WASHINGTON — Jane Fonda has been honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. Why should this matter to most of us? Isn't it simply another actress being honored with another award?
Jane Fonda is different. Her name conjures up the worst of a difficult era, and when she comes again into the public eye, whether through statement, event or award, she strikes a dissonant chord among many Americans, especially those who fought in Vietnam.
She was more than an anti-war activist. Dissent is a First Amendment right, but Fonda crossed the line between dissent and treason when she made her infamous trip to North Vietnam in August 1972. She met with POWs and encouraged them to cooperate with their captors.
She visited a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, donned a helmet and cheered as the NVA soldiers fired at U.S. aircraft. These were acts for which she paid no price. There was no prosecution, no penalty.
So her public appearances evoke responses from pain to hatred but also misguided support from people who opposed the war or believe she was merely exercising a constitutional right of free speech.
Here are the facts.
The Constitution is clear: "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."
In the summer of 1972, Jane Fonda paid a two-week visit to North Vietnam, against whom U.S. forces were fighting. On Aug. 22, 1972, on a broadcast from Radio Hanoi she said this to the American troops, describing her experience in North Vietnam:
"This is Jane Fonda. . . . I've had the opportunity to visit a great many places and speak to a large number of people from all walks of life.
"I cherish the memory of the blushing militia girls . . . who are so gentle and poetic . . . but who, when American planes are bombing their city, become such good fighters.
"It was on the road back from Nam Dinh, where I had witnessed the systematic destruction of civilian targets.
"As I left the United States two weeks ago, Nixon was again telling the American people that he was winding down the war, but in the rubble-strewn streets of Nam Dinh, his words echoed with sinister (words indistinct) of a true killer.
"Nixon will never be able to break the spirit of these people; he'll never be able to turn Vietnam, north and south, into a neo-colony of the United States..
"I don't think that the people of Vietnam are about to compromise in any way, shape or form about the freedom and independence of their country, and I think Richard Nixon would do well to read Vietnamese history."
Imagine such a broadcast coming from a U.S. citizen in Berlin or Tokyo during World War II. A trial on treason charges would have been certain.
Douglas Cohn served as an infantry lieutenant with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam during 1969-1970. He was retired for wounds. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate Inc.