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May 06, 2005


Harry Arthur

Having made several comments on this subject on an earlier thread, I've got to say that though I disagree with Jane Fonda on many things, no one has a right to spit on her or anyone else just because we aren't in agreement with their viewpoint. This is one of those doors that swings both ways.

Michael (self-proclaimed Viet Nam veteran) Smith's behavior was deplorable, uncivilized and just plain wrong.

If Michael Smith had been listening during his military training (if he in fact was ever actually in the military) he would have picked up the concept that the military's job includes protecting Jane Fonda's right to have and exercise her opinion whether we agree with it or not. Shameful!


Between Lembcke and John Esposito, the ex-HC prof who spent the Nineties arguing that the threat of Islamist terrorism was an illusion and a myth, the faculty at my alma mater haven't covered themselves in glory.


Well, the Right is now telling us we actually won in Vietnam so who's going to spit on a winner?

Patrick R. Sullivan

"Well, the Right is now telling us we actually won in Vietnam so who's going to spit on a winner?"

That's why they were spitting, throwing bags of excrement, bombing post offices, visiting North Vietnam and making Tokyo Rose style radio broadcasts. They hated the U.S. because of its successes. Just as they do Bush today.


Is actual evidence of wet spit required, or can we just stipulate that the idiom "spat upon" incorporates the concept that Vietnam vets were poorly welcomed home and disrespected, and worse? And to make the opposite case regarding how they were treated is not possible?

And no disrespect to HA and CT, and other vets, but isn't it amazing how so many, generally on the political left, cannot stop talking about Vietnam and all sorts of myths associated therewith?

And while I recognize that TM likes to tweak Kerry on this stuff--but look at this testimony--can he perhaps be called a fabulist? A Lt. j.g. serving on a patrol boat in the deep south for four months, and he's an expert on drug usage--except he can't say how many smoke pot or use hard drugs--but he can say the problem is acute. The fact that he refers to "habitual" pot smoking, i.e. addiction, suggests how little he knew about marijuana, but then Kerry's testimony wasn't really factually supported--so this part is par for the course, as well.

And yeah, TM, when is Kerry going to sign that Form 180?

Harry Arthur

No offense taken whatsoever, Forbes. I hold your commentary in very high regard - you "get it". I generally choose not to talk about Viet Nam (though my memories are all good ones) except when I read opinions from people who saw movies or read books and then express their "informed" opinions that are not in concert with reality as I knew it. Personally, I'd rather talk about the future than the past - Social Security, Medicare, taxes, etc.

You are correct, however, that the left very much likes to talk about Viet Nam, quagmires and the like. That was the first theme we heard in Afghanistan and then again in Iraq the first time a little dust storm slowed our advance the slightest bit. I won't go so far as to question their patriotism but I have to wonder when I discern the disappointment accompanying each military success and the smugness accompanying our occasional military failure.

Many of them are still living in the '60s and '70s and haven't come to the realization that we completely reformed and restructured the military from the ground up after Viet Nam in our transition to an all volunteer force. I do talk about today's military because I'm very proud of the dedication and professionalism that I know first hand and that I see every day in the lives and performance of these fine young men and women. We are truly blessed as a nation that they are standing on the wall protecting us.

"And yeah, TM, when is Kerry going to sign that Form 180?" Ditto. He won't because his original discharge was less than honorable.

Peter Jessen

I am a Vietnam era vet, honorably discharged in 1969 after approximately 2 years, 10 months and 22 days of service. I was spit on, although the real deal was the name calling, especially "baby killer," and the silence. A pilot friend, on getting out, was told, not asked, when the interviewer (young) said to him, "Oh, you're a baby killer." He broke his nose and went to Paris to cool off for a year. I wound up state side. Could fly half fare in uniform. I stopped traveling in uniform because of the name calling (some spitting). Without the uniform they would just looked at the closed cropped hair and scowl. When I applied for graduate school the grad students tried to keep me out on the "fact" that I was a baby killer. If a prof hadn't gone to bat for me I would not have gotten in. And although no one dared confrom me face to face, I was told that come the revolution (and they seriously believed a socialist revolution would "soon" take place), that I would be one of the first ones they would have shot. This was not personal, just intellectual business, something that had to be done across the board.

Many of the anti-war vets in DC in the 70s were guys who did not serve in Vietnam but did want extra compensation for having served. My view was that only combat vets deserved extra. In spring 2002, while in a HS class of my last son, Vietnam came up. I corrected a fact. I was asked by students if I was in the service during Vietnam. I nodded yes. They came up and shook my hand and thanked me for my service. First time in the 32.5 years since my service ended. That summer I ran into three guys from California in town for a training camp. We got to talking and each had the same exerience: Spring of post 9/11 we were each finally thanked by people for our service.

Now, why don't you hear about the spitting, etc? Because few vets whine. And who would brag about that? That's not our deal. We mostly grinned and bore it. I am in the VA system for health care. Go to any VA hospital, and check out the medical condition of many of the Vietnam combat veterans. Dispite the amputees and other problems, I have yet to hear someone complain except or the fact that too many are not supporting the guys on the line now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because you don't hear complaints things didn't happen. Most that I know are proud of their service even when it isn't clear to them why they were at war. And most of us who were drafted (if we survived) were of the mind that we would never want to do it again but were glad to have done it.

Note the big difference between soldiers in Vietnam wanting to go home and many soldiers today wanting to go back, including amputees. It is a different military with a different sense of purpose. The country, in my view, will be the better for it as they rotate back to the states. We still need to do better making sure their families are taken care of while they are in combat rotation. Two good places to start would be a GI Bill and GI housing at reduced interest rates for combat veterans.

Harry Arthur

Been spending time in the ol' parallel universe again gt?

Harry Arthur

Sorrowfully, Col David Hackworth has succumbed to cancer at the age of 74, very likely caused by his exposure in Viet Nam to Agent Blue, a less well known cousin to Agent Orange that is thought by some to cause bladder cancer. Hack was a true soldier's soldier who always lead fearlessly from the front. His story is here.">http://www.military.com/NewsContent/0,13319,FL_hackworth_050605,00.html?ESRC=eb.nl">here. May he rest in peace.

Iron Teakettle

First, if Mr. Maguire will accept it, I offer my apology for a witless comment I made last week.

On the subject, maybe I grew up in the wrong neighborhood, but none of us spat on soldiers. We looked up to them and we registered with Selective Service, perhaps with trepidation, but not with thought that we would become war criminals. We looked up to the Marines who came to our (public) high school to administer physical fitness tests.

As for the veterans, the ones I knew were go-getter over-achievers. They were reluctant to indulge a teen-ager's blood-thirsty imagination with war stories, but they were looking to succeed in their jobs and create a family life.


Why worry about Viet Nam when your great President Bush is in Moscow this weekend to honor the triumphs of Stalinist Communism.

Patrick R. Sullivan

"Why worry about Viet Nam when your great President Bush is in Moscow this weekend to honor the triumphs of Stalinist Communism."

Made possible by FDR's communists, such as Harry Dexter White.


"The fact that he refers to "habitual" pot smoking, i.e. addiction, suggests how little he knew about marijuana"

I know plenty of "habitual" pot smokers, i.e. addicts. But yes, I imagine JFKII was always the squarest man in the room.

nikita demosthenes

Remarkable comment, Peter Jessen.

Thank you for your service to your country. Welcome home. We're all free to write good, bad, or silly things on blogs because of the sacrifice of real people like you. This, unfortunately, is a point that the Left never truly internalizes.

-nikita demosthenes


I always suspected that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was a 'political' disorder, but one concocted to explain away the toll postwar neglect took of Vietnam vets. Vets were disproportionatly unemployed or underemployed, for instance; the GI Bill was a joke that would barely (or not even) pay for a State College education; and society in general and employers in particular regarded vets as having 'wasted' their service years.

Not that there weren't veterans who were traumatized by their Vietnam experience. But the idea that all the psychological problems that appeared after the war stemmed from experiences during the war was a convenient cover for not dealing with the then-current mistreatment of veterans.

Ernst Blofeld

The symptoms of what we call PTSD have been observed in just about every large scale modern war. In WWI it was called shell shock; in WWII combat fatigue. Humans don't deal well with the prospect of being violently killed and some percentage will eventually break down. It's frequency is affected by a lot of factors, including primary unit bonding and morale and civilian world support for the ends of the war.


Spencer, have you been getting into Kerry's stash? President Bush STARTED his trip in Latvia, where he spoke forthrightly of the bad bargain of Yalts and how the Baltics did not necessarily see the Soviet reconquest as a jubilee. But don't let facts get in your way. Or do you think V-E Day is no cause for celebration at all?


I did AIT at Ft. Ord in spring of '67 and 1969 to my ets in 1971 at Ft. Ord as well. During those 2 periods I never experienced any treatment that was less than freidnly simply becasue I was in uniform or had close cropped hair. I hitchhiked around CA extensively. I never experienced any recriminations when I said I was in the army. I won't deny anyone's experience but can only say that I never experienced being spit on in uniform or had to endure any hostility.


Well, kiddies, I was sent to Vietnam for my midshipman training cruise and took part in an opposed landing. When I got back to the U.S and got off the plane in San Francisco, I was wearing my uniform. One concerned citizen took it upon himself to spit on me.

The incident did not make the papers.


Well, what else do we expect from anti-American Marxist professors such as Lembcke to declare such things as myth since the only thing Marxists can do effectively and efficently is lie.

Marxists have been using the masses to march in protest against war as a guise to attack capitalism by using politically manufactured lies as their weapon of choice.

The truth is that Marxists are politically manipulating liars, it is in their blood.


I saw it happen. GI in unform, getting spit on his back. At least Jane got it in the face. What goes around comes all the way around.


I did a couple of years post-Vietnam at the Air Force Academy 1976-1978, including a stateside summer assignment at the old George AFB in California. No spitting back then, but we were often encouraged not to wear our uniforms some locations, and I was at the bus station in Amarillo TX traveling in uniform coming back from CA when a Greyhound agent warned me not to go outside because a couple of local youths were stalking me and would probably try to beat me up.

Too much emphasis on spitting stories he said-she said from my perspective - Jane Fonda is a pathetic excuse for a human, but she's not worth thinking about or spitting on, and the idea that spitting on soldiers was a Vietnam era urban myth is a lame metaphorical attempt to deny that Vietnam era soldiers were treated very, very badly by American society.

Lurking Observer

It is inconceivable to me that veterans would be spat upon by the anti-war Left, since they were natural allies.

Similarly, it is utterly inconceivable to me that famine would be deliberately induced, since the ones who would suffer would be the workers and the peasants, the very people who were natural allies of Communists and the agrarian and industrial reformers.

And the idea that this might occur not only in the cradle of Communism (i.e., Soviet Russia, itself inconceivable) is trumped only by the laughable idea that it might then be replicated in other nations, which would surely have learned from their predecessors' mistakes (thus, it could not possibly have occurred in Mao's China or Mengistu's Ethiopia, and certainly not in North Korea).

