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The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam

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One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester -- often a woman -- spitting on the uniformed veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition. In this startling book, Jerry Lembcke demonstrates that not a single incident of this One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester -- often a woman -- spitting on the uniformed veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition. In this startling book, Jerry Lembcke demonstrates that not a single incident of this sort has been convincingly documented. Rather, the anti-war Left saw in veterans a natural ally, and the relationship between anti-war forces and most veterans was defined by mutual support. Indeed one soldier wrote angrily to Vice President Spiro Agnew that the only Americans who seemed concerned about the soldier's welfare were the anti-war activists. While the veterans were sometimes made to feel uncomfortable about their service, this sense of unease was, Lembcke argues, more often rooted in the political practices of the Right. Tracing a range of conflicts in the twentieth century, the book illustrates how regimes engaged in unpopular conflicts often vilify their domestic opponents for "stabbing the boys in the back." Concluding with an account of the powerful role played by Hollywood in cementing the myth of the betrayed veteran through such films as Coming Home, Taxi Driver, and Rambo, Jerry Lembcke's book stands as one of the most important, original, and controversial works of cultural history in recent years.


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One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester -- often a woman -- spitting on the uniformed veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition. In this startling book, Jerry Lembcke demonstrates that not a single incident of this One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester -- often a woman -- spitting on the uniformed veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition. In this startling book, Jerry Lembcke demonstrates that not a single incident of this sort has been convincingly documented. Rather, the anti-war Left saw in veterans a natural ally, and the relationship between anti-war forces and most veterans was defined by mutual support. Indeed one soldier wrote angrily to Vice President Spiro Agnew that the only Americans who seemed concerned about the soldier's welfare were the anti-war activists. While the veterans were sometimes made to feel uncomfortable about their service, this sense of unease was, Lembcke argues, more often rooted in the political practices of the Right. Tracing a range of conflicts in the twentieth century, the book illustrates how regimes engaged in unpopular conflicts often vilify their domestic opponents for "stabbing the boys in the back." Concluding with an account of the powerful role played by Hollywood in cementing the myth of the betrayed veteran through such films as Coming Home, Taxi Driver, and Rambo, Jerry Lembcke's book stands as one of the most important, original, and controversial works of cultural history in recent years.

30 review for The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam

  1. 5 out of 5

    fiver

    this book is really interesting. the author, a vietnam vet and later a peace activist and academic, details the way that myths like that of the spat-upon vietnam veteran are taken up and ingrained in popular memory. If you have seen the movie "Sir No Sir" (if you haven't, i recommend it) he's the guy in that movie who talks about this stuff. Sir No Sir pays a lil more attention to the fomentation of critical consciousness against the war than does this book, which focuses more on the creation of this book is really interesting. the author, a vietnam vet and later a peace activist and academic, details the way that myths like that of the spat-upon vietnam veteran are taken up and ingrained in popular memory. If you have seen the movie "Sir No Sir" (if you haven't, i recommend it) he's the guy in that movie who talks about this stuff. Sir No Sir pays a lil more attention to the fomentation of critical consciousness against the war than does this book, which focuses more on the creation of icons and spread of popular myth. His gender analysis is sketchy at times, but more thorough than you might expect, going so far as to connect the fear of female body fluids with ancient european myths about female gods. His overall project, calling attention to the fact that it was soldiers and veterans who were leading demonstrations and resistance against the U.S. occupation of Vietnam. He take apart the myth that it was only draft-dodgers and drug-addled hippies who were active in the peace and social justice movements.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kifflie

