upbringing in the fantastic shadow of your father (you made a real Oscar worthy separation / coming of age recital in “On the golden pond” movie and I commend you for that as well. However as someone who lived in a communist country (Romania until 1989) for 18 years I must tell you that the coin will always have two faces.
Please see the side that still hurts me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_influence_on_the_peace_movement
And another thing that I don’t understand is the fact that all these progressive / liberal outlets like Amnesty International, Peace Movement etc are always putting a muffle on the suffering behind the Iron Curtain.If you have the curiosity to search Ion Ioanid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_Ioanid) – “Give us each day our daily prison” memories book you will understand why. Unfortunately those facts are not in line with the leftist agenda. At least try to be sincere with yourself. Seeing what is happening now in the world i think Stalin and Lenin are laughing their a**es off in the after world.
And indeed they don’t need weapons to fight their wars anymore.
Let me know your thoughts about this.
Dragos, I have made a film in Russia, when it was the USSR and I agree with you about the wrong doings, the emprisonments, the anti-semitism, the censorship, etc. I was there frequently when Gorbachov was President. I believe that much of the former repressiveness of the USSR has returned under Putin. I have to say, however, that for a very long time, Russia has had little to no influence over any American progressive movements.
It is not until Memorial Day 2017 when I learned in detail about Ms. Fonda’s action of historic importance. The fact that this blog started in 2011 and remains active in 2017 speaks for the timeless relevance of her action over 40 years ago.
In each of this great nation’s highest controversies, there is always a leading man or woman. Did Jane Fonda go too far in her anti-war efforts? If so, did Edward Snowden go too far? Did our founding fathers went too far? I don’t know.
However, I do know that today our nation remains at multiple wars with some other human beings in some foreign lands. Ms. Fonda’s Vietnam experience will remain relevant until the nation returns to peace with the rest of the world.
William H. Harris, Jr.
I was taken in years ago by the false narrative promoted regarding your trip to Hanoi in1972. I ask for your forgiveness for all the years I have “hated” you for the things I thought you had done in your trip to North Vietnam. I understand now that you simply had a conviction different from mine about the war in Vietnam.
My Vietnam story is real simple. I was a Distinguished MIlitary Graduate in 1967 from Arizona State University intending to make a carer of the U.S. Army. I served with the 101st Airborne in 1968 and 1969 as a Captain and Flight Lead in a gunship unit. It was only after being away from Vietnam and out of the service after 4 years that I realized why I had served. I served because men deserve to be properly led in combat. They also deserve officers in command who will bring as many of them back as they took into action… particularly the infantry. I believe I did both. All my flying in Vietnam was done in the 3 most northern provinces of South Vietnam primarily in the Ashua Valley.
I married my college sweetheart 51 years ago and have 3 grown sons and 2 grandchildren. I have always lived a Christian creed and admitted when I have fallen off that path. So… for over 45 years I have held a smoldering hatred for your actions in 1972. I humbly repent and ask your forgiveness.
With highest regards, respect and Blessings,
William H. Harris, Jr.
Dear Mr. Harris, I am very grateful for your words and what they represent. More mov ed and grateful than you can know. Thankn you for that and for your service. Sincerely, Jane
I made an account to leave this comment. It will be kind, fairly short…and full of emotion and seriousness. Jane…I may be only 26 but I believe you could potentially teach a lot of my age group an important life lesson from your experience.
The reality is…everything you did was considered okay in your particular group and setting. People would spit on soliders in uniform, and many believed we didn’t need to go. Like today, group-think is strong. You were a political figure, a woman, and beautiful.
Without even touching on politics, specific issues…I believe this is so relevant to today in the most simple of ways! From sucking on bottles to achieve “Kylie Lips” to destroying towns in the name of African Americans.
I like to believe Americans in general are good at heart. Some are evil, like all of humanity (we all hold a bit of subjective “bad”…considering it is legal if caught in a shipwreck to kick off a child from your float in the event ou would both sink) but I think some GOODHEARTED people get caught up in the praise, cheers, and love from others they lose sight of what they are doing. This can go as extreme as Hitler and his influence on everyone (with doing 10x good and then flooding the world with bad) or as simple as “Oh thats sooo gay”
Anyways I am cutting this short. But my age group and the younger need it.
