Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

True Repentance

I few years ago I read that Jane Fonda had actually repented of her sins and committed her life to Jesus Christ. It was substantiated by a well-known Christian writer who wrote a lengthy column describing the conversion experience of Henry Fonda’s daughter.

At the time, such news was very welcome to this Vietnam Vet. You see, true repentance is evidenced by action on the part of the penitent. I remember telling my wife that if this was a true conversion experience, Jane would be making a heart-felt apology to the Vietnam Vets for her treasonous cavorting with the North Vietnamese in 1972, the same time that I was in South Vietnam. The Bible says when you have offended someone; go, be reconciled with your brother. Sadly, despite her latest tearful remarks in an apparent effort to sell her new book, I’m still waiting.

Let me state clearly that I have no personal ill will toward this woman. As does every American, she has the absolute right to think and believe what she wants. Providing aid and comfort to the enemy during time of war, however, crosses the line. Jane Fonda crossed that line. But to Vietnam Vets, the mere mention of the name, Jane Fonda, a.k.a. Hanoi Jane, brings a most visceral reaction.

In 1995, former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamera, published his mea culpa regarding his botched attempts at running a war. Some of you will remember that initially our entrance into Vietnam was referred to euphemistically as “McNamera’s War.” During an interview regarding McNamera’s book, Senator John McCain had this to say: "I believe that it's important for us to try to put to rest (and behind us) the division and the terrible tragedies associated with the war. And I think that Mr. McNamara's book contributes little. It's 25 years too late, and frankly, we don't need it." To borrow a proper British phrase of affirmation currently in vogue, the senator is “spot on!”

Last year our nation was subjected to innumerable recitations of the heroics of Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John F. Kerry, who served with the Navy Swift Boats in Vietnam. His attempts at portraying himself as a war hero were grievous to the extreme for many of us who served there, exacerbated by his anti-war activities in concert with Hanoi Jane upon his return to the United States.

Recently, I was invited to speak at a church men’s retreat. My topic was the role of a Christian man in today’s world. After the meeting that first night, one of the men asked if we could speak in private. He told me he was one of the first Swift Boat operators in Vietnam. He was responsible for training all the new boat operators when they arrived “in country.” We talked for quite a while. Suffice it to say, neither of us will be sending Christmas cards to Fonda, Kerry or McNamera.

I’ve been able to watch the interviews with Jane recently. Referring to the infamous incident where she sat on an enemy anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam, she stated, “That two-minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until the day I die.” Let me add, “What about your radio broadcasts from Hanoi, in which you criticized our president and our troops, earning you the dubious moniker, ‘Hanoi Jane’? And what of the servicemen who died because of your actions?” In a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Walter Inge wrote in response to Fonda’s remarks, “Writing that it was ‘a betrayal’ and ‘a lapse of judgment’ is a confession, not an apology.” Spot on, sir!

This is my point exactly. True repentance looks much different. Consider the late Pope, John Paul II. The world watched in amazement when this man, the most recognized head of the Christian faith, humbly begged Jews to forgive the church for having turned a blind eye to the heinous actions of Hitler and the Nazis. No one else had ever broached the issue of the church’s complicity in what was done to the Jews, as well as others, caught in the death-grip of Nazi Germany. At least not successfully. Pope John Paul II actually wept! And this from a man who, during WWII, was battling the same Nazis who had ravaged, then occupied, his homeland of Poland. Gratefully, the Pope put a face to the church’s failure to accept its share of responsibility for the Holocaust.

In an article entitled, “The Pope who turned Anti-Semitism aside,” written by Jeff Jacoby for the Jewish World Review, dated April 8 (, he briefly outlines the various ways this godly man made every effort imaginable to come alongside the Jews, who the Pope called “our elder brothers.” For instance, the Pope’s best friend growing up in Poland was a Jewish kid, Jerzy Kluger. Jocoby writes, “As a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council (in the mid-60s), he spoke up powerfully in support of Nostra Aetate, the landmark Vatican declaration that renounced the idea of Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus and affirmed that God’s covenant with the Jews is unbroken.”

In 1979, as newly selected pope, John Paul II traveled to Poland and Auschwitz. In referring to the notorious death camp, he said, “It is not possible for anyone to pass by this (place) with indifference.”

In 1986 he paid the first visit by a pope to the Great Synagogue in Rome, where he stressed the debt that Christians owe to Jews. In 1993, as a head of state, he formally recognized Israel. Then in 2000, he became the first pope to pray at the Western Wall, reverently acknowledging this Jewish religious site. This is a man who understands repentance, which includes making amends for past sins, not making excuses, placing blame elsewhere, or wishing you’d done things differently.

Jeff Jacoby, a Jew, concludes his article this way: “If John XXIII was the “good pope” who set in motion the great shift in the church’s relations with the Jewish people, John Paul II was the “great pope” who made it undeniable and irrevocable. As he is laid to rest, Jews and Christians will weep together.”

For now, we weep together. But tomorrow, together, we will strive to build a better world. And that starts with true repentance.

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