It is just as inconceivable to me as the idea that ideological opponents who loathed each other would work together. I mean, can you imagine Communists and Nazis being in cahoots? Why, the very idea that, for example, there would be trade in strategic materials or strategic joint planning in dismembering a country is simply laughable, when the two sides could barely stand each other.

In. Con. Ceivable.

Andy Freeman

> I hitchhiked around CA extensively. I never experienced any recriminations when I said I was in the army.

Outside of urban CA, that's to be expected.

CA has been (at least) two states for decades. And, when someone talks about CA and doesn't mention that, I'm always somewhat surprised.

R J Del Vecchio

"Fonda's right to have and exercise her opinion whether we agree with it or not" Sure, no problem with opinions, but some actually consider going to NVN and giving direct support to enemies and contributing thereby to the suffering of American POWs to be quite a bit past offering an opinion. It was reprehensible behavior, and her continued defense of everything she did except getting her picture taken entitle her to the scorn of Vietnam vets and plenty of others besides. Dr. Lembke is a nice guy personally (we've met, I give guest lectures on the war at Holy Cross), but has an agenda. Not many vets were actually spit on or at, but some were, and that was just the most dramatic element of a very poor reception many experienced. I know from my own experience and that of many vets I know well.

Insufficiently Sensitive

"It is inconceivable to me that veterans would be spat upon by the anti-war Left, since they were natural allies."

That's what one would expect to hear from some Inexperienced Leftie Theorist looking to organize the next revolution. Remember that those ILTs in the 60s decided without consultation that members of labor unions would be their natural allies, too. How shocked they were when they went to construction projects to round up some hardhats for the next riot, and got beaten up for their pains.

But my problem is that I took the Lurking Observer as a straight man would, and failed to see his superb irony at first. What he's done in three paragraphs is the finest indictment ever of those ILTs, by exposing what lefties do to the world when they acquired power over others.

A long and happy career of lurking and observing to you, and happy Mother's Day while we're at it.

Billy Hank

USAF sent me thru a special two month graduate course in public communications at Boston University prior to my assignment to SEA. We were required to wear our uniforms every Thursday. One Thursday in November 1967, I was walking to class when a coed walked towards me on a collision course. I moved to step aside and she hacked up a glob of spit. Being shorter, she got only the tip of my chin, throat, and shirt collar. She spun around and ran about 15 yards to a waiting boy and, giggling together, the pair ran away. There had been policy statements through various AF channels that advised us not to respond to taunts, etc. I wiped the stuff off with my blouse sleeve and went on to class.

After 22 months in SEA, I stepped off the airplane at Travis and three days later started graduate classes at USC in Cinema. I had no overt reaction from any of my fellow students, most of whom were virulently anti-war. A couple of the professors were snippy. The real problem was finding any job. "Vietnam Vet" does not sell well in Hollywood employment efforts. After a few years of scratching at the underbelly of the beast, I wound up with the FAA.

Those Boston folks always were trend setters. I don't know whether I'd feel better if I'd chased after her and pounded her and her silly boyfriend. But I will now offer to meet any thumb sucker who says that people in uniform were not spat upon. I'll even let you swing first.


I returned from a tour in Vietnam in 04/69 and got out to attend school. No, I was never spit upon. But I did suffer many other indignities. People at school would think I was a pretty good fellow, until they discovered I wasn't a senior, but a freshman instead. Then you could see the hate rising. Within seconds I would go from being a buddy to being a baby killer. What really got to me was that these were the same people who had been saying how non-judgemental they were. That is when I learned that being a liberal and being well educated does not automatically make one a thoughtful person. I'm thankful I attended an Ag/Engineering school where the vast majority of the student body were pragmatic sorts. If I had gone to UCLA instead of Cal Poly, I would have had to go underground to survive. Thats pretty much what most of us did more or less. We ducked down, kept our mouth shut and made the best of things. I never thought I would ever be thanked for my service. So, after 9/11, it came as a great shock when people started publicly approaching me and thanking me for being a Vietnam Vet. To this day, I am unable to avoid a certain embarrasment when that happens.

Bruce Hayden

I think that maybe a better way to read Kerry's comments about drug use in Vietname and by Vietnam vets is that he working off of 2nd, 3rd, etc. hand information fed to him by his VVAW cohorts, just as he did with his testimony on there being routine autrocities there. The problem was that he made it sound like it was 1st hand info.

I think the one poster had it right - that he has been the squarest peg throughout his life. I am reminded of a skit (SNL?) where Kerry, Bush, and Clinton meet in a bar back then (New Haven?). The later two are trying to get laid. Kerry is clueless. An apparent lesbo (i.e. Hillary) needs an escort home. Kerry is talked into it, while the other two have more important things to do.


To 74 and all the Vietnam Vets who have responded,

As a soldier serving in Iraq, who serves alongside soldiers who likewise served in Vietnam, allow me to tell you all, thank you for your service to your country.

I receive more support and appreciation and gifts and prayers and goood wishes than any soldier deserves. We are the ones who should feel embarrassed. Most of us have it much much easier than what you had to put up with, and few of us have to really put our butts on the line in combat. You guys were and are heroes, and those of us who have followed you learned a great deal about humility, and what it means to serve when few appreciate the service.

One thing more: I think a BIG reason the American people shower us with good will and support is precisely because many of us are ashamed at the way we as a people treated Vietnam Vets. They want to make sure that no soldier ever has to feel like his country is anything but grateful.

So please, know that your sacrifice has made our jobs so very very much easier. God bless you!


Lembke's history is hogwash. His theory that PTSD was developed as a theory to discredit VVAW is laughable, in the that Robert Lifton, the psychiatrist most responsible for developing the theory of PTSD was also a primary supporter of VVAW. In fact, one of the VVAW's main goals (see Kerry's New Soldier book) was to set forth the theory that Vietnam had turned a generation of young American's into mindless killers who would not be able to adjust normally to life back in the United States.


The NY Times ancient archives may be a treasure trove, although budgetary concerns may limit my research.

On the theme that the image of the "psycho-vet" was a creation of the late 70's, how about this story abstract from 1972:

Post-Vietnam Syndrome

Steve stiffened, looked around fearfully, and thought, "These people all look alike. How do I know who's friend and who's enemy?" Then he shook himself, remembering: "They are all your friends. This is Times Square, U.S.A." Eighteen months after a nonpsychiatric discharge following four years Marine combat duty in "the Nam," Steve still suffers unpredictable episodes of terror and disorientation.


My husband was stationed at an army base in the south during the Vietnam War, and we lived in off-base housing, but shopped in the commissary for our food. The main gate was a routine gathering place for college-age protestors dressed in fringed ponchos, sandals, and long hair, and guess what? Being their age, I dressed that way too. But my car had a base sticker in the corner of the windshield identifying its driver as The Enemy, and as I drove through the gate one day, one of the girls yelled something (I couldn't make it out), and spat at the car.

I wasn't a soldier. She didn't spit on me personally. But I certainly recognized the intent.


Aside: Spence must not have read Bush's speech in Latvia. He's settling old scores verbally from WWII. (And doing so eloquently.) This is being sold as an apology and in some ways it is - but one to the Baltic nations.

Ofc. Krupke

I remember reading a book while in college that was a sort of veteran's oral history of the Vietnam War. It had an entire chapter dedicated to dispelling the notion that veterans being literally spit on was some kind of myth.

Can't remember the title, though. I don't think it was Mark Baker's "Nam", which was a similar type book.

Any way you look at it, Lembcke is appalling. "If it didn't make the papers, it didn't happen." Unbelievable.

Ofc. Krupke

I remember reading a book while in college that was a sort of veteran's oral history of the Vietnam War. It had an entire chapter dedicated to dispelling the notion that veterans being literally spit on was some kind of myth.

Can't remember the title, though. I don't think it was Mark Baker's "Nam", which was a similar type book.

Any way you look at it, Lembcke is appalling. "If it didn't make the papers, it didn't happen." Unbelievable.


Can Lembke's Vietnam service be authenticated? After all, VVAW had any number of frauds such as Al Hubbard (an Air Force NCO who claimed to be a B-52 pilot, and who was never in Vietnam) and the people who testified at the Winter Soldier investigation, any number of whom turned out never to have served in the military. I was too young to have served in Vietnam. I have, however, been able to talk to any number of people who did. The overwhelming majority regarded their service as nothing more than as a mostly prosaic interruption in their lives. They served well and honorably, are proud of what they did, and got on with their lives.

Iron Teakettle

On the subject:

One of the Swift Boat Veterans, I believe the gunner in Senator Kerry's boat, related, on the Rush Limbaugh show, late in the Presidential campaign, that he was flying home, in his uniform, and a lady travelling with her children asked the stewardess to change her seat because she did not want to sit with a "baby-killer". And from somewhere, I have an image of war protesters greeting returning veterans as they debarked from their plane with "Baby-killer please, kill yourself not VietNamese".


The left appears now to have adopted pies instead of spittle as a means of expressing opinion. Who can blame Jerry Lembcke for wanting to rewrite history? Roundly abusing the vets when they returned is nothing very much to proud of, except perhaps in the academy where I'm sure it gets a lot of sympathy.

bg Guardino

I'm 55, was anti-war in the 60's, and went to college in New York. I'm not a scholar, but I lived through many of these protests, these are my impressions.

1. Most people in the anti-war movement marched because they were tired of seeing people they knew coming home from SE Asia in body bags.

2. If you were arrested on Federal drug charges in the 60's, you could plea bargain your sentence by becoming a "radical" and reporting on other radicals. The more outrageous the behavior you would report, the lighter your drug sentence would be. The line between "reporting" and "provoking" behavior becomes blurred when you are facing prison time. The experience of seeing someone act vary radical to establish some credibility, then walk around asking people for their first and last names was very common. I knew people who did this.

I don't know anyone who actually spit on soldiers but it was the kind of thing that such people would do to establish credibility.

3. Vietnam era soldiers were not admired by American women. The importance of this in terms of morale has always been underestimated.

G. Hamid

If the comments on this thread show anything it's that the treatment of Vietnam vets upon our return varied from place to place and time to time. I was never directly subjected to disrespect, but I didn't feel my service was particularly appreciated. The important thing was that I knew I did my duty with honor and dignity.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem right to consider the anti-war crowd as monolithic either. It was a strange time. In February '71 I returned from Nam to my parents' home in Princeton, NJ and, a few days later, went to visit a good friend who attended the University. Amazingly, that very night Jane Fonda was scheduled to speak there and somehow my friend talked me into going with him. When we arrived at the event it was standing-room only, several thousand young men (Princeton was still all-male then) were crammed into the hall. After a few minutes someone announced that Fonda would not be there due to illness and would be replaced by another anti-war luminary. Upon hearing this at least two-thirds of the attendees headed for the exits, my friend and I included.

