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Spitting Report, Part II: Of Civilian Airports and Attempted Debunkings.--

Spitting Report, Part II:
Landing at Civilian Airports and Other Problems With Attempted Debunkings.

1. BACKGROUND:

In my first, somewhat speculative post on the stories about servicemen and veterans being spat upon during the Vietnam era, I suggested that perhaps Professor Jerry Lembcke had not fully understood the limitations of LEXIS/NEXIS, the most popular service for news searches (a problem NEXIS shares with WESTLAW). Because in NEXIS the full texts of most of the major newspapers start about 1982, NEXIS is effective for searching 1983 to the present, but is usually not useful for pre-1979 events and is of only marginal utility for 1979-82 searches.

My next post (on newspaper evidence of spitting 1967-72) was the first of several more formal reports on the issue of spitting. Perhaps Lembcke’s most central evidentiary claim is that, if spitting on servicemen was fairly common in the Vietnam era, there would be at least some evidence of it in accounts of the period—if not news reports of spitting on soldiers at least some discussions of it. Lembcke claims that there were no contemporaneous accounts of spitting and no discussions of it, except for one retrospective account in a 1973 book by Robert Jay Lifton and an ambiguous mention by Cardinal John J. O’Connor in a 1968 book. Lembcke claimed that stories of spitting started appearing in the press about 1980.

I found and documented many contemporaneous news accounts of spitting on servicemen in the 1967-72 period. I found many other more generalized discussions of spitting on servicemen in news stories, columns, and letters to the editor (most of which I didn’t bother to cite). Thus, one of Lembcke’s main reasons for doubting the many 1987-2007 extant oral histories of being spat upon is simply false.

Today’s post considers several issues, including Professor Jerry Lembcke’s claims that “no returning soldiers landed at San Francisco Airport,” and that “GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports.”

I show that the San Francisco International Airport, where some of the spitting incidents are alleged to have occurred, was authorized as one of the four main West Coast “ports of debarkation” where servicemen returned on direct flights from overseas (among the others was Travis Air Force Base). Not only did Army Regulations in the late 1960s and early 1970s designate the San Francisco International Airport to receive direct flights of military personnel, they required the Oakland Army Terminal to staff a returnee team located at the San Francisco Airport to meet and process servicemen arriving directly from Vietnam and the Far East. Further, the particular spitting story that Lembcke has most often attempted to debunk involved a soldier on emergency leave, a status that typically allowed soldiers to fly on commercial flights directly to US commercial airports at Army expense (see discussion below). Thus, another reason that Lembcke raises for doubting spitting stories is also flatly false.

MORE TO COME WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON.

Anonyguest:
Pickiness--Travis AFB is north of Oakland, not east. It's about 40 miles away (45 from San Francisco), so it seems unlikely that anyone would say "Oakland AFB" while meaning Travis. Maybe the writer meant to refer to the Oakland Army Base. Now closed, it was a major staging point for troops moving by ship to Vietnam. I recall times when demonstrators tried to block its gates. I don't know if troops returning from Vietnam came back by sea to the Oakland base.
2.21.2007 3:22am
Daryl Herbert (www):
Other reasons to believe multiple spitting incidents might occur together:

1: witnessing one spitting (and Mr. Streeter's passivity) might encourage another spitter

2: maybe there was just something about the way Mr. Streeter looked that made haters really want to spit at him, moreso than at others (or there was something in the news that particular day)

3: Conspiracy

Surely if these compassionate liberal "debunkers" were collecting examples of racist attacks targeted at blacks, they would consider those possibilities towards explaining outliers instead of demonizing those who came forward as liars.

