Born Jane Seymour Fonda on December 21, 1937 in New York City, Jane Fonda is the daughter of actor Henry Fonda and the sister of actor Peter Fonda. She was named after Lady Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII. Her father was an outspoken opponent of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Her mother, Frances Seymour Brokaw, slit her own throat when Jane was just 12 years old. Young Jane, told that her mother had died of a heart attack, found out about her mother’s graphic suicide years later in a movie magazine.
As a young adult, Fonda attended Vassar College and struggled with bulimia. Following her graduation, she moved to New York City and studied acting at Lee Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio. After doing some stage work, she made her big-screen debut in the 1960 film Tall Story. She has had a most successful acting career, with seven Academy Award nominations and two Oscar wins. Her movie credits include Cat Ballou (1965), Barefoot in the Park (1967), Barbarella (1968), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Klute (1971), Julia (1977), Coming Home (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), 9 to 5 (1980), and On Golden Pond (1981). In the 1980s Fonda launched a new and highly successful career as the star and producer of exercise videos and books.
Fonda was married to French director Roger Vadim from 1965 to 1973, and it was while living in France that she was introduced to French communists who would initiate her into political activism. Together she and Vadim had a daughter, Vanessa, so named because Fonda admired actress Vanessa Redgrave’s radical politics. Fonda became pregnant by activist Tom Hayden in 1972, and the two were married in 1973 (they would divorce in 1990). Fonda and Hayden named their newborn son Troy (originally spelled “Troi”) after a Viet Cong hero, Nguyen Van Troi, who was executed by the South Vietnamese government after attempting to assassinate Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1963. (Fonda’s third marriage, to television mogul Ted Turner, would last from 1991 to 2001.)
Fonda’s affinity for communism served as a backdrop for her intense anti-Vietnam War activities. By 1970 she was telling American college students: “If you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would some day become communist. . . . I, a socialist, think that we should strive toward a socialist society, all the way to communism.” The dual villains of Southeast Asian conflicts were, in her view, “U.S. imperialism” and “a white man’s racist aggression.”
In April 1970, Fonda and actor Donald Sutherland formed “FTA” (which meant, depending upon the source, either “Free the Army” or “F*ck the Army”), an anti-war, quasi-USO road show billed as “political vaudeville” that toured military towns along the West Coast and throughout the Pacific.
Fonda also worked with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), serving as Honorary National Coordinator for a 1970 rally which that group organized in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Vietnam veteran and future Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was also involved in organizing the rally (he and Fonda were photographed sitting near each other at the event).
On November 3, 1970 Fonda began a tour of college campuses to raise funds for VVAW. (On that same date, Fonda was arrested for allegedly kicking a U.S. Customs agent; charges were later dropped. In the police mug shot, her raised left hand is clenched in a “Black Power” or “Power to the People” salute).
In 1971 Fonda was the chief financier of VVAW’s Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), which took place in Detroit from January 31 through February 2 of that year. The largest war crimes tribunal held in the U.S. during the Vietnam War, WSI featured a host of VVAW members who related gruesome stories of atrocities they claimed to have participated in or witnessed in Vietnam; they insisted that rape, torture and murder were standard practices for the American military. In reality, WSI was a continuation of the anti-U.S. war crimes propaganda campaign which had begun in Europe with KGB-sponsored events that were organized before the first American ground troops ever arrived in Vietnam. Several of the WSI discussion panel moderators were radical leaders who had previously met with top North Vietnamese and Vietcong representatives in Hanoi and Paris. Also present were leftist psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and clinicians, who pressured the witnesses to help end the war by publicly confessing their “crimes.”
In July-August 1972 Fonda made her infamous trip to North Vietnam. By this time, over 50,000 Americans had been killed in the war. While there, she posed for pictures on an anti-aircraft gun that had been used to shoot down American planes, and she volunteered to do a radio broadcast from Hanoi. She made approximately eight radio addresses, during which she told American pilots in the area:
“Use of these bombs or condoning the use of these bombs makes one a war criminal … Examine the reasons given to justify the murder you are being paid to commit … I don’t know what your officers tell you … but [your] weapons are illegal and that’s not just rhetoric … The men who are ordering you to use these weapons are war criminals according to international law, and in the past, in Germany and Japan, men who committed these kinds of crimes were tried and executed.”
Fonda also quoted Ho Chi Minh during some of these broadcasts. She referred to President Richard Nixon as a “new-type Hitler,” and advised South Vietnamese soldiers to desert: “You are being used as cannon fodder for U.S. imperialism.”
