February 4, 2007

A Lot of People Need to Start Walking The ‘No Spitting on Viet Vets’ Claim Back, and Quickly

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 9:38 am

Follow-up – 4:30 PM: ‘Spitalize This’ Update: Jerry Lembcke’s ‘Search for Evidence’ Appears Not to Have Gone Very Far

Second Follow-up – Monday Feb. 5: ‘Spittle-ize THIS’ Update: (copy of first follow-up post carried into Feb. 5 for visibility reasons) Jerry Lembcke’s ‘Search for Evidence’ Appears Not to Have Gone Very Far

This is the spittin’ image of a bogus controversy.

The claim is that the stories of Vietnam War veterans being spat upon when returning home, or when found out to be vets during the years following when they returned home, or being spat upon during the Vietnam Era simply because they were in the military, by those opposed to the war, is an urban legend.

There’s at least one very big problem: Bob Greene’s 1988 book (The Homecoming; HT a Coutercolumn Commenter via Instapundit) says that the original “spat-upon” claims are very valid, and supported by oodles of evidence:

“Were you ever spat upon when you returned home to the United States?” asked syndicated columnist Greene of the Vietnam veterans among his readership. He received over 1000 letters in reply, many recounting specific details of just such a painfully remembered incident. Evidently this recollection of “hippies” (as they are often called in the letters) spitting on combat veterans has become one of the war’s most unpleasant, enduring images.

Among the apology-owers are the authors of this local post (“The Spat-Upon Veteran Myth”) and this one (“Bill Sloat: Ace News Hawk, or Modicum of Credibility?”). Both gentlemen clearly are talking about more than just one veteran’s remembrance in their posts. Guys, even if Bill Sloat’s memory of specifics isn’t up to your standards, you’ve got Bob Greene’s 1,000 letters to work on debunking. Oh, and I already know of Bob Greene’s sordid downfall, but if you’re going to claim that it matters, you’re then going to have to explain how it would affect his ability to read and record the content of letters. Good luck.


UPDATE: Oh guys, when you get through Greene’s 1,000 letters, mosey on over to Blackfive (post and comments), Countercolumn (post and other comments), Dan Riehl, and Jawa Report. Then explain how this story ended up on the CBS Evening News.

Are y’all ashamed of yourselves yet?

UPDATE 2: Game, set, match …. SKUNK (HT Instapundit updating). The “we were wrong, we’re sorries” are officially wayyyyy overdue, and will be cheerfully accepted as lapses in judgment by those involved, at least one of whom is too young to have any memory of the time period involved.

UPDATE 3: Jim Lindgren at Volokh makes a good point about newspaper report availability in the pre-online news database age (i.e., roughly 1980 and prior), which is also supported by someone who directly e-mailed me — “Lembcke says he examined more than 400 newspapers, I believe. How could he do that? Most were not online. I think the earliest electronic libraries began in the early 1980s, and they did not include prior year paper clippings …..”

UPDATE 4: Some recall of what America was like from 1974-1980 would be appropriate, especially in light of the 2005 Slate piece by Jack Shafer, where lead debunk-attempter Jerry Lembcke is quoted saying:

If spitting on veterans had occurred all that frequently, surely some veteran or soldier would have called it to the attention of the press at the time. … Indeed, we would imagine that news reporters would have been camping in the lobby of the San Francisco airport, cameras in hand, just waiting for a chance to record the real thing—if, that is, they had any reason to believe that such incidents might occur.

Quick points:

  • As many of the Blackfive commenters have noted, returning vets were largely not interested in getting noticed, and had such contempt for the spitters that they didn’t wish to do anything to dignify their existence or give them more visibility.
  • Once Vietnam War support had eroded and the “baby-killer” protest movement had made its mark, there was a (largely accurate) perception that there would be no sympathy on the part of the press for stories of soldiers being spat on.
  • Lembcke, of course, doesn’t know whether a soldier attempted to get visibility for his story and was rebuffed. His ignorant and automatic assumption that “news reporters would have been camping in the lobby of the San Francisco airport, cameras in hand, just waiting for a chance to record the real thing” is very likely 180 degrees wrong — The TV cameras would just as likely to have been waiting to see a soldier lose his cool and pulverize a spitter so they could have “soldier out of control” headlines. It’s not exactly a secret that a large portion of the press turned against the war and its participants with a vengeance and has never let go to this day.
  • Also, I suspect that Lembcke’s search would not have included op-ed columnists. It would be interesting to see if Cal Thomas, Pat Buchanan, Bill Buckley, James Reston, Jack Anderson, or some of the other leading pundits at the time ever came across a soldier who had been spat on. There were also many more local op-ed columnists at the time who were likely outside the scope of Lembcke’s search.

But the largest point is this — from 1974-1980, (almost) NOBODY wanted to talk about the Vietnam War, its outcome, or those who had served. Not Gerald Ford after Saigon fell. Not, as I recall, any major candidate in the 1976 presidential race. Not Jimmy Carter after he became president (except for a respite to grant amnesty to draft-dodgers, which must have sent many who had served further into their shells; (UPDATE, 2PM — And let’s not forget that Hollywood took advantage of the void by developing the image of the returning Nam vet as a mentally unstable, stressed-out, dangerous head case). It was largely the collective consciousness that “it was a big mistake, and there’s no use talking about it. Let’s forget about it and move on.” In Japan to this day, there is almost nothing in the museums about the period from 1931-1945; for a time, this nation was giving Vietnam the same treatment.

