Jane Fonda in Vietnam

The right to freedom of speech is one of our most cherished rights. It is also a double-edged sword: the same right that allows us to criticize our government's policies without fear of reprisal also protects those who endorse and promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic hatred and other socially divisive positions.

Rarely is this dichotomy so evident as when a democratic nation engages in war, and the protection of civil liberties clashes head-on with the exigencies of a war effort. Protesting a government's involvement in a war without also interfering in the prosecution of that war is a difficult (if not impossible) feat, a situation that has sometimes led the government to curtail the freedom of speech,  such as when the U.S. Sedition Act (passed during World War I) made criminals of those who would "willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States." Under this law, peacefully urging citizens to resist the draft or simply drawing an editorial cartoon critical of the government became illegal. (The Sedition Act was later overturned.)

The most prominent example of a clash between private citizen protest and governmental military policy in recent history occurred in July 1972, when actress Jane Fonda arrived in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and began a two-week tour of the country conducted by uniformed military hosts.

Jane Fonda in Hanoi During the Vietnam War

Aside from visiting villages, hospitals, schools, and factories, Fonda also posed for pictures in which she was shown applauding North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunners, was photographed peering into the sights of an NVA anti-aircraft artillery launcher, and made ten propagandistic Tokyo Rose-like radio broadcasts in which she denounced American political and military leaders as "war criminals." She also spoke with eight American POWs at a carefully arranged "press conference," POWs who had been tortured by their North Vietnamese captors to force them to meet with Fonda, deny they had been tortured, and decry the American war effort.

Fonda apparently didn't notice (or care) that the POWs were delivering their lines under duress or find it unusual that she was not allowed to visit the prisoner-of-war camp (commonly known as the "Hanoi Hilton"). She merely went home and told the world that "the POWs assured me they were in good health. When I asked them if they were brainwashed, they all laughed. Without exception, they expressed shame at what they had done." She did, however, charge that North Vietnamese POWs were systematically tortured in American prison-of-war camps.

To add insult to injury, when American POWs finally began to return home (some of them having been held captive for up to nine years) and describe the tortures they had endured at the hands of the North Vietnamese, Jane Fonda quickly told the country that they should "not hail the POWs as heroes, because they are hypocrites and liars." Fonda said the idea that the POWs she had met in Vietnam had been tortured was "laughable," claiming: "These were not men who had been tortured. These were not men who had been starved. These were not men who had been brainwashed." The POWs who said they had been tortured were "exaggerating, probably for their own self-interest," she asserted. She told audiences that "Never in the history of the United States have POWs come home looking like football players. These football players are no more heroes than Custer was. They're military careerists and professional killers" who are "trying to make themselves look self-righteous, but they are war criminals according to law."

Were Jane Fonda's actions treason, or were they the exercise of a private citizen's right to freedom of speech? At the time, the legal aspects of this question were moot: President Nixon was engaged in trying to wind down American involvement in Vietnam and had to face another election in a few months, so politically he had far more to lose than to gain by making a martyr out of a prominent anti-war activist. (No requirement in either the Constitution or federal law states that the U.S. must be engaged in a declared war, or any war at all, before charges of treason can be brought against an individual.)

On the one hand, Jane Fonda provided no tangible military assistance to the North Vietnamese: she divulged no military secrets, she gave them no money or material, and she did not interfere with the operations of the American forces. Her actions, offensive as they were to many, were primarily of propaganda value only. On the other hand, Iva Ikuko Toguri (also known as "Tokyo Rose") was convicted of treason for making propaganda broadcasts on behalf of the Japanese during World War II (although she claimed her betrayal was forced and was eventually pardoned many years later by President Gerald Ford), and Fonda's efforts could fall under the definition of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." It is also undeniable that some American soldiers came to harm as a direct result of Fonda's actions, an outcome she should reasonably have anticipated.

The most serious accusations in the piece quoted above, that Fonda turned over slips of paper furtively given her by American POWs to the North Vietnamese and that several POWs were beaten to death as a result, are untrue. Those named in the inflammatory e-mail have repeatedly and categorically denied the events they supposedly were part of.

"It's a figment of somebody's imagination," says Ret. Col. Larry Carrigan, one of the servicemen mentioned in the 'slips of paper' incident. Carrigan was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and did spend time in a POW camp. He has no idea why the story was attributed to him, saying, "I never met Jane Fonda." In 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Carrigan "is so tired of having to repeat that he wasn't beaten after Fonda's visit and that there were no beating deaths at that time that he won't talk to the media anymore."