Think of what you’d do differently without changing your views and passions! I bet you could have done it better…had you took a step back. Rarely does the villian know he’s a villian.He usually thinks he’s a hero. XXXXXX
You still have a chance to be a hero. And not to be rude…but instead of writing a book about yourself maybe try to create a collaboration of many different perspectives on psychological topics
Jackie, can you tell me more? I’m not 100% sure I follow your meaning. I want to. Of course there are things I wish I could do over: I wish I’d been a better parent. I wish I hadn’t sat on that gun site in North Vietnam. It could paralyze me if I let it. But I believe, instead, it’s better to learn from our mistakes and try to do better, moving forward with positivity. But this may not be what you’re getting at at all. Tell me more also about this book idea. xx
Ms. Fonda: As a Vietnam veteran, ‘69-‘70, I have always appreciated your views and your position on the Vietnam War. As a card carrying member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War while in Vietnam, I have understood your thoughts on the war and respected your traveling to Honoi in an attempt to end the war. I was even ostracized for my agreeing with you at the time by my fellow brothers in Vietnam, but wouldn’t have changed my thoughts at the time and even now. I am 72 years old now and am grateful to you for using your celebrity to represent us. Than you. I’ve always been a true fan and your entire body of work over the years. ❤️✌️
Dear Ms. Fonda: As a Vietnam veteran, I have always respected your views and your reasoning for your trip to Hanoi. Unlike many other Vietnam veterans, I never looked at your trip in a disrespectful manner. I knew why you went, simply to try and stop the atrocities and carnage of that war. I spent a year and a half in Vietnam, I extended 6 months for an early out. I saw the war first hand, ‘69-‘70. I was a card carrying member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War at the time, and don’t regret it to this day, I am 72 now. I would like to “thank you” for all of your activism and using your celebrity to accomplish many of the things you have done to make this a better world. With much love ❤️ and respect.
Appreciate this from you so much, Mike. xxx Jane
P.S. – I also wanted to thank for trip to Standing Rock in November of 2017 and for serving Thanksgiving dinners to all that were there. I was there the first week of November and then again with other veterans to protest the pipeline installation. All before Thanksgiving, so I just miss seeing you while you there. Plus, just missed buying a VIP ticket to see you in Milwaukee on November 3rd, 2018, they were already “sold out” for those tickets. Thank you again for all of your activism on behalf of all of us. Hope to see and meet you at some future event. Respectfully yours. ❤️
Thanks, Mike. xxx
My name is Olivia and I’m currently an undergrad history student in the U.K. I’m writing my dissertation on your life with a particular focus on your anti-war activism. I’m unsure whether you will see this comment but I would love to take the time to let you know that I’m incredibly in awe of your strength in the face of adversity and for using your platform for good.
Your constant support for underrepresented groups and voices in society is incredibly inspiring for young women such as myself, and it’s an honour to be writing about you for my university work. I’m avidly following Fire Drill Fridays here from England, and I can’t wait to see the impact it has over in the U.S.
Once again, thank you for being such a great inspiration and for your work which has not only enriched my final-year of University study but my outlook on my own life and the impact I can have on the world and the people around me.
Hi Jane. Thank you for your service to America – I consider the anti-war movement folks part of the war veterans including me. At the time of your Hanoi visit I was thrilled by what you did. I know you have done a lot of progressive stuff and I appreciate it all. I was drafted in the Oakland Induction Center and was on my way to Vietnam, not having figured out any option at that point when they gave me a piece of paper and told me to sign it. It had a list of organizations and the paper said I must state that I had never been a member of any of them. I thought for a minute and told the officer that I didn’t think they had a right to do that. So they sent me home and said I would be investigated. Well the story goes on but your piece brought the experience to mind. Thanks again for your excellent piece and thanks again for all of your work.
Jane, here in Mexico we see life and also death in a very different way than in your country, I see that there is a medal that the President of your country awards to people who have excelled in what they do, you have never received it and I imagine why and that makes me very angry, you deserve it more than many of them, according to my Mexican mentality that is unheard of, and you are still fighting for them now because of climate change, sorry but I have to tell you.💕💕