The double standard is not due to a lack of creativity, intelligence, or competence on their part.
2.21.2007 3:28am
Ben Coates:
A small technical request: Would it be possible to make the "click here to see the rest of this post" part be visible by default when you click onto the comments link? This is how most blog-like sites work, and right now it's impossible to see the hidden post part if you have javascript disabled.
2.21.2007 3:45am
Rick Helscher (mail):
While I was not spit on, I can attest that it was very common to transit SFO. I landed at Travis (from Osan AB, ROK), cleared customs and immigration,took a military shuttle bus to SFO and flew home on leave, all while in class A uniform. There were a lot of GIs in uniform at SFO in transit. I don't remember any particular hostility, but I was so damn glad to be home that I might have not paid any attention. All this was in 1970.
2.21.2007 5:41am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Lembcke leaves out--deliberately?--the issue of where a soldier goes once he arrives on CONUS.
Unless he lives in the area of the AFB or designated civilian airport, he'll be getting on another plane. Plenty of airports for him to traverse in the rest of his journey.
The hostility may have been concentrated at airports where the troops could be expected in large numbers and at many times, but it was not confined there. Greene's book makes it clear that a soldier could experience it anywhere. So changing flights at some other airport or getting off at the final destination would bring a soldier among enough people to have a reasonable chance of encountering hostility.
2.21.2007 8:08am
rarango (mail):
I thought Professor Lindgren did a pretty good job of pointing out the limitations of Lembcke's incomplete research. The airport thing further demonstrates a lack of solid research. IIRC, Lembcke published his work in a book; I don't know if it appeared as a journal article, but if it had, I would have thought peer review would have caught such obvious methodological shortcomings.

One can only speculate, but Lembcke is a sociologist and not an historian--perhaps that is why he failed to consider the use of oral histories as primary source material.
2.21.2007 8:53am
William Western (mail):
In 1974 I was a Lieutenant of Marines. I returned from Okinawa to the US in April 1974 on a civilian aircraft which landed at LAX. I was in uniform and my welcome home was from a female hippy wearing a McCarthy for president t-shirt. She spat square in my chest. Your Professor Lembcke is a liar, and he knows it.
2.21.2007 9:21am
Justin (mail):
Once again, with the war in Iraq an abysmal failure and a human rights nightmare, and his friends and allies proposing a second war to compliment the first that they managed so well, James is surely doing the Lord's work - marginalizing the people who accurately predicted the consequences of the Iraq war so they cannot stop the Iran war, by ad hominen criticism, by association, of the previous generation. Surely, this is *much* more important than the question, say, of whether this administration is attempting to act illegally (within the boundaries of the Iraq war) in order to goad Iran into a ground war.
2.21.2007 9:37am
MDJD2B (mail):
Was Justin's post off topic, or am I missing something?
2.21.2007 9:51am
RBG (mail):
Justin,

Just to clear things up:

Ad hominem: logical fallacy in which the writer attacks the person who presents the issue rather than deal logically with the issue itself.

Red herring: Something that draws attention away from the central issue [of the argument at hand].

Here endeth the lesson in elementary logical fallacies.
2.21.2007 10:39am
Frederick Baker (mail):
I returned from Vietnam in December 1969, an NCO in the Marine Corps. Landed at Travis; transported by bus to Pendleton where I was discharged. Still in uniform, I hitched to LAX for my flight home to Bethesda. As I stood by the side of the road, several bottles, cans, and flaming cigarette butts were launched at me from the windows of passing cars containing those who appeared to be of the counter-culture persuasion. No spit that I'm aware of, although at the airport other soldiers returning home (we tended to stick together) told me convincingly they had been spat upon. I believed them then and I believe them now. By the way, after 13 months in country I was sympathetic to the views of those who opposed the war.
2.21.2007 11:20am
James Fulford (mail):

Was Justin's post off topic, or am I missing something?


Yes and no. Many people who want to see the United States defeated in Iraq see themselves as the heirs of an the earlier generation of anti-war types, who achieved a North Vietnamese victory through political action in the United States.

