Last year I wrote an article, The New Extreme of the American Left, that describes the way many people who identify themselves as progressives today view the modern soldier. I began my article with what I thought was a given: In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, as American soldiers returned from Vietnam, they were met with scorn, spat on in airports, and called “baby killers”. To my surprise, I learned that there is another narrative, being held up by the left in particular (commondreams, truthout, alternet, seattletimes) that says vets were never spit upon. I found this hard to believe, and so I did a bit of research.
What I found is that the supposed refutation that has unfortunately gained some traction is all based on the views of one author, a Mr. Jerry Lembcke, who wrote a book saying that vets were not spit on, and that it is a myth (“The Spitting Image – Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam”). His thesis is that this is all a story told by the right wing in this country to discredit the left, anti-war movement. He theorizes further that the reported “spitting on soldiers” scenario was a mythical projection by those who felt “spat upon” …
While the use of these stories is being used to buttress an anti-left point of view, and to insist that these days we must support our troops at all costs, what surprised me is how eagerly news outlets on the left have accepted the idea that the mistreatment of returning Vietnam vets never happened, in spite of there being so much evidence that it did. It seems there is some serious revisionist history going on, with a direct bearing on how we see our past, and those in the military today.
So far, I’ve found 5 videos with first person oral histories, and 27 webpages where vets testify, in no uncertain terms, to the mistreatment they received. Some of these webpages point to contemporaneous citation – screenshots of articles written during the period they are referring to – which is one kind of evidence, the supposed absence of which Mr. Lembcke was basing his claims on. He must not have looked very hard.
I’d like to believe that Mr. Lembcke is a good intentioned, but ignorant leftist. He distorts a part of our history that, given our abundant resources, there should be no dispute about by this time.
Here is database on Swift Vets and POWs for Truth:
First person oral histories – video
It’s still happening today:
27 links to webpages with first hand testimony from Vietnam vets:
Veteran Bill Hunt: “Gulf War vets were treated quite well, as an over- reaction, I think, to how Vietnam Vets had been treated.”
in which one contributor mentions the Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene’s book,
“Sometimes, the treatment when we returned home was about as traumatic as the war. Bob Greene of the Chicago Tribune asked in his newspaper column whether we had been spat upon when returning to the USA from Nam. He got more than 1,000 responses. He published a collection of those stories in a book, Homecoming – When the Soldiers Returned From Vietnam. Most of the stories he received recount an event in an airport, by ‘hippies.’ Most are short and radiate emotion of that difficult time.”
here is a review of it:
See also Claude Thomas, in The Engaged Buddhist Reader, page 99.