But one needn't oppose the war to find something morally unseemly about the strict enforcement of the regulations barring any images of the reality behind these numbers we keep hearing on TV. There is some problem of accountability here, of putting on airs of national sacrifice and not having the courage to risk the real thing, some dark echo of the Rumsfeldian penchant for 4th generation, high-tech warfare where data transfers and throw weights replace bodies at every level.
Of course, the rationale for this policy of barring these images is that to publicize them would be an invasion of the privacy of the families. And certainly if the issue were one of barring photographers from private funerals, perhaps that notion would have merit. But the idea that the privacy of the families is advanced by barring any sort of public grieving and witnessing of these sacrifices just seems ridiculous on its face -- especially when we are often talking about rows of anonymous flag-draped coffins.
For any sitting president, photos of coffins are obviously a potential PR disaster
The fact is, there is absolutely no record of any peace activist taunting or spitting upon returning veterans. It is myth, and like most myths it is hard to dislodge.
In 1995 sociologist Thomas Beamish and his colleagues analyzed all peace movement-related stories from 1965 - 1971 in the NY Times, LA Times, and SF Chronicle (495 stories). They found no instance of any spitting on returned troops by peace movement members, nor any taunting. Indeed, they found few examples of negative demonstrations involving returning troops of any kind, or even of simple disapproval of returning soldiers. Three years later, sociologist Jerry Lembcke conducted a similarly exhaustive study for his book, The Spitting Image, with like results. He discovered war protesters being spat upon by war supporters, and hostile acts toward Vietnam veterans by conservative, pro-war groups like the VFW, but no taunting or spitting on returned veterans by peace movement members. Returned veterans and in-service GIs were welcomed in the peace movement, and many assumed leadership roles. Yet the myth endures
Cultural myths are often created in a collective fashion over time, as such they represent widely shared values in the group. But myth making is seldom divorced from the politics and power struggles that are always present in society. That is, some myths are created or perpetuated to serve the particular political interests of subgroups. Similarly, some general cultural myths may be reconstructed to serve special interests at the expense of the common good. Myths also help us deal with events that don't fit our world-view. How could a superpower be defeated by a small, "primitive" country? The spitting myth helps redirect that responsibility to an unsupportive peace movement at home.
The Rules of Engagement vary from war to war and battle to battle, but in Vietnam the rules were designed to minimize civilian casualties, very much at the expense of the GIs. When you don't use suppressive fires, the enemy has a big advantage. There is nothing but what the GI has with him to keep the defenders from killing the attackers.
I was talking to Mark Berent, a retired Air Force fighter jock and bestselling author (Rolling Thunder, Steel Tiger), bemoaning the fact that our GIs were called "baby killers" when they lost so many trying to avoid civilian casualties. "I'd say at least half the casualties on the Wall were a direct result of our efforts to avoid civilian casualties."
"I'd say all of 'em," Mark replied.
From an Air Force perspective we could have turned all of Vietnam into blasted earth and dead people and not lost a man.
Dan, from Allentown Pennsylvania said he was also attacked, “I was attacked by 3 different people, 2 at the same time... I was also called ‘baby-killer’ throughout the day.”
Syndicated columnist Bob Greene heard the stories about anti-war protesters abusing Vietnam veterans, and wondered if they were true. He asked his readers to tell their stories, and then he checked them out. Despite denials from the Left, Greene found that protesters and others did, indeed, spit on and abuse returning veterans.
Some of the postings contained expressions of hostility against Shafer and me that writers debunking, say, the "hookman legend" would never receive. The volume and vehemence of the defense of the spat-upon veteran stories, in other words, suggest that there are some deeply cultural elements at work in their telling.
I cannot, of course, prove to anyone's satisfaction that spitting incidents like these did not happen. Indeed, it seems likely to me that it probably did happen to some veteran, sometime, some place.
In February 1991, I was asked to speak at a college teach-in on the Persian Gulf War. My presentation focused on the image then being popularized in the press of Vietnam-era anti-war activists treating Vietnam veterans abusively. Drawing on my own experience as a Vietnam veteran who came home from the war and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), I called the image of spat-upon Vietnam veterans a myth.
Remembered as a war that was lost because of betrayal at home, Vietnam becomes a modern-day Alamo that must be avenged, a pretext for more war and generations of more veterans. Remembered as a war in which soldiers and pacifists joined hands to fight for peace, Vietnam symbolizes popular resistance to political authority and the dominant images of what it means to be a good American.
