Washington — Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, America's most famous antiwar couple, are making new overtures to this country's political mainstream and to its Vietnam veterans. Ms. Fonda, who took a controversial trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam war, goes on ABC-TV tonight to apologize to Americans who served in that conflict.
Mr. Hayden, once a defendant in the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial, has now written a thoughtful memoir, and tells others that he has grown and changed since those turbulent days.
Fonda's conciliatory statements on Vietnam are drawing national attention, but are also raising questions about her motives.
Critics quickly note that Fonda is set to film a new movie, ``Union Street,'' in Connecticut this summer, and veterans groups are strongly protesting her presence in the state.
Fonda and Hayden also hope to play a growing role in Democratic politics. Many Hollywood liberals look to them for leadership.
Interviewed by Barbara Walters for the show ``20/20,'' Fonda talks about her 1972 trip, when she climbed onto a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun for photographs, and made a propaganda broadcast from Hanoi.
Getting onto that gun was ``a thoughtless and careless thing to have done,'' Fonda told ABC. ``For someone like me who's ... in the communication business. I know the power of images.''
Fonda's propaganda broadcast, picked up by United States intelligence agencies, had her saying in 1972: ``I'm speaking to the US servicemen who are stationed on the aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. ... One thing that you should know is that these weapons are illegal. ... And the use of these bombs ... makes one a war criminal.''
Fonda now asks to apologize for such actions.
``I would like to say something ... to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. ... I feel that I owe them an apology. My intentions were never to hurt them or make their situation worse. It was the contrary: I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it, and I'm very sorry that I hurt them.''
Was Fonda duped by the Vietnamese?
``No,'' she says. ``I'm naive and I make mistakes. ... I was a big girl. I could have said, `No, I can't do this.' It was my fault.''
Fonda's statements, however, were greeted with some skepticism. The spokesman for a veterans group in Connecticut said: ``A simple apology by Jane Fonda at this time is too little, too late, and would be made only in hopes of stopping the protest against her [movie].''
Ben Wattenberg, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that Fonda made a personal apology, but not a political apology.
``It may just have been a conversational remark. It wasn't a written, prepared statement,'' Mr. Wattenberg observes. ``We do indeed believe in political redemption in this country, and properly.
``But from what I heard, that was a well-intended personal apology to individuals who were hurt, but not a political apology for being in favor of a victory over American forces. That was different than the goal of the peace movement, which was simply to get America out of the war.''
Horace Busby, who served in the White House under President Johnson, says Fonda has both political and economic motives to put Vietnam behind her. Though many years have passed, there is still strong resistance to anything associated with her name.
Some memories of 1972 are still vivid. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona was a prisoner of war in May 1972, when his captors told him an ``American actress'' was there.
The North Vietnamese demanded that Mr. McCain, a pilot, appear with her, make statements condemning the war, and have his picture taken. He refused, and as punishment the Vietnamese broke both his arms and confined him in a 3-foot by 6-foot building for five months.
Lt. Gov. Richard Licht (D) of Rhode Island, a candidate for the US Senate, illustrated recently how sensitive the Fonda connection can be in politics.
At the insistence of local veterans, Mr. Licht returned a $250 campaign contribution from Hayden.
``I think what's important is to put the veterans of Rhode Island first,'' he explained. ``They're very supportive of me, and they've asked me to return the money, and we will.''
Licht charged that his Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. John Chaffee, was using the Hayden contribution to divert the campaign from the ``real issues.'' But a Chaffee spokesman, Andy McLeod, said that Licht was returning the money out of ``shame.''
Actress Morgan Fairchild, a Fonda friend, says: ``A lot of people in America should give Jane and Tom a chance again. Let's put Vietnam behind us.''
Actor Ed Asner agrees that the public should give Fonda and Hayden the chance for a fresh start. ``They deserve it,'' he says. ``I'd say they both have paid their dues.''