    This author does a good job at debunking the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran by looking closely at the actual history of the times. Many of those sent overseas to fight were actually opposed to the war and formed a natural alliance with civilian protestors. But Lembcke doesn't stop there; he goes into another myth surrounding the "broken, crazy" Vietnam vet that was inadvertently fostered by mental health professionals trying to understand post-traumatic stress. It's a pretty good study and This author does a good job at debunking the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran by looking closely at the actual history of the times. Many of those sent overseas to fight were actually opposed to the war and formed a natural alliance with civilian protestors. But Lembcke doesn't stop there; he goes into another myth surrounding the "broken, crazy" Vietnam vet that was inadvertently fostered by mental health professionals trying to understand post-traumatic stress. It's a pretty good study and certainly opened my eyes to some of the lies that had grown up around Vietnam. The writing style is a little stilted and repetitive at times, however.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I read this partly b/c the author is my undergrad advisor, and partially b/c I work w/veterans and wanted to gain more perspective on their experience. In terms of my work, I definitely gained some additional insight on how PTSD can be conceptualized and how it can be (mis)used for political reasons. I agree w/another reviewer that at times it could have been more clear/concise. I also have become accustomed, w/my research degree, to really looking for "hard data" and rigorous methodology when as I read this partly b/c the author is my undergrad advisor, and partially b/c I work w/veterans and wanted to gain more perspective on their experience. In terms of my work, I definitely gained some additional insight on how PTSD can be conceptualized and how it can be (mis)used for political reasons. I agree w/another reviewer that at times it could have been more clear/concise. I also have become accustomed, w/my research degree, to really looking for "hard data" and rigorous methodology when asserting academic points, so it was difficult for me to transition back to sociological reading, which I find to be more theoretical. However, I was really struck by the conclusion, which I felt really brought it all together, and definiely felt it was worth reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    "In the fall of 1971," Jerry Lembcke writes, "I was part of a group of VVAW [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] members leafleting against the war outside the football stadium at the University of Colorado. A Nebraska football fan stepped off the bus from Lincoln and charged at me, throwing a drink in my face and shouting an anti-communist epithet. An observer unaware of my anti-war activities might have seen this incident as, simply, a Vietnam veteran being attacked. Recalled twenty years later, "In the fall of 1971," Jerry Lembcke writes, "I was part of a group of VVAW [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] members leafleting against the war outside the football stadium at the University of Colorado. A Nebraska football fan stepped off the bus from Lincoln and charged at me, throwing a drink in my face and shouting an anti-communist epithet. An observer unaware of my anti-war activities might have seen this incident as, simply, a Vietnam veteran being attacked. Recalled twenty years later, it is easy to imagine how the incident could be turned into grist for the myth" (78-79). Lembcke was inspired to write this book in the wake of George H.W. Bush's invocation of spat-upon Vietnam veterans to demonize those who opposed his war in Iraq. The first chapter of this book rips apart the dubious public relations campaign to make Gulf War I about the soldiers rather than about the objectives, then he ties it to the Nixon-Agnew disinformation campaign to discriminate "Good Veterans" who support the Vietnam war, from "Bad Veterans" who allied themselves with the antiwar movement. With the distortion of time and popular culture, the cultural myth has planted the antiwar protestor at odds with the Vietnam veteran, which is completely contrary to the historical record, which shows that there was a large antiwar movement of both current and returning soldiers from Vietnam. As of this writing, there are forty reviews of this book on Amazon.com, including 17 one-star reviews, of which 15 are illegitimate, giving no indication that they have read the book, but simply attack Lembcke's thesis, or that are wildly seething rants against the antiwar movement in general. Highlander Fan, a verified purchaser of the book, suggests that Lembcke lionizes John Kerry, whose 2004 presidential campaign was marred by right-wing liars calling themselves "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." This suggests that he merely thumbed through it, since Kerry rates only two mentions, one of which decrying the lies of Spiro T. Agnew--"terrible distortion"--as a member of VVAW (63), and the other a reference to a photograph of Kerry in the The New York Times September 16, 1990, depicting him next to a photograph of the boat on which he served (21). The distortion in Highlander Fan's review suggests that he primarily looked at the pictures--the photo section contains a dramatic photo of Kerry leaving a bus after he and other activists were arrested for antiwar activities in Lexington, Massachusetts on Memorial Day, 1971, and on the very next page a photo of Kerry sitting on the end of a piano bench, one foot on the sitting surface, talking with the Youth Caucus at the Harvard University Freshman Union on January 9, 1972. Considering that Kerry appears on two of eight tipped-in pages of photographs, it might create the illusion that John Kerry is somehow portrayed by Lembcke as a hero of the book. The enduring message of the book seems to be that the right-wing ruling class will say anything to their advantage, creating myths that uphold their point of view, no matter how contrary they may be to actual fact. This eternal relevance was clear to me in some of the Twitter arguments I had while I was reading this book, including with Officer Sasquatch (https://twitter.com/officersasq), who insists that Eric Garner can be seen in his death video assaulting a police officer, and thus deserved to die, and with Cajun Dave (https://twitter.com/cajundave), who told me that I'm an idiot for not knowing that Jane Fonda personally spat on Vietnam veterans. A quick Internet search showed that Fonda herself was spat upon by a pro-war veteran on April 21, 2005, but nothing in the reverse. The reality is that Vietnam veterans mostly took abuse from pro-war demonstrators. This is a documented fact, of which chapter five, of which details the core issue of the evidence, is full. Lembcke cites numerous accounts of antiwar demonstrations, predominantly led by Veteran-activist organizations such as Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, including a day of action reported in various newspapers on March 27, 1966. Lembcke notes that the Chicago Tribune article on that day noted spitting among the actions of the pro-war counterprotesters. I found an article on page three of that issue in their online archive noting physical attacks on protesters led by such organizations as the American Nazi Party. I couldn't find the reference to spitting, but the atrocious behavior of the pro-war right is right there in black and white that supports Lembcke's descriptions of right-wing attacks on Vietnam veterans on pages 76-79. He also notes numerous polls of returning Vietnam veterans conducted by Gallup, Roper, Harris, and others that contained no references to ill treatment upon return. The Harris poll, conducted for the U.S. Senate, had only 3% of returning Veterans describe their reception as "not at all friendly," with no supporting details provided that the unfriendly reception had anything to do with antiwar protesters. (75) The earliest reference Lembcke was able to find to spitting anti-war activists was in John J. O'Connor's A Chaplain Looks at Vietnam (1966). O'Connor refers to "'unreasoned hatred such as that displayed by those spitting in the faces of soldiers guarding the Pentagon' (xiii)" (81). Lembcke wrote O'Connor a letter when the latter was Archbishop of New York, but received a letter from an aide to the archbishop named Mustaciuolo stating that his employer refused to comment on memories that old. The incident is well documented with photographs showing activists solemnly placing flowers in the rifles of the soldiers guarding the Pentagon, and it seems unsurprising to me that an archbishop would be so deeply self-entrenched in mythmaking. The October 24, 1969 issue of Life had a feature story in which David Moss, at an October 12 rally against the war in Dallas, read the names of Texas men killed in the war. Life reporter that hecklers yelled, "Spit at those people, spit on 'em," as well as calling them "hippies" and "dirty commies." The story never says that anyone spat, but Lembcke asserts that it would be easy enough to make a mental association with the spitting with the side that had nothing to do with it, if one was so inclined (78). Several of the 1-star reviews on Amazon, such as "Roger"'s, recommend readers to Bob Greene's Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Vietnam (1989), which contains 63 accounts of personal experience with spitting and 69 that were spit-free. Greene was very skeptical of the story, considering hippies too passive to spit on those they considered trained killers. He was concerned about the authenticity of the letters and admitted that the collection might contain "ringers." "[I]n the end," Lembcke says, Greene was "too willing to suspend disbelief. In fact, there was much more wrong with his testimonies than he acknowledged to his readers. In the first place, there is Greene's own leading question: 'Were you spat upon?' Had he asked a more neutral question such as, 'What were your homecoming experiences?' the veterans' responses would be much more valid" (80). He also found it extremely suspect that so many of the spitters were described as women, an act normally not associated with women in American culture, but associated with witchcraft (134), and he subsequently devotes an entire chapter