Karl: This is some of the best stuff yet! I want to print out your questions and respond as best I can to those, first. Then, take a second look at the thread and see if there is some place for me to enter the discussion. Back to you as soon as I can--and thanks.
I appreciate y2Karl’s invitation to join the discussion over spat-upon Vietnam veterans. The topic is of more than historical importance, since a year ago “support the troops” rallies regularly tried to dampen opposition to the war in Iraq by associating the current anti-war movement with that 60s ilk that spat on our boys when they came home. During March and April of 2003, stories circulated in several communities about today’s service personnel being spittled just like the Vietnam vets supposedly were. Reporters following-up on those reports in Burlington, VT, Ashville, NC and Spokane WA found no support for them.
y2Karl has done a good job of referencing what I’ve written on this issue, making it doubtful that I can do more than reiterate a couple of points that are fleshed-out in those other pieces.
One thing to keep in mind is that no one can prove a negative. I can’t prove that no Vietnam veteran was spat on and I have never claimed that I could. Nor, in response to David Dark, to I construe, in any way, my own spitless homecoming experience as evidence for my argument. I can tell you that I’ve never found any material corroboration for those claims such as photos or news reports or even claims made in the day that such events were occurring. And note that stories of spitting are often accompanied by charges that “we were hit with eggs” and (re lola’s posting) “the protesters carried signs calling us `baby killer.’” While spit on a uniform might be hard to photograph, eggs and signs are magnets for photojournalists. To make that point, I included in my book, THE SPITTING IMAGE, news photos of an anti-war activist with egg on him and protesters with a placard reading “We like soldiers, we don’t like war.” While I can’t say there is no photo of a protester holding a “baby killer” sign, I do believe that, had they been part of the protest repertoire, we would have no trouble finding an example in the newspapers from those years. I have never seen one.
The burden of proof for the spitting stories lies with those who claim it did happen. And, contra postings by Joaquim and David Dark, thirty-year-old accusations that protesters spat on GIs are just that—accusations, not evidence. Saying, as I do, that, if you want me to believe someone’s story I need to see some corroborative support, is very different than calling that person a liar.
But as y2Karl suggests, the myth is not about the veracity of one, two, or even a handful of such stories. The myth is the betrayal narrative for why we lost the war, i.e. that we lost because of betrayal at home. The spat-upon vet stories function in our culture the same way the stab-in-the-back stories functioned in inter-war Germany—to help construct an alibi for the war lost and a cause for the repression of dissent at home.
y2Karl speculates that women are often identified as the spitters in the stories because that provides an alibi for why the victim didn’t punch the lights out of the assailant. He’s right that most of the stories indict women or young girls as the perps and he might be on to something with his attempt to understand that. What I did was put the spitting girls together with similar stories from other studies of lost-war cultures to deepen the clue as to where such tales come from. My chapter “Women, Wetness, and Warrior Dreams” waxes Freudian in an attempt to understand these tales as emanations from the subconscious of defeated male warriors.
There came a point in my research where the absence of evidence supporting the claims of spat-upon veterans, or even evidence that such claims were made during the war years, forced me to recognize that imagination plays a prominent role in their origin. In pursuit of that idea, I was led onto a Freudian path by Klaus Theweleit’s book MALE FANTASIES in which he examines stories told by German veterans of WWI with similar images of female spitters. I borrow on Theweleit to suggest that the loss of war is experienced by some men as a loss of manhood and, rather than acknowledging the superiority of the real enemy, they subconsciously scapegoat civilians at home (and civilian culture) for their defeat and image that home-front enemy as their gender opposite, female. For the “wetness” in the chapter, you’ll have to buy the book.
These are important issues because of the comparisons being made between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam (worked to death in the media last week). The subtext of that comparison is whether or not the country will rally around the flag this time or sell-out the mission again and spit on the troops when they come home. The stories of spat-upon veterans construct a false issue that deflects attention from the politics and economics of the war itself.
We shouldn’t filter our support or opposition for the war in Iraq through the lens of Vietnam nor should we conflate the means and ends of war by using the soldiers themselves to justify the positions we take, pro or con, on the military mission.
Viet Vets getting spit on is a myth? Wrong, stud! My group of GI's had to be escorted through the San Francisco airport by cops. The "Long Hairs" were like a mob and were throwing bags of feces on us, eggs, & other trash at us. All the while screaming at us. One thing that still to this day stands out in my mind was this girl, filthy, sandals, the whole bit, was holding this dog in an American flag and she was giving the dog a blow job. And then she spit at us. Other people in the terminal were cheering this hippie trash as security cops surround us. ...So don't tell me, backaroo, about "myths."
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