I suppose there's a moral to this story, but I try not to dwell on it. However, to this day, it still makes me chuckle.

George Hamid III 67th Evac Hospital, Vietnam '70-'71


A Google Search turned up many more stories of spitting at a Sean Hannity discussion site:


G. Hamid


I think I speak for all Nam Vets in accepting your heartwarming thanks. It's been 35 years but whenever someone thanks me (it happens every now and then) I get chills up my spine. Believe me, it's never too late.

As for anything good that comes to you because of your service, you not only deserve it, you've earned it. Thank you. This may say it better.


I was in high school then. I and some friends saw a returning soldier get spit on. He walked away; we got arrested.

I have 2 friends who tell of being spit on when they returned home. One tells of a crowd chanting "baby killer" when he got home to NJ.

You know if you don't look, you can't see it.


"Vietnam era soldiers were not admired by American women. The importance of this in terms of morale has always been underestimated."

I assume the author of this posting is referring to women attending college, a small fraction of the female component of population. Because they and males of that cohort are disproportionately represented in published accounts of the period -- itself a skewed representation -- it is perhaps possible to actually believe this.


As I put it in a post on my blog, if you believed what John Kerry and others were saying about our soldiers being monsters who raped, cut of ears, taped wires from portable phones to human genitals, etc., then why in the world would you NOT spit on soldiers? Because you knew it wasn't politically smart? Like those grungy protestors were thinking further ahead than their next joint.

Charlie (Colorado)

Hell, I was spat upon and called "baby killer" during Viet Nam and I was just in high school Junior ROTC.


During the late 60's - early 70's I was a college student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I spent many weekends with friends up in Berkeley. I opposed the war and participated in some minor protests.

I recall at the time hearing criticism of people spitting on vets returning from Vietnam. Those reports always seemed to be second hand and lacking in details, so I was skeptical that they were true.

I believe that most of my fellow students who opposed the war had sympathy, not contempt, for the men in service. It seemed criminal that so many were being killed and maimed to support a pointless war. Without a student deferment, the basic choices for a draft-age male were simple: go to Vietnam, seek asylum in Canada, hack off a toe or do something else outrageous to earn your 1Y or 4F deferment, or go to jail. Given those options, it was hard to blame someone for choosing to serve. Even the gung-ho vets were still viewed more as misguided than despicable. Our enemy was the government that had forced the war on us, LBJ and his henchmen.

There were some hard-core, probably communist, anti-American types in Berkeley who hated everything American and might indeed have spit on returning soldiers. (Jane Fonda’s husband Tom Hayden might have been one of those, I don't know.) They didn’t represent the mainstream of the Bay Area anti-war movement that I knew.

Near the end of the Vietnam war, I paid a few dollars to see Jane Fonda speak at a private home in San Diego. Donald Sutherland was also supposed to speak, but he didn't show up. Fonda described how the war was being automated, how machines continued the killing as U.S. troops were withdrawn. She didn't rail against the vets as baby killers, none of that. She just wanted the U.S. completely out of Vietnam. At the time I agreed with her, and despite my many years as a conservative, and my current contempt for Fonda’s actions in North Vietnam, even now I would probably agree with most of what she said that day.

John Boyle

I posted this comment on the SwiftVets and POWs Bulletin Board before the last election. It says all I want to say about PTSD and the treatment we received after we came home, which was an important part of a carefully crafted psychological warfare operation, make no mistake about it. The revision of that history is another part of the same game. The case histories of abuse, disrespect and marginalization of veterans of Vietnam are legion and irrefutable. Lembke is a Marxist hack propagandist and why any so-called Cathloic college would have him on its faculty is a real question – maybe the Jesuits really have sold out to communism (a/k/a/ "liberation theology"), as has been alleged. And I say that although my late brother was a Jesuit for 50 years!

I commented:

“It was a shock to me how deeply this whole matter (the Kerry candidacy) has provoked me. After seven years of intensive therapy, revisiting all of the horrors of Vietnam and "reprocessing" them (all of them perpetrated by the enemy, by the way, on us and on the Vietnamese civilian population - I was a medic and never fired my weapon) - it was a shock to discover that I had not really "recovered" emotionally as I had thought. Why? Because one of the worst traumas of the entire experience did not happen in Vietnam - and I never knew that until Kerry's candidacy reawakened it all. It happened here, at home - after my war. And it was ongoing. The ringmaster was John Kerry, and now he is back. It is like an Orwellian nightmare - this monstrosity from my worst imaginings is now to sit in the Oval Office?

”A veteran of combat cannot survive intact emotionally unless the larger society validates his sacrifice, the losses he witnesses, and his actions. That is why we have medals and parades and veterans organizations and the VA, etc. This is a very sophisticated idea, and the enemies of this country understand it very well. It is explored at length by psychiatrist Jonathan Shay in numerous books and articles - this necessity for "validation." This was their avenue of attack, and John Kerry was their weapon. In a sense, Vietnam Vets were also used as unwitting weapons against the country they had defended with their lives; by discrediting them, Kerry discredited the foundation of the country. This was the most perverse and demonic twist of all. We who had sacrificed so much for our country were portrayed as examples of the country's alleged evil essence. And there was no other weapon that could discredit us entirely besides another authentic, heroic veteran - because no matter who attacked us, we'd always have each other - unless a Kerry could be found to deprive us of even the harbor of comradeship. And Kerry stepped up: "Reporting for duty!" The crap about protesting the policy but not the soldiers, the crap that ex-Congressman McCloskey repeated on TV last night, is just that. Crap. The warriors are the war. You cannot tell a soldier in Vietnam (or in Iraq) that he's doing good in the eyes of his countrymen, but that his country is evil, his war is evil, his actions are evil. This is what they did to us. Is it any wonder morale in the ranks went to hell late in the war? My God, that was their objective!

”Beware. They will do the same thing to the troops in Iraq. It has already clearly started. And be sure of this. Kerry will not side with the troops or the war. He will lay us open to the same kind of policies that Carter and Clinton used to make us vulnerable, or even helpless, before our enemies. Remember McGovern's admission in the mid-90s about Vietnam: “’We didn't want America to win the war.’”

And I have to add that I am not impressed or interested in anyone's "thanks" now. It is way too late and too many of us have gone to early graves never having been given any break. What I want to know from the American people - not just their pied-pipers in the anti-war mopvement - is where the hell were you when we needed you? Don't come near me now with some limp, shamed hand shake and a self-conscious, fake smile.

Amoral nitwit assholes like Lembke continue on, laying salt into the wounds, now convincing generations who were not there that even about our dishonoring by the ignorant and ungrateful masses we are liars.

Do what you can to make sure it does not happen again to this new generation. Although, in that, you have your work cut out for you.


Having been a soldier from 1969 to 1973, I was particularly gratified to hear my son tell of his experience in 2004 at the Atlanta Midtown Music Festival. Wearing his green t-shirt with "ARMY" stencilled in 18 inch letters, and sporting his Advanced Infantry Training haircut from Fort Benning, this 19 year old (who possesses mad skills with his fists)had his path blocked by an "anti-war protestor", who then spit on my son. Hesitating long enough to say "Aw, hell no!", my son sent the spitter, bleeding from a busted nose, to the concrete with one straight right. A nearby spectator yelled: "Go ARMY!". The policeman who observed it all just smiled as the crowd move on past. I told my son that he had made that coward a hero in that group, and guaranteed him being laid that night, so whether the benefit was worth the risk was in question. My son is now at a forward danger base in Iraq with 3rd ID; I wonder if the uncivil and indecent protestor's family & friends are as proud of what he is doing as my son's are of his efforts for democracy and freedom. One is a patriot by act and sacrifice; the other is willing to accept the gift and spit upon the giver. So, spitting on soldiers still goes on, unreported. I'm glad my son didn't land in jail, and I hope the protestor has his nose permanently bent out of shape as a reminder that not everyone will tolerate bad behavior, even in the name of peace.

Harry Arthur

TomC, which college did you attend at UCSC? I was there at Crown College from '67 to '69.


The whole thing just makes me ill. So many self-absorbed idiots who think they alone possess all knowledge and morality.

Don't try to tell me Vietnam Vets were not spat upon. I know they were. Some Iraq vets have been and, this is a far less tendentious time.

As for Fonda, a little spittle in her face is the least she deserves.


Kudos to your brave son, twolaneflash. And, thanks.

ansi quau

This topic needs much more time and structure than is allowed in this format, but seeing as how that's all we have, here goes...

I went to Viet Nam believing a good deal of the "anti-war" stuff was true. I found it wasn't, and volunteered to say longer, ending up with just under three years and wishing I could have stayed longer. I speak Viet Namese and was in, at one time or another, 18 provinces. I demand all elements of the truth, good and bad about both sides. Could write a book about US and GVN failings, but by any honest standards of criteria, equally applied to both sides, the US/GVN come out way ahead of Hanoi's ideological druids. Some of you would do well to have spoken with some of the ex-VC and NVA I talked with. They'd laugh at the fantasy of a benign Ho Chi Minh and "nationalist" VC. Read Truong Nhu Thang's VIET CONG DIARY; read Doan Van Toai's PORTRAIT OF THE ENEMY; read Nguyen Chi Thien's FLOWERS FROM HELL. Be prepared to have your sad illusions shattered. Be prepared to acknowledge you've been supporting what in essence is a fascist government.
The "debate"-such as it is-about Viet Nam is tainted by entirely mythical illusions such as are constructed by the Lembke, Chomskys and other poor deluded souls who need an imagined holy cause and who resemble people acting out their favorite roles at a Star Trek "Convention." Unlike some vets, I don't condemn all protestors and former "anti-war" types. Some were very, very sincere, and very, very mistaken. Fact is, no one could understand ANYTHING about Viet Nam-and Laos-and Cambodia-and Border areas of NE Thailand, here in the US. The news media failed, academe failed, the US govt. failed. You'd all be better off if you'd had a chance to talk to a Viet Namese rice farmer.
The extremos however are another matter. They must cling to the romantic fantasy of a wonderful Uncle Ho. They've invested too much ego and enjoy parading around in their cloak of pseudo-righteousness just as muscle-men preen and flex at body building contests. It's pathetic. If these people are so pure, so good, so knowledgeable why don't they do anything about what's happening to the Montagnards RIGHT NOW. Check out Montagnard-Foundation.org. Check out fva.org. Check out factfinding.org. Go ahead. Look and see what a cesspool of misery SE Asia is. Economic growth you say? Cool. Only 30 years too late. Viet Nam will never, in our life time, catch up with Thailand in terms of health and per capita income. The three communist countries of Southeast Asia have infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, infant malnutrition rates, about twice the average of four adjoining non-communist countries(Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia). Average life expectancy in the three communist countries about 8 years less than the non-communist ones. This data, circa 2002-2004 comes from that ultra-right-wing wacko outfit, the United Nations. Further, the economic growth cited in the news is not distributed fairly. Rural per capita income is about 30% of urban income.
But the truth isn't as much fun as illusion. The spitting-on-vets question, and Lembke's views on it, are a pathetic joke. Of course people were spit on, if not literally then figuratively by the ludicrous distortions found in tv, movie and written "histories of Viet Nam." (Don't forget Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand's border war where about 15,000 people died fighting communists, many of whom were trained in Hanoi, beginning in 1962.)
Give Eric Hoffer's THE TRUE BELIEVER a read, and you'll see just what kind of poor, sad--and often ludicrous and robotic--type of being the Hanoi defenders are.
Mr. Lembke and others like him would earn a modicum of respect if they'd ackowledge that Viet Nam is a police state, that dissidents are jailed, that it is illegal to openly advocate formation of another poltical party. Read the books written by Duong Thu Huong. She was a long time communist party member and finally saw the charade for the cruel, manipulative farce that it was and is. Ms. Huong was kicked out of the party, and jailed, then put under house arrest. The fva.org website cited above has a very good interview in which she condemns the political thugs controlling Viet Nam. The Hanoi-defenders should also acknowledge that the Montagnards, Khmer Krom, and Hmong minorities are being subjected to ethnic leveling if not cultural genocide. Right now. They won't however, and in good part because, underneath it all, they really don't give a damn about the people of Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia.
And thanks to Dadmanly. Good on you Buddy. You're doing something right and getting rid of that sociopath Saddam Hussein made the world a better place.
Thanks to all who gave it their best shot in Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand. Chao tam biet.


