A Brief History
On March 8, 1949, the long and convoluted journey of Mildred Gillars temporarily came to an end when she was convicted of treason against her native United States of America.
Digging deeper, we find Gillars, born Mildred Sisk in Maine changing her name at age 11 when her mother remarried.
Moving to Conneaut, Ohio in 1916, she then attended Ohio Wesleyan University to study acting in 1918, but dropped out prior to graduation. Her cracked journey continued as she moved to New York to further her acting career, but the big break did not come. Moving to Paris in 1929 she worked as a model and ended up in Dresden, Germany in 1934 after stops in Algeria and back to the US.
Working at the Berlitz language school teaching English, she found herself on the radio in 1940, not yet a traitor. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 she became openly irate and critical of Japan, a bad mistake in Nazi Germany, Japan’s ally. Compelled to stay in Germany since her fiancé threatened to break off the engagement if she returned to the US when American government announcements advised American citizens to return home. Gillars signed a loyalty oath (Nazi’s were big on that!) to Germany.
Put to work making English language broadcasts directed at US troops Mildred became known as “Axis Sally” as she tried to undermine the confidence and morale of Americans.
Playing on the insecurity of American troops far from home, Gillars planted the seeds of doubt and mistrust about their sweethearts back home, left alone with those men unwilling or unfit to serve. Other themes were anti-Jewish rhetoric and derogatory comments about US government officials, including the president. Less than a month prior to the D-Day Normandy invasion Gillars broadcast a radio play called Vision of Invasion about an Ohio mom who’s son is killed during the invasion.
Captured after the war in 1946 after a vigorous effort to find her, Gillars was tried for 8 of the 10 counts of treason she was indicted for. In 1949 she was found guilty of one count of treason, the broadcast of the Vision of Invasion play.
Gillars was sentenced to 10-30 years in prison and served 12 years, released in 1961.
The cracked life continued on her release, going to live in a convent in Columbus, Ohio, and then completing her degree at Ohio Wesleyan in 1973! She taught languages at a Catholic girls’ school and died of cancer in 1988. Her grave is unmarked to foil vandals.
And what of “Hanoi Jane” Fonda? A vocal critic of all things establishment, especially the Viet Nam War, Fonda was quoted as saying “Revolution is an act of love” in support of the Black Panthers. In 1972, she went a bit too far for most Americans, visiting the enemy in his capital, Hanoi.
Spouting North Vietnamese propaganda she went so far as to have herself photographed wearing a helmet sitting at the controls of an anti-aircraft gun! Politics is one thing, but a real shooting war was going on and many Americans clamored for Fonda to be tried for treason, or at least denied reentry to the US.
Calling American politicians and soldiers war criminals, she further incensed the public by calling returning American POW’s “hypocrites and liars” when they reported being tortured! Never charged with treason or any other crimes, Fonda has given tepid sort of apologies since 1988. To American servicemen, apology not accepted! In fact, even to this day, items denouncing her are sold by such mainstream companies as Amazon.com. See for example the following item: AV8America Hanoi Jane Urinal Target, Package of 10.
Question for students (and subscribers): Should Jane Fonda have been charged with treason? Was it right to try and convict Axis Sally? You tell us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Fuller, M. Williams. Axis Sally. Paradise West Publishing, 2004.
Lembcke, Jerry. Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. University of Massachusetts Press, 2010.
Lucas, Richard. Axis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany. Casemate Publishers, 2013.