The tale about a defiant serviceman who spit at Jane Fonda and is severely beaten as a result is often attributed to Air Force pilot Jerry Driscoll. He has also repeatedly stated on the record that it did not originate with him: Driscoll said he never met Fonda, as the e-mail claims and therefore, never spit on her and didn't suffer permanent double vision from a subsequent beating. "Totally false. It did not happen," Driscoll said.

"I don't know who came up with my name. The trouble that individual has caused me!" he said, referring to the time he has spent repeatedly denying the persistent myth. Mike McGrath, President of NAM-POWs, has also stepped forward to disclaim the story: Please excuse the generic response, but I have been swamped with so many e-mails on the subject of the Jane Fonda article (Carrigan, Driscoll, strips of paper, torture and deaths of POWs, etc.) that I have to resort to this pre-scripted rebuttal. The truth is that most of this never happened. This is a hoax story placed on the Internet by unknown Fonda haters. No one knows who initiated the story. Please assist by not propagating the story. Fonda did enough bad things to assure her a correct place in the garbage dumps of history. We don't want to be party to false stories, which could be used as an excuse that her real actions didn't really happen either. I have spoken with all the parties named: Carrigan, Driscoll, et al. They all state that this particular Internet story is a hoax and they wish to disassociate their names from the false story. Despite the claims of hundreds of Vietnam veterans who maintain they were "there" and can affirm these tales as true, Jane Fonda actually met with only a handful of American POWs in North Vietnam, and even they have spoken out on the record to disclaim the story: "The whole [e-mail] story about Jane Fonda is just malarkey," said Edison Miller, 73, of California, a former Marine Corps pilot held more than five years. Miller was among seven POWs who met with Fonda in Hanoi. He said he didn't recall her asking any questions other than about their names, if that. He said that he passed her no piece of paper, and that to his knowledge, no other POW in the group did, despite the e-mail's claims. In fact, Fonda carried home letters from many American POWs to their families upon her return from North Vietnam.

The source of the story about a prisoner forced to kneel on rocky ground while holding a piece of steel rebar in his outstretched arms still affirms that account as true, though. Michael Benge was a senior agro-forestry officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) who was working in South Vietnam when he was captured by the Viet Cong in 1968 and held prisoner for five years: He was at a Hanoi prison in 1972 when a political officer he hadn't seen before asked whether he would like to meet Fonda. "I said yes," he wrote in a 1999 letter that protested the Fonda honors, "for I would like to tell her about the real treatment we POWs received and how different it was from the treatment purported by the North Vietnamese."

Benge said he doesn't know who pilfered his story from his letter and attached it to the Carrigan and Driscoll fictions.

In the 1972 incident, "I think I had maybe a little smarter-than-the-average bear [political officer] who knew I was being cynical," Benge said recently. Benge said he spent the next three days kneeling on a rocky floor with a steel bar on his outstretched hands. Whenever his arms dipped, he was struck with a bamboo cane, he said.

North Vietnamese guards might be the only people able to verify Benge's torture account independently. But, McGrath said, Benge's account is "consistent with [North] Vietnamese policy and conduct about people who didn't cooperate." Benge's original statement, titled "Shame on Jane," was published in April by the Advocacy and Intelligence Network for POWs and MIAs. The unknown author of the "Hanoi Jane" e-mail appears to have picked up Benge's story online and combined it with fabricated tales to create the forwarded text. Some versions now circulate with Benge's name listed; others quote his statement anonymously.

Whether the actions Jane Fonda actually did undertake during her visit to North Vietnam were legally  treasonous or not, her behavior engendered widespread contempt among servicemen and their families, especially since she acted not as a reckless youth who rashly spouted ill-considered opinions now best forgotten but as a 34-year-old adult who should be expected to bear full responsibility for her actions. Her inclusion in ABC's 30 April 1999 "A Celebration: 100 Years of Great Women" only fanned the flames of anger within many who felt she had never properly atoned for her behavior.

