Fonda's Pseudo-Apology

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This column was written by Dexter Lehtinen.
You may have heard that Jane Fonda apologized to Vietnam veterans in her current book. That's incorrect. She expressed "regret" for one photograph, but remains proud of her Radio Hanoi broadcasts, her efforts to achieve a Communist victory, and her attacks on American servicemen as war criminals. She never uses the word "apology."

Fonda's latest foray into her past -- with her pseudo-apology for having been photographed while sitting on a Communist North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, along with her continued vigorous defense of all other aspects of her trip to North Vietnam and her support for the North Vietnamese and Cambodian Communist wars -- reminds us that apologies can be very tricky things. An unqualified apology offered with sincere regret for the full scope of the wrong by someone who recognizes the harm inflicted on others can help in reconciliation. But a "pseudo-apology," offered with limitations by someone who still defends the bulk of the wrong, only serves to aggravate the injury.

Everyone knows the negative effects of the common pseudo-apology, the refrain of which goes, "I'm sorry if I offended you." Pseudo-apologies attempt to subtly shift the blame to the injured party, who apparently misunderstood the good intentions of the offender.

So it is with Jane Fonda's book. In My Life So Far, "Hanoi Jane" expresses "regret" for one thing -- being photographed with an anti-aircraft gun. "I do not regret that I went. My only regret about the trip was that I was photographed in a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun site." Fonda amplifies: "That two minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until I die." She is "innocent of what the photo implies," but "the photo exists, delivering its message, regardless of what I was really doing or feeling." She makes it abundantly clear, without apology or regret, that what she was "really doing" was aiding the Communist enemy (who "touch our hearts"), and that what she was "really feeling" was that U.S. aviators were war criminals.

The photograph is not Fonda's primary transgression. Of course, the photo itself became the everlasting graphic proof of her outrageous behavior. So in a way Fonda is right -- in practice, it is the photograph that reminds generations of who Jane Fonda really is. In her "regret," limited to the photograph alone, Vietnam veterans see Fonda's endeavoring to ameliorate the harm to herself with virtually no regard to the harm she caused to others.