Prev | List | Random | Next
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.
While Lembcke doesn't prove that nobody ever expectorated on a serviceman--you can't prove a negative, after all--he reduces the claim to an urban myth. In most urban myths, the details morph slightly from telling to telling, but at least one element survives unchanged. In the tale of the spitting protester, the signature element is the location: The protester almost always ambushes the serviceman at the airport--not in a park, or at a bar, or on Main Street. Also, it's not uncommon for the insulted serviceman to have flown directly in from Vietnam.
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?
The myth persists because: 1) Those who didn't go to Vietnam--that being most of us--don't dare contradict the "experience" of those who did; 2) the story helps maintain the perfect sense of shame many of us feel about the way we ignored our Vietvets; 3) the press keeps the story in play by uncritically repeating it, as the Times and U.S. News did; and 4) because any fool with 33 cents and the gumption to repeat the myth in his letter to the editor can keep it in circulation. Most recent mentions of the spitting protester in Nexis are of this variety.
As press crimes go, the myth of the spitting protester ain't even a misdemeanor. Reporters can't be expected to fact-check every quotation. But it does teach us a journalistic lesson: Never lend somebody a sympathetic ear just because he's sympathetic.
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.
Finally a younger waitress came over. "Oh, don't mind her," she said. "She's got this antiwar thing. She won't serve anybody in uniform." The second waitress rook my order, brought me the food, and I put the other woman's rudeness down to a personal quirk.
After eating, I sat at the gate and waited for the plane. When they called the flight, to my relief I was one of the standbys who made it aboard.
After I found a seat, the man next to me said, "Oh, you're stationed at Fort Dix?"
"No, I just got home from Vietnam," I said.
"Oh, a big war hero?" announced the man across the aisle. He had obviously been on the plane from a previous leg, nipping at those little bottles of Jack Daniel's. "Hey folks, we've been sitting here on the runway waiting on a big goddamn war hero." I grimaced but said nothing. It was May 1969. I had been back un the United States fewer than twenty-four hours after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam as an ordnance officer. First the waitress and now this.
The guy refused to let up. "Hey bucko, you spent a year killing women and children, "he said. "Make you feel like a big man, did it? You got your drugs with you , you f*****g pothead?" The entire flight continued that way. For more than an hour, he constantly needled me. I knew if I decided to take the guy out he was dead meat. But punching him would have confirmed all of his prejudices, I refused to do that.
What made me most angry was that no one on the plane said anything to him. None of the other passengers defended me. I felt like a pariah. If I had been a veteran of World War II, coming home after serving my country, somebody would have slugged the guy.
As I stood up in the aisle after the plane landed, the idiot continued his goading, his voice following me long after I waked off the plane. It aggravates me still. That personal insult was directed thousands of times in thousands of ways toward the men and women who served in Vietnam. In the decades after the war, the negative attitudes and assumptions of those times unfortunately became cemented in the American psyche.
No spitting there.
If I ever happen to meet one of these spitting deniers, I'm going to be extremely tempted to demonstrate exactly how I was greated.Posted by htom at March 6, 2005 12:35 AM
I have no personal experience with spitters but I do remember the baby killer signs and the protesters but especially the looks of disgust and borderline hatred. I don't mean to say this was the attitude of everyone but it happened a lot. We never wore our uniforms off base/ship on the w. coast although I did wear it at home in Minnesota. Got caught up in a war protest while in uniform. It was an interesting experience. One I would only care to revisit heavily armed.
Thanks, Greyhawk for letting people know about this.
BTW This guy is a loser but he has rights like the rest of us. He's just too much of a moonbat to realize the military protects those rights.
On the mark about Stolen Valor...$20 to anyone who can put it down after cracking it open and merely peering inside.
This is revisionist history in its glory...it can't be absolutely proven 35 years later, so it can't be true. Interesting that CBS couldn't absolutely prove its claims about Bush, so they were assumed to be true...fair and balanced?
Great piece greyhawk! MMPosted by Major Mike at March 6, 2005 06:10 AM
Children shouldn't be allowed to speak about history they've only "read" about.... Reality, my brother on returning from Vietnam was greeted by spitters, yellers, and baby-killer signs at the Seattle airport. The Louisville airport was kinder and the bartender set him up with a round of drinks....
I'm thankful, my husband on his return from Iraq was greeted by grateful hugs.Posted by ArmyWife at March 6, 2005 05:15 PM
I was in my early twenties during the Vietnam war and remember seeing the demonstrations and ugliness - on TV - of a lot of my fellow Americans when the soldiers came back. Since computers were rare and blogs nonexistant at that time, all I had were the newspapers and television and I was quite confused about the whole thing.