Ever since her infamous visit to Hanoi, Jane Fonda has maintained the fiction that she was just "trying to stop the war." But she didn't go to North Vietnam to try to bring about peace, or to reconcile the two warring sides, or to stop American boys from being killed she went there as an active show of support for the North Vietnamese cause. She lauded the North Vietnamese military, she denounced American soldiers as "war criminals" and urged them to stop fighting, she lobbied to cut off all American economic aid to the South Vietnamese government (even after the Paris Peace Accords had ended U.S. military involvement in Vietnam), she publicly thanked the Soviets for providing assistance to the North Vietnamese, and she branded tortured American POWs as liars possessed of overactive imaginations

In 1988, sixteen years after the fact, Fonda finally met with Vietnam veterans to apologize for her actions. This nationally-televised apology (during which she attempted to minimize her actions by characterizing them as "thoughtless and careless") came at a time when New England vets were successfully disrupting a film project she was working on, leading more than a few to read a huge dollop of self-interest into her apology.

Fonda again "apologized" in 2005, an act which not surprisingly once again coincided with the release of a film in which she had a starring role (Monster-in-Law , her first leading role since 1990's Stanley & Iris ) and a book tour to promote her autobiography. As she had several years earlier, Fonda made it quite clear that she was apologizing only for posing for photographs while seated at a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, and even then her "apology" was couched in the most oblique terms possible (i.e., she didn't address the people she harmed and say she was sorry for hurting them; she only issued the self-confessional statement that she "regretted" one of her actions):

2000: "I will go to my grave regretting the photograph of me in an anti-aircraft carrier, which looks like I was trying to shoot at American planes. It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless."

2005: "I will go to my grave regretting that. The image of Jane Fonda, 'Barbarella,' Henry Fonda's daughter, just a woman sitting on an enemy aircraft gun was a betrayal. It was like I was thumbing my nose at the military and at the country that gave me privilege."

Fonda emphasized that she was not apologizing for any other actions connected with her trip to North Vietnam, or for any of her other anti-war activities: The 67-year-old actress and activist, however, defended her decision to go to Hanoi and said she had no regrets about being photographed with American POWs there or making broadcasts on Radio Hanoi because she was trying to stop the war.

"There are hundreds of American delegations that had met with the POWs," she added. "Both sides were using the POWs for propaganda. It's not something that I will apologize for." One man who didn't take Fonda's confessions to heart was 54-year-old Michael Smith. While Fonda was autographing copies of her autobiography, My Life So Far, in Kansas City in April 2005 as part of a promotional book-signing tour, Smith, who said he was a Vietnam veteran, waited in line for 90 minutes and then spat tobacco juice on Fonda. 

Iva Toguri - "Orphan Ann"
Misidentified as "Tokyo Rose"

While U.S. Marines and other Americans were engaged fighting the Japanese in the Pacific War during World War II, we listened to Tokyo Rose on the radio telling us that we should surrender; and if we didn't surrender, we would all be killed

The name "Tokyo Rose" was actually invented by U.S. Marines and soldiers fighting in the Pacific arena who needed a name for the many different female voices broadcasting on the various Japanese radio shows. So the myth began...

The stories of just one Japanese radio propagandist taunting our boys seeped into the American consciousness, but was totally false. Some estimate there were as many as 22 different women broadcasters. None of them actually used the moniker  "Tokyo Rose." That was the name our servicemen gave to all the female voices they heard on the airwaves.

Iva Toguri, a Japanese American girl had just graduated from UCLA and its tennis team when her aunt over in Tokyo became ill - The family asked her to visit.

While there she became trapped by the Pearl Harbor attack. She spoke no Japanese, refused Japanese citizenship and took many odd jobs to support herself. She wasn't a true prisoner behind bars but far from free, not being allowed to leave Japan.

In 1943 she took a job as a typist at Radio Tokyo. Typists were sometimes recruited from Tokyo's NHK typing pool and trained to perform on the many shows broadcast from Tokyo - though most were highly educated theatrically, well trained in broadcasting who made up the majority of professional female broadcasters.

It was there that Iva first saw the Allied POW's which would later become her coworkers. At that time they had been broadcasting the Zero Hour for six months. Iva befriended the POW's, managed to smuggle food and blankets to them while working there. She was doing what she could to help without getting caught.

An Australian military officer, Charles Cousens - a radio expert - and the senior officer of the infamous Bunka POW camp was the director of "The Zero Hour." When the NHK brass wanted a woman broadcaster to join the show it was he who set out to see that it was Iva who would be chosen.

Iva was someone the POW's could trust to not "give up their sabotage of undermining the Japanese propaganda efforts that was taking place under the very noses of the enemy."  Iva was 'ordered' by the military police to go for a 'voice test' then to broadcast. At that moment she was unaware of the 'end around game' played on her, but once Major Cousens explained what he and the POW's were up to, Iva was more than willing to go along.

