By John Zutz
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Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal
(University of Massachussets Press, 2010)
Over the course of her life Jane Fonda has been transformed from a Hollywood darling sex kitten into an icon that is reviled, scorned, condemned and hated by a wide portion of the population. Judging by the outrage she causes in some circles one would think she slept with Ho Chi Minh.
College of the Holy Cross sociology professor, and VVAW member, Jerry Lembcke, progresses through Vietnam War mythology from The Spitting Image, where he showed that Vietnam veterans most likely weren't spat on. In his latest book he bursts the balloon of another popular Vietnam veteran myth by examining the legend of Hanoi Jane, an image that has influenced our current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
After Lembcke's examination of Fonda's actions in Vietnam, and the memoirs of the POWs with whom she interacted, it's clear that Fonda isn't guilty of many of the charges leveled against her by conservative groups.
She didn't commit treason. She didn't betray POWs to their captors. She didn't provide aid and comfort to the enemy any more than the hundreds of other peace activists who traveled to Hanoi during the war.
Though Lembcke's description of Fonda's life is rather superficial, his inspection of the Hanoi Jane myth is quite thorough. Lembcke differentiates Jane Fonda, the person, from Hanoi Jane, the legend. He compares Hanoi Jane to other classical female betrayal myths – Delilah, Mata Hari, Tokyo Rose and others.
Though he doesn't directly refer to Genesis, legends of female betrayal go all the way back to Adam and Eve.
First, Lembcke debunks many of the charges tied to the various historical women. Then he demonstrates how the perceived "wounds" inflicted by them were used to define the warrior cults of their day.
He shows that sex and danger have always mixed in military training and military society. He stirs in other Vietnam era myths like Jodi taking your girl at home, and razor blades in Vietnamese vaginas.
He goes on to show how the Hanoi Jane image was a concoction of the militaristic right wing to help justify losing the war.
The first few chapters of the book have quite a few typos that get annoying, but it's worth reading to help understand the interaction between the sexes and how legends grow.
John Zutz is a member of the Milwaukee chapter of VVAW.