Jane Fonda is an Oscar-winning actress who has continued working in film and TV into what some would call "old age." However, she is perhaps as notorious as she is famous. In the 1970s, Fonda began getting involved in a host of liberal causes, such as the Black Panthers, the Women's Movement, and the plight of Native Americans. Fonda's activism caught the attention of the FBI – specifically, J. Edgar Hoover. But it was Fonda's involvement with the Vietnam War that cost her her reputation with the American people.
A 1972 visit to Vietnam, in which Fonda posed for an unfortunate photo op with the North Vietnamese, led to her tarnished reputation and the nickname "Hanoi Jane." This nickname was not given lightly – Hanoi was one of the most notorious places where American POWs (like Senator John McCain) were held by the Vietnamese. Fonda's activism took her too far, according to some, and gave the FBI free reign to attack her openly. Fonda vs. FBI was an unfortunate and ongoing skirmish during the war, and it was a battle Fonda just couldn't win.
Surprisingly, at the beginning of the war, Fonda was practically indifferent to it all. She had been raised by a former Naval officer, and grew up believing that whatever reason the United States had to go to war was a good one. She said, "I grew up with a deep belief that wherever our troops fought, they were on the side of the angels," and she didn't have a second thought about American troops entering Vietnam.
That all changed when she began meeting veterans of the war who spoke out against the American effort in Vietnam. Fonda realized she needed to dig deeper to find out the whole truth about the war and eventually came to the decision that she needed to fight against the war with all her might.
Fonda had been involved with numerous progressive causes throughout the early '70s, but it was her trip to Vietnam that stirred the most gossip and incited the most vitriol in Americans. In 1972, the North Vietnamese invited her for a two-week visit to the city of Hanoi, which happened to house one of the most notorious POW camps of the Vietnam War, ironically given the misnomer the "Hanoi Hilton" by those who had the unfortunate opportunity to stay there.
Fonda had been vocally anti-Vietnam War for a while, and part of the reason she accepted the invitation was to expose the horrible wrongdoings Americans were committing against the Vietnamese. Unfortunately, Fonda was already on the FBI's radar, and this trip cemented her place in their black book.
Fonda's investment in the Vietnam War grew from vague disinterest to a rousing fight against American involvement in Vietnam. By the time she received her infamous invitation to Hanoi, Fonda had entrenched herself in the cause, speaking at rallies and founding organizations such as the "FTA," which could have stood for either "Free the Army" or "F*ck the Army," depending on what you preferred. She was outspoken against the war in sometimes controversial ways, once saying that Vietnam truly needed a "victory for the Vietcong," the guerilla army the United States was fighting against.
Fonda's mission was to go to Vietnam to expose American crimes against the Vietnamese, specifically, how the Nixon Administration was bombing and flooding civilian areas. Unfortunately, her mission backfired.
A few of Fonda's actions in Vietnam garnered negative attention – such as a radio interview in which she apparently tried to convince American airmen to put down arms against the North Vietnamese – but it was a single photograph that ruined her reputation forever, in the minds of some, at least.
The photo was of Fonda, laughing, sitting amongst the Vietnamese on an anti-aircraft gun. There was Fonda, an American, sitting with a smile on her face on a weapon designed to take down American pilots. Fonda tried to defend the photograph, saying she had no idea what she was sitting on when the photo was taken, and that she was laughing about something else; unfortunately, the image of her in a helmet surrounded by 'the enemy' while sitting on a weapon, was too much for the American people.