February 26, 2010
Vietnam War veteran Jerry Lembcke spoke to students and faculty in
McClung Tower on Wednesday about his new book, "Hanoi Jane: War, Sex,
and Fantasies of Betrayal."
Lembcke has written numerous books on the "myth of the Vietnam War"
and explores the recurring stories of female betrayal in wartime.
"Jerry Lembcke thinks that there's a particular sensitivity to how
women respond in situations of national crisis," Martin Griffin,
assistant professor of English, said. "There are greater demands for
loyalty placed on women as the male ego feels more fragile,
especially if things have gone wrong."
Lembcke was a chaplain's assistant during the Vietnam War and later a
professor of sociology at Holy Cross College.
"It is often said that myths are made of something, some elements of
truth," Lembcke said. "I think a good myth has to have some
plausibility to it."
In Lembcke's newest book, he examines why certain figures become
lighting rods for political arguments over the past. He writes about
how Jane Fonda did go to North Vietnam, but the stories about her and
the myth of Hanoi Jane expand beyond any reasonable evidence, Griffin said.
Fonda visited Hanoi in July 1972, where she met POWs and was
photographed seated on an anti-aircraft battery of the Vietnamese.
"Jane Fonda emerges in that period as an exhibit of how we know we
really lost the war because of what happened here at home," Lembcke said.
Fonda was an anti-war activist and is criticized by many veterans as
being part of the failure of the war.
But Lembcke's research provides evidence that her impact is questionable.
"By 1990, 30 or so POW memoirs had been written, and I read most of
them," Lembcke said. "I did not find one Hanoi Jane reference."
His suspension searches for the answer of just where this "myth" arose.
He considers the idea that veterans may have felt betrayed, first
knowing her as a sex symbol, then realizing she was a "peace activist."
However, this scenario also seems unlikely.
"I don't think Jane Fonda was hugely well-known then at that time,"
he said. "Most veterans probably didn't know who she was."
Some argue that Fonda was a popular sex symbol among soldiers, with
her pictures on walls of some tents. Lembcke believes this to be untrue.
"As a chaplain's assistant, I saw the inside of many tents," he said.
"Take my word for it, there were no Jane Fonda pinups."
Collected evidence and research leads him to believe that the myth of
Hanoi Jane developed after the war.
This assumption took him to Waterbury, Conn., a heavy populated
Vietnam veteran city, where veterans protested a movie starring Fonda
from being shot in the town.
"I thought that Waterbury, if not the birth place, was definitely the
cradle of bringing Hanoi Jane into national prominence," he said.
Again, Lembcke was surprised with what he discovered.
"I spent a few days in the city interviewing the guys in charge of
the protest," he said. "It was all about communism, not so much about
her being a traitor."
The book further investigates particular national organizations that
seem to have influenced the veterans of Waterbury.
Lembcke's theories aim to ask questions. Even with extensive
research, he realizes that the true origin may never be uncovered.
"Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal" will be released on June 30.