But I do remember being so shocked that people would act like that to returning soldiers. They deserved much better and i'm glad that so many people realize it.
My girlfriend's husband did two tours in Nam but has never talked much about anything or how he was treated when he got back. He should, however, never watch a war movie....they affect him too much.Posted by sueb\mn at March 6, 2005 07:37 PM
pre-iraq invasion, i was getting yelled at while in uniform on weekends of national guard drills... i didn't yell back, i didn't sarcastically smile or wave... i just kept on moving... really, if they can treat a nice guy like ME, like THAT, before the war has even begun ~> then YEAH, they could easily spit on a vietnam vet and call him all sorts of names to his face ~ WITHOUT him striking back...Posted by ren at March 6, 2005 11:53 PM
"Most servicemen would have given the spitters a mouthful of bloody Chiclets instead of turning the other cheek like Christ."
This is proof of a negative? Or is it just more of the same-old same-old soldiers are violent mindless thugs BS? Where is this hypothetical soldier and spitter? Alone in a back alley? It doesn't have to have anything to do with turning the other cheek like Christ if you're outnumbered. Even the spitter has got to be smart enough to only to spit in a "safe" situation.Posted by Julie at March 7, 2005 12:36 AM
My sister-in-law's older brother drowned when the Navy destroyer Frank Evans was split in two by an Australian ship in 68 or 69. Someone called his mother after it was in the paper and said that he'd gotten what he deserved. I've known that story 17 years and I still get angry when I remember it. My brother has the world's nicest mother-in-law, not that anyone deserves that.Posted by Ralph at March 7, 2005 03:09 AM
When my Dad came home from Vietnam in '68, my family and I ran a sort of jeering, angry gauntlet in the Baltimore airport. I remember the hateful looks on their faces and a feeling of just "put your head down and get out of this place as soon as possible." Actually, that was easier than the "your father is a babykiller" and worse comments my dorm mates at U of Michgan said to me on a regular basis. Plus the idiotic habits of throwing bricks thru the local bank windows to protest the war and capitalism, periodic hysterical anti-war demonstrations on the diag, ranting leftist profs...you name it, it was a great place to be for 4 years!Posted by Evelyn at March 7, 2005 02:20 PM
Well this may be only figurative "spitting", but a good part of America just finished spitting on Vietnam vets, when the Swift Vets came forward to say that John Kerry's record needed looking at and the media and many Americans turned a deaf ear and a blind eye.
After fighting in Vietnam for THEIR WHOLE TOURS, not just 4 out of 12 months, they deserved at least a fair hearing.
Not to be called liars and to be dismissed out of hand, their characters smeared and blackened without any proof. What was done to them was far worse than what they were accused of doing to Kerry.
And by the way, I will never forget being in 5th grade and having my 5th grade teacher call me a "little liar" in front of the whole class when we were asked what our daddies did for a living and I said my Daddy was on a battleship off Hanoi.Posted by Cassandra at March 7, 2005 06:25 PM
I don't have any recollection of the events of the vietnam war era(too young), but I do know some things about current military recruiting etc. I found it funny that this leftist, elitist, liberal would point out that most of the current generation of soldiers don't come from the "upper crust" of society. Doesn't he realize that the distance between the middle and lower classes in america is much less than the distance you find between most of hollywood and middle america. I'm strictly middle class myself, and proud of it. I work for a living, and I go to my drill weekends with pride, wearing a proper uniform, and doing my duty. What we don't see in our military is the "elite", highly educated, well off. They've distanced themselves (for the most part) behind their intellectualism, and their riches. These are the people that should be LEADING americans into battle, as they have in past wars. Instead, they cower in their institutions of higher learning, claiming that we "brought it on ourselves", or that we "deserve to be hated", and that the victims of terrorism are "little eichmanns". They believe that terrorists can be "reasoned with", and that with "education" and "understanding", all the world's problems can be solved. Well I call BS! All that is required for evil to triumph, is that good men do nothing. I want to see another "Pat Tillman" rise up out of the ranks of our "sports heroes" and toe the line. I want to see the rich well-educated harvard grads giving back of their education, and leading the "less fortunate" in battle, where their expensive educations will do some good to change the world.
Every one talks about changing the world, Nobody thinks about changing themself. (To paraphrase a dead russian)Posted by Chad at March 7, 2005 06:56 PM
It's definitely not an urban myth. I know a three-tour Vietnam vet who was spit on when returning home.
My son is a USAF TACP and on his first liberty from tech school in 2003 (and required to be in uniform), a woman approached him at a mall and said "You should be ashamed of yourself." Apparently, this sort of thing was not uncommon because he was warned in advance not to "engage" with people of her ilk.