Opinion: No one’s Fonda Jane

Chris Hampson

Chris Hampson

By Cassie Cleary

Chances are, if you’re a Republican, you’ve probably been forwarded the Hanoi Jane e-mail at least once. This e-mail surfaced sometime in 1999 in protest of Jane Fonda’s inclusion in a TV special with Barbara Walters called, “A Celebration: 100 Years of Great Women.” With the upcoming presidential election, Bush supporters have been circulating the e-mail once again, associating Sen. John Kerry, the anti-war protester, with Fonda, the anti-American traitor.

Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing from an anonymous e-mail whether the author really is a Vietnam veteran. It could just be someone who read incriminating evidence about Jane Fonda from undocumented sources on the Web and compiled his or her own condemnation. In fact, after researching myself, I found that the evidence supports the latter.

In 1972, before she channeled all her aggression into aerobics, Jane Fonda opposed the Vietnam War so strongly that she decided to take a tour of North Vietnam; that way, she could tell U.S. prisoners of war directly that they were enduring torture for the wrong reasons. Who knows what good she thought this would do? Actually, she denied that POWs were really enduring anything of consequence, claiming the North Vietnamese were treating them humanely and leniently.

This, of course, wasn’t true. As former POW Michael Benge described in his own publication (later copied into the Hanoi Jane e-mail), POWs were tortured and beaten for not cooperating with Fonda. Benge agreed to meet with Fonda in Hanoi, North Vietnam, to set the record straight about their treatment. Because of this meeting, Benge was beaten for three days with a bamboo cane. By causing added suffering to POWs, Jane Fonda took the worst approach possible to protest the war.

The problem with the e-mail is that in condemning Fonda for her lies, it makes up some of its own. One of the false claims involves an F-4E pilot named Jerry Driscoll, who, according to the e-mail, received a brutal beating for spitting in Fonda’s face. Driscoll has publicly denied this, saying it has no base in fact.

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The biggest accusation against Fonda is that she betrayed POWs by turning in pieces of paper they handed to her with Social Security numbers on them to the North Vietnamese officer in charge, who in turn had these POWs beaten and killed. The man to whom this part of the story is attributed, Larry Carrigan, also insists it is a fallacy – he says he has never met Fonda.

A forwarded e-mail is not exactly reliable or documented. Besides the fact that the author is anonymous, parts of it can be deleted or added every time it is forwarded. There’s no way of knowing how to separate fact from fiction just by reading the e-mail alone. Its continued circulation, however, proves people are still prone to trust unreliable sources in order to perpetrate their beliefs.

You can’t blame John Kerry for Jane Fonda’s anti-American actions in the ’70s. Despite rumors that the two had a romantic relationship, they were, in fact, merely acquaintances. Just because they were both anti-war advocates doesn’t mean Kerry supported everything Fonda did. And even if they did date, blaming Kerry would be like blaming Laura Bush for the president’s foreign policy.

As students, fewer than half of us will even take the time to vote. Only 42 percent of people age 18 to 24 voted in the 2000 election. But I would guess the majority of students who do vote aren’t actually taking the time to get informed about what each candidate stands for. If you’re letting false information like this Jane Fonda e-mail help you decide who to vote for without researching the facts for yourself, you’re choosing a president based on lies and fabrications – and that’s just as much a disservice to your country as not voting at all.

Cassie Cleary is a sophomore in LAS. Her column runs Wednesdays. She can be reached at [email protected].