to the role of women in homecoming narratives. The second chronological example of spat-upon vietnam veterans he found was in Robert Jay Lifton's 1973 book, Home from the War . Only one soldier notes this, it is unclear of the spitter's pro- or antiwar status, no names are given, and Lifton saw this as a "mythic representation of a feeling" (Lifton, 99) which Lembcke sees as "warning against a literal interpretation of the report" (81). B.G. "Jug" Burkett is a Vietnam veteran and Dallas businessman. He has investigated more than 1,700 news stories about Vietnam veterans who were supposedly "troubled." Using the Freedom of Information Act, he was able to prove many were total or partial frauds. It would be interesting too see him apply this technique to Greene's Homecoming. Most of the stories he debunked contained stories of combat glory and mistreatment during homecoming. Burkett debunked a CBS documentary called The Wall Within, but CBS proved the myth of the liberal media with lack of interest in his research (115-6, citing Glenna Whitley's "The Good Soldier" in Texas Monthly, August 1994 and Tim Weiner, "Military Combat Insignia Signify Esteem of Officers," The New York Times, May 18, 1996). The next chapter of the book explores coming home legends from myth to recorded history. The origin of the spat-upon veteran goes back to a story of a fragging of a German officer by his soldiers that occurred in World War I. Hermann Goering, long before founding the Gestapo, claimed that peasant women had done the act (85-86), which feeds into the myth that the anti-war spitters were women. Lembcke also shows that the French returning from the failure in Algeria also had stories of being mistreated upon their return. "The fact that we seldom, if ever, hear about stories about soldiers in winning armies returning home to abuse suggests that these tales function specifically as alibis for why a war was lost" (89). "A hallmark of conservative ideology is its appeal to the cultural intangibles of myth and legend; while the left tends to base its arguments on science and material observation, the right appeals more often to emotion and symbolism" (90). Rush Limbaugh frequently attacks the left of "symbolism over substance," but this is not in line with either reality or sociological theory. Reading this section on how conservatives use myth made me think I really shot a hole in my foot with my screenplay adaptation of Dwayne McDuffie's Monster in My Pocket, which really forced the audience to look at and analyze myth from unconventional perspectives from which it is hard to imagine a producer, let alone the owners of the Monster in My Pocket property, to want to spend money on an elaborate, special effects-filled feature film. The chapter states that John Rambo was spat upon in First Blood, but this is not depicted, only part of his backstory. Also in this chapter, Lembcke cites Barbara Ehrenreich's Fear of Falling , which discusses how even middle class liberals need these sorts of myth to which to cling, for fear that they may be losing their place in society. A chapter like this seriously needs reconsidering in the wake of the 2007-9 economic crisis that has left so many formerly middle class people downwardly mobile and, like me, homeless. Maria Walles, one of my allies at Picture the Homeless, suggested that I should really look into getting Social Security Disability through the mental health route, since they keep telling me I can work a desk job, suggesting that I may have post-traumatic stress disorder. I've been examined by numerous psychiatrists at the behest of the shelter system and not been diagnosed with anything like that. Some of my colleagues with Picture the Homeless, whose images may be seen on my blog, do have such diagnoses, and I am not willing to go so far as to say that they are wrong. Lembcke seems to think that the disorder is at best a catch-all, kind of like "colubrid" is a garbage can term referring to all sorts of snakes that aren't particularly dangerous to humans. He finds it all the more suspect that a human interest piece about it appeared on August 21, 1972, the same day Ron Kovic spoke about how Nixon's war hadn't taken away the minds of veterans against the war. "[T]here was little hard research to base conclusions about the mental health of Vietnam veterans, a fact, however, that did not stop the writer from referring to 'countless troubled veterans' a few sentences later" (103). With the exception of German veterans after World War I, there had never been a generation of veterans who had turned so completely against the regime that had sent it to war. When Strayer and Ellenhorn (1975) interviewed Vietnam veterans, they found that 75 percent of them were opposed to the war. Even more noteworthy was the affinity of these veterans for anti-imperialist politics and the cultural critique of capitalism. That being the case, these veterans loomed as an on-going problem for those ruling-class interests that desired to reestablish the country's military capacity and the populace's will to war. Framing the veterans' story as a political one, however, would add to its legitimization and exacerbate the long-term problem of getting beyond Vietnam. (106) In the context of the times, anti-war veterans would surely have been surprised to know that their actions against the war were a form of therapy. For them, it was the country that had gone wrong and needed healing, not they. But they weren't the ones telling the story. The ultimate tragedy may have been that what was their finest hour for many veterans, namely, when they found the courage to speak against the war they had fought, was turned against them as evidence of further damage done to them by that war. Poignant protest was thus pathologized. (113) How very easy it is for me to relate, even though the only ones pathologizing me are the armchair psychiatrists and cyberbullies. "[Allan] Young (1995) attributes the legitimization of PTSD to the ascendancy of a diagnostic tradition associated with psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud" (195), whose theories were notoriously based on case studies rather than the scientific method. He looks at the case of Dwight Johnson, a black Vietnam vet who went on a murder spree, noting the supposedly liberal bastion, The New York Times, had published that story but ignored the Winter Soldier hearings, even though both events occurred in Chicago. "What seems unreal is that the PTSD-stricken basket case that constitutes the popular perception of the Vietnam veteran could be the same person who terrorized Vietnam civilians" (195). He compares the Johnson case to Charlie Clements, whom he believes surely would have been diagnosed with PTSD, but after a four-moth hospital stay in 1971, he became a medical doctor who worked in El Salvador. Agnew's "badness" was being rewritten as "madness" (111-113). As with Bob Greene, he cites the use of leading questions in the diagnosis of PTSD (121), citing Paul Starr in noting that diagnoses were based on a small, self-selected group a veterans, and the aforementioned Lifton asserted that Vietnam veterans were "forgotten" right on the permission statement patients needed to sign in order to participate in the study. The tragedy is that the creation of the image of the veteran as victim exploits veterans as a buffer between public discourse about the war and the war itself. It is this exploitation of the veteran's image for ideological purposes that constitutes the real victimization. Mythologizing the relationship of veterans to the war and the anti-war movement takes from the authentic generational identity they have as soldiers who grew as men and took courageous actions to end the war they had been sent to fight (123). Just as laziness as an explanation for poverty among African Americans really involves a myth about hard work and white success that displaces racism as a reason for inequality (Steinberg 1974), so too the stories of spat-upon veterans give us the image of the good soldiers, which negates the need to evaluate the real war in Vietnam. Our focus blurs, and not by accident. (129-130) In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault (1977) connected the rise of prisons and other institutions of confinement to capitalism's need to control a then nomadic workforce. Physical confinement of the indigent was intended to produce a culture of self-discipline wherein workers, held in fear of physical punishment, would be incapable of resisting the boundaries set by the ruling class. While the relative stability of class relations in the United States in the late twentieth century attests to the success of capitalism's quest for hegemonic control, periodic urban rebellions and worker resistance to managerial authority are constant reminders that this hegemony is never total. (131) The penultimate chapter compares myths of spitting with myths of women, warrior cowardice as he loses his inability to protect others, and feminization of the enemy (134-135). This leads into the final chapter, in which he analyses how the Vietnam war has been treated in film. Although he never found any film that shows images of veterans being spat upon, Jeff Drew showed him a panel in an unspecified issue of G.I. Joe from the 1980s (I was able to find the panel online, but not a citation to put it in the context of the issue. Alfred Hitchcock was vilified for using a false flashback in Stage Fright, but Marvel Comics had used one as early as Avengers #36 (January 1967), and the scene is clearly a flashback from the panel narration.) As a film major, I found this portion of the book most intriguing, although his filmography is not terribly helpful, omitting directors, writers, and leading players, but including far less important information like running time and color information (Russ Meyer's Motor Psycho is the only black and white film examined.) Lembcke shows that Motor Psycho is the beginning of a trajectory of films about crazed Vietnam veterans leading up to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, the quintessence, not the beginning, of the subgenre, which has precedents in films such as Blood of Ghastly Horror, Blackenstein, Stanley, Slaughter, Welcome Home, Solider Boys, Deathdream, and others. Tracks (1977) is the first film to posit an anti-war activist, who spits on police, as an adversary to a Vietnam veteran.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elia Princess of Starfall

