Would 'Hanoi Jane' be an enemy combatant today?

Jane Fonda was a traitor to America in 1972 and still is if you talk to many Vietnam War veterans.

Judging by the airstrike against American terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, Fonda should consider herself lucky to be alive today.

“Hanoi Jane,” as she is still known in VFW halls and American Legion clubs across the country, was one squeeze of a trigger away from being an enemy combatant.

In July of ‘72, as the war in Southeast Asia raged, the activist-actress accepted an invitation to visit Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam.

The U.S. was fighting a war against North Vietnam and tens of thousands of our soldiers had already died in terrible combat.

Fonda appeared with North Vietnamese leaders and made numerous broadcasts on the communist Radio Hanoi during which she called U.S. officials “war criminals.” Her well-publicized trip infuriated military officers, politicians, and regular Americans, even some who opposed the war.

It was no different than if Donna Reed or some other well-known actress had gone to Berlin during World War II and denounced the United States.

The most memorable anti-American act by Fonda while in Hanoi was her photo opportunity sitting on an anti-aircraft gun. There was Fonda, wearing an enemy helmet, seen pointing the gun to the sky — where U.S. pilots were flying missions and some had been shot down, captured or killed.

Lucky for Fonda that she just sat there and didn't have a twitch in her trigger finger.

Had Hanoi Jane actually fired that gun, she could have rightly been considered an enemy combatant, having crossed the line from just a hair-brained, misguided protester and enemy puppet. While there were no drones available back then, she might have found herself in the way of a 105 howitzer blast or too close to a “daisy cutter” bomb.

Maybe Anwar al-Awlaki cut class when Vietnam was covered in American history classes during his years in New Mexico, where he was born, and in Colorado and California, where he attended college. Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was a strong Islamic advocate and organizer back then and loudly outspoken against American policies.

He also served as an Imam at several mosques in the late 1990s and befriended men who would later become attackers on Sept. 11. Authorities suspect that al-Awlaki's lectures, preaching violence and hatred, encouraged them to become martyrs.

In 2005 though, when he moved to his parents' homeland of Yemen to work as a college lecturer, al-Awlaki crossed the line from preacher to participant, a decision that effectively ended his American citizenship and ultimately his life.

According to federal authorities, he began plotting kidnappings of U.S. officials overseas and attacks on Americans abroad and here at home. Working with al-Qaida operatives, al-Awlaki had a hand in the planning or execution of the Fort Hood, Tex. shooting attack by a Muslim Army psychiatrist; the Christmas Day “underwear bomber” who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner; and the ink-cartridge bombs in packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues that were placed on cargo jets bound for the U.S.

He also admitted to being a traitor and an instigator and plotter of violence against Americans. Had he stopped at rhetoric and stupid behavior such as Jane Fonda's photo-op with the NVA artillery battery, he could have gone on forever. Anti-American speech is protected. Becoming a soldier for the enemy in the War on Terror or any other war isn't.

He might even have been able to continue working on Inspire, al-Qaida's online English magazine that aims to radicalize American Muslims and encourage violence. One issue last fall showed Chicago as a backdrop for an article about “one-man jihad,” and urged Islamists to stage attacks whenever they wanted, not waiting for orders from overseas.

Jane Fonda never pulled the trigger on the enemy gun she mounted that day in 1972. She has apologized for it time and again. Says it was a terrible mistake, thoughtless and cruel and blah, blah, blah.

Of course, to this day, many veterans don't believe her and think she should've been charged as a traitor — or worse. Some still show up to protest when she makes appearances. A few years ago one vet, harboring decades of anger, spit in her face.

But at least she's around to apologize and try to make good on what she did wrong.

Al-Awlaki may have been the first American who was killed in this manner. But because of his recruiting skills, it's likely he won't be the last.

Ÿ Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at and followed at and on