My father, who served as a medical officer during (but not in) the Vietnam conflict, was spat upon in the early 1970s. He wrote about it here.

PTSD is a real medical phenomenon, not a political creation. Veterans of every war have been afflicted with this condition. My father has some experience diagnosing PTSD, and even recognized some early manifestations of it in my younger brother (who is also a veteran). Read more here.

Jack Inman

I returned from VN in July 1969 and was spat upon in the SF airport. Believe me it was a real, despicable behavior that was not uncommon at that time.

One aspect that hasn't been described is the mental condition of a returning combat vet like myself. In a way, I was more scared returning to the states than I was in the jungles of the Central Highlands. In the jungles, I knew what to expect and how to handle it. Not so back "in the world". We lived like animals and under constant strain. I feel that I was fortunate to have another year left in the service upon my return during which I spent 6 months with a group of "walking wounded" to whom I could relate. That and the regimen of being in the Army helped settle me down enough to survive. I think it may have saved my life.

PTSD? Yes. It's not a constant thing, but a recurring thing. Flashbacks, bad feelings, premonitions, dread, fear, any number of misfeelings. But as John Boyle indicates above, much of it was more related to things that happened after returning from the war. Many of the misfeelings are related to feeling "unclean", unwelcomed, unappreciated... just un. It's difficult to describe to anyone who hasn't experienced it. Like I mentioned, it's recurrent, not constant, and there certainly was recurrence during the election cycle.

John Boyle's comments on John Kerry are also on the mark. It disturbs me that to half of the voting US public, it just doesn't matter what Mr. Kerry did to besmirch the honor of those who did their best for their country, all for political gain. To me, every vote for Kerry was yet another round of spittle.

Recently, I have gotten some sincere thank you's from people for my service, and it is gratifying, but there is still a core of anger for how we were treated after all we did. I'm sorry, but there isn't much I can do about it.

Oh, for what it is worth, I disagree with spitting on Jane Fonda. It's assault and should be treated that way. I'd rather that people would simply ignore her, don't buy her books or see her movies. Reduce her to irrelevance. That would be a fitting punishment.

My heart goes out to current soldiers. I know what they are going through and what they will go through when it is over. They deserve all the love and support we can give them. I am so proud of them and they serve us well. May God speed their safe and honorable return.

Thank you for your support,


>TomC, which college did you attend at UCSC? I was there at Crown College from '67 to '69. - Harry Arthur

You want reminiscence? Not sure this is the right forum, but… I started at Cowell in the fall of 1967, graduated in '72. So, we both preceded the undergraduate years of Victor Davis Hanson, but at least I got to meet Ben Stein. Not that I knew that Stein was a conservative, or that I even knew then what a conservative was. Marcuse was at UCSD, but his Marxist politics infected UCSC via the Norman O. Brown set, and of course later through Marcuse’s prodigy, the unangelic Ms. Angela.

It took me a long time to unlearn what I was taught at UCSC.


One thing that strikes me as odd is that there is nobody who remembers both US servicemen being spat on and US servicemen committing war crimes. Since both were apparently commonplace, you'd think that there would be some overlap.


Naturally, everyone's lying then. Because they're not discussing war crimes and spitting in the same paragraph. Riiight.


dsquared - I don't think there's any serious debate that American soldiers committed war crimes in Vietnam, a number of which were the subject of public prosecutions at the time. However, your blithe assumption that war crimes "were apparently commonplace" is something a lot of knowledgeable people would not agree with.

Harry Arthur

dsquared, I think we've plowed this ground before, but if your assumption that war crimes were "commonplace" comes from either LTJG Kerry's fraudulant testimony before Congress or from the so-called "winter soldier hearings" by the VVAW then you really ought to consider looking at the actual facts instead of inuendo, unsubstantiated allegations, and outright lies perpetrated by the VVAW against good soldiers.

It is, for example, a fact that the VVAW coached many of its membership into "recalling" war crimes that never happened in places which they were often nowhere near. It is also a demonstrable fact that many of the so-called "soldiers" who were prominent members of the VVAW lied about their involvement in Viet Nam and in some cases their military status.

Were there war crimes? Yes. Were they widespread occurences as LTJG Kerry testified? No. Were they official (or even unofficial) military policy? Never. Did LTJG Kerry have any personal knowledge of war crimes other than those he himself claims to have committed? No.

an si quau

War Crimes: There were SOME US and GVN war crimes, for which no excuse can be offered. Note that "some" does not mean "a lot," though one is too many. On the other hand, VC/NVA war crimes were common occurrences. COMMON. Routine. They assassinated around 36,000 people, a large number of whom were only teachers, agricultural agents, village chiefs, etc. RVN(South Viet Nam) had an average population of about 17 million during time US involved. Had US(average population around 200 million) sustained a proportional number of assassinations it would have meant over 400,000 people would have been killed, and some in very unpleasant manners: decapitation, burning alive, impalement on a stake running anus to mouth, etc. These assassinations do not include RVN combat casualties. Assassinations only. In addition, another 65,000 or so were abducted; only a fraction returned. Most were probably killed and never found. I personally experienced any number of instances in which allied forces withheld fire or air strikes because too many civilians were in immediate area. VC/NVA never, ever, refrained from firing artillery(NVA arty capabilities increased greatly from 1971 on), rockets or mortars into populated areas. There's a grossly distorted process at work here: US/GVN war crimes are exaggerated and publicized with rather obscene glee. VC/NVA war crimes, far greater in number, are censored out of the debate. Why is this? It is disgusting to see pseudo-"anti-war" people attempt to seize moral high ground yet also see them utterly ignore the death and suffering inflicted by VC/NVA, all the time, everywhere. In addition, Hanoi set the Khmer Rouge up in business. Trained them, supplied them, deployed NVA regulars to fight in Cambodia. No Hanoi, no Khmer Rouge. No Killing Fields. The ever-quick-on-their-feet Hanoi defenders point out Hanoi's 1979 invasion of Cambodia as example of Hanoi beneficence and concern(!) for Cambodian people. Hardly. Their little Khmer Rouge Frankenstein turned on its master and Hanoi would not allow that.
No defense offered for any of the limited US war crimes. I wouldn't stand in line to argue that Calley, et al, should not be executed for war crimes. Simple fact remains: VC/NVA/Hanoi far, far worse. John Kerry is an odious hypocritical liar. He may have been sincere in his earlier beliefs but he knows better now and would, if he were honest, recant. Further, he blocked passage of Viet Nam Human Rights Bill in the Senate in 2002, offering no coherent explanation for his position.
Dsquared is right in asking why there's few that say BOTH spitting and war crimes either occured, or did not occur. Reason: too many people don't know what happened, some don't care, and a number have a poltical agenda which demands they pick and chose, or exaggerate, or invent, their facts to make an argument. The truth is irrelevant to them. Crank and Harry correct in their critique of Dsquared's comments, yet Dsquared, like far too many Americans, has been fed a line, over and over and over again and it's almost impossible for a US citizen to understand what happened in SE Asia because our "historians" and news media have failed abysmally.
Jack Inman's comments on PTSD welcome and agreed with. Question: would PTSD have been less if US society not been, and to some extent remained, so disgustingly infantile and shallow? Self-centered and materialistic? Seems as if it can be argued that nature of what passes for "culture" here made things much, much worse. Did for me. Infuriating to encounter idiots and poltroons on college campus who've never done a damn thing but who feel entitled to pontificate on VN, or anything else. Sad state of affairs.

Harry Arthur

an si quau, not sure dsquared is an American. I get the impression dsquared is either European or living in Europe. No problem with that but it would factor into his/her viewpoint on Viet Nam. That's not a criticism, just a comment, and I may even be wrong.

On the whole I quite concur with your postings on Viet Nam. It actually has the potential to be a very beautiful and prosperous country were it not for its current lousy government. The people, however, as you have correctly said, are fine people by and large. I know several Vietnamese who have settled in the US and they are all hard working, friendly and good people.


If I recall (and I am belly-flopping as a host here), DSquared is a Brit.

And I happened to hit upon a much more charitable interpretation of his comment, which is, it is odd that we will have folks like Lembcke, a VVAW alum, finding no credible evidence that anyone was spat upon, while at the same time, the VVAW had no trouble "documenting" all sorts of war crimes.

Or, I suppose we can find folks at the other end of the memory spectrum.

an si quau

Mr. Harry Arthur and TM: thanks for comments. If Dsquare is Brit the central fact remains that the Soviets, Hanoi, others injected voluminous propaganda into the watertable and it surfaced and was used in ostensible "objective discussion" further down stream all over the world. Hanoi published and sold English language books and pamphlets for US and English-speaking consumption. I don't know the origin but I obtained a thick pro-Hanoi screed published circa 1970 in Mexico, in Spanish. In sum, the entire world was subjected to incessant, brilliant(and deceitful) propaganda for years and its effectiveness is highlighted by fact that it has set the tone for "discussion" on VN today. One of the highest ranking Russian defectors, their UN Ambassador, was told that the war would be won in the streets of America and not in SE Asia. This is documented fact. (His name: Shevchenko. His book citing this comment: BREAKING WITH MOSCOW). When I was younger and uninformed, it was easy, and oh-so-socially-acceptable, to scoff at anti-communists. Come to find out they were right. Moscow was fomenting trouble all over world. China not far behind. Propaganda an integral and vital part of this battle, and sad thing is US Govt proved itself profoundly inept to deal with it. Borders on criminal negligence, which McNamara was certainly guity of, on many counts.
It's discouraging, if not infuriating, to see people such as Mr. Lembke "teaching" the grand myths as fact. Many of our college students are being indoctrinated, not educated.


