FTA: Jane Fonda's Anti-War Movie that Still Resonates Today
What sharpened Fonda's anti-war crusade back then was that it had kernels of truth to it few on either side of the debate could deny. Blacks railed against the war, in part because their country didn't always stand up for them to begin with. They were right -- at least about the unfair treatment part of their argument. And it's hard to defend aggressive measures like dropping chemical weapons on Vietnamese societies as we did with Agent Orange.
The war was also an optional conflict, much like the current Iraq War. That kind of battleground is always open for debate, as well it should be. But it's hard not to doubt the sincerity of some of those marching, singing, and shouting throughout FTA.
Fonda and her Hollywood peers stayed on the sidelines years later when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and, years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The film's extras include a modern-day chat with Hanoi Jane herself. She talks about how the tour was meant to be the antidote to Bob Hope's efforts to entertain the troops, only he inadvertently did much more than that, she claims. "Bob Hope was a cheerleader for the war," she says.
In recent years, Fonda has expressed some regret for her war protests, in particular that iconic picture of her on the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery. But here, talking up an old project, her only regret is that she didn't deconstruct her Barbarella image to those brave soldiers expecting to see a tarted up version of herself on stage. Fonda also bemoans how she adhered too closely to her old PC roots. "Except for the times Dick Gregory would join us, we were all white," she says of the original FTA tours, adding in her defense, "I was going through my humorless pedantic PC phase."
The anti-war movement, no matter the conflict, always has a seducing element to it. Who wants war in the first place? It's easy to sidle up to Fonda -- striking without movie star makeup -- when she speaks of the dismembered bodies and displaced lives wrought by the Vietnam War, or any armed conflict for that matter. But some wars need to be fought. At times a country, a leader, a group, cannot be swayed by talking or other diplomatic pressures. It should be avoided at all costs, but to drape oneself completely in the pacifist banner is to deny reality.
FTA epitomized the era's anti-war template, and at times the film rises to the level of the best protest battle cries. Just don't bother asking the antiwar protesters of that era, or today's, about what the Communists were really up to. They'll likely change the subject back to imperialism or the evils of capitalism. Maybe both.