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Author Topic: Vietnam vet revives "we were spat upon" story
'lance
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posted 21 April 2005 02:39 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
(Note: posted under "culture," not "USA," because this is about urban legends).

This morning, I saw a brief TV interview with a man named Michael Smith, who'd spat tobacco juice on Jane Fonda at a book signing. Here's the story.

"Because of Jane Fonda," Smith said on TV, "most Vietnam veterans were spat on when they returned. When I arrived at San Fransisco airport, people were lined up to spit on us."

It's a familiar story, and it will probably be much discussed in the weeks to come. Trouble is, there's absolutely no evidence for it.

quote:
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 (click here to buy it). 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.

...

Of course, the myth of the spitting protester predates the Rambo movies, but how many vets--many of whom didn't get the respect they thought they deserved after serving their country--retrofitted this memory after seeing the movie? Soldiers returning from lost wars have long healed their psychic wounds by accusing their governments and their countrymen of betrayal, Lembcke writes. Also, the spitting story resonates with biblical martyrdom. As the soldiers put the crown of thorns on Jesus and led him to his crucifixtion, they beat him with a staff and spat on him.

Lembcke uncovered a whole lot of spitting from the war years, but the published accounts always put the antiwar protester on the receiving side of a blast from a pro-Vietnam counterprotester. Surely, he contends, the news pages would have given equal treatment to a story about serviceman getting the treatment. Then why no stories in the newspaper morgues, he asks?

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?


I'm willing to bet that a credulous press won't press Smith for any supporting details of his story -- or, if they do, it'll collapse.

Please note: urban legends can be true, or at least contain a kernel of truth. This might have happened during the Vietnam War; there's no way to prove it didn't. But there's no good reason to believe it did, either.


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Hinterland
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posted 21 April 2005 03:27 PM      Profile for Hinterland        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, since we're on the topic:

Newt Gingrich sorry for comments about Canada

quote:
WASHINGTON - Outspoken American conservative Newt Gingrich has apologized for saying this week that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the United States from Canada.

Gingrich, a former Republican speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, retracted the comments on Wednesday after Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna sent him a letter.


I remember this being debunked very shortly after 9/11 (...and I won't even bother trying to guess what the motivation was for ever suggesting it in the first place,...well, Ok; American xenophobia), but I was shocked nonetheless to see that this falsehood is still circulating among people you'd think would know better.


From: Québec/Ontario | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
thwap
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posted 21 April 2005 04:19 PM      Profile for thwap        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That's bloody true. Why would no wound-up serviceman have hauled-off and bashed someone who spat at them?

And how did Vietnam vets come home from Vietnam? Wouldn't they have landed at a military base? If not, what the fuck, ... the goddam hippies found out when the next flight from Hawaii carrying guys from Vietnam was coming in so they could show up and spit at them?

The narcissm is mind-bogglin'.

I still hear this shit.

oh and great googly-moogly! ain't it the case that its that fukker's hero g.w.bush sending the current crop of chummps to get cancer from DU-contaminated Iraq, ... ain't it his fukkin' political party that's treating soldiers like cannonfodder and utter shit?

didn't the left spend a lot of time trying to reach out to servicemen too?

etc.

[ 21 April 2005: Message edited by: thwap ]


From: Hamilton | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Crippled_Newsie
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posted 21 April 2005 06:26 PM      Profile for Crippled_Newsie     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by thwap:
And how did Vietnam vets come home from Vietnam? Wouldn't they have landed at a military base? If not, what the fuck, ... the goddam hippies found out when the next flight from Hawaii carrying guys from Vietnam was coming in so they could show up and spit at them?

The mode of transport varied depending on how late in the US involvement a soldier came home-- and sometime, whether he was an officer or an enlisted man.

My step-father was Army enlisted and was shipped to Saigon in 1967 aboard a regular United Airlines flight that originated in the International terminal at a civilian airport in San Diego. He came back in '69 the same way.

Officers oftentimes could get a ride on an Air Force flight, and those generally landed at airbases, or at a separate military area of civilian airports.

Late in the war, United pulled out of their contract to fly military personell in-country becuase the situation on the ground was too precarious. After 1971 or so, most soldiers came home on military transports and arrived at secure airbases.

Just to add step-father's single experience to the mix: he never saw a protester, but he did see military families holding 'Welcome Home" signs.

[ 21 April 2005: Message edited by: Tape_342 ]


From: It's all about the thumpa thumpa. | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 21 April 2005 06:40 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
My step-father was Army enlisted and was shipped to Saigon in 1967 aboard a regular United Airlines flight that originated in the International terminal at a civilian airport in San Diego. He came back in '69 the same way.

