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Jewish World Review June 23, 2000 / 20 Sivan, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

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Consumer Reports

If Fonda is sorry,
let her say so -- IN THE LATEST ISSUE of O, Oprah Winfrey's lifestyle magazine for women who love scented candles and non-dairy whipped cream, Jane Fonda sorta-kinda-maybe apologizes again for her actions during the Vietnam War.

"It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done," Fonda says in an interview conducted by O herself. Fonda's talking about the numerous pictures of her sitting in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American pilots.

Fonda seems to think she has offered an apology, again. Of course, it's difficult to say for sure what she really thinks. Her O interview is so top-heavy with New-Agey treacle and Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood touchy-feeliness it's hard to tell whether she's apologizing, looking for sympathy or offering advice for crystal worshippers.

When asked how she handled being called a traitor, Fonda says, in part, "I just put a callus over my heart. I felt that what we were doing was right. Except for intimacy I'm very brave! You have to stay vulnerable to be open to intimacy, to keep learning and growing. You have to be able to say 'I was wrong.' You have to accept responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them."

So the obvious question, "Have you done that?"

"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," Fonda says. "That had nothing to do with the context that photograph was taken. But it hurt so many soldiers."

And there you have it. Or, rather, there you don't. For we don't get to hear what the real "context" of that photo was. Instead, we are assured that whatever was going on there it had "nothing to do" with shooting Americans. It was just a big misunderstanding.

It is entirely possible that Jane Fonda thinks she's offering a serious apology, after all she says she's recently found Christianity, and it would be difficult to cavalierly dismiss what she might consider a legitimate attempt at contrition. But, you know, apologies are tricky things. If you offer an insincere one at first it's pretty difficult to take another stab at it later.

Fonda (l) and "former" friends?

Her first attempt was in 1988, 16 years after her trip to Vietnam. She was working on a movie in New England and veterans groups protested vigorously, disrupting the production. So, Fonda went on Barbara Walters' show and apologized, "Not just to Vietnam veterans in New England, but to men who were in Vietnam who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did." Most vet groups saw the apology as a gambit to get the protesters away from her trailer.

Indeed, because that apology came so late and seemed to be the product of self-interest, this recent mea culpa deserves some scrutiny. Fonda says that the "context" of the photo had "nothing to do" with her desire to shoot down American planes.

So, what do we know about that photo's context? Well, first, there are numerous photos. One, from the cover of The New York Times magazine, shows her applauding as the gun is being demonstrated. Now, considering that the gun was in North Vietnam and manned by North Vietnamese, one might wonder what she could be applauding that would have "nothing" to do with shooting Americans.

In another photo -- presumably the one she's referring to -- Fonda is actually sitting in the gun pretending to shoot. Then there's the fact that several accounts of the events in question record that Fonda said something to the effect that she wished she had an American plane in her sites right now.

But let us assume that all those accounts are flawed. There's also the pesky problem of what she was doing in North Vietnam in the first place. She was on a solidarity trip with the war-time enemies of the United States.

Fonda spoke several times on Radio Hanoi broadcasts where she implored American troops and POWs to give up. "I don't know what your officers tell you but (your) weapons are illegal and the men who are ordering you to use these weapons are war criminals."

She compared American commanders to Germans and Japanese commanders in World War II and suggested that perhaps they should be executed. When Fonda showed up at a POW camp she refused to listen when Americans told her about the torture taking place at the Hanoi Hilton. She told the world that Americans were being treated wonderfully.

The reality is that numerous Americans died in POW camps from starvation and torture. Navy Capt. David Hoffman and civilian POW Michael Benge were brutally tortured simply because they refused to participate in a Fonda photo op.

When Hoffman, Benge and other POWs finally came home and reported the brutality of their captivity, Fonda responded that such claims could only come from "hypocrites and liars." Considering that "context," it seems the only hypocrite and liar around is Fonda herself.

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