In July 1972, Jane Fonda visited Hanoi North Vietnam. For this essay her reasons are irrelevant. Her actions were clearly illegal and she was not punished for them, at least by U.S. legal authority. But to understand what motivated such actions by anyone in those days means understanding our country at the time. Our country was war weary, racially divided, and coming out of the closet.
I do not know what made my generation want to turn the world on its head, but it did. We were born during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, had parents, even those who voted Democrat, who were rather conservative. Sex was taboo and dugs consisted entirely of marijuana and LSD. That was the view, anyway. It was not entirely true, of course, but it was the prevailing sentiment.
In the 1960s our standards of dress changed radically when the Beatles grew their hair out, the skimpy bikini tested the beaches, miniskirts were a fashion statement, and women burned their bras. In the background you could hear Bob Dylan singing “The times they are a changing.” Political activism grew out of our college campuses as students said we should make love and not war, Dr. Timothy Leary (PhD Yale) told us to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Aside from getting high and dropping out of mainstream society, I am not entirely sure of the meaning behind his message. But he was one “authority” the generation listened to. Abby Hoffman, founder of the political movement the “Yippies,” had warned us to “question authority.” In addition to the Yippies (Youth International Party), there were the Weatherman, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers.
The Black Panthers brought fear to white America. That was not its intention at all. Founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland California for the protection of the Black Community. The strong and empowered black man scared the crap out of white America, but for all the wrong reasons. Public opinion, in those days, was in no small part controlled by governmental groups like the FBI. The FBI, Edgar Hoover in particular, launched a campaign of misinformation about people and groups Hoover thought dangerous. One such person was Martin Luther King. Unfortunately mainstream media had not yet taken Hoffman’s reprise of questioning authority and so it regularly published without question whatever government officials stated.
Young men, like me, were drafted by the thousands in the late 60s and early 70s to conduct the war in Vietnam. We were fed the idea of the “domino principal.” This principal, developed by the Eisenhower administration, said that Communism in the far east would take one country at a time, each falling to the Soviets and Chinese like a domino. We were there fighting for freedom. Curious, in 1968, a group called Country Joe and the Fish, sang a song called Vietnam in which they sang, “And it’s one two three what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn! Next stop is Vietnam.” This song was sung time and again by GIs serving in Vietnam as if it were their anthem. A very accurate view of that sentiment is caught in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam.”
In 1967, all forms of birth control, save abstinence, was illegal as was all forms of abortion.
In 1968 you could still buy gasoline for 30 cents a gallon. Cigarettes were 25 cents a pack. And the minimum wage was $1.25.
On July 20, 1969 the first man stepped on the moon, Neil Armstrong. And then from August 15 – 18 1969 the Woodstock Concert was held. All the while men were dying in Vietnam. Absolutely no one knew which way was up although many wanted you to believe they did.
In 1970 students were holding “sit ins” in their college to protest the war. Some went so far as to close down the campuses and experienced the cancellation of graduation ceremonies.
By 1972, when Jane made her ill-advised and illegal trip to Hanoi, Richard Nixon’s associates were breaking into Democratic offices in Watergate. If truth be told, and it must be, our country was rife with people in positions of power and influence misusing that power.
In 1976 Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon of his wrong doings. There were people still who wanted him brought to trial and Ford, not wanting the office of the president so scarred, saw to it that such would not happen. Then in 1977 President Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to all draft dodgers. The country needed to heal and few complained about such actions. But Jane Fonda was the exception. While American servicemen were being held as POWs in North Vietnam, being brutally tortured, Fonda visited that country, and soldiers everywhere were rightfully angered to the extreme.
When Fonda made her trip, I was serving in Italy and was not even aware of it. The only news we go was that served up by the military newspaper “The Stars and Stripes.” You can be certain that news was heavily censored. I had served in the far east from December 1968 to December 1969, and for my part, I just wanted to forget it.
In 1978 Jane Fonda made a movie with her father Henry, “On Golden Pond.” She and her father had been estranged for years. Fonda, not known for being an easy man to live with, was typical of his generation in his conservative leanings and owned a good part of the estrangement between him and his daughter. Still, the movie brought to two together and they did make amends. American families had been ripped apart by the war as well and needed healing.
I feel sorry for anyone who still holds any resentments towards Jane Fonda for they have missed one of the most important truths of life: forgiveness. I think Jane Fonda’s actions were despicable but I forgive her. I still do not like her as a person but I have moved beyond, far beyond, any lingering resentments. Resentment is the poison I drink while desiring the other person to get sick from it. It is pure foolishness and serves no good.