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Jane Fonda, Reputation, and Forgiveness 

I’ve seen numerous complains from people on the right about this award. It makes me wonder, at what point do we forgive the past, and at what point do we say a person’s past defines them? At a time where the war in Vietnam was terribly unpopular and thought to be by many an unrighteous war that we were doomed to wallow in as a nation Jane Fonda went and met with the enemy. Her trip earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane” which stuck for many years and with many a Vietnam veteran still does. I had a teacher in school that was a Vietnam veteran and he wouldn’t utter her name or watch a movie with her in it. I’m assuming he didn’t do aerobics either.

VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Jane Fonda walks the red carpet ahead of the 'Our Souls At Night' screening during the 74th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 1, 2017 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

On her trip she met pleaded with the Vietnamese to stop the war, she met with US military personnel and pleaded with them to stop the war, and she met with POW’s and tried to encourage them. She delivered messages for them to their families. But during that trip she was also photographed on a gun, an anti-aircraft gun, a Vietnamese gun.

When that photo got out, her reputation took nosedive.

Years later, in 2005 she would write of the photo in an autobiography, “Here is my best, honest recollection of what took place. Someone (I don’t remember who) leads me toward the gun, and I sit down, still laughing, still applauding. It all has nothing to do with where I am sitting. I hardly even think about where I am sitting. The cameras flash. I get up, and as I start to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what has just happened hits me. Oh, my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes! I plead with him, You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published. I am assured it will be taken care of. I don’t know what else to do. It is possible that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. If they did, can I really 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.”

So for some, like my teacher in school, they can never pay back what they have done. No heavy price is too heavy for Mr. H.

She really does have a lifetime of achievement in her chosen field.

I think Fonda is a fine actress with a long career. She had a second career with her aerobics videos. That’s impressive to me. It’s hard for people now to understand just how pervasive the videos were. “Initially priced at $59.95, Jane Fonda’s Workout started slowly, moving just 3000 copies in its first month. As word of mouth spread, the tape sold over 200,000 units in a year—more than Paramount’s Star Trek II. ” She was in her mid-forties when she started her workout video craze and produced her final one in 2010 at the age of 72.

My generation doesn’t see the Vietnam war the same as older generations. My generation sees it as a failure. As the war we lost. Worse, the war we lost but that we didn’t have to. We could have won. Of course we could have. It was a matter of will power really more than machines or guns or jungles. It was a war that few really understood at the time and the reasons for it have become even more obscure to people of my age. For me, Vietnam was history.

Fonda has been nominated 7 times for an Oscar and won 2 of them for best actress. She was nominated 12 times for the Golden Globe, and won 4 of them. She even had a television career and was nominated 5 times for an Emmy, winning once.

All this makes me wonder about reputation and forgiveness.

Let’s say someone does something in their youth that isn’t so great. They are criminals, or maybe just jerks. Is there some point of balance that a person must reach before society sees them as something other than what they were? It might sound like a silly analogy since it is a movie, but take Darth Vader as an example. Starting when he was Anakin Skaywalker killing sand people, cutting off the head of the unarmed Dooku, killing younglings, cutting off the hands of Mace Windu, force choking his wife, then all the actions he took afterward. In the end all that seemed to be set aside and he was redeemed just for saving his son (who he had tried to kill) and tossing the Emperor down a shaft. That was it. That’s the movies of course. What about people in real life, people like Jane Fonda?

I ponder this because it seems germane in our modern world where holding grudges seems to be the thing to do. Bringing up people’s past seems to be the thing to do. Let me explain that this isn’t the same as not trusting someone who has wronged you or lied. I understand that very well. Trust is a fragile thing and sometimes never fully rebuilt.

For you, where is the line by which you define a lifetime of worth?


Ken Burns’s new Vietnam documentary looks at Fonda’s controversial 1972 visit to Hanoi.

Source: How Jane Fonda’s 1972 trip to North Vietnam earned her the nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’

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