I think this was fairly common, at least until late in the war as you say. A man could be in a combat area one day, then back home in Anytown USA thirty-six or forty-eight hours later. The suddenness of the transition contributed to the difficulty many vets had in re-adjusting to civilian life -- or impossibility, in many cases.

quote:
Just to add step-father's single experience to the mix: he never saw a protester, but he did see military families holding 'Welcome Home" signs.

The story's been discussed on the usenet group alt.folklore.urban, at least twice: here, and here. Veterans including Vietnam veterans have contributed. None of them experienced being spat on, or knew anyone to whom it happened.

Edited to add:

Note the unusual strength of Michael Smith's claims, quoted above. He said (a) that most Vietnam vets were spat on, and (b) that people were lined up to spit on him.

And this was in an apparently calm interview in his own house, not said in the heat of the moment during his arrest or something. It only fuels my skepticism.

[ 21 April 2005: Message edited by: 'lance ]


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 02 May 2005 12:26 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The historian and Vietnam vet who debunked the myth in 1998 weighs in.

quote:
STORIES ABOUT spat-upon Vietnam veterans are like mercury: Smash one and six more appear. It's hard to say where they come from. For a book I wrote in 1998 I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on.

What I did find is that around 1980, scores of Vietnam-generation men were saying they were greeted by spitters when they came home from Vietnam. There is an element of urban legend in the stories in that their point of origin in time and place is obscure, and, yet, they have very similar details. The story told by the man who spat on Jane Fonda at a book signing in Kansas City recently is typical. Michael Smith said he came back through Los Angeles airport where ''people were lined up to spit on us."

...

The exaggerations in Smith's story are characteristic of those told by others. ''Most Vietnam veterans were spat on when we came back," he said. That's not true. A 1971 Harris poll conducted for the Veterans Administration found over 90 percent of Vietnam veterans reporting a friendly homecoming. Far from spitting on veterans, the antiwar movement welcomed them into its ranks and thousands of veterans joined the opposition to the war.

The persistence of spat-upon Vietnam veteran stories suggests that they continue to fill a need in American culture. The image of spat-upon veterans is the icon through which many people remember the loss of the war, the centerpiece of a betrayal narrative that understands the war to have been lost because of treason on the home front. Jane Fonda's noisiest detractors insist she should have been prosecuted for giving aid and comfort to the enemy, in conformity with the law of the land.


This is an element to the legend I hadn't been aware of:

quote:
Many tellers of the spitting tales identify the culprits as girls, a curious quality to the stories that gives away their gendered subtext. Moreover, the spitting images that emerged a decade after the troops had come home from Vietnam are similar enough to the legends of defeated German soldiers defiled by women upon their return from World War I, and the rejection from women felt by French soldiers when they returned from their lost war in Indochina, to suggest something universal and troubling at work in their making. One can reject the presence of a collective subconscious in the projection of those anxieties, as many scholars would, but there is little comfort in the prospect that memories of group spit-ins, like Smith has, are just fantasies conjured in the imaginations of aging veterans.

So the legend has a built-in defence to thwap's question:

quote:
Why would no wound-up serviceman have hauled-off and bashed someone who spat at them?

Doubtless those who continue to believe in the story would respond that "our boys," when spat on by women, were too gentlemanly/chivalric to hit back.

[ 02 May 2005: Message edited by: 'lance ]


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
N.Beltov
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posted 02 May 2005 02:13 PM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What IS true is that anti-war and peace activists were spat upon in peace marches for many years in THIS country. Just ask any old-timer that walked for peace in the 60's or even 70's. It seems a favourite right-wing trick to accuse their political rivals of the very things the right-wingers did themselves. Call it lack of imagination - which can lead to an inability to see things from another person's point of view.

Imagination. It's a left wing plot.


From: Vancouver Island | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 02 May 2005 02:48 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
< drift >

Heh. Worst I remember from the early 1980s (the anti-cruise missile era) was a few counter-demonstrators from something called the "Association for Peace through Strength," or some such. At one rally they pulled up across the street in a flatbed one-ton truck with several costumed figures on the back of it -- one a Russian bear, one a gyu in fatigues with a Fidel Castro mask, and the like. Their "action" consisted of pointing at us and miming belly-laughs, while the Castro figure pretended to mow us down with a toy machine gun.

A poster of theirs, which I had for years, showed several variations on the peace sign, all enveloping North America. One was in the shape of a noose, another made of barbed wire, a third made up of little missiles all pointed inward, and the fourth I forget. I had to admit, there was some cleverness to it.

< /drift >


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged

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