So would I be surprised if Lembcke actually did look at 400 newspapers, and actually did find nothing? Not really. Talking about Vietnam didn’t become even marginally acceptable again until Ronald Reagan characterized it as a “noble cause” in August of 1980 during the presidential campaign (“It’s time that we recognized that ours was in truth a noble cause.”) — a statement that the press regarded as a serious gaffe but which in reality contributed to Reagan’s comeback from way behind in the polls to his convincing defeat of Carter in November.

In light of the history, why would I be surprised if the spat-upon stories really didn’t start appearing until 1980? And are the stories false because they were suppressed for so many years? Of course not, and the detailed accounts being posted at blogs and in comments during the past few days serve as ample proof of that.


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  1. This post is silly.

    The fact that a right-winger has some letters proves nothing. As Jerry Lembcke’s exhaustive research has shown, these stories become popularized about ten years too late — and what’s amazing is that there is not any evidence to prove that any of them are true. Not one piece of evidence, despite the thousands and thousands and thousands of alleged incidents.

    What a coincidence!

    The spit-myth just made On The Media:


    One link goes to Hullabaloo’s coverage of my blog post.

    Ashamed of yourself yet?

    Comment by The Dean of Cincinnati — February 4, 2007 @ 7:39 am

  2. #1, Dean, you are embarrassing yourself, and worse, and it is indeed a sad sight to behold:
    - You would have to show that EVERY ONE of the Bob Greene letter writers, who independently decided to tell their stories to him, is lying. (Greene is/was far from being a conservative, BTW, and anyone who read his columns as I did can attest to that.) It should be noted that the Greene book was written before there would have been *an agenda* of some kind, and if there was, Greene would have been among the last guys selected to carry it out.
    - You would have to prove everyone among the dozens at Blackfive telling stories with plenty of details to be liars. You will also see plenty of very plausible explanations as to why there was *no evidence*.
    - You would have to prove the guy who was on CBS in 1971 to be a liar.
    - You would have to prove that the guy at Daily Pundit who said HE WAS A SPITTER HIMSELF is a liar.
    - That is just a warmup. I could go on, and on, and on…. How many thousand (not *some*) are *enough*, Dean?
    In the radio segment, even your pal Lembcke said he cannot prove that spitting instances did not occur. He also totally does not get (IMO, he pretends not to get) the interplay between enemy motivation and their perceptions of how united or divided their opponent is. He also does not get that the early-1980s Rambo riff about being spat on worked in the movie because the audience ALREADY KNEW from what they read, heard, and in some cases experienced in the dozen or so years leading up to the movie that plenty of *spat upon* incidents occurred.

    One of the guys at Volokh did a good job of addressing the *first started to appear in about 1980* issue, and it has to do with the appearance of online Dbases for the first time at about that time. Anything older would not be showing up in searches.

    You cannot even hope to debunk the litany of items above, and you should be smart enough to know that. Give it up, pal; I am not the one who should be embarrassed and ashamed. I find it very disappointing that in the face of overwhelming evidence, you are still going down this road. This is not about some right-wing cabal that is supposedly rewriting history; this is about a bunch of people who have real experiences to report, and have in the past, and have now, reported them.

    You originally said there is not any evidence; now you should admit there is plenty, say *I was wrong, I am sorry,* and walk away from it with your credibility intact.

    There is nothing wrong with being wrong. There is plenty wrong with being wrong, knowing in your heart that you are wrong, and not owning up to it.

    Comment by TBlumer — February 4, 2007 @ 10:12 am

  3. Very nice Tblumer!

    Dean of Cincy should change his name to Dunce of Cincy!

    I don’t need to read any letters one way or the other.

    Being very active with some Vietnam Veteran groups in the Cuyahoga County area and being personal friends with some of the Swift Boat Vets, I can find many victims of being spit on.

    In fact maybe Dean would like to talk to the several Vietnam Vets that sold their uniforms before coming home. Why? They did not want to be spit on!

    Maybe Dean would be interested in talking with the Vietnam Vets that were shunned by WWII vets. He could hear how they were DENIED membership to many VFW’s upon returning home.

    Looking at the faces of these ‘Nam Vets when they tell their stories is heart breaking. You can see how it still torments many of them.

    The only Urban Legend about the Vietnam War is that John Kerry served proudly!


    Comment by King — February 4, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  4. #3, Thanks, King. Guess I will just have to add you to the *Liars Club* list Dean is accumulating. I do not think there is a hard drive big enough to store all the names of the people he has to believe are liars. :–>

    Comment by TBlumer — February 4, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  5. When I was in the military in the mid 70′s, it was common knowledge that you didn’t want civilians to know your occupation, because there was no telling what they would do. All the white guys were jealous of the black guys, because they would put “dipidy-do” in their hair and squish it under a hair net during the day, and at night they could wash it and “fro” it out and no one would know they were military.

    Finding girls that would date a white guy with military short hair in the 70′s was rough.

    This pre-dates the 1980′s supposed myth.

    Comment by Dennis — February 4, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

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