Therefore, any criticism of the spitters implies an implicit support for the United States. (Which is fine by me, but not wth Justin.)
2.21.2007 11:32am
Gabriel Malor (mail):
I also am confused by Justin's comment. Is he saying that spitting occurred? Is he saying that spitting didn't occur? Or is he, like so many others, simply demanding that the bloggers here at volokh.com write about what he wants them to write about, rather than their own interests?
2.21.2007 11:45am
RBG (mail):
I think the "reasoning" Justin displays goes something like this: Lembcke and folks like him (and perhaps "scholars" like Bellesiles?) are doing, to use Justin's phrase, God's work in opposing the war effort (or challenging America's historical mythologies). As such, the sanctity of their cause sets them apart; moreover, their persons become indistinguishable from their research. Consequently, challenges to the quality of their research become attacks upon their person, and thus can be dismissed as "ad hominem." It's convoluted, to be sure, but truthiness is a harsh mistress.
2.21.2007 12:22pm
Justin (mail):
I think the best way to interpret or understand my comments is to read the comments threads of the Lindgren's previous posts on the topic, rather than create innovative and fun interpretations out of new cloth.
2.21.2007 1:15pm
RBG (mail):
Justin,

My complaint is not with your criticism of Lindgren's selection of topics worth discussing. I happen to think he's delving into some interesting issues regarding historical research, scholarly competence, and ideological mythmaking. You don't. That's fine. What's ridiculous is to characterize Lindgren's criticisms as "ad hominem" when his arguments focus entirely on the quality of Lembcke's research and to characterize as somehow relevant to Lindgren's argument the fact that he's not addressing the atrocities of the Bushitler regime--the "red herring" I referred to above. If you don't like Lindgren's selection of topics, say so, but don't throw around accusations of whatever logical fallacy happens to be lying nearby. Someone's liable to get hurt.
2.21.2007 1:22pm
Justin (mail):
The underlying reason for Lindgren's research (not his conclusion, but the PURPOSE of his conclusion) is to besmerch protesters as being too uncivil to have their ideas treated seriously. That is ad hominen.
2.21.2007 1:27pm
rarango (mail):
I suppose we could ask Professor Lindgren what the purpose of his research was. It seem to me, Justin, you are inferring a lot more into Lindgren's work than the evidence suggests. And quite frankly, given my Viet Nam era experience, I would have certainly questioned Lembcke's thesis and do some research on my own.
2.21.2007 1:48pm
RBG (mail):
Not sure how you go about divining the intentions of bloggers, but if you want to play that game, isn't turnabout fair play? Using that mode of analysis, I would be willing to wager good money that Lembcke's purpose of his conclusion is to besmirch anti-anti-war folks as unjustly accusing the anti-war protestors of being uncivil and unpatriotic, thereby showing that they should not have their views taken seriously.

Why the obsession with Lindgren? The myth/narrative of troop-spitting is out there. Lembcke has tried to debunk it, no doubt for his own ideological purposes. If Lindgren objects to Lembcke's argument as insufficiently supported by the documentary evidence or plagued by logical errors, is he precluded from commenting unless he can prove that he doesn't in fact want to besmirch the reputations of anti-war protesters? Is untainted motivation now the sine qua non of academic inquiry? Isn't it possible to take an interest in challenging shoddy historical research for its own sake? Why should I care about a researcher's motivation if it clarifies the historical record? Just as I wouldn't care if I learned that Jonas Salk pursued his polio research because he found the sight of disabled people to be physically revolting, why should I care if Lindgren's analysis of Lembcke's apparently slapdash approach to history is motivated by a deep antipathy to the anti-war movement? As long as he properly uses the sources and makes coherent arguments, it just doesn't matter. Unless, I suppose, you aspire to the office of Grand Inquisitor, claiming the ability to peer deeply into people's souls to determine whether their arguments and claims should be taken seriously. But, dude, that's just kind of creepy.
2.21.2007 1:56pm
FredR (mail):
"The underlying reason for Lindgren's research (not his conclusion, but the PURPOSE of his conclusion) is to besmerch protesters as being too uncivil to have their ideas treated seriously. That is ad hominen."