I am British (as it happens, I spent a little bit of time living in Vietnam in the 1990s, but that is neither here nor there). The point I was trying to make is that what we need here are contemporaneous sources of specific events, for anything. I would regard statements like "A massacre took place at this location on this date, reported contemporaneously by this account" as reliable, statements like "Mr X was spat on by protestors at this location on this date, as confirmed by police reports etc" as reliable and statements like "US soldiers killed babies (where? when? with what consequences?)" or "someone on the internet claims to remember having been spat on, although he did not do anything about it at the time" as unreliable.

I confess to being unable to understand the argument that the Vietnam War was lost domestically. The USA abandoned the Vietnam War because the costs exceeded the benefits. Nothing the domestic protestors could have done would have either made the war cheaper to fight, or made a puppet state in Indochina more worth having.

(Tangentially, I am also utterly at a loss to understand why people on the left who are otherwise entirely rational about the disastrous history of "humanitarian interventions" often make an exception for the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, which certainly made an already intolerable situation for the Cambodian people much worse)

Harry Arthur

dsquared, I honestly don't think we're that far apart. Most of us who believe the war was lost domestically also attribute the loss, at least in part, to the micromanagement of the war from Washington by Robert MacNamara and his "wiz kids" in the defense department, and politically motivated general officers who did not have the moral courage of their convictions to resist bad policies. It was the national command authority who convinced president Johnson that we could escalate our involvement in an incremental manner and that somehow we would win with a body count score like a football game or something.

Though our soldiers really never lost on the battlefield, as Gen Giap once told Col Harry Summers, that was "irrelevant" because the casualties and the lack of real progress in prosecuting the war ultimately caused a failure of will in America.

Thus, though I agree that you are correct in your assertion that "the USA abandoned the Vietnam War because the costs exceeded the benefits" it is the nature of those costs and benefits that we are dancing around. I would just submit that an essential and central element of that cost-benefit analysis was the will of the American people to see the war to a satisfactory conclusion.

Two sides of the same coin really. Sun Tzu in "The Art of War" placed "moral influence" at the top of his list of five fundamental factors of war. He said "by moral influence I mean that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril." I would add an economic component, but when we are talking about losing the war domestically we are speaking directly to the loss of "harmony" (trust, belief in) with our leaders, specifically the president and his advisors. Unfortunately, returning soldiers often were confused for the poor national leadership and American's distaste for those in the white house was transferred to the instrument of the bad policies instead of the instigator.

As for your last paragraph, we are in complete agreement about Cambodia, though I do disagree with your assertion that the left "are otherwise entirely rational about the disastrous history of 'humanitarian interventions." But I think we'll have to discuss that one in a future thread.

Lurking Observer

One of the things to keep in mind, regarding Lembcke, is his claim that veterans being spat upon is an "urban legend."

An urban legend is apocryphal, and "taken to be true," but is, in fact, without evidence. The implication is that an urban legend is not, in fact, true, even if many believe it is.

For Lembcke to claim that vets being apt upon is an urban legend, then, requires that the story not be true. Yet, as we can see even in this exchange of comments at one site, clearly some vets were spat upon (and this is based upon personal experience---FWIW, a good friend of mine was spat upon when he returned from Vietnam). Thus, from the outset, Lembcke is starting from a fallacy.


I don't wish to offend, "Lurking Observer", but from the standpoint of anyone other than yourself, your "personal experience" is their "some guy says on a website".

Lurking Observer


The problem with that view, however, is that it makes "publication" the arbiter of reality. Thus, "Winter Soldier," being collected and published, is more "real" than the experience of a soldier who is spat upon but not interviewed.

In which case, how is one to judge the "reality" of war crimes? If they are published in the state media of North Vietnam, contemporaneously, does that make it real? Does this mean that Germans really did boil Belgian babies in 1914, since that was reported upon by (British, French, and Belgian) newspapers of the day?


Well exactly; the lesson is that history is a difficult thing to do. Lembke is making a very extreme claim when he says that it's an "urban myth", but so are the people who claim that it happened often enough to be symptomatic of a wider tendency in American society, and there are a lot more of them.


...so are the people who claim that it happened often enough to be symptomatic of a wider tendency in American society, and there are a lot more of them.

My Strawman Detector is flickering, as is my "two wrongs don't make a right" signal - *even if* extreme claims of disrespect for vets were being made, that would not justify Lembcke actually getting a book published presenting the opposite fantasy.

Anyway, having spent some time in the NY Times ancient archives, I have found several accounts of anti-war demonstrators spitting on Nixons's Secret Service agents, on DC cops, and on cars carrying guests (including Spiro Agnew and Bob Hope) to the Army Ball in California.

But my personal fave is this, from the Nov 30, 1971 Times:

The Agony of the U.S. Army

...The fact is, however, that the service and many of the things it stands for are taking a bad beating these days. The uniform of its soldiers is spat upon in the streets and its wearers are denounced in public places as "war criminals".

Well, if it is an urban myth, we at least need to move the date of its invention back to the early 1970's.

Of course, there is an alternative theory - the anti-war movement was *not* monolithic, and had a significant division between the non-violent types inspired by Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and a more violent subset (the Weathermen, for example). I'll wager that Lembcke was a non-violence advocate who would like to pretend that all anti-war advocates were similarly non-violent.

Also, a bit more debunking - Lembcke says this in his column - GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops.

Well, yes. A few minutes research clarified this. GIs would fly to a CA military base. Those who did not make their home in California would then go to a regular airport, often San Francisco, for a commercial flight home. (And having learned that, my first reactions was, "duh". My second reaction was, who does Lembcke think he is kidding?

Lurking Observer


The "two wrongs don't make a right" thing first comes to mind.

But that doesn't even quite fit here. An "urban legend" would be every returning soldier was spat upon, in which case, Lembcke's response might be justified. But Lembcke's claim is extreme (NO vet was spat upon) against a counter-claim that is far less sweeping (SOME vets were spat upon).

More to the point, dsquared's comment exactly encapsulates the dangers of the Lembckes. So, in fifty years, when all the Vietnam vets are passed on, there will be books claiming no one spat on the troops, and solely "someone said on the Internet" or "my granddad told me" stories in counterpoint.

Thus, the revisionist version becomes the accepted one....

Lee S. Laslo

I've often wondered about this subject. I've gone from thinking, "wow -- that's messed up," to, "wait a minute..." Has anyone heard of any veterans kicking the crap out of somebody who spat on them? I've spent more than a few years in uniform, and have lots of friends in the military. Based on that, I would think that if a large number of returning veterans had people spitting at them, at least a few of them would at the very least haul off and smack the living crap out of the person(s) doing it, and probably end up in jail for hospitalizing someone, but I've never heard of such an incident. For me, that contradicts the idea that it was a frequent event.


I would think that if a large number of returning veterans had people spitting at them, at least a few of them would at the very least haul off and smack the living crap out of the person(s) doing it, and probably end up in jail for hospitalizing someone...

Well, from earlier in the comments thread we have this:

A pilot friend, on getting out, was told, not asked, when the interviewer (young) said to him, "Oh, you're a baby killer." He broke his nose and went to Paris to cool off for a year.

And a bit later (11:01), Billy Hank tells us that:

There had been policy statements through various AF channels that advised us not to respond to taunts, etc.

Or, elsewhere in this tread, a father describes how his son broke an anti-Iraq protestors nose, and the nearby cop just walked away.

I bet there were some fights, which went as under-reported as the spitting incidents.

Oh, and Lurking - you see right through me. I don't like this revisionist history either but I figure that anyone who Googles on "Lembcke" has half a chance of finding me, too (but not yet...)

an si quau

This is my first venture into one of these cyberspace conversations and must confess to being impressed with caliber of discussion and apparent collective demand for factual content rationally interpreted. Thank you gentlemen(and any ladies as well). Some random comments:
Dsquare's observation that Viet Nam might not have been a "puppet state worth having" is off base. However clumsy and fumbling it was, the GVN was coming along, and they were hardly "puppets." Not saying the GVN was perfect, simply that it was, slowly and clumsily, getting better and, without the war, capable of running the country in a fashion little better or worse than other found in other third world countries. And better than Hanoi. Secondly, America wasn't trying to "have" any state, puppet or otherwise. There was abundant evidence to justify American policy objectives(distinct from implementation). Further, Laos and Cambodia were dragged into this, against their will, by Hanoi's ideological "lebensraum" fetish. If anything, they have become "puppet states" under Hanoi's rule. Hun Sen, current Cambodia leader, is a former Hanoi-trained Khmer Rouge. Laos is run by an embarrassingly inept carbon copy of Hanoi's Party/State machinery.
Also, to give the devil his due, the situation did improve in Cambodia after Hanoi's invasion. People could leave the murderous collective farms and go home, and organized-sometimes frenetic reflexive-Khmer Rouge killing stopped. Available reports suggest Hanoi's soldiers were reasonably civil to Cambodians, though this courtesy not extended Chinese who lived in Cambodia. Still, Hanoi set up a puppet state that routinely tortured people, siphoned off aid for Cambodia and took it to VN. On balance however, Hanoi's invasion did reduce Cambodian people's suffering. The story isn't over however. See website globalwitness.org and its reports on vile corruption between Hanoi and Cambodian communists and their clear-cutting of Cambodian hardwood forests. Global Witness has called this the work of a "mafia government," which is accurate.
Main point: The entire Indochinese peninsula is a wretched mess, people suffer, and it can and will never recover in our lifetimes because of Hanoi's pathetic ideological rigidity and blindness. Overall, from 1945 to about 1990, over seven million people died violent deaths solely because of Hanoi's jihad. What is there to show for it? Nothing. Per capita income well below nearby non-communist SE Asia countries. Higher infant mortality, more malnutrition, massive corruption.
Agree with Mr. Arthur about why war was bungled away. If ever a book is written documenting McNamara's gross malfeasance it will open a lot of eyes. He did many things and made many idiotic decisions that most are unaware of. He ruled out any effective measures to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia, and forbid anyone from discussing this in public venue. No time/space here to go into great detail, but it was a feasible option, certainly BEFORE American public opinion, the most important "domino," threw in the towel. It can be argued that McNamara was and remains guilty of extreme criminal negligence. His recent books show he's not learned a bloody thing since.
Mr. Arthur's Sun Tzu citation worth remembering. Our pseudo-leaders in Washington should have read Sun Tzu, the works of Truong Chinh, Giap, others. They should have listened to those w/experience in and knowledge of VN and SE Asia. They did not and would not. Primary objective was not to win but to "manage" VN in a manner subordinate to domestic policy considerations, i.e. the 1968 election. This is immoral and vile.
Yes, it was domestic opinion that severely limited options as the years went on, but the domestic opinion soured because the US government never forumlated and implemented an appropriate strategy, never explained anything with passion or conviction; the news media was hopelessly ignorant, and American public opinion, and congressional patience, especially the latter, was running very, very low.
One pedantic point of absolutely no significance whatsoever: It wasn't Giap that made the comment to LTC Summers about irrelevancy of US tactical victories, but another NVA officer. This point raised only in deference to demand that history be told as precisely accurate as is humanly possible, every time, all the time, everywhere. Point still valid, whether Giap said it or not, because it reflects Hanoi's thinking and was element in their strategy.
Final note: the "spit-on-vet" urban myth controversy is secondary to another and much more broadly accepted "urban myth:" that's Hanoi's Leninist jihad did anything good for the people of SE Asia, and that, had a proper strategy been designed and implemented, Hanoi's war could still not have been stopped. Latter point always debatable, but it is never debated in coherent terms and information necessary for the debate is excluded and censored out. It's interesting that several Hanoi people have since said that a Ho Chi Minh block and hold operation would have been a disaster for them and they were always worried about this happening.
Once again, thank you all for the rational, informed and intelligent discussion. Nice to see this in contrast to some of the histrionic babble that one too often sees and hears.