These radio addresses were aired repeatedly by the North Vietnamese Communists, for whom propaganda was a key tool of psychological warfare; they used the broacasts not only to hearten their own citizens, but also to undermine the American public’s will to go forward with the war, and to crush the morale of U.S. and allied forces.
In an effort to explain why she made her broadcasts over Radio Hanoi, Fonda writes in her autobiography that she had mainly wanted to educate U.S. pilots about the great harm their bombing campaigns were inflicting on innocent people. But in fact, most of what Fonda said was of a highly political nature. Many of the statements had been scripted for her by the North Vietnamese. Among her statements were the following (as catalogued by Henry Mark Holzer):
In addition to the foregoing statements, Fonda also said:
Such statements could have had only one purpose: to provide aid and comfort to America’s Communist enemy. Fonda’s propaganda efforts played a major role in prolonging the war and increasing the death toll. As North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin explained in a postwar interview with The Wall Street Journal, the American antiwar movement “was essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear [China] was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda . . . gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses.”
As Henry Mark Holzer details, Fonda, while in Hanoi, also spent time doing the following:
As evidenced by some of the quotes above, Fonda visited American prisoners of war and reported (falsely) that they had not been tortured. Consider the account of Michael Benge, a civilian advisor captured by the NLF in 1968 and held as a POW for five years, who writes:
“When Jane Fonda was in Hanoi, I was asked by the camp communist political officer if I would be willing to meet with her. I said yes, for I would like to tell her about the real treatment we POWs were receiving, which was far different from the treatment purported by the North Vietnamese, and parroted by Jane Fonda, as ‘humane and lenient.’ Because of this, I spent three days on a rocky floor on my knees with outstretched arms with a piece of steel re-bar placed on my hands, and beaten with a bamboo cane every time my arms dipped.”
Former POW David Hoffman, whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1971, also says that he was tortured because of Fonda’s visit to Hanoi:
“The torture resulted in a permanent injury that plagues me to this day,” explains Hoffman, whose arm is now disfigured because of the brutal treatment he received from communist guards at his POW camp. “When Jane Fonda turned up, she asked that some of us come out and talk with her. No one wanted to. The guards got very upset, because they sensed the propaganda value of a famous American war protestor proving how well they were treating us. A couple of guards came to my cell and ordered me out. I resisted, and they got violently angry. My arm had been broken when I was shot down, and the Vietnamese broke it a second time. It had not healed well, and they knew it caused me great pain. They twisted it. Excruciating pain ripped through my body. Still I resisted and they got more violent, hitting me and shouting, ‘You must go!’…I was dragged out to see Fonda. I decided to play the role. I knew if I didn’t, not only would I suffer — but the other guys would be tortured or beaten or worse.”
When Fonda returned to the U.S., she told college students, “I bring greetings from our Vietnamese brothers and sisters,” and she lamented the war damage that she had seen in North Vietnam — inflicted, she said, by U.S. forces. She also sported a necklace given to her by the North Vietnamese Communists, made from the melted parts of a U.S. aircraft they had shot down.
Whenever stories about POWs getting tortured emerged, Fonda called them lies. When the POWs began coming home in 1973 and their accounts of torture began to gain credence, Fonda called the returning soldiers “liars, hypocrites, and pawns.” “Tortured men do not march smartly off planes, salute the flag, and kiss their wives,” she said. “They are liars. I also want to say that these men are not heroes.”
On another occasion — in April 1973 — Fonda said: “I’m quite sure that there were incidents of torture. I think probably some of these professional pilots were probably beaten to death by the people whose homes and families they were bombing and napalming. But the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that that’s a lie. These men were bombing and strafing and napalming the country. If a prisoner tried to escape, it is quite understandable that he would probably be beaten and tortured.”
Even when the U.S. pulled its troops almost entirely out of Vietnam in 1973, Fonda and her new husband Tom Hayden were not satisfied; together they formed the Indochina Peace Campaign (IPC), which continued to mobilize radicals across the United States after the 1973 Paris Peace Agreement, at a time when most antiwar organizations had either closed down or moved on to other causes. The IPC worked tirelessly to cut American aid to the governments in Saigon and Phnom Penh and help the North Vietnamese Communists and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge overthrow them.
In July 1973, Fonda gave birth to a son, Troy Garity Hayden, whom she and her husband named after a Viet Cong bomber, Nguyen Van Troi.
Fonda and Hayden returned to Hanoi in 1974 and went on to the “liberated zones” of South Vietnam (areas the Communists had conquered) to shoot the documentary Introduction to the Enemy, a propaganda piece depicting the North Vietnamese as peaceful patriots who, despite years of war and bloodshed, did not hate Americans and planned to create an ideal new society based on justice and equality.