Major Cousens devised the idea to create an entertainment program that would increase the moral of the servicemen and elicited from the Japanese bosses the permission to broadcast the names and serial number of POW's held at the Bunka Camp so Allied families would know their sons, fathers, and brothers were alive.

Major Cousens wrote all the scripts for Iva and gave her the moniker "Orphan Ann." Iva's job consisted of introducing songs with cheery banter - plus participating in skits that mimicked the Japanese - these scripts were subtle in nature. It was Iva's personality and husky voice that amused the troops. Iva's broadcasts were complete with double entendre - and hidden meanings - using the slang of the day. The show made a lasting impression (as did Iva) on our men in the Pacific - with her personality and humor "Hello boys, this is the voice you love to hate."

The fact is "Orphan Ann" broadcasting on the program The Zero Hour became, without the knowledge of Iva Toguri or the POW's who created and ran the show, the most noted disc jockey and the most popular entertainment program on the airwaves coming out of Japan and its Pacific island outposts.

After the war when Major Cousens arrived back home in Australia he was welcomed enthusiastically. There was no welcome for Iva Toguri when she arrived by ship in San Francisco escorted by Military Police. Instead she was arraigned on charges of Treason having previously been arrested in Japan.

In a shameful phase of our nation's history "Tokyo Rose's" trial flashed on front-page headlines. It was to be the longest and most expensive trial in U.S. history. Pronounced guilty, she served many years behind bars in a Virginia prison. During his presidency President  Gerald Ford was presented with a Petition for Pardon along with journalist, Ron Yates, articles written for the Chicago Tribune, documenting the two witnesses to the Overt Act of Treason had confessed to Yates they had lied during the trial, almost 30 years earlier.

These two witnesses are responsible for the conviction of Iva in 1949. They had actually signed the Japanese Registrar, during the war, thereby becoming Japanese citizens. It was their testimonies which was the turning point in the trial.

With all the information before him and having watched a "60 Minutes" interview of Iva with Morley Safer in 1976 President Ford, on the last day and hour of his administration, granted to Iva Toguri an unconditional pardon. The first and only time a pardon was granted in a case of treason. "Unconditional" meaning the conviction had no merit. The media's coverage of the Pardon was minimal considering the years of suffering Iva had endured - being misidentified and convicted as the mythical "Tokyo Rose."

There was no retraction - she simply gained a pardon...

Contact Noah at:

(Archive - Week of June 4, 2005)

Sources - Jane Fonda 
Abrams, Garry.   "Fonda Meets with Vets, Wins a Few Hearts." Los Angeles Times.   20 June 1988   (p. E1).    
Andersen, Christopher.   Citizen Jane: The Turbulent Life of Jane Fonda .     New York: Henry Holt, 1990.   ISBN 0-8050-0959-0.    
Elvin, John.   "The Vietnam War is Over, But 'Hanoi Jane' Lives On."
Insight on the News.
  25 November 1996   (p. 20).    
Fonda, Jane.   My Life So Far .    
New York: Random House, 2005.   ISBN 0-375-50710-8.    
Grossberg, Josh.   "Fonda Regrets 'Hanoi Jane.'" E! Online.  
1 April 2005.     Hahn, Trudi.   "Ex-POW Is No Fan of Fonda, But He Debunks E-Mail Claim." [Minneapolis] Star Tribune   25 May 2005.    
Holzer, Henry Mark and Erika Holzer.   "Aid and Comfort": Jane Fonda in North Vietnam .    
Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002.   ISBN 0-7864-1247-X.     Jacoby, Jeff.   "Dubious Honor for Hanoi Jane."
The [Montreal] Gazette.
  18 June 1999   (p. B3).    
Labbe, J.R.   "Dubious Honor for Hanoi Jane." Omaha World-Herald.   11 May 1999   (p. 19).    
London, Herbert.   "ABA Invite to Fonda an Outrage." The Times-Picayune.   14 August 1999   (p. B7).    
Zekas, Rita.   "He's Not Fonda Jane." The Toronto Star.  
11 August 1990   (p. M20). Associated Press.   "Viet Nam Vets Meet with Jane Fonda." The Toronto Star.   20 June 1988   (p. C4). Associated Press.   "Jane Fonda Regrets N. Vietnam Photo."    
20 June 2000. Reuters.   "Man Spits Tobacco Juice in Jane Fonda's Face at Book Signing." Houston Chronicle.   21 April 2005.

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