Tom, Lembke's claim, AFAICT is not the strong one that "No veterans were spat on" but rather the weaker one that "there is no evidence that veterans were spat on". This would be consistent with spitting being something that had happened a few times (which small number of times might have got blown up by rumour and repetition), but not with it being a very commmon phenomenon.

(I'd note that spitting is assault under UK law and I suspect also under US, so you would have expected to see some arrest records even if the servicemen had exhibited perfect restraint).


Re: Lembke's claim, AFAICT is not the strong one... - don't backpedal on me now, Dsq! Only a few posts earlier, my quest was inspired by someone leaving this comment:

[Vietnam era vets, who were spat on ]

This is as far as I can tell, an urban myth; there have been books written about it. If you personally remember being spat on, then you should get in touch with the author.

As to the low number of police reports, here is an obvious reason for skepticism - put an incident at San Francisco airport in context. A soldier is headed home on leave, or for permanent discharge. Somebody spits on him and disappears into the crowd.

The soldier can (a) spend a few hours chatting with the local gendarmes, miss his flight, and learn more about law enforcement in San Francisco;

(b) say the military equivalent of "the heck with it", and head for home.

(a) has a certain appeal - maybe they can meet Dirty Harry! However, I would expect most people to choose (b).

And that said, just how did Lembcke review police records from all over the country? I have not gotten ahold of his biook yet, so it is a semi-serious question. But I doubt that many records from the 1970's are on computer.

Lurking Observer


THAT one is easy. He had Michael Bellesiles do his research for him, using yellow legal pads to do tick markets.

Oh, and the use of probate records.

Unfortunately, the fire at Lembcke's office washed away all those records....


Nice try.

From a Boston Globe column by Lembcke himself only a week ago comes this claim in his very first paragraph:

"No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on." (Emphasis added.)


Is this Lembcke claiming "no evidence" or claiming "no spitting"? Sure seems like the latter to me.


As I read that column, he's claiming "no contemperaneous accounts of spitting", although on a different reading he might be making the stronger claim "no first-person accounts of spitting" (as in, every time he's tracked down the actual person in one of these stories, it's turned out to be someone else rather than themselves who actually got spat on").

As far as I can tell, he's right (in the weaker claim at least). I haven't read the book either so I don't know how extensive his research into police files was; if someone could come up with contemporary evidence then I would expect him to do the decent thing in exactly the way Bellesiles didn't.

"Vietnam vets were spat on" does appear to me to be an urban myth, in the sense that the widespread belief in this view has very little to do with any evidence for it and a great deal to do with oral tradition; it also appears to me that it seems more likely than not that the actual incidence of spitting on returning veterans has been multiplied by orders of magnitude; I still don't regard it as credible that common assaults on servicemen in uniform could have been regular occurrences, seemly without the police noticing. (Though it is obvious that there is a question here of what we mean by "common occurrence"; even Bob Greene's book turned up very few incidences after specifically asking for them).

Btw, there is one specific first-person (although not contemporaneous) account of a Vietnam veteran having been spat on that I can turn up; Ron Kovic claims in his autobiography that he was spat on while protesting against the war at the Republican Convention in 1972.

Lurking Observer

Lemme get this straight, dsquared:

Lembcke tries to track down people now, and since they weren't written up then, therefore there are no contemporaneous accounts??

How does this make sense?

If he is claiming "no first-person accounts," it would seem that this comments forum alone would prove him wrong---and blow the "urban legend" thing, which he uses again.

But, tell ya what d; I'll bet that one can barely find any reference to "homosexual hate crimes" in newspapers of the 1950s and 1960s. So, since there aren't any "contemporaneous accounts," we can safely assume they didn't happen, right?

And how many "contemporaneous" accounts can be found in the newspapers and news media about pedophile priests from that same period? Must be an "urban legend," eh? (Urban legend being redefined to "not commonplace.")

Remember, accounts NOW are irrelevant, indeed, they merely are part of a dangerous ex post facto revisionism, right?


Whoa, "Lurking" is flying.

I would be easily convinced that accounts of spitting have been exaggerated (as cited in Lembcke's Globe column).

But "urban myth" means (to most of us, I think) more than simply "oral tradition". It means "myth", as in, "not true".

Ron Kovic does assert that he was spat upon.

So does Linda Devanter, Army nurse, in her disqualified, non-contemporaneous account.

She claims that the Army flew folks into the air base at Oakland, and she had to hithhike to San Fran airport. A seemingly friendly hippie type stopped his van, offered to take her bag, spat on her, and drove off.

No license of the van, no police report, she wrote this book in 1983 - probably an invented memory.

Of course, I have not seen Ron Kovic's police report, either.


This discussion is becoming a pissing match (figuratively speaking). I suggested 5 days ago the idiom "spat upon" includes a disrespectful reception--that Vietnam Vets received on their return home. Some are arguing that only physical evidence of saliva or phlegm on a vet's shirt can prove the disrespectful reception assertion. (For those, I guess it’s a good thing Monica saved her dress!)

That there is a debate about the precise nature of returning veteran abuse is to miss the larger truth, by changing the subject to a debate over semantics.

And Lembcke is part of the problem, as TM quotes above:

"My presentation focused on the image then being popularized in the press of Vietnam-era anti-war activists treating Vietnam veterans abusively."

Fine. But it's Lembcke's statement is that the "image" of Vietnam veteran abuse has been "popularized in the press". (Perhaps there's a larger truth, there.)

Lembcke continues:

"After sending troops to the Gulf region in August, the Bush administration argued that opposition to the war was tantamount to disregard for the well-being of the troops and that such disregard was reminiscent of the treatment given to Vietnam veterans upon their return home."

The Bush-41 argument is based on the idea that "disregard for the well-being of the troops...is reminiscent of the treatment given the Vietnam veterans on their return home." This treatment, perhaps, suggests the idiom "spat upon", but it's impied by the reader, and not explicitly stated by Bush-41.

But Lembcke introduces literal "spitting on" as the straw man argument in need of defeat:

"By invoking the image of anti-war activists spitting on veterans, the administration was able to discredit such activism and galvanize support for the war."

But it’s Lembcke’s invention of the “image” of “spitting on veterans” by equating anti-war activism with “spitting”, and not any “invoking” by the Bush-41 Administration. Bush-41 suggests what someone might infer as the idiom "spat upon"--disregard for the troops--but not actual "spitting".

And it's a terrible argument--that discrediting “spitting” galvanized support for the Gulf War. Anti-war activists that disrespect military personnel are not suddenly going to support the war because the President, or anyone else, has suggested that spitting (literally) is beyond the pale of civic discourse. This is Lembcke’s argument, and it’s laughable.

(For credibility--I was eligible in the final Vietnam Selective Service lottery, which drafted no one, so I was not old enough to be taken (not 19 a year earlier), but old enough to remember the highly charged atmosphere surrounding Vietnam.)

As for dsquared, what you do (or don't) understand about common (or not) occurrences, can be summed up by asking: "If a tree falls in the wood, and no one hears it..." Lembcke is involved in historical revisionism. What’s your excuse?

(As a suggestion in time travel, go watch “Miracle”, the 2004 theatrical release of the story of the 1980 Olympic hockey team for a visit back to the world of 1979. Most people have trouble remembering how miserable things were in 1979—much less a decade earlier.)


Very interesting - this paper (if I am following) was first presented in 1992, and then revised. It deals with 6 myths that came out of Vietnam, which include hypervirulent veneral disease, Viet Cong being tossed from helicopters, soldiers being spat upon, and more.

The author is John S. Baky, the title is "White Cong and Black Clap: The Ambient Truth of Vietnam War Legendry".

And yes, Linda Van Devanter gets mentioned as a possible popularizer of this myth.

In addition to a bit about his service in Vietnam, we learn this about him:

John Baky left active duty, obtained a masters degree in Library Archival Management and is Director of Libraries & Research, LaSalle University, Philadelphia. He lives in Gladwyne, PA.

And if you Google on John Baky, you get taken to some blogs in the summer of 2004 who were promoting Dsquared's vision of the spitting as a myth. I would guess that, if this be revisionism, it has taken hold.


Tom: I think "urban myth" has a broader scope. It is a fact that poisonous spiders have been imported into the country with fruit, but most people who talk about the incident as if it happened to someone they know are doing so because of the myth. Similarly, when you get quotes like the one in the Slate article that claims

"Lt. Col. Conrad C. Crane ('74) watched on television here as the war wound down, a time he remembers as "almost a siege mentality" at West Point, when cadets could not wear their uniforms off campus for fear of being spat on." (Crane, or someone claiming to be him who I have no reason to disbelieve, apparently commented to Slate that he had personally been spat on, though he didn't really seem to give a ringing endorsement to this quote)


""When the WWII guys came back," Baker adds, "they were able to talk about the war. With Vietnam, vets had to change their clothes in the bus station because people would spit on them.""

then there is clearly more myth than reality unless Lembcke is wildly wrong.

Linda Van Devanter's account is not just "not contemporaneous"; it postdates Bob Greene's book (it also postdates by a year the film "First Blood" in which the Sylvester Stallone character claims to have been spat on). It's not necessarily made up (interestingly, she isn't mentioned in the index of Lembcke's book according to Amazon "look inside" which seems like a strange ommission), but it is difficult to put too much weight on it given the gap between event and account. I would say the same about Kovic, whose book was also written years after the event (although in the book, again thanks to Amazon, Kovic claims that a "newsman" witnessed the incident, so there might be some chance of contemporary confirmation)

Tom, Forbes and Lurking: I object quite strenuously to being accused of "historical revisionism". The very matter at issue is the absence of a historical record to revise. As far as I can tell (not much), he had two research approaches; first, looking through newspaper cutting files (or more likely, the dreaded Lexis Nexis) to see if anyone mentioned it at the time, and second, looking up the people mentioned in Greene's book and asking them "did this happen to you, or are you reporting something that happened to somebody else?". This is a valid research approach, and until someone comes along with conclusive evidence the other way, he is entitled to his conclusion, and anyone else is entitled to be convinced by him rather than by Bob Greene. It really is quite insulting to imply that the evidence on your side is so conclusive that anyone who disagrees with you must be doing so in bad faith.

