Forever 'Hanoi Jane'

In 1987, my friend Pete and I – editors on our college’s conservative paper – got the chance to interview Vice Admiral James Stockdale. You might remember him as Ross Perot’s running mate, the man who asked in one debate, only half in jest, “Who am I? Why am I here?

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But Admiral Stockdale was not the befuddled clown some hack comics tried to make him out to be. A brilliant classics scholar, he was also a warrior’s warrior. His evil North Vietnamese captors tortured him unmercifully – not calling him mean names, not dunking him in water as trained medics watched, but real, savage torture that left his body broken. But it did not break his American spirit; when the communists decided they wanted to film him for propaganda he calmly took a wooden stool and bashed his own face in so they couldn’t use him. We saw his Medal of Honor sitting in his study surrounded by books.

Pete and I both later joined the Army, and we both served multiple deployments. I don’t know how it affected Pete, but during Desert Storm I took one round out of one of my M16 magazines and kept it in my top BDU pocket. I’m no Admiral Stockdale, and I figured if I went through my other 209 rounds I needed some insurance that I wouldn’t be getting captured alive.

Which brings us to the subject of someone who resides at the opposite end of the character scale from Admiral Stockdale.

Hanoi Jane – I will not refer to her otherwise – is apparently attempting another one of her periodic reinventions as part of her continuing quest to remain in the cultural spotlight she craves. She recently appeared on Larry King to whine about how “right wingers” labeled her “Hanoi Jane” and created a “myth” about her visit to Vietnam in 1972. She was kind of unclear about exactly what “myth” she is referring to. Her country was at war with North Vietnam when she went there. And, while Admiral Stockdale’s bones were being torn from their sockets, Hanoi Jane flitted like a butterfly between her murderous hosts, posing for photos on anti-aircraft guns and slandering her countrymen as “war criminals” in nearly a dozen radio broadcasts. Then she came home and called the people exposing the sick cruelty of her red pals “liars.”

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The only “myth” about this piece of human garbage is that Hanoi Jane is something other than a traitor who deserves nothing more than our contempt.

I think either Pete or I asked the Admiral back then what he thought of Hanoi Jane. I don’t remember his response exactly, but I don’t think he ever gave her much thought at all. And if he ever did waste a few precious moments considering her, I think he would be puzzled. It’s hard for someone with so much character to understand someone with so little.

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In this way, Admiral Stockdale can teach us one more lesson. The worst fate we can impose upon Hanoi Jane is to affix her nickname to her forever and then consign her to a richly deserved mental oblivion. Let’s purge her from our collective consciousness, perhaps pausing only to spit in contempt should the thought of her by chance cross our minds. And then let’s fill the cultural space Hanoi Jane no longer occupies with those worthy of our respect and our attention.

And maybe it’s appropriate that we start by replacing her there with a true American hero like Admiral James Stockdale.

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