Fonda would never express regrets or utter a word of protest when more than two million Indochinese peasants were slaughtered after American aid was cut off and the communists took complete control of South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975. In fact, she refused to join folk singer and fellow antiwar activist Joan Baez in her protest against North Vietnam’s incarceration of more than 100,000 South Vietnamese because, as she told the National Press Club on September 26, 1979, she was unable to prove the veracity of the charges against the new communist regime.
Fonda’s activism was not limited to protests against American military involvement in Southeast Asia. She was also immersed in radical chic causes like the American Indian movement and Black Power. When Alcatraz Island was taken over by 79 American Indians on November 20, 1969, Fonda visited the site to show her solidarity with their occupation.
Fonda was also a strong supporter of Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, calling the latter “our revolutionary vanguard.” “We must support them with love, money, propaganda and risk,” she said. Fonda claimed that Newton was the only man she would trust to lead America (a claim she would later recant as having been “naïve and utterly wrong”), and also campaigned for the incarcerated Angela Davis and other black “political prisoners.”
Fonda spoke frequently and proudly about her radicalism, saying in 1970: “Revolution is an act of love; we are the children of revolution, born to be rebels. It runs in our blood.” In 1972 she declared, “I am not a do-gooder. I am a revolutionary. A revolutionary woman.”
In the 1970s, Fonda was a passionate admirer of the Rev. Jim Jones, a committed communist who had gained considerable fame as a faith healer and cult leader of the People’s Temple, a jungle-based commune in Jonestown, Guyana. In a 1977 statement, Fonda — along with husband Tom Hayden and a number of other progressives — proudly affirmed: “We are familiar with the work of Reverend Jones and Peoples Temple and have no hesitancy in commending them for their example in setting a high standard of ethics and morality in the community and also for providing enormous material assistance to poor, minority and disadvantaged people in every area of human need.” After a visit to the People’s Temple, Fonda wrote Jones a letter in which she said: “I also recommit myself to your congregation as an active full participant—not only for myself, but because I want my two children to have the experience.”
Two weeks after the opening of her 1979 movie The China Syndrome (which depicted an accident at a nuclear energy plant), there was a real nuclear accident at Three Mile Island causing small amounts of radioactivity to escape into the atmosphere. Fonda called this “the most shocking synchronicity between real life catastrophe and movie fiction ever to have occurred,” and took off with her husband on a 52-city anti-nuclear tour. Joining Fonda and Hayden on tour were leftwing stalwarts Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown.
Another pet cause of Fonda (and of her ex-husband Ted Turner) is population control. Fonda served as President Bill Clinton’s special “good-will” ambassador to the United Nations Population Fund, and gave a speech at the UN where she complained: “Our species alone co-opts, consumes or eliminates 40% of the Earth’s … energy … We must fight to ensure universal access to family planning … backed up with safe abortion.”
In 2003 Fonda received Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award for her work to promote population control and taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. The following year, Ted Turner won the same award. Fonda and Turner also share a passionate devotion to the tenets of radical environmentalism. In particular, Fonda supports the Environmental Media Association.
In 1999 Fonda was named one of the “100 Most Important Women in the 20th Century” by ABC News and Ladies Home Journal. It was later revealed that four of the seven women who had placed Fonda on the list had also worked to prevent President Clinton from being impeached.
Over the years, Fonda has given campaign contributions to such political figures as Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Tom Daschle, Max Cleland, Cynthia McKinney and Nancy Pelosi. She also gave $100,000 to the Al Gore recount effort in Florida in 2000 (following the election controversy), $5,000 to NARAL Pro-Choice America, and $4,000 to the MoveOn political action committee.
Fonda continues to participate in the antiwar/peace movement, particularly with regard to the Middle East and the War on Terror. She visited a Palestinian refugee camp and was scheduled to meet with Yasser Arafat, though the meeting never occurred. And just days after terrorists had killed some 3,000 people on 9/11, Fonda said that instead of retaliation, the U.S. should try to understand the “underlying reasons” behind the murderous attacks.
In 2003 Fonda made clear her opposition to the war in Iraq, stating: “What’s it going to mean for [U.S.] stability as a nation, for terrorism, for the economy I can’t imagine. I think the entire world is going to be united against us.” She was also critical of her fellow American citizens: “I don’t know if a country where the people are so ignorant of reality and of history, if you can [call] that a free world.” To express her opposition to the war, Fonda signed on to the “Not in Our Name” campaign, which was directed by C. Clark Kissinger, a longtime Maoist activist and member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
In 2004 Fonda, in a joint effort with Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, initiated “Vaginas Vote,” a pro-John Kerry get-out-the-vote campaign that sponsored events in more than 30 states. A Fonda press release promoting a September 13th “Vaginas Vote” rally in New York stated, “Vaginas Vote, Chicks Rock. … [O]rganizers are using the power of arts and activism to motivate and inspire all women — especially young women — to raise their voices and get out the vote to end violence against women and girls.”