On one specific point of Lurking's, I will bet serious money that I can dig up all manner of court records and newspaper reports of what was called "queer-bashing" back in those days. The young man who was both a witness/victim in a case of criminal assault and the accused in a case of gross indecency was a commonplace of the British courts of the 1950s (I say British because I have no realistic means of conducting primary research in the USA). According to Jack Shafer, Lembcke *did* manage to turn up press reports of anti-war protestors being spat on by counterprotestors, so it's not as if spitting wasn't considered newsworthy.

In general, I'm having a hard time getting over the Harris poll Lembcke cites which found that 90% of returning Vietnam veterans thought that they had been treated well. I suspect that this reflects reality; the vast majority received civil treatment, a minority got a hard time, and a minority within that minority were treated utterly unacceptably. Particularly, I would guess that sympathy, warm embrace and an invitation to join VVAW was at least ten times more common than spitting as a reaction. Does the media coverage really reflect this?

This is a quite sad example of how it's impossible to do history any more. This ought to be a factual question (were veterans assaulted?). Or at the very least, a question of interpretation (given the unpopularity of the war, were the troops badly treated?). But instead, it's a non-question of politics (I know that we lost the war because of the fifth column at home! Not only that, but they didn't even have the decency to honour the troops!).


dsquared--when one is alive, awake, present, and an adult, at the time Vietnam vets were disrespected when they returned home, evidence of saliva, is hardly the point. And if it is the point, as you seem stuck on, then I can only reply: absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and not convincing evidence that something never happened.

And only in today's highly confrontational (and litigious) world would spitting be considered an assault, irrespective of your expectation of arrest records from 3-1/2 decades ago.

Lurkings earlier point, that if it isn't in the press, then it didn't happen, is an astute critique of such assertions regarding proof, or the lack thereof.

That you "feel" sad regarding the prospects for historical research, and that you remain unconvinced by the critique of Lembcke herein, suggests you're out of your depth regarding this issue, IMO.

The national TV media today would, if it could, show every arrival of every casket at Dover AFB, while it rarely, if ever, shows the arrival home of any unit from Iraq, much less any story regarding Afghanistan--unless it's mayhem. And you expect the media to widely report the story of someone spitting on soldiers from a Vietnam conflict the media was against?

Many, and possibly most, Vietnam vets were poorly treated upon their return home. That vets may have characterized this treatment otherwise says more about personal pride in their service, than what the actual treatment was. That vets were more interested in moving on with their lives--rather than creating a paper trail documenting such treatment--as compared to lefty/Marxist types who can't stop obsessing over Vietnam tells most of us all we need to know about one's priorities. And that's OK.

The reason many of us can address this as revisionism is because we've already experienced at least 20 years of such revisionism (moral relativism, cultural equivalency, values neutral, and sensitive, happy talk, feel-good history) in the history text books used in our high schools. That history is presented this way doesn't make it any closer to the truth than Lembcke's--because he said so--urban mythology theory regarding soldiers being "spat upon".


Well. I am suspicious that Lembcke is engaging in revisionism, but I have no reason to think DSquared is - we have a book by a professor os sociology from a major university, endorsed (twice) by the astute Jack Shafer - who knows what the truth is?

But maybe we can agree on some things. Is it fair to say that:

(a) Lembcke, the former VVAW member and anti-war activist, had a clear political agenda which he announced even before he began his research (in the 1991 Desert Storm teach-in he describes in the 1999 article).

(b) Lembcke's apparent theory that the "psycho-vet" was an invention of the pro-war movement intended to discredit the anti-war vets looks to be backwards, considering Kerry's testimony.

(c) the anti-war movement was not monolithic - although a large part of it was non-violent (inspired by Gandhi and King), there were factions favoring violent confrontation (e.g., the Weathermen). Such divisions plague activitists even today.

(d) Lembcke's explanation that soldiers arrive at military airbases is incomplete - soldiers routinely flew to their final destination via commerical flights from LA and San Fran.

(e) In an earlier post I cited NY Times archives from 1969-1972 describing protestors spitting on Secret Service agents, policeman, cars carrying dignataries to the Army Ball, and the American flag. The notion of spitting as a means of expressing one's opinion was not unheard of in that milieu.

(f) I also cited a NY Times reporter saying about the Army (in Nov 1971) "The uniform of its soldiers is spat upon in the streets and its wearers are denounced in public places as "war criminals".

Maybe that was a metaphor; maybe protestors only spat on uniforms that were not being worn; or maybe the notion of spitting on soldiers was circulating even in 1971.

(g) some folks mention being spat upon during parades (when there is not much to do but keep marching). Others describe solitary encounters, not "demonstrations". Can we agree that a possible explanation for the paucity of news or police reports is simply that these encounters were not worth reporting?

(h) lots of folks include in their personal account some mention that the military ordered or advised them to avoid confrontations with civilians. Does that seem plausible? Can it be documented?

(i) It strikes me as obvious that the military would prefer to downplay the regrettable treatment of its troops. Might that influence the low reporting?

(j) Similarly, none of us have seen the Harris poll, but it seems to me that the Administration and the miltary would prefer to put on a smiley face and see a poll showing 99% of returning troops were treated well. As someone said earlier, "only 90%?". Even at 90%, that would be consistent with the "exaggerated mistreatment" hypothesis - I doubt that many vets were spat upon, but I find it hard to believe that none were.

(h) IN the UPDATE, I mention Bob Kerrey's personal account of being josttled and knocked down. Delusional?

Now, in Lembcke's favor, his Globe column points out the exaggerated quality of Michael Smith's story. Fine, I have no doubt that accounts have been exaggerated. But are the folks who left personal accounts on this thread (a) lying; (b) delusional; or (c) telling the (undocumented) truth?

And if Lembcke does not like the image of the psycho-vet, why does he think so many vets are lying or in the grip of invented memories?

Finally, Forbes has a good point - if "spitting" was a metaphor, rebutting the ocurrence of the physical act does not rebut the metaphor.


a) It is fair to say that, but not fair to say the same thing about other people who have reached the same conclusion; this guy appears to have done a study reaching similar conclusions in 1995, three years before Lembcke's book.

b) Not sure the two are inconsistent and I don't think we should conclude they are until we have read Lembcke's book. That lots of Vietnam veterans were not happy with things is unsurprising; they had fought an unpopular war and many of them were unemployed. Lembcke's claim appears to me to be that what was new about the post-Vietnam era was the medicalisation of this condition into a "mental illness".

c) Need to be crystal clear about the relative sizes of these factions, particularly since the context is the claim that the USA lost the war because of a domestic fifth column.

d) But soldiers went through civilian airports in ones and twos, not in groups, and Lembcke's remark in the Common Dreams article is clearly aimed at Smith's story which appears to have them landing in a group at a civilian airport. Again, I don't think one should pass judgement on this before reading the book.

e) These all appear to have been at mass protests rather than individual encounters and that makes a difference.

f) This is a decent data point for you and it's interesting that Lembcke hasn't turned it up.

g) No, we can't agree that. If they're important enough to remember for thirty years after the event, surely to hell they were important enough then. (Btw, Forbes is flat out wrong to say that people weren't arrested for spitting on other people in the 1970s).

h) It does seem plausible, which is why I'm surprised that nobody's raised the documentation; Lembcke's book has been out for seven years now and has raised exactly this sort of controversy at regular intervals ever since publication.

i) Might be an influence, but the majority of these people (and indeed, this is what gives a lot of these stories their poignancy) were returning in order to be demobilised. I also doubt that the military could have hused things up without issuing a specific standing order, of which there would be a record.

j) I agree that it would be good to have a source for the poll, but I must say I find your interpretation of it perverse. If 90% of troops were well treated, then the "spitting legend" has no point to it. How could people write articles saying "the demonstrators lost us the war, and they spat on our returning troops, albeit that 90% of troops thought at the time they had been well treated"?

h) Another data point for you, although the description in the book is not exactly conclusive and frustratingly short on detail. (Btw, there is decent evidence that the epithets "war criminal" and "baby killer", applied to Kerrey would not have been too far off the mark)

[But are the folks who left personal accounts on this thread (a) lying; (b) delusional; or (c) telling the (undocumented) truth?]

I don't know. Going by what Lembcke found, I would suspect that they're passing on anecdotes which they believe to be true and which may indeed be true, but didn't actually happen to them personally. ("Billy Hank" mentions evening classes at Boston University, which cross-references with Crane's story in the Slate article, so potentially BU is the kernel of truth at the centre of this story).

[Finally, Forbes has a good point - if "spitting" was a metaphor, rebutting the ocurrence of the physical act does not rebut the metaphor.]

I confess to not being able to see the goodness of this point. The matter at issue is whether the Vietnam veterans were unhappy because of the treatment they received back home, or whether they were unhappy because they had been conscripted into a pointless war which they lost. I don't see how "metaphors" help us clarify that question.


Thanks very much, Dsq. Your comments are clarifying this a bit for me.

Broadly, I am trying to separate the factual question (were soldiers physically spit on frequently, rarely, or never by anti-war people?) from the various associated metaphorical implications. For example, "were vets badly treated", or "did we lose because of a fifth column", strike me as debatable separate from the question of the frequency of physical spitting.

(And my current pre-disposition - spitting was real but rare, vets were not treated nearly as well as in earlier wars, and we did not lose because of a "fifth column" per se - one officer blamed the military (go figure!). His point - it was the job of the military to communicate their capabilities to the civilian leadership; with that having failed, loss of public confidence was quite likely.)

Good find on Beamish. The chap I dug up, John Baky, also developed his thesis in the early 90's, also *possibly* in response to Desert Storm (or in response to Greene's 1989 book, which predates Desert Storm). It is not easy to nail either of these guys for something obvious like former membership in the VVAW, but that does not mean they are unbiased. Baky, for example, admits that his inclusion of the spitting amongst the myths is problematic, but he goes full speed ahead.

Finally, at the risk of making a point - I am looking for great ideas here as to how this might be resolved.

For example - old military orders advising travel in civilian clothes; worried commentary at West Point about how cadets are treated off-campus; commentary about the harassment (or not) of ROTC students (on many campuses ROTC was closed, and some ROTC centers were bombed, so the harassment of ROTC recruiters or enrollees seems like a possibility).

In other words - where else might one look for evidence? I am glumy resigned to not finding much in the Times.


Here are two search engines - "Questia" is subscription based, and includes magazines and books (but whattime period?)


And military history is here, but I have not looked at it (yet):

Beamish limited himself to three newspapers, and *may* have focussed on demonstrations rather than isolated encounters:

n 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.

