Jane Fonda said she hoped for an open dialogue with veterans after about 50 former military members and supporters protested the actress’s appearance Friday evening at the Weinberg Center for the Arts.
“Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad,” Fonda told a relatively full theater, responding to a submitted question. “It hurts me and it will to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”
In 1972 Fonda visited Hanoi, North Vietnam, where she criticized attacks on the dike system along the Red River. A U.S. investigation later revealed the publicity of these bombings as propaganda. Fonda’s statements and a photograph of her sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery outraged many Americans and veterans, leading many to call her “Hanoi Jane” and a “traitor.”
Bob Hartman, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, said he blamed Fonda for breaking off negotiations among the countries and held her responsible for thousands of American lives.
“She encouraged North Vietnam to pull away from the negotiations table,” he said, holding a sign outside the Court Street parking garage to protest her presence. “She got Americans killed ... and she went to Vietnam to advance her husband’s career.”
About 50 veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam, held signs saying “Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never” and waved flags outside the theater for about two hours, occasionally booing people entering the Weinberg Center, including state Sen. Ron Young.
“But those people out there ... I’m a lightning rod,” Fonda said. “This famous person goes and does something that looks like I’m against the troops, which wasn’t true, but it looked that way, and I’m a convenient target. So I understand.”
However, Fonda said she did not regret traveling to North Vietnam, saying her time there was “an incredible experience.”
“We feel what she did was so egregious ... (she) really cost lives,” said Mike McGowan, a Marine Corps veteran who served as an infantryman in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
Among the protesters was Frederick County Councilman Tony Chmelik, who said he decided to support the veterans in honor of his father, who served in the military.
“(We want to) let everybody know we haven’t forgotten,” said Tommy Grunwell, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and helped organize the protest.
At least one person turned out to demonstrate in favor of Fonda, saying the actress’s work as an activist and founder of nonprofits helping women should also be recognized and represented.
“I feel like you can’t vilify Jane Fonda but not vilify our government,” said Gabrielle Hash, who stood among veterans holding a handmade poster in support of Fonda.
During her hourlong talk, Fonda discussed the importance of adolescence in shaping women’s and men’s lives, and how she regained her courage and spunk in the “third act” of her life upon turning 60.
“My voice went underground, and it took me a long, long time to get it back,” she said.
Through working with adolescents at the nonprofits she founded, Fonda said she discovered that most girls are “whole” before approaching puberty; they know what they want and are not afraid to voice it. But upon entering adolescence, this voice fades as girls are pressured to fit in and mold themselves to society’s ideals of a thin, popular woman.
“Her voice doesn’t disappear, but it goes underground,” Fonda said, describing how this plagued her through three marriages.
But for boys, many are led to believe they need to act strong and fearless from the time they enter the formal school system at age 6, according to Fonda.
“They become emotionally illiterate,” she said, adding that some of these boys later become violent when their masculinity is threatened in any way.
In describing her own struggles with age, marriage and respect, Fonda urged audience members to seek forgiveness and happiness through small changes like daily meditation or walks outside for a longer and more fulfilled life.
“If ... we can manage to think positively ... we can actually alter the pathways in our brains,” she said. “I’ve experienced it, so I know it’s true. It takes work, it takes intention. But man, is it worth it.”