    “Listeners, I speculated, are loath to question the truth of the stories lest aspersion be seemingly cast on the authenticity of the teller.” Jerry Lembcke, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/op... First things first, I am Irish. I am from Ireland and have lived here all my life. Therefore, I have an Irish outlook on life and the world. That is why when it comes to America, the US Army and the country’s overwhelming and intense love of their nation and its military, I am often left a bit conf “Listeners, I speculated, are loath to question the truth of the stories lest aspersion be seemingly cast on the authenticity of the teller.” Jerry Lembcke, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/op... First things first, I am Irish. I am from Ireland and have lived here all my life. Therefore, I have an Irish outlook on life and the world. That is why when it comes to America, the US Army and the country’s overwhelming and intense love of their nation and its military, I am often left a bit confused and somewhat cynical when these subjects come into play be it in the history books, the documentaries I watch or the podcasts I listen. Honestly, the whole military culture and ‘support the troops’ mantra that permeates American society, at times, just mystifies me. It can be a hard one to wrap your head around if from outside America or are from a country without a grandiose military tradition. Hell, for my own family, the last war any of us fought in was a hundred years ago in the Irish War of Independence in 1921 and since then we have been bank clerks and teachers! For any of my family to try and get into the Irish Defence Forces would be both surprising and profoundly unusual. The idea of military families, going to the army rather than university or holding gigantic military ceremonies and graduations has never happened in Ireland along with the hero worship extended to US troops along with the deference they receive in public. I mean, we are also a neutral country for the most part which helps. What am I trying to get at here? This is a book of the Vietnam War, the treatment of Vietnam Veterans and the legacy of the war in popular culture, society and myth in America. What does me being Irish have to do with it? Well, for one thing, I am coming from an outsider’s perspective. Neither me, my family or my country were directly involved. I am coming at this sensitive topic for Americans from the outside with little bias. Another thing, I suppose, is that by coming in from another country, one who has not in any way since the 1920s and is technically neutral, I can look on this topic with a different, more historically inclined perspective. This is one possible perspective as the subject of the Vietnam War tends to be fraught and emotionally charged issue for some in America and Vietnam. Honestly, nowhere is this more evident than in the thesis of Professor Jerry Lembcke and that of the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam Veteran. A former Vietnam Veteran himself and a professor of sociology at Holy Cross College in Worchester, MA, Jerry Lembcke proposes that the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam Veteran, the idea that returning Vietnam vets were spat on and harassed by anti-war protesters and hippies at airports, is just that, a myth. A politically motivated, historically twisted, and right-wing culturally sanctioned myth. It was a myth created by the governmental administration of Richard Nixon and his VP Spiro Agnew to demonise the anti-war demonstrations and protestors, spearheaded by a country, in the throes of American Exceptionalism and entrenched racist beliefs, infuriated that their military and US army couldn’t defeat a small and impoverished Asian which lead to the ‘stab-in-the-back’ idea since only America could hope to defeat America and fueled by right-wing ideology and fervour who would use the image of the poor, disrespected Vietnam Vet to ensure that no ‘true’ American would ever protest against or disrespect the troops be they at war or peace. Indeed, as Lembcke shows and explains the idea and image of the insulted and tarnished Vietnam Veteran’s did not take place in real life but in the collective memories of Americans who had just seen their country lose its first war and could not comprehend how such a thing could happen; America, its people and politicians needed a target, a scapegoat and it could not be the North Vietnamese. The scapegoat became the Anti-War movement and therein was born the myth of the spat-upon veteran, America betrayed from within. It is a powerful and persuasive point and frankly, Lembcke is right to call the spat-upon Vietnam Vet a myth. He writes with conviction, poise and thoughtfulness; he examines and analyses the available (or lack of available) evidence and draws his conclusions from that. It is interesting and thought provoking read, one certain to excite debate. Firstly, as Lembcke details, there is no contemporary archival, historical, photographic, video or audio recordings of any Vietnam Vets being spat upon. There are simply none to be found! If such things were occurring, wouldn’t the Nixon-Agnew government leap on such charges? Wouldn’t the media, particularly the right-wing branch, gleefully swoop down on the airports (its always an airport) to document such a travesty? Wouldn’t there be newspaper articles with pictures, news anchors on the scene or radio announcements about Vets being spat on? Would not the archives on the Vietnam War be bursting at the seams with documentary evidence and records? The fact is that none of this happened, that there no credible contemporary or corroborating sources or records for such incidents and that idea of the spat-upon vet only gained traction after the Hollywood film industry, the ruthless efforts of the Nixon-Agnew government and America’s deep unease and disquiet over losing its first war shows that really it is just a myth, a myth that has shaped America, its society and the US Military for decades after the Vietnam War. Secondly, Lembcke notes that nearly every single story of a vet being spat on follows the same, rigid narrative structure, the vet (in nearly every iteration, it is a combat vet) gets off an aeroplane (its nearly always an aeroplane or an airport in San Francisco), goes through the airport terminal and is ambushed by long-haired effeminate Hippies and screaming, spitting women (who are oh so easily able to get close to the soldiers), being called ‘baby-killers’ and murderers before managing to escape the fury of the Anti-War mob. Already, this scenario invites questions. Were Army guards not at the airport? Were roving bands of Ant-War mobs just allowed to wander in and to try to physically assault returning troops that easily on numerous occasions without either airport security or the Army kicking up a fuss? Why also San Francisco? Were there no other airports to go to? Why were the spitters (again always long-haired hippies and screaming women) attacking the men with no retribution? Are you saying in all honesty that every soldier spat on simply slinked away or did nothing at all? No soldier tried to defend himself or punch a spitter? The vast majority of spitting stories follow this narrative which does not make sense and for which there is no documented evidence except for these stories. Surely, if this tale happened as often as it was believed to have happened surely there would be one photo of a spitter or of a brawl when a soldier fought back or even a contemporary news report on its occurrence? Again, we are left with the feeling that the spat-upon vet is a myth. One that has been deliberately created and constructed for a multitude of political, historical and cultural purposes. Thirdly, Lembcke explains that to demonise the Anti-War movement, the Vietnam Veterans against War and to bolster support for their own administration, Nixon-Agnew did everything possible to denigrate and disparage both groups and turn them against each other, portraying the Anti-War movement as treasonous, anti-American communists and the VVAW as demented, damaged and dangerous veterans whose words and warnings could not be trusted, thereby creating the myth of the spat-upon vet. By portraying the Anti-War movement as being disrespectful and hateful against the ‘good’ or pro-war vets who they allegedly spat upon, Nixon-Agnew did everything possible to drive a wedge between