Letter to the editor: ‘Hanoi Jane’ Fonda is coming to speak at Kent State, again, 48 years later.

Paul Keane

Paul Keane is a retired English teacher living in Vermont. He was a graduate student and dorm counselor at Kent State on May 4, 1970 the day of the shootings. One of the dead lived in his dorm complex. He later worked as program coordinator for the Center for Peaceful Change 1972/73 , Kent State’s living memorial for the four students killed by Ohio National guardsmen, May 4, 1970.  In 1977 he co-founded “The Kent State Collection” at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division. 

Dear Friends of the 50th Anniversary of the Kent State Massacre:

If it weren’t such a grave anniversary, it would be laughable that a 40 year old male Ohio Secretary of State, Frank La Rose, would feel his patriotic virility threatened by an 82 year old activist woman: Jane Fonda.

He calls her a “traitor” who gave “aid and comfort” to the enemy during the Vietnam War. La Rose wants Fonda’s invitation to speak at the 50th anniversary of the Kent State Massacre and her $83,000 honorarium to be withdrawn.

If it were post-shooting year 1970, KSU president Robert White would announce his retirement and ask the faculty senate to deal with the matter.

If it were 1972, KSU’s new president Glenn A. Olds would try to finesse the situation, perhaps getting his friend, Norman Cousins, editor of The Saturday Review, to pay Fonda’s fee and tell the Ohio Legislature that Kent State University would be disgraced in the Academy if it refused to allow freedom of speech on its campus.

But it is 2020 and KSU’ s present president seems to be resisting the secretary of state. The invitation and the fee continue to stand, so far, one week after La Rose’s call for its withdrawal.

We will see.

The unpleasant situation has provided me the opportunity to reflect on my own 50 year evolution as a recovering Republican, in the following piece which I offer for your attention.

I saw her at Kent State the first time in 1972, the year she visited Hanoi and was given that put-down nickname.

I was a grad student and dorm counselor at Kent State, eager to hear her speech.

She was too radical for my Republican blood in 1972 on the Kent Commons yards from where four students had been fatally shot by Ohio National Guard in a protest on May 4, 1970.

I had voted for Richard Nixon in 1968 and naively I still needed to believe he would overrule his attorney general, John Mitchell, who after a full year of foot-dragging since the massacre said there was “insufficient evidence” to convene a federal grand jury investigation of the Kent State shootings.Four dead in Ohio was apparently “insufficient evidence ” to Mitchell. (He would later go to jail himself for ‘sufficient evidence,’ found guilty of breaking the law.)Yes. I heard Hanoi Jane that day in 1972 on the Kent State Commons.  She was saying the government was lying about Vietnam.  
But my ears were hearing a different government lie than the one Hanoi Jane was talking about.Instead my ears were hearing Mitchell’s “insufficient evidence” lie.Perhaps Jane Fonda had a point. Maybe, just maybe, the government was lying. It took me years to accept that reality.Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young certainly thought four dead in Ohio were enough evidence.They made it a national anthem of sorts, an anthem calling for justice. “Tin soldiers and Nixon comin’. ”But Frank La Rose, Ohio’s 40-year-old Ohio secretary of state, thinks Hanoi Jane, now 82, should not speak at Kent State on May 4, 2020.

He calls her visit to North Vietnam in 1972 when she was 34 “treason,” especially her being photographed in an anti-missile gun. 

She claims she was tricked into taking  that photograph. She claims too that she met with American  POWs  (prisoners of war) who said they wanted Americans to vote for McGovern for President in 1972 or the Vietnam War would just go on and on.

We all know what happened.  Even U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara, on his deathbed decades later when he was 88 admitted he and President Johnson lied about the number of American casualties in Vietnam so it would seem we were winning an un-winnable war.

Dear Hanoi Jane, I won’t be at Kent State this May 4, 48  years after your first visit, to hear what you have to say. 

But I now know one thing. You were not  lying to us in 1971 and Johnson and Nixon had long been lying to all Americans. 

I haven’t voted for a Republican since Attorney General Mitchell announced ‘no go’ to a federal grand jury for the Kent State killings.

Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, Sandy Scheuer and Jeffrey Miller were nine years in the ground when Ohio Secretary of State Frank La Rose was born in 1979.

He didn’t see Allison’s father on TV the night of the massacre May 4, 1970, weeping these words:

“She resented being called a bum because she disagreed with someone else’s opinion. She felt that our crossing into Cambodia was wrong. Is this dissent a crime? Is this a reason for killing her? Have we come to such a state in this country that a young girl has to be shot because disagrees with the actions of her government?”

However, I saw Arthur Krause that night  on TV as graduate counselor at Kent State.

His tears made me want to help. Later I worked to get a federal grand jury and worked with the other parents of the dead when I was program coordinator for Kent State’s living memorial to the students killed: the Center for Peaceful Change, 1972/73.

The youthful 40-year old Ohio secretary of state has lived twice as many years as any of the four dead in Ohio.  He thinks Hanoi Jane is a traitor.

After 58,220 dead American soldiers in the Vietnam War, 3,997 of whom came from Ohio, one wonders about the word “traitor”: Is Hanoi Jane, who wanted them to stop the fighting, a traitor?  Or are the two U.S. presidents  traitors who sent those soldiers to their deaths knowing they were lying about the reasons for their going?

We live in flammable times. It’s easy to start a fire with words like “treason.” It’s harder to unbury the dead, both the Kent State four and the American 58,220 soldiers.

May 4, 1970 at Kent State was the day the Vietnam War came to American soil with four dead in Ohio.

The total should be 58,224.