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 Vietnam era peace movement directed its displeasure at policy makers, not at the soldiers. Yet the Gulf War and Iraq War peace movements have each had to defend against mythological charges that peace activism means they don't support the troops, or that they will soon by spitting on them. In fact, by opposing an unjustified war, today's peace movement has demonstrated its high regard for the women and men whose lives are forever changed - or lost - by political leaders too willing to go to war.
While the spitting image is a convenient myth for some to exploit during a war waged simultaneously with a presidential election, neither its convenience nor its frequent repetition make it any more true.
...A 1971 Harris poll conducted for the Veterans Administration found over 90 percent of Vietnam veterans reporting a friendly homecoming.
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