the two groups and to destroy the friendship and teamwork that was building between the two groups which was especially strong and beneficial in the late 1960s. Hell, there’s even a history documentary about Anti-War GIs on YouTube called ‘Sir! No! Sir!’, about the Anti-War movement among American GIs which horrified Nixon-Agnew (Bloody hypocritical of Nixon considering that his disruption of the peace talks in 1968 prolonged the war and cost American lives). By creating and fanning the flames of the image of the Anti-War movement spitting and harassing returning Vietnam Vets, Nixon-Agnew succeeded in portraying the Anti-War movement as unamerican and dangerous while fuelling the myth that they were responsible for the losing war in Vietnam, taking away blame and condemnation from the government and military. The link to ‘Sir! No! Sir!’ is here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Laue7... Lembcke’s book has more reasons in it from the creation of the myth of the Vietnam Vet as a guilt-ridden, PTSD stricken, deranged and dangerous outsider whose words could not be trusted, the image of the spat-upon soldier being common stories among the returning German soldiers of WWI and the returning French soldiers from the loss of French Indochina in 1953, the fear men have female bodily fluid and the impact it can have on their virility and the collective, profound impact of Vietnam War films upon the psyche of a people especially those born after such events happened. It is all there in great and fascinating detail. I tell you when I read his recounting of the story of the spat-upon vet and how they almost always follow the same steps, I realised I had read or heard the exact same retelling, nearly word for word, in either books about the Vietnam War or from interviews where comes in second hand from a friend or a relative of the spat upon soldier. It was frankly a depressing moment when I grasped that those retellings were most likely exaggerations or probable falsehoods. It just shows the power of collective memory, the belief that US soldiers would never lie to friends or family, how people can start believe in things that never happened to them and how an imaginative myth is more compelling than an uninteresting truth. Also, reading Lembke’s book I got the distinct impression that there was a racial component behind the idea that America and it soldiers were betrayed from within, by other white people. Remember, the 1960s and 70s were times of profound racial prejudice which saw African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities routinely harassed and discriminated against by Caucasians. It was time when Asian people had rampant slurs hurled at them especially in places of Asia where there was a US military presence like South-Korea or Taiwan and Vietnam was no exception. Could it be by putting forward the idea of America being stabbed in the back by other Americans and thereby losing the Vietnam War, that this removed acknowledging the fact that Hanoi and North Vietnamese had won by out fighting and out lasting the US Army? That America would not have to admit that the supposed greatest (predominantly white) country in the world lost to an impoverished and poor Asian nation? Its certainly one to consider. This is an emotive topic. Hell, look at any video, with a YouTube comment section, with even vague references to spat-upon veterans and you get a plethora of intense, emotional responses from anonymous YouTube commentators (Americans and Non-Americans with very American attitudes towards respecting the military) despairing over how vets were allegedly treated, accounts claiming to be vets detailing how they were spat on by, yet again, long-haired, effeminate hippies and screaming women at an airport (nearly all of them claim they are combat vets and when challenged to provide their army unit and base of operations, they very rarely answer) and others thanking the vets for their service (I’ve seen so called Irish people say this which makes me greatly doubt the veracity of them being Irish). One man who followed up on stories of veterans who claimed to have been spat on discovered that nearly all of them were fake, exaggerated or the men in question had been nowhere near Vietnam at the time of their service. Another thing to note is that a survey of Vietnam vets in 1971 and 1979 after they returned home reported that 97% had no negative experiences coming home and that 75% opposed the war after leaving the army. Certainly, its something to consider. This is a very well-written, carefully researched and compelling argued book, one that I would highly recommend. Lembcke’s with a fluid, fast-paced and engaging writing style. His words are crisp and poised, there is no superfluous words or jargon to be found. Lembcke writes out his thesis on the myth of the Vietnam Vet in a persuasive and insightful manner. He explains his argument in brilliant detail and determination to bring forward the truth, to help set the record straight. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    4 stars. The book is an exploration of the political uses of myth and how myth works its way into popular culture. It’s not a long book but sometimes difficult to get through. Sometimes conceptual discussion can’t be reduced without a loss of understanding. Vietnam veterans returning home were NOT spat upon. After viewing hundreds of hours of film of homecomings, and other sources, the author concludes that it never happened. Proving a negative is very hard, however. The author traces the myth th 4 stars. The book is an exploration of the political uses of myth and how myth works its way into popular culture. It’s not a long book but sometimes difficult to get through. Sometimes conceptual discussion can’t be reduced without a loss of understanding. Vietnam veterans returning home were NOT spat upon. After viewing hundreds of hours of film of homecomings, and other sources, the author concludes that it never happened. Proving a negative is very hard, however. The author traces the myth through films of the 70s, 80s, and into the Rambo movies. I wouldn’t be able to keep my lunch down, but he “soldiered” through it. Regimes that lose a war are in a difficult position. In colonial wars the assumption is always that their side is racially superior--and in the Vietnam era there was no shortage of disparagement of the “gooks”, “slants”. I happen to be old enough to remember some of this racist ugliness. How could a small, yellow, technologically basic people defeat us? We’ll bomb them back to the stone age, right? So, how do you as the leader(s) of a regime, eg Nixon-Agnew, explain the loss? First you try to postpone the loss--that was what Vietnamization was about. Then, you try to direct political focus away from a rational evaluation of the war to stigmatize the anti-war movement of vets coming home and campus anti-war protesters. Characterize the anti-war movement as women and scruffy effeminate men who are hostile to veterans (something totally false). Anti-war vets were labeled as mentally disturbed or unstable. They have “Vietnam War Syndrome” or later as suffering from PTSD (which I think is a real thing, but not a reason to discredit their political point of view). Oh, these nattering nabobs, as Agnew said! Other regimes who’ve lost wars cannot admit that their generals were inept or that their war strategy failed. Instead, an emotional, visual myth is floated. German WWI wartime leaders came up with the myth of homefront traitors who “stabbed the good soldiers in the back” (Nazis loved this one). The secondary myth used was of women spitting on returning soldiers. Neither was true. The women-spitting myth also played into misogyny, fear of wetness, and patriarchal bias of most right-wing groups. After the French lost to the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a similar myth of spitting on returning soldiers was brought into play. And, as often happens with losing regimes, they want another chance to come home victors--so they doubled down on Algeria. It took another 8 years to admit that that war was a loss too. Thankfully, when DeGaulle came back into power, he was popular enough to sustain the political cost of ending the war. A smaller man, a Nixon perhaps, would have carried it on, endlessly searching for an exit of “peace with honor” as more and more people died.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

