In the 1960s and 1970s, the actress Jane Fonda was a kind of revolutionary icon.
The Oscar-winning star’s political and civil rights activism landed her in jail on multiple occasions and her infamous snaps are legendary in the pop culture space.
Fonda’s rebellion and passion for protest spanned decades. So much so that she is often more renowned for her activism than for her on-screen talents.
But the Barbarelle The actress is not so proud of all the decisions she made during the height of her unwavering activism in the 1970s.
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One photo in particular of Fonda during the Vietnam War still haunts her today.
When American troops were sent to the Southeast Asian country in 1965, Fonda became an outspoken anti-war activist.
Fonda toured the United States spreading his message about the withdrawal of soldiers from Vietnam, met with prisoners of war and led protests.
It hurts me and it goes to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake
His dedication to the peace movement had a price. Fonda’s anti-Vietnam protests put her in the crosshairs of the FBI and CIA.
In 1970, Fonda, then 32, spent the night in a Cleveland jail on trumped-up drug trafficking charges.
The National Security Agency had her phone tapped and Fonda posed for a photo with her fist raised skyward in defiance.
This photo shaped a generation of activists and made Fonda the icon she is today.
But it’s not photography that Fonda regrets. Rather, it was an image taken of the actress in Vietnam in 1972 which she says will haunt her “until the grave”.
Fonda’s trip to North Vietnam three years before the end of the war earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane”, an unseemly nickname that followed her for decades.
She had accepted an invitation to visit North Vietnam, a nation that had been embroiled in war for nearly two decades.
Fonda stayed for two weeks and during this time a series of photographs were taken of Jane meeting North Vietnamese troops.
In the photos, Fonda was seen wearing a helmet as she sat on an anti-aircraft gun which was used to target US planes. She laughed and smiled surrounded by the Vietnamese press.
When the photos appeared in the American press, she was called a traitor. Protesters claimed that Fonda had switched allegiances and accused her of being against her own compatriots.
According The Washington Postthe Foreign Affairs Veterans even demanded that Fonda be tried as a traitor.
The state of Maryland also considered banning her and her films.
Over the past five decades, Fonda has repeatedly apologized for the footage and attempted to explain her side of the story.
“I will go to my grave regretting the photograph,” Fonda said in 2001, thirty years after it was published.
In his 2005 memoir My life so far, Fonda also said she didn’t realize exactly where she was sitting when the camera bulbs flashed.
“As I start walking towards the car with the translator, the implication of what just happened hits me,” she wrote. “Oh my God, this is going to look like I was trying to shoot down American planes!”
“I begged him, ‘You need to make sure these photos don’t get published. Please can’t let them be published”. I have been assured that it has been taken care of.”
Fonda said Oprah in 2012 that she felt “trapped” by the photos, which depicted her laughing and smiling as she sat on the anti-aircraft battery.
“I was an emotional wreck at the time,” she said. “I don’t know if I was set up or not. I was an adult. I take responsibility for my actions.”
She also said she understood the vitriol that followed the release of the images. “I understand the anger about this,” she added.
While speaking at a personal engagement in Maryland in 2015, the Grace and Frankie star also expressed regret for the photos.
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“It hurts me and it goes to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers,” she said.
However, the protests still follow Fonda even fifty years after his visit to Vietnam.
At the Maryland site, protesters held up signs that read: “Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never.”
Fonda spent decades trying to make amends with the American people during her controversial time in Vietnam.
She often speaks with Vietnam veterans to understand their plight and explains that she was never against the soldiers, only against the American government.
“I’m a lightning rod,” Fonda said in 2015. “This famous person goes and does something that makes it look like I’m against the troops, which wasn’t true. But that was it, and I’m a target, so I get it.
Despite the controversy surrounding her passionate activism, Fonda, now 84, still fights power when she gets the chance.
In 2019, she was arrested and spent the night in jail after leading climate change protests on Capitol Hill in Washington.
And Fonda proudly told the Washington Postshe will persist in her admirable protestations until the day of her death.
“Why be a celebrity,” she said, “if you can’t leverage it for something so important?”
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