Jane Fonda was interviewed last month on the CBS “Sunday Morning” program. She discussed her difficult relationship with father Henry, her marriages, bouts with bulimia and how uncomfortable she has been for much of her life with her self-image, and she touched briefly on her film career.

She was asked if she had any regrets about her past, and she immediately acknowledged that the infamous photo of her atop a North Vietnamese tank — and the entire event — was by far the biggest mistake she has ever made. In the background was film showing her in fatigues, laughing as she stood among North Vietnamese soldiers.

It looked for the world as if she considered her actions to be one big lark.

Hanoi Jane, now 74, said in the most straightforward manner possible that she knew that it looked as if she were against our own soldiers — which she says she was not — and added that she was profoundly sorry for what she did on that day.

Now, she’s an actress, so it’s hard to tell, but it did appear that she was being entirely sincere.

Or, perhaps it’s as Bill Cosby used to say about his mother in his comedy routines, about her becoming such a warm, sweet and generous person once she had grandchildren: “You’re looking at an old person who’s trying to get into heaven now.”

When I told the story about Jane Fonda’s apology to several of our dearest friends later that same day, one of these personal favorites responded, a la Tony Soprano: “She’s dead to me.”

I understand where he’s coming from; I truly do. What Jane did was terrible.

However, the question must be asked: How is it that we, as members of a so-called “Christian nation,” are so incapable of accepting an apology — especially one expressing true remorse? Can’t we ever accept it at face value, even if it comes from someone from a different political persuasion?

It’s been said that to truly forgive someone, you must forget the offense. That puts the onus squarely on the offended party, of course, but why is it that we can’t acknowledge how hard it is to accept — and express — one’s shortcomings or mistakes? Why are we so judgmental?

There are many examples of this. For openers, I was horrified at Don Imus’ insensitivity and rudeness when he referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

But when he apologized, on air — “(o)ur characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry” — he seemed absolutely contrite. I believed his apology, and I don’t think he should have been fired.

The special counsel to President Nixon, Chuck Colson, had been considered a hatchet man, an evil genius — even by members of his own party. In prison after the Watergate scandal, he found Jesus, and his work on behalf of prisoners was by all accounts genuine.

He didn’t apologize for being behind the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s office — at least, according to Ellsberg, not to him — but because of his good works, he, too, should be forgiven.

Robert McNamara also said he was “wrong, terribly wrong” for his role in the escalation of the Vietnam War as secretary of defense in the Johnson administration. He spent many years after this period of his life at the helm of the World Bank; when he retired, he tearfully noted how daunting the task had been, trying reduce poverty and improve economic conditions throughout the developing world. Had he been trying to make amends?

In the category of people for whom the jury is still out in my mind are notables from a more recent past. South Carolina former Gov. Mark Sanford expressed his regret for lying to the people of the Palmetto State, and for cheating on his wife. However, his statement that he was “trying to fall in love” with his wife again — indicated to me that his sincerity was suspect. Trying to fall in love — eyes squeezed tightly shut and grimacing while doing so — is not the kind of thing that ever happens.

John Edwards apologized, too, for his many transgressions — “I’ve done terrible things” — as did Bill Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky affair. Both probably do regret their failings, but their apologies came after they were caught with their pants down. Would they have acknowledged their mistakes had they not come to light?

Then again, Robert McNamara at least seemed — there’s that word again — entirely sincere in his apology, but he was lambasted by the skeptical left for his comments. I expect that the right will carry on about Jane Fonda’s apology, too. (Cue rolled eyes, clenched fists: “Yeah, right.”)

Is this how we truly want to be? What do we expect of these transgressors — sackcloth and ashes? Self-flagellation? Lying prostrate on the ground in front of veterans, the tea party, or the Dems? Leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge? (He deserved it, the bastard!)

I willingly admit that I’ve made more than a few mistakes of my own over the years, and I try to own up to them afterward. I’ve worked very hard to forgive those who have offended me or hurt my feelings — sometimes I’ve been more successful at it than at others. In the end, some things are more forgivable than others.

But when a person could have ridden it out altogether — never having acknowledged being wrong — and instead says he’s sorry, truly sorry, for what he’s done or said or believed, why can’t we then let it go? Why can’t we forgive — and forget?

Now, trust me: If Tom Brady is traded to the Dallas Cowboys, or my beloved Redskins leave Washington for Raleigh, they’ll be dead to me.

Some things are unforgivable.

But I do wish we could be nicer as a nation. What has happened to our good and kind people?

Karen Owen is Viewpoints editor of The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va. This column was distributed by MCT Information Services.

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