    I loved this book. The author provides persuasive evidence that the image of anti-war protesters spitting on returning Vietnam vets is a myth. Historical evidence shows a lot of cooperation between anti-war activists and vets, and in fact many vets became very active in protesting the war, starting organizations such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The author was not able to find one piece of evidence to document any incidences of vets being spit on by protesters. There IS evidence of vets I loved this book. The author provides persuasive evidence that the image of anti-war protesters spitting on returning Vietnam vets is a myth. Historical evidence shows a lot of cooperation between anti-war activists and vets, and in fact many vets became very active in protesting the war, starting organizations such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The author was not able to find one piece of evidence to document any incidences of vets being spit on by protesters. There IS evidence of vets being harassed and abused, but it is all FROM OTHER VETS--those aligned with the conservative American Legion and VFW, who resented the Vietnam vets' anti-war stance and their "inability" to win the war. The premise of the book is that images of vets being spit on was a useful took the Nixon Administration came up with to turn public support away from protesters. The debate becomes not about the war but about whether or not you support soldiers. Thus, the means of war (soldiers) become the reason for the war itself (you have to support it or you're betraying the troops). The thing I found really interesting is how PTSD was created as a way to explain Vietnam vets' behaviors--it wasn't that they had seen horrible things and thought the war was unjust, and it CERTAINLY wasn't that they were right--it's that they felt guilt for surviving. It's a great discussion of the "discovery" and social construction of a medical condition. I skimmed the last few chapters where he goes into depth about myths and the repetition of spitting in stories of dishonored warriors--it felt a little repetitive. I also skipped most of the chapter on cinematic portrayals of Vietnam--he shows how over time films dropped any allusion to Vietnam vets as war protesters and replaced them with a set of characters that led up to Rambo--the bitter Vietnam vet who was spat upon when he returned and wasn't "allowed" to win the war because of betrayal at home. The depressing thing about the book is how familiar it all is--the discourse that says questioning a war is attacking the troops, the belittling of anti-war activists, and the pathologizing of any veterans who disagree with the war or make accusations of brutality on the part of American troops. The book was published in 1998; I'm sure the author didn't expect to see a repeat of the whole process so soon.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Stambaugh

