Kent State must keep Fonda as May 4 speaker
Akron Beacon Journal, Feb. 22
Nearly 47 years after the last U.S. combat troops boarded a C-130 and departed Tan Son Nhut air base near Saigon, the Vietnam War continues to divide us.
Worse yet, we continue to use the Vietnam War and that turbulent time as another way to divide ourselves.
The latest example is the burgeoning controversy ignited by Kent State University’s selection of Jane Fonda as one of three keynote speakers for the school’s 50th commemoration of the May 4, 1970, shootings.
Almost certainly, the school knew Fonda, who will be paid $83,000, would be a controversial choice. Labeled “Hanoi Jane” after being photographed peering through the scope of an empty North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun while on a visit there in July 1972, the Academy Award-winning actress, now 82, has been persona non grata in right-wing circles ever since.
The announcement of her selection on Feb. 10 was met with the immediate and expected vitriol, with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose weighing in six days later. The Copley native tweeted and wrote a longer Facebook post, citing his 10 years of service in the military, asking Kent State to cancel Fonda’s appearance.
LaRose accused Fonda of “providing aid and comfort to the enemy and willfully serving as a propaganda tool,” calling her behavior “the very definition of treason.”
Conservatives like to accuse the left of using political correctness to prevent certain viewpoints from being heard on college campuses, and that charge is not without some merit. Even comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have spoken out against it.
But the right, too, enforces its own form of rigid adherence to political correctness, drawing a red line at any perceived slight of the military or the police, which should always be respected for service and sacrifice but must never be elevated above deserved criticism.
And what both sides seem to have forgotten is that college campuses are exactly where young adults should be exposed to all views — within reasonable boundaries that most can agree on — as they learn and mature.
All of which makes Fonda an inspired choice to speak at Kent State this year.
For one thing, she has a long history of social activism, beginning as a young anti-war activist during the Vietnam era and continuing up to today as she protests against climate change. On the day of the Kent State shooting, Fonda learned of the tragedy while speaking before an assembly at the University of New Mexico on GI rights and issues.
Just as important is that Fonda recognized the mistake she made in allowing herself to be used in North Vietnamese propaganda — “It is possible it was a setup. I will never know,” she said — and has spent decades apologizing and atoning for it.
“Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad,” Fonda told an audience in Frederick, Maryland, in 2015. “It hurts me and it will go to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”
In other words, she has grown. She has learned.
Kent State has it exactly right and, commendably, has not backed down from its decision. As the Advisory Committee said, the May 4 50th commemoration program is “emblematic of long-standing divisions in our country and the difficulty we have reconciling our differences.”
″… We remain mindful that Kent State occupies a special place among universities in America. We know firsthand the dire consequences of polarizing rhetoric and the positive outcomes that result when we work together to reconcile our differences through thoughtful reflection and productive discourse.”
We can not move forward together as a free society by silencing and shunning those with whom we might disagree.
Let Jane Fonda speak.