April 18, 2019

Red and Blue Restaurants

By Stephen Tuttle | June 30, 2018

The Traverse City Film Festival recently announced they would be presenting a lifetime achievement award to Jane Fonda, who will appear at this year's event.

The reaction was predictable from all sides; she's been both a movie star and divisive political activist for more than four decades. Calls to rescind the award or even ban her from coming here and speaking popped up online immediately. 

We'll get back to Fonda in a bit, but the idea of simply banishing someone with whom you have political differences has become far too popular. The left has made a practical art form of keeping speakers with whom they disagree off university campuses. Now we have businesses deciding not to serve people because of politics or, worse yet, people who work for the Trump administration being heckled out of restaurants. 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who has become her own one-person basket of deplorables, encourages people to heckle administration members wherever they go.

The left, now so excited that presidential Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was booted out of a restaurant for purely political reasons, might be mindful that plenty of Trump supporters own businesses, too.

Are we really going to start dividing everything by political differences? Will there be ideological litmus tests at the doors of restaurants? Will we only shop, dine, and recreate with like-minded people? Maybe we should all put up red or blue flags or pro- or anti-Trump posters to make sure we're not tainted by the other side. 

This is completely absurd, a kind of ugly, political apartheid separating us in ignorance. And what a delightful example for our children.

Which brings us back to Jane Fonda. 

This will not be her first, nor likely her last, lifetime achievement award. Her half-century-plus career includes a stunning body of work, seven Academy Award nominations, and two wins. There would be little debate about such an award had she done nothing but act.

But Fonda was a vocal political activist on the left, an anti-Vietnam War crusader, and champion of civil and women's rights. She was not afraid of controversy and created the worst attention herself. 

In July 1972, Fonda visited North Vietnam. She was not the first anti-war activist to make such a trip, but hers generated the most attention. A single photograph would forever label her as “Hanoi Jane.”

By 1972, our politicians had already lost the war in Vietnam. Our troop levels, once exceeding half a million, were down to barely more than 25,000. Fonda's visit did nothing to either hasten or slow our eventual departure.

Fonda went on Radio Hanoi criticizing the U.S. practice of bombing dykes in then North Vietnam. And there was that infamous photo of a smiling Fonda on a North Vietnam anti-aircraft gun, an act of bizarre naivete that was profoundly offensive to many in this country, including other anti-war activists. She has repeatedly apologized, including directly to Vietnam vets, for the photograph. 

That wasn't enough for whoever fabricated more dramatic tales of Fonda's visit. 

The stories, widely circulated online and purporting to be written by a POW who was there, claim POWs who refused to meet with Fonda were tortured and beaten, that four died, and that she handed over to the North Vietnamese the Social Security numbers POWS had surreptitiously given her.

The problem is, the stories aren't true — and that is the unanimous opinion of fact-checking organizations that have investigated. The POW who allegedly wrote the initial story has repeatedly said he did no such thing and that none of the information is true. Other POWs specifically mentioned also said none of it happened. The Defense Department says there is no record of any American POW dying from abuse after 1969, much less four deaths in the immediate aftermath of Fonda's visit.

Those who were there say the North Vietnamese selected seven prisoners from a very large list of volunteers. They were the only prisoners she visited, though they did bring letters for her to take back to the states from other prisoners. (The Red Cross confirmed she returned with 241 letters.) The prisoners didn't need to secretly pass their Social Security numbers; they all just told her their names. Nobody was beaten for refusing to volunteer to see her. 

If you believe Jane Fonda is irretrievably tainted by her actions of 46 years ago, fair enough. You probably shouldn't go to any of the Film Festival events involving her, or attend her movies. In fact, you can just ignore her altogether.

But trying to prevent someone's public appearance, speaking engagement, or restaurant reservation because you disagree with their politics is antithetical to our values. There is nothing in the First Amendment giving us the right to silence or banish others.

Let Sarah Sanders eat and Jane Fonda speak. You can always heckle them when they're done. 











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