    Interesting concept, but the methodology and execution is incredibly flawed. When authors use "evidence," but fail to annotate or cite where they found such information, issues are sure to arise. In addition, attempting to disprove thousands of soldiers own stories and feelings is impossible. The scope of study needed to even attempt such a feat is mindboggling and honestly unattainable unless you personally tried to interview each and every veteran, yet that would be flawed since many have pass Interesting concept, but the methodology and execution is incredibly flawed. When authors use "evidence," but fail to annotate or cite where they found such information, issues are sure to arise. In addition, attempting to disprove thousands of soldiers own stories and feelings is impossible. The scope of study needed to even attempt such a feat is mindboggling and honestly unattainable unless you personally tried to interview each and every veteran, yet that would be flawed since many have passed away and the study would always be incomplete.

  9. 5 out of 5

    E.D. Martin

    Amazing look at the government propaganda used to support an unpopular war. This book was written before troops went to Iraq and Afghanistan and instead focuses on Vietnam and the first Gulf war. And damn, the crap Nixon and Bush and their cronies were willing to pull, INCLUDING screwing with the minds of vets and using them as pawns to forward an unpopular war agenda. This is definitely a book I need to own and lend out.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donnie

    Guess what! Hippies never spit on veterans. This books is pretty cool. Its totally biased but, but he explains pretty well how Nixon and Agnew created the anti-soldier image of the anti-war movement.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chad Montabon

    My second Lembcke work - the first was - 'A Tailwind Tale' which was meant to make the case against live prisoners of war remeaining in Indochina. This is intended to dispel the myth of returing Vietnam veterans being spat upon by generally female counter culture stereotypes. The reasoning behind the stories are made clear and some of the practical issues; like where veterans were actually released from active duty and what they would have been wearing upon their 'return' are covered. There is som My second Lembcke work - the first was - 'A Tailwind Tale' which was meant to make the case against live prisoners of war remeaining in Indochina. This is intended to dispel the myth of returing Vietnam veterans being spat upon by generally female counter culture stereotypes. The reasoning behind the stories are made clear and some of the practical issues; like where veterans were actually released from active duty and what they would have been wearing upon their 'return' are covered. There is something of a hyperemphasis on the popular culture of the time that they myths became prominent and whentheir usefulness was at their greatest. 'Coming Home' is a well known movie of that era, but some of the lesser known movies are given similar treatment and, being lesser known, one wonders at Lembcke's editorial choises in making his case.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jason von Meding

    Such an interesting look at how myths have been created in American culture by political figures, Hollywood and the media. The common narratives, once established, are recycled through the stories people tell as alibis for losing the war in Vietnam. We end up 50 years later thinking that the anti-war movement and veterans were antagonistic towards each other - this is downright false. The images of spitting protesters and psychologically damaged vets are ingrained intentionally to assign blame w Such an interesting look at how myths have been created in American culture by political figures, Hollywood and the media. The common narratives, once established, are recycled through the stories people tell as alibis for losing the war in Vietnam. We end up 50 years later thinking that the anti-war movement and veterans were antagonistic towards each other - this is downright false. The images of spitting protesters and psychologically damaged vets are ingrained intentionally to assign blame wrongly for losing the war, and to preemptively challenge anyone who might protest future wars. Brilliant investigative work by Lembcke. Highly recommend!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tom Darrow

