Yesterday, Today and Jane Fonda

I mentioned that I was beginning a reading list for my planned trip to Vietnam in August. Today I discovered there is a new academic book about Jane Fonda and her actions and image as it was attached to the war back in the 70's. I will at least put my hands on this book, if not give it a thorough read. Written by a sociology professor, it takes on some rather obvious themes that one has to wonder about the contemporary need to explore yet again.

The author seeks to correct the myths around Fonda's anti-war activities and to view or review them in the light of a less politically charged atmosphere. He concludes that much of what passed for fact was actually politically motivated commentary from the right. This quote is from the review in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

"The book argues that the demonization of Jane Fonda as the treacherous "Hanoi Jane" was a convenient way for the right to attribute American defeat in Vietnam to left-wing activists and to reassert an aggressive masculinity in American culture and politics."

Having not read the book yet, I can only speculate from the reviews that the author seems to miss the point about Ms. Fonda's actions and comments as, in fact, actually being politically motivated from the left. Seems many authors do not understand that the paintbrush works in both directions.

Whether this book will change anyone's mind or correct the historical record would seem to depend a lot less on facts then on human nature. The only comment on the first review I encountered forgivingly said: "She should have been shot as a traitor!" Hearts and Minds, we are seeking to change their Hearts and Minds.

Back in the fall of 1975, just months after the Vietnam War was over from an American point of view; Jane Fonda along with Daniel Ellsberg discloser of the Pentagon Papers and singer, songwriter, activist Holly Near were doing a 17 city peace caravan. The tour fed on the still wounded soul left by the 15 year long Vietnam War. One of my good friends was the local organizer in Ann Arbor and asked me if I would agree to be Jane's bodyguard for the day. My qualifications included being large and having long hair.

There are two images I remember from that day. First, I was to meet and pick-up Ms. Fonda at a late morning backyard brunch/fundraiser. When I arrived I spotted my friend the organizer and he waved me over, he was having a conversation with a woman and after I made my way across the yard, he introduced me to Jane Fonda. I had never before and have never since been speechless based on the striking physical beauty of a person. I was simply not prepared to meet someone who actually was beautiful. Sure I was much younger and more taken by superficials, but I can still vividly recall that feeling today.

In the evening there were speeches at the University of Michigan campus. We entered from the rear of the building and came up on stage via a spiral staircase from a level below. One of the columns on the stage hide the stairwell. The format following introductions was: Jane's speech, then Holly's talk and song; with Daniel finishing up. After her speech, while Holly was beginning Jane turned to me and asked if there was a bathroom down below. We went back down the spiral and when she came back she stood at the foot of the staircase and we had this conversation:

"Do you think I need to go right back up?"

"This is what? City 16 of 17 and you have heard those speeches many times already."

"Yes, it's hard to smile and respond to the same words and I'm just tired."

"Why don't you sit down and take a few minutes."

After sitting for a bit in silence, she looked up and asked:

"Do you think this will ever be over?'

Wiser then my years, I answered: "Not as long as their are human beings around to disagree."

She took a few more minutes and then we heard the applause following a Holly Near song, she rose and said:

"Well, I guess I should go back up."

I followed her up the small staircase. At the top before she pushed through the door, she paused with me one step below bringing us face-to-face in the tight, dim space. The sense of beauty from our morning meeting was long past, we were just two people, one of whom was clearly questioning her path.

"So, you think this is never going to end."

Again, much wiser than my years: "I think resisting war and advocating for peace will always be a worthy cause."

She gave a thankful non-Hollywood smile, touched me on the shoulder with her left hand and pushed open the door with her right. Thus endeth my Jane Fonda story.