I picked up some reference to Barbara Ehenreich (?sp? life's too short!) having also "got her researchers" to look into this one, but I've lost it. You're right about Beamish and demonstrations btw; there's a paper in the "citations" on Google Scholar that makes it pretty clear he was talking about organised demonstrations.

Thinking about it, Beamish's conclusion is actually pretty obvious and doesn't add very much; during a period in which soldiers were still going *out* to Vietnam, demonstrating against them coming *back* would have been a pretty peculiar use of time for the antiwar movement. So we're going to be looking for isolated incidents off single hippies spitting on single soldiers, suggesting that the lack of newspaper accounts is less surprising than I thought it was (though still not entirely unsurprising), and also suggesting that MHI is probably the best way to go.

As far as I can tell, btw, Lembcke has now invested a lot of personal credibility in this, which is unfortunate, as that tends to be when people make errors of judgement.


I want to save this link - here is the NY Times account of the demonstrations at the Rep Convention in 1972 in Miami where Ron Kovic gets mentioned.

Broad point - there was a well-organized, non-violent demonstration led by the VVAW (with Kovic) wihch got a lot of police cooperation and went well. Per this story, most of the VVAW demonstrators were kept out of the hotel, but Kovic was allowed in with two other vets in wheelchairs. However, "there was no one there to greet them. Part of the building had been secured due to a bomb scare."

I need to check whether his account has him going back to the convention on a different night.

Anyway, there were also demonstrations led by what is described as dissident Zippie and SDS groups that had not subscribed to the non-violent tactics of the organizing committee. These folks smashed windows, beat on cars, burned Republican banners hung as decorations, and got themselves arrested.


WAR FOES HARASS G.O.P. DELEGATES By JOHN KIFNERSpecial to The New York Times New York Times (1857-Current file); Aug 23, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2001) pg. 1

Hmm, here is a bit about Kovic:

In a pivotal scene in the film [Born on the Fourth of July], delegates at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach eject Kovic and his fellow protesting vets from the hall, call him a traitor and spit on him. If that incident has a certain angry passion, it may be because the director was Oliver Stone.

I hope we have a better source than Oliver Stone! Based on the contemporaneous report, it never happened.

OK, here is Kovic's account - he claimed to have been in the hall during Nixon's acceptance speech.

I'll come back to this, I bet.


Oh, dear - following the Lembcke method, I have to conclude that Kovic is experiencing an invented memory, probably in order to assert his victim status, win our sympathy, and discredit his opponents.

Or maybe the media just sucks. But this UPI account is quite clear - 4 anti-war protestors chanted during Nixon's speech for five minutes, and then:

After about five minutes security agents wheeled them, unprotesting, out a side door.

Scholars (and Googlers) will be forever indebted to the woman who accompanied the four and gave Kovic's name as "Kovac".

Anyway, the names - Susan Cohen, Bob Mullen, Ron Kovac (sic), Billy Wyman, and De Mark Clevenger.

Let's excerpt Kovic's account (from the previous comment):

President Nixon began to speak and all three of us took a deep breath and shouted at the top of our lungs, "Stop the bombing, stop the war, stop the bombing, stop the war," as loud and as hard as we could, looking directly at Nixon. The security agents immediately threw up their arms, trying to hide us from the cameras and the President. "Stop the bombing, stop the bombing," I screamed. For an instant [Walter] Cronkite [of CBS] looked down, then turned his head away. They're not going to show it, I thought. They're going to try and hide us like they did in the hospitals. Hundreds of people around us began to clap and shout, "Four more years," trying to drown out our protest. They all seemed very angry and shouted at us to stop. We continued shouting, interrupting Nixon again and again until Secret Service agents grabbed our chairs from behind and began pulling us backward as fast as they could out of the convention hall. "Take it easy," Bobby said to me. "Don't fight back."

I wanted to take a swing and fight right there in the middle of the convention hall in front of the President and the whole country. "So this is how they treat their wounded veterans!" I screamed.

A short guy with a big four more years button ran up to me and spat in my face. "Traitor!" he screamed, as he was yanked back by police. Pandemonium was breaking out all around us and the Secret Service men kept pulling us out backward.

"I served two tours of duty in Vietnam!" I screamed to one newsman. "I gave three quarters of my body for America. And what do I get? Spit in the face!" I kept screaming until we hit the side entrance, where the agents pushed us outside and shut the doors, locking them with chains and padlocks so reporters wouldn't be able to follow us out for interviews.

Boy, that UPI reporter was in a different world.

Here is the link:

Four Vietnam Veterans Protest at Convention
New York Times (1857-Current file); Aug 24, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2001)
pg. 48

Patrick R. Sullivan

"The matter at issue is whether the Vietnam veterans were unhappy because of the treatment they received back home, or whether they were unhappy because they had been conscripted into a pointless war which they lost."

Speaking of urban legends. The Vietnam War ended officially in January 1973, with a free government in South Vietnam. The North threw in the towel after the humiliating defeat of the 'Easter Offensive' of 1972 (Gen. Giap being relieved of command). We know why from Soviet archives; they were exhausted.

The draft was ended for good in 1973.

North Vietnam didn't take over the South until April 1975. And only because liberals in the U.S. Congress had the votes to prevent ANY aid at all to South Vietnam.

There were no conscripted, 'loser soldiers' to be spat upon, in American airports in 1975, when the 'war' was lost.

But, there were plenty of 'winner soldiers' coming home from 1969 through early '73.

Your times are out of joint, Horatio.


Here is another invented memory inspired by the Rambo films from someone intent on discrediting his opponents:

Dear billd,

Smash's Dad here.

Smash is correct, some of us who served in the military during the Viet Nam War were spat on or at. And yes, that happened to me despite the fact that I was a healer, not a warrior. I did nothing to provoke it; it was a spontaneous event. It did not occur in the San Francisco Airport as Smash related, it happened on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. This is not a story that I tell many times; I preferred to forget it. My wife told our children about it at some point and perhaps the story got a little jumbled. Here is how the scenario developed and played out:

I was doing research on Sickle Cell Disease and Alpha-Thalassemia with some colleagues at UCSD in the Chemistry Department. I went there about three half-days a week to work in their lab. I always went in civilian clothes because I knew that being in uniform might provoke a reaction from someone, feelings back then on many college campuses were running pretty high.

One day I got a call from one of my colleagues telling me there was going to be a seminar that afternoon by a Nobel Laureate on a subject of interest to us both. I said I didn't have my civilian clothes with me, but he said he didn't think that would be a problem because the Chemistry Department was not a hot bed of political dissonance and the seminar would be late in the day when most of the students were already off in their dorms or whatever.

So out I went, and as I was walking from the parking lot to the seminar a student fully looking the part of a 1970's hippie ran toward me screaming obscenities. When he got close enough he spit directly at me.

I was at that time in pretty decent physical shape; I managed to dodge his spit and then started moving toward him. He got the message really quick and took off like a scared rabbit.

No police report, no photographs, no contemporaneous press account, just a high level of detail and an internally consistent story. Probably dreamed it.

Anyway, his hint that military folks preferred civvies is what I am trying to run down.


I'm coming up short on "contemporaneous accounts" of victory celebrations in 1973. Robert MacNamara certainly didn't take this view of how things were going.


Patrick, you may be a bridge too far with that notion.

I think what we are being told is, if I can recreate Lembcke's logic at a distance, that no soldier/vet was spat on in 1970-73 by anti-war types; we had clearly lost the war by 1975; and in the late 70's, vets had a collective invention of the notion that some anti-war types spat on them.

This mass fantasy was meant to justify a sense of shame, frustration, and betrayal which (presumably) they had not actually felt at the time.

Or something. Of course, there are other accounts (we could start with Kerry) of soldiers who felt betrayed by the leadership prior to our eventual defeat in 1975.

And I just happened to be reading an article about Gen. Abrams (Times archive) where the military is worried that we could win this *if* "we don't pull a French back home" (IIRC). Which meant, if the miltary could maintain popular US support for a few more years, it could win.

So the "home front betrayal" theme was in the Times in the early 70's as well. Go figure.


dsquare: I certainly respect your right to disagree with me, yet when you suggest that I'm flat wrong--as regards spitting as assault, and the likelihood of discovering arrest records from 3-1/2 decades ago, let's just suggest that it helps to have certain factual information on your side.

Under the New York Penal Code, spitting would qualify as either Disorderly Conduct (Sec. 240.20) where "[a] person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance...[h]e creates a...physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose", or, Harrassment in the second degree (240.26), where: someone "engages in a course of conduct...which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose."

Both of these offenses are violations (like a traffic ticket) where the perpetrator is not subject to arrest and would not result in an arrest record. (Committing other offenses, inconjunction with spitting might result in another outcome.)

Is it possible that some number of persons have ever been arrested for assault for the act of spitting? Even the most unlikely events are possible. Yet under Penal Code Article 120, Assault requires the intent to cause physical injury, and that would require a rather more expansive definition of spitting, one far beyond reason.

If you, as I've been led to believe, are subject to the Crown Prosectution Service, your penal code may be different--but it's the US we're discussing.

Furthermore, your response to my idiom, or metaphor, argument is not only weasily, but is an attempt to dismiss it by changing the subject:

"I confess to not being able to see the goodness of this point. The matter at issue is whether the Vietnam veterans were unhappy because of the treatment they received..."

The initial question, as TM framed it was: "Is it really an "urban myth" that Vietnam-era soldiers and veterans were spat upon by protesters?" TM's question is about how Vietnam vets were treated--not about the veterans' feelings, or unhappiness.

I'll let my idiom (or metaphor) argument for the meaning of "spat upon" stand on it's own.


On the airport thing: when we were processed and released either to go to our next duty station or home, we went by a base bus to the civilian airport. Even if we were in our civies, the bus, the haircut, the tan made it clear where we had come from.

When we were disrespected, either by verbal or spittal assault, the reactions tended to go in one of two ways. (We were warned about the possible hostile reception by the Army, at least I was.) Some of us stood firm and tried to go about our business, as the Army wanted us to. Some of us succumbed to the rage.

I find it hard to express in words the outrage of putting your life on the line, coming close to death, seeing your friends killed before your eyes, and then to come home to that level of hostility. Now, it would appear that some on the left want to deny that it ever happened.

As others have written, most of us just wanted to go on with our lives. Unfortunately, that was not likely to happen because of our homecoming. If you do not process what war trauma you have experienced, you end up with a neurological disorder called chronic combat PTSD. THAT, my friends is the legacy of the anti-war left and why they wish to whitewash the past. It is called guilt.


It's amazing to see people actually argue whether a truth for many was real or not. Suddenly Vietnam Vets are rare, we need to speculate , too funny.
The spitting was real the disrespect continues to this day from the left and right. Just what we need some egghead from England explaining how things were.
Oh by the way, I never saw a war crime in Vietnam but what would I know? just humped the bush for almost twelve months with an occasional 2 day break between 4-6 week humps.

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