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March 5, 2005
The Spitting ImageBy Greyhawk
My quote of James Wolcott's sputtering claims about spitting on Vietnam vets elicited more comments than any other aspect of yesterday's interview with Michael Tucker. That doesn't surprise me, but it certainly made me realize the issue deserved some space of it's own here.
Wolcott on spitting:
No matter how many times this urban myth gets debunked, it's dug out of the closet yet again and dusted off to condemn the antiwar movement and an ungrateful America. It's the sort of thing one expects from rightwing talkshow/columnist hacks, but I thought Ken Tucker was brought better than that.
I've heard this sort of thing before from the gang at the kiddy table, and though grown ups find the exercise silly we could possibly do their young minds some good by investigating the claims. This Slate piece from 2000 is the source of Wolcott's prodigious knowledge of the life experiences of every Vietnam era vet:
Although Nexis overflows with references to protesters gobbing on Vietnam vets, and Bob Greene's 1989 book Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Vietnam counts 63 examples of protester spitting, Jerry Lembcke argues that the story is bunk in his 1998 book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Lembcke, a professor of sociology at Holy Cross and a Vietnam vet, investigated hundreds of news accounts of antiwar activists spitting on vets. But every time he pushed for more evidence or corroboration from a witness, the story collapsed--the actual person who was spat on turned out to be a friend of a friend. Or somebody's uncle. He writes that he never met anybody who convinced him that any such clash took place.
Shades of Winter Soldier - the left is eager to believe that American troops like John Kerry and his cronies slaughtered babies with wanton abandon, but dismisses the thought that any of their class would waste a drop of precious phlegm to welcome the sick brutes home.
Speaking of which, the piece then quotes Rambo - oddly enough the movie that more than any other is a definitive compilation of many "real" urban legends about 'tripwire' Vietnam veterans; those homeless masters of the art of the kill.
Appropriately the piece concludes with a thinly disguised bit of literary spitting on Vietnam veterans - who we all know are murderous baby killing bastards after all:
Lastly, there are the parts of the spitting story up that don't add up. Why does it always end with the protester spitting and the serviceman walking off in shame? Most servicemen would have given the spitters a mouthful of bloody Chiclets instead of turning the other cheek like Christ. At the very least, wouldn't the altercations have resulted in assault and battery charges and produced a paper trail retrievable across the decades?
In spite of the gratuitous and pathetically wimpy "of course we can't prooooove anything" disclaimer this sort of thing is accepted as incontrovertible proof by the Wolcotts of the world. And undoubtedly if he has readers they don't bother to even follow his link - his word that there is something that proves his claim is all these sorts of people need. Poorly educated, easily led as they say.
Here's Wolcott's bottom line - the point he really wants to make, and the obvious reason he needs that spitting stuff to be a big fat lie. It's this business about the troops being innocent - merely pathetic victims of the Darklord Bush, you see. We need to stop that talk now; these guys are stormtroopers, don't you know.
No one wants to "bash the troops," but excusing their behavior as the hothead reaction of "kids who happen to have guns" "blowing off steam" and "luckless souls" makes them sound like the juvenile delinquents in fifties dramas and sociology, not bad, just misunderstood--products of a sick environment.
Nice try - embracing the nature/nuture claim from the right. Guess he's not familiar with the Abu Ghraib trials. Or the less press-worthy (no pictures) murder trials currently ongoing. No one's "being excused" for anything.
"No one wants to bash the troops, but..." Great preface to some troop bashing. The spit fest is coming.
Just be careful you don't end up spitting on your computer screen.
Update: How could I fail to mention a book I brought with me to Baghdad - B. G. Burkett's definitive work Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History. He recounts his own welcome home in the prologue:
At the dinner hour, the airport restaurant was half empty. I threw down my duffel bag, sat, and tried to catch the waitress's eye. "Miss, Miss," I said. The waitress, a woman in her thirties, was only a few feet away. But she pointedly ignored me and began waiting on people who had come in after me.
No spitting there.
Posted by Greyhawk / March 5, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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