Perhaps most of you are familiar with the line from the Vietnam War days. The line is: “The anti-war people spit on the returning veterans!” The story, told endlessly by pro-Vietnam War folks, is that long-haired, hippie, anti-American antiwar protesters spit on the returning veterans coming back from the Vietnam War. They also supposedly called them, “baby-killers.” As the story is usually told, it’s always women, young, beautiful women, who spit on the haggard, wounded, ill and psychologically battered heroes as they disembarked off the plane or ship or whatever and set their first steps on US soil. “Their women spit on our brave heroes!” is the line. A journalist, Jerry Lembcke, investigated these claims and wrote a whole book about it, Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, published in 1998. Lembcke went back over every single case of someone who said they got spit on, or who reported soldiers getting spit on, and he was not able to substantiate a single case. None of the soldiers reported getting spit on, though you might have expected some of them to lie. It’s was always, “someone I know” or “someone told me.” Same thing with the civilians. A friend witnessed soldiers getting spit on, or told them about soldiers getting spit on, or a soldier they knew got spit on. None of the stories panned out when Lembcke tried to track them down. Furthermore, Lembcke noted that there were no regular flights or ships coming into civilian airports or ports bringing soldiers in uniform. The story always is that the uniformed soldiers are disembarking the flight or the ship at a civilian airport or civilian port to waiting throngs of jeering antiwar protesters. It is here that the dirty deed of girls spitting on brave patriotic men occurred. One problem here. All soldiers coming back from Vietnam disembarked at Navy, Air Force or Army bases. These are places where no civilians are allowed. There’s no way for waiting throng of protesters to greet uniformed troops coming off planes or ships. The protesters can’t get anywhere near the scene of the disembarking in order to line up and protest. So it turns out that one of the worst lies of Vietnam War is just that – a great big fat lie. I believe that some antiwar protesters may have shouted, “Baby-killers!” at some soldiers, but after My Lai and other massacres, you had to admit there might have been some truth to that. Actually, considering how crazy a lot of those Vietnam protesters were, I am surprised that they didn’t spit on returning troops. That’s something I fully expected the most whacked out of them to do. Perhaps you were wondering where that line originated? It did not have its genesis in the Vietnam War. The reporter, on doing some digging, found something far more sinister. The story about beautiful young, unpatriotic antiwar protesters spitting on wounded, shell-shocked and beleaguered heroes originated WW1 postwar Germany. At the time, it was said that as the brave German soldiers trudged home from the front, battered, freaked-out and defeated, throngs of beautiful, blond young German maidens lined the streets and spit on them as they passed by. After all they had been through, it was the ultimate insult. Problem is it was a lie then and it was a lie in Vietnam. Lembcke went back and researched the cases in Germany, and it turned out that German historians widely agreed that this never happened. Guess who made up this lie? The Nazis, and the proto-Nazis. After all, Hitler himself, as a wounded returning soldier, came out of the hospital after three months and was outraged that his society turned his back and him and his fellow returning veterans. Worse, the vets seemed to be blamed for the war. That was the last straw. The vets formed rightwing populist groups like the Freicorps and rampaged through the streets of Germany in the 1920’s, attacking Communists, socialists, pacifists, trade unionists and anyone deemed un-German. They were used by the German elite to attack their enemies on the Left at a time when Left wing revolution threatened Germany in the early 1920’s. Problem is, the monster got out of hand, turned into the Nazis 13 years later, seized the government and went nuts. If the story ended there it would be bad enough, but it does not. Lembcke found that the story emerged again in France, when returning vets from the Algerian War were spit on beautiful, unpatriotic young French lasses as they trudged home, bitter, wounded, defeated, thousand yard stares poking holes in the Parisian landscape. The author researched the story there, too. French historians looked into the case and found that it never happened then either. It’s never happened anywhere, not in Germany, nor in France, nor in the US. Sure, it could happen anytime, but historically, it never has. It’s important to shoot down this lie because even I believed it until a colleague told me about this book. Note that the beautiful young women are an essential aspect of the story. The evil unpatriotic antiwar protesters convince the most beautiful women of the land to turn against its very finest men, men who risked their lives for the nation. There is something particularly humiliating about a grown man being spit on by a woman, especially a beautiful young woman, especially when he is a brave warrior, especially when his pride, dignity, manners and chivalry prevents him from fighting back against a woman. The scene implies all sorts of things, especially men humiliated in their manhood after it has already been battered by war and especially by defeat or quasi-defeat. There are overtones of impotence and women mocking men for their impotence or lack of masculinity. The symbolism runs deep and it’s designed to make blood boil. It all adds up to one nasty equation. You do the math. It’s also interesting that this lie originated with fascists, in particular ultra-nationalist Nazis. Then it went to ultranationalist French colonizers of the early 1960’s. The French who supported the war in Algeria are generally considered to be a far Right grouping. It emerges again in nationalist Americans fighting another more or less colonial war in Indochina. I don’t like to call my fellow Americans fascists or Nazis, but the trail of this lie is quite clear. Shame on anyone who knowingly repeats it.
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