The “Vaginas Vote” event was aimed at persuading young women to vote in favor of John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election, the implication being that another Bush term would mean higher levels of violence against women than would a Kerry presidency. At the aforementioned New York rally, Ms. Ensler said to the attendees: “Are there are any registered vaginas in the house? . . . Step into your vaginas and get the vagina vote out.” Among those in the audience were Susan Sarandon, Gloria Steinem, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, and Jesse Jackson.
In April 2005 Fonda released her autobiography My Life So Far, in which she discussed, among many topics, her infamous trip to North Vietnam. In an interview to promote the book, Fonda described her visit with the Viet Cong as a “betrayal” of American forces and of the “country that gave me privilege.” She called it the “largest lapse of judgment that I can even imagine.” However, she said she did not regret having met with American POWs in North Vietnam or having made propaganda broadcasts on Radio Hanoi. “Our government was lying to us and men were dying because of it, and I felt I had to do anything that I could to expose the lies and help end the war,” she said.
In September 2005 Fonda made two appearances with British Member of Parliament George Galloway (who had been on Saddam Hussein’s payroll and had illegally received about $585,000 in annual profits from Iraq’s exports under the Oil-For-Food program) during his twelve-city speaking tour of the U.S., where he condemned America’s war efforts in Iraq as both illegal and immoral. (Fonda was originally scheduled to make eight appearances with Galloway, but changed her plans so as to avoid drawing attention away from Cindy Sheehan‘s anti-war tour that was in progress at the time.)
In a 2011 biography of Jane Fonda, author Patricia Bosworth revealed a lifelong lament by the actress: “My biggest regret” Bosworth quotes Fonda as having said during a “feminist consciousness-raising session,” “is I never got to f*** Che Guevara.”
In 2012, Fonda acknowledged that she had used bad judgment in posing for the 1972 photos aboard the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun — though she was careful to defend her decision to visit Hanoi: “I did not, have not, and will not say that going to North Vietnam was a mistake. I have apologized only for some of the things that I did there, but I am proud that I went.”
In February 2016, Fonda stated that Republicans such as presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had recently proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration into the U.S., were turning moderate Muslims into radical Islamic terrorists. Said Fonda: “Even if he doesn’t make it [to the presidency], which I don’t think he will, the fact that he’s said the things he’s said about Muslims, for example, the damage has been done. All those young Muslims now can say, ‘Yeah, I guess they really are waging a war against us.’ It will draw them closer to the terrorists. I think it’s really, really dangerous.”
In an October 2017 interview, HARDTalk host Stephen Sackur asked Fonda if she was ultimately proud of her country, to which she immediately answered “No.” Fonda then explained what she _was _proud of: “I’m proud of the resistance. I’m proud of the people who are turning out in unprecedented numbers and continue over and over and over again to protest what [President Donald] Trump is doing. I’m very proud of that core.” Sackur then raised the issue of the recent actions of National Football League players who had chosen to kneel during the playing of the national anthem before their games, as a symbol of protest against America’s racial injustice. When Sakur asked Fonda how she herself would act in a similar circumstance, she replied: “I would take a knee. I would take two knees. I’d get on all fours if necessary to get attention. And Trump is manipulating it to make it to have something to do with the military. It has nothing to do with patriotism, it has nothing to do with the military, it has to do with racism that is so alive and well in the United States.”
On February 7, 2020 in Los Angeles, Fonda participated in a star-studded “Fire Drill” rally on climate change, where she and the others chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go.” When she addressed the crowd, Fonda said: “We have to act like the house is on fire. Millions of young people and students have stood up. Now older people are joining them.”
In an October 2020 interview, Fonda said that the coronavirus pandemic was “God’s gift to the left,” because the economic and health-related crises it created had increased the likelihood that American voters would not re-elect President Trump in November. Said Fonda: “I just think COVID is God’s gift to the left (she laughs). That’s a terrible thing to say. I mean, I think it was a very difficult thing to send down to us, but it has ripped the Band-Aid off who he [Trump] is and what he stands for and what is being done to average people and working people in this country. We can see it now, people who couldn’t see it before, you know, they see it now and we have a chance to harness that anger and make a difference. So, I feel so blessed to be alive right now.”