    In this book, Jerry Lemncke takes on the rather ambitious task of trying to determine if the commonly held notion that Vietnam War veterans were spit upon by anti-war protesters is actually true. It's an interesting project, but one that is very poorly executed. The first major flaw that the author himself points out in the introduction is the difficulty in proving a negative. No matter how many archival records a writer goes through without finding an example of this behavior, all it takes is is In this book, Jerry Lemncke takes on the rather ambitious task of trying to determine if the commonly held notion that Vietnam War veterans were spit upon by anti-war protesters is actually true. It's an interesting project, but one that is very poorly executed. The first major flaw that the author himself points out in the introduction is the difficulty in proving a negative. No matter how many archival records a writer goes through without finding an example of this behavior, all it takes is is someone to find one example of it happening to break his argument apart. Even though he acknowledges this difficulty, he goes ahead and tries to prove a negative anyway. Another major problem with this book is the fact that it is all over the place in topic matter, reading more like multiple papers on the Vietnam War than a cohesive work with a clearly proven thesis. Individual sections have some merits, like where he sheds light on the efforts of veterans in early anti-war organizations. Also, there are a few places where he systematically analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of survey questions that were asked to troops. Overall, though, most of his points are little more than weakly substantiated, broad sweeping generalizations... like the "fact" that women don't spit. The final big problem with this book is its sourcing. He is a sociologist by trade, so there are some in-text citations which will drive historians nuts. He also mixes in some end notes, but there doesn't appear to be any method behind what is cited where. Finally, he makes references to numerous sources that he never actually cites. For example, on page 33 he writes "flyers and posters from 1966 and 1967 found in the files of various anti-war organizations show...". Which flyers and posters are they? Which organizations files is he looking at? The author doesn't provide any documentation for this claim. Overall, this book has a lot of promise and some educational spots, but it completely lacks a professional historical approach.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    An interesting, thorough, and timely read. The author argues that this myth is still used as a tool to galvanize support for war by demonizing pacifists, "to sow confusion, stir political passions, and lead large numbers of citizens into war." The government and media have defined what it means to be a good citizen, a good soldier, an ideal male. To question policy and propaganda is to be anti-American and guilty of siding with the enemy. The image of the returning veteran being assaulted by pro An interesting, thorough, and timely read. The author argues that this myth is still used as a tool to galvanize support for war by demonizing pacifists, "to sow confusion, stir political passions, and lead large numbers of citizens into war." The government and media have defined what it means to be a good citizen, a good soldier, an ideal male. To question policy and propaganda is to be anti-American and guilty of siding with the enemy. The image of the returning veteran being assaulted by protestors was carefully crafted to cast the peace movement as a treasonous, weak, and effeminate group of people who betrayed "our boys." The author explores the definition of maleness in a culture "that confers manhood on warriors, but not on peacemakers." I did not give all five stars in my rating for two reasons. One is that there are numerous distracting typos, and the writing style of each chapter reads like a freshman term paper: The predictable standard format of topic sentence, supporting paragraphs, and a restated (sometimes word-for-word) topic sentence to wrap it all up. The subject matter and the author's passion make up for it, though. Second, a portion of the chapter called "Women, Wetness, and Warrior Dreams" just got a little silly, drawing a strained connection between the offense one takes at being spat upon and some primeval fear humans have of returning to the waters (fluids, get it?) from which we emerged (author cites the Old Testament and creation myths in general). However, if you can humor the writer for a few pages, this book is certainly worth your attention.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Very very important book that establishes beyond all reasonable doubt that the image everyone knows of anti-war protestors spitting on returning Vietnam vets never, or very very rarely, happened. The only contemporary reports of spitting during protests were of hostile onlookers spitting *at* war protestors. There is no contemporary documentation of the standard myth, which was orchestrated by the Nixon-Agnew administration after the 1969 Moratorium. The documentary record, in fact, indicates th Very very important book that establishes beyond all reasonable doubt that the image everyone knows of anti-war protestors spitting on returning Vietnam vets never, or very very rarely, happened. The only contemporary reports of spitting during protests were of hostile onlookers spitting *at* war protestors. There is no contemporary documentation of the standard myth, which was orchestrated by the Nixon-Agnew administration after the 1969 Moratorium. The documentary record, in fact, indicates that from the beginning, the anti-war movement went out of its way to support GIs who were themselves opposed to the war. Lembcke's also good on the reasons this particular myth took root. Without question, many Vietnam vets believe they were spit on, but the memories didn't surface in significant numbers until the end of the 1970s, mapping onto images that were taken out of context and deployed by the conservative noise machine as part of a largely successful effort to turn the response to American wars from a discussion of policy to a "defense of the troops."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This a very interesting book, especially since I am from a generation who doesn't learn much about Vietnam in high school. What I "knew" about Vietnam is what the media created. So when I read the book it was sort of like a light-bulb going off. It was like there were pieces added to an unfinished puzzle. Spitting Image looks at the War and the "spit" myth. To prove that the spat on soldier was a myth, he looked at media from the war and compared it to post war media. What he found is that the fi This a very interesting book, especially since I am from a generation who doesn't learn much about Vietnam in high school. What I "knew" about Vietnam is what the media created. So when I read the book it was sort of like a light-bulb going off. It was like there were pieces added to an unfinished puzzle. Spitting Image looks at the War and the "spit" myth. To prove that the spat on soldier was a myth, he looked at media from the war and compared it to post war media. What he found is that the first article written claiming that a soldier was spat on was several years after the war. He also talked about how the soldiers were actively part of the anti-war movement. The book is an easy read, but becomes a bit tedious in the middle where Lembcke tries to break down the psychology of "why spit." He states that spit might be from men's fear of female bodily fluids. Whether or not this is true or far fetched, it isn't important.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Austin Porter

    The mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans by people who thought the war was, at best, unwise and unnecessary is an urban myth perpetuated proponents of particular wars. The people who mistreat members of our military are those who send them off to fight in wars that should never have been fought And when our troops return home wounded and in need, do everything they can to deny our veterans the benefits and support they deserve. The only photograph of a Vietnam Vet being spat upon is of a member The mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans by people who thought the war was, at best, unwise and unnecessary is an urban myth perpetuated proponents of particular wars. The people who mistreat members of our military are those who send them off to fight in wars that should never have been fought And when our troops return home wounded and in need, do everything they can to deny our veterans the benefits and support they deserve. The only photograph of a Vietnam Vet being spat upon is of a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War being spat on by a supporter of the war. We don't have a tradition of treating our veterans well. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, a WW1I POW, George W. Bush, who manged to avoid fighting in a war he still feels was just, treated our troops "like tin soldiers given to a rich kid on Christmas."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike Snyder

    Great corrective to the successful conscious effort of the ruling elites through PR and film to change how Americans remember the Vietnam War. It's remarkable how successfully the facts of a massive GI revolt against the war alongside the domestic anti-war movement were changed into a fiction of crazed guilt-ridden veterans and wild anti-GI hippies. This should be required reading in any course on the war. Great corrective to the successful conscious effort of the ruling elites through PR and film to change how Americans remember the Vietnam War. It's remarkable how successfully the facts of a massive GI revolt against the war alongside the domestic anti-war movement were changed into a fiction of crazed guilt-ridden veterans and wild anti-GI hippies. This should be required reading in any course on the war.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Maude

    This is a dissection of how the anti war moment became "the reason" why America lost the Vietnam War rather than the failed policies of incompetent administrations. Though some of the interpretations are overly dependent on cultural symbolism, the over all frame makes sense especially when juxtaposed to the build up and implementation of the Iraq war. This is a dissection of how the anti war moment became "the reason" why America lost the Vietnam War rather than the failed policies of incompetent administrations. Though some of the interpretations are overly dependent on cultural symbolism, the over all frame makes sense especially when juxtaposed to the build up and implementation of the Iraq war.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brendon

    Reading for Historical Myth Class.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    crap, I lost this book on the bus and it was a library book. UPDATE: The library gave me another copy!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christy

  23. 4 out of 5

    David

  24. 4 out of 5

    Under_rubble

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Ward

  27. 4 out of 5

    Curt

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Turner

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alan Bickley

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