Chad Barlow, in his impassioned support of war [Some War Is Necessary, February 14], repeats the myth that peace activists "SPAT ON our soldiers returning from Vietnam." It's a great story, but like many right-wing myths (e.g., the story of feminists burning bras), it is simply not true.
Jerry Lembcke, an associate professor of sociology at Holy Cross College, did an exhaustive search in the process of writing his 1998 book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam. He found not a single case of a returning Vietnam veteran spat upon by antiwar activists. ... A Harris Poll in 1971 showed that only 1% of the veterans encountered hostile reactions when they came home, and they did not think the antiwar movement was hostile to them.
There are practically no reports of spitting during the war itself (1965-75). The first reported instance occurs during an International Day of Protest featuring "Veterans for Peace in Vietnam." Here it is the war supporters who are spitting on the pro-peace veterans. In 1965, World War II veterans who were taking part in an antiwar demonstration were reviled as "cowards" and "traitors."
Lembcke says this started with propaganda from the Nixon White House, which was working hard to shift attention from the US stated objectives in Vietnam, to the protestors' supposed failure to "support the troops". But that's not where it ended:
What solidified the image of the reviled, spat-upon, and eventually crazed Vietnam veteran was the movies. It started in Jane Fonda's Coming Home, where a returning vet is verbally accosted as he returns home: "We don't want your rotten war!" Trouble is, peace activists quietly picketed soldiers going to Vietnam, not returning. But it was the 1977 movie Tracks in which we got the good pro-war veteran and the bad antiwar activist, Mark, who repeatedly spits on his opponents. Hollywood's role in creating the myth of the spat-upon veteran had begun.
And the end result was Rambo, the crazed Vietnam veteran: "But somebody wouldn't let us win. I come back and see all these maggots at the airport. Protesting me, spitting, calling me a baby-killer. Who are they to protest me? Huh?"
Damn those Hollywood liberals.