Jane Fonda is an accomplished actress, a cultural icon, and living proof that life can get better and better as you grow older. But she’s also a human being, and she’s made mistakes. What’s important is that she’s willing to own them.
On Wednesday night, the Grace and Frankie star appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and addressed a decades-old controversy that continues to haunt her.
Back in 1972, she visited Hanoi to protest the Vietnam War, and was photographed sitting on top of an aircraft gun used to kill American soldiers. The image was not well-received by the public, who called it anti-American, and earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”
The controversy has recently resurfaced thanks to a spiteful speech by NBC host Megyn Kelly, so Fonda had to apologize for the image for what seems like the hundredth time.
When Colbert asked Fonda if her attitude to what she did has changed given what we’ve learned about the war, she responded as follows:
“No, I have—from the moment that I did the bad thing I did, which was I sat on an anti-aircraft gun in north Vietnam. I wasn’t even thinking what I was doing and photographs were taken and that image went out and the image makes it look like I was against our soldiers, which was never the case. I had been working with soldiers prior to that and for years after that. It’s why I made the movie Coming Home. But that image is there and I will go to my grave regretting that. I knew right away that that was wrong. But I had really studied the war. I knew a lot. I knew from soldiers what was going on, so I don’t regret going to North Vietnam. I learned a lot while I was there. In the documentary [Jane Fonda in Five Acts, a new documentary about her life which you can stream on HBO], my second husband, Tom Hayden, who I really miss [they divorced in 1990 and he passed away in 2016], he says, the bombing of the dikes in North Vietnam stopped because Jane Fonda went there and exposed it. And I’m proud of that because I think it saved a lot of lives.”
Prior to the question, Fonda also revealed how much her anti-war activism drew the ire of then-president Richard Nixon, who kicks off the documentary with the words, “What’s the matter with Jane Fonda?”
According to Fonda, Nixon was so annoyed that he set her up and had her busted for drug trafficking because she was carrying vitamins from Canada. Her 1970 mugshot photo, in which she is portrayed holding up a fist, now serves as the lead image for the biographical film. Ultimately, the so-called drugs were sent to a lab and determined to be legal, and she was let go. But when she was arrested, she was told that the orders came from the White House, so she knew Nixon was behind the whole charade.
Colbert asked her how it felt to be personally targeted by the president, and she responded that, “it didn’t feel good. He had better things he should have been focusing on.”
“He wanted to figure out how he could get me for treason. So he assigned [that] to the Justice Department and the investigators ended up coming back to him and saying ‘She didn’t commit treason. All she did was make the soldiers think. You should focus on somebody who’s really a danger.’ So I felt pretty good. I was exonerated. The ACLU took my case and sued and we were right and we won.”
Fonda’s activist days are far from over as well, as she continues to fight for rights for women and environmentalism, and against the Dakota Pipeline and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Fonda also revealed something not many people know about: all of the money from her iconic workout videos apparently went to the Campaign for Economic Democracy, a progressive organization that sought to “‘to respond to Reaganomics and the need to reform and revitalize the Democratic Party.”
Today, she says her activist focus is on fair wages, and that much of her attention is dedicated to “organizations that are on the ground, in the middle of the country” where people with union jobs are “scared and angry and they’re hurting and people aren’t paying enough attention to that.”
Her passion and integrity is, of course, part of what keeps her so young. For more on this, check out Here’s How Jane Fonda Stays an Ageless Wonder.
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