Ad hominum is Latin for "to the person" and means attacking your opponent personally rather than addressing the substance of his arguments. Which is essentially what you're doing — attacking what you presume to be Lindgren's impure political motives rather than his actual arguments.
2.21.2007 2:36pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
WRT "smirching", etc. The anti-war types of an earlier generation besmirched themselves. Lembcke wants to desmirch them so their successors can be pure as the driven snow. Lindgren commits a major inconvenience when he debunks the desmirching.

IMO, as long as we're into guessing motivations, Lembcke's motivation is to start the meme that the anti-war guys back then did nothing dishonorable and were only lied about by the babykilling troglodytes. Then, when the current generation of anti-war folks becomes true to type, the reports can be dismissed as--snork, another troop-spitting fable--snork.

How's that, Justin?

And if true, it would explain Justin's discomfort with Lindgren's scholarship.
2.21.2007 2:37pm
James Fulford (mail):
Lembcke is quoted as saying


There are many stories like this one (the prevalence of San Francisco in these stories might be suggestive of a story-telling cliché) . . .


It might also be suggestive of San Francisco being a major West Coast airport, with flights from the Far East, where many people landed.

If you're travelling by plane from Tokyo, Korea, or Viet Nam, you pretty much have to land somewhere on the West Coast. Of course, SF had, and still has, a pretty extensive hippie population.(There was a sentimental song about it.)

They had some of the earliest demonstrations, and by 1967 they could get up to 100,000 people at a demonstration.

Opposition to America's defense of South Vietnam was massive and longstanding in the Bay Area, it's not just stereotype.
2.21.2007 2:57pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Was Justin's post off topic, or am I missing something?
Oh no, it was on topic. Careless or even intentional deception is a fundamental part of what has taken over a big part of the academic community in the last few years--and to serve a political agenda. Professor Lindgren points out that Lembcke's claims are, at best, inaccurate and carelessly made. Justin therefore has to attack Lindgren for pointing that out.

The fact is that a lot of the counterculture/leftist techniques in the Vietnam War era were actually counterproductive to their stated goals. My father was a pretty early opponent of the Vietnam War (back when a lot of people didn't quite know where that was), but the baggage that the antiwar movement brought with them (such as spitting on soldiers) tended to drive people like my father into a civil but relatively quite opposition to the war.

Iraq isn't Vietnam. The situations are very different in every respect except one: the U.S. is one side, and so the left has to be on the other. That's why they opposed overthrowing the Taliban, where we had a clear legal basis. That's why they have been doing their best to make sure that we lose Iraq--because anything that is on the other side of the U.S. must be good.
2.21.2007 3:29pm
Colin (mail):
Iraq isn't Vietnam. The situations are very different in every respect except one: the U.S. is one side, and so the left has to be on the other. That's why they opposed overthrowing the Taliban, where we had a clear legal basis. That's why they have been doing their best to make sure that we lose Iraq--because anything that is on the other side of the U.S. must be good.

If I didn't recognize the Cramer name, I would laugh derisively and say that this was an unrealistic parody of thoughtless, knee-jerk partisan gibberish. Is this really the caliber of your thought and argument, or are you just trolling? I would be ashamed to have my name attached to such hackneyed nonsense. Your comment is blithe, spiteful, and vacuous. The last paragraph, especially, is just an off-the-cuff smear of "the left." It reflects no actual thought or insight whatsoever.
2.21.2007 4:41pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
James Fulford.

It appears that defense of the Bay Area isn't any more popular now than the defense of Southeast Asia was going on forty years ago.
2.21.2007 4:43pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Colin. If you believe what you say, you need to meet some on the left.
It could be that they don't reflexively get into bed with our opponents, whoever they may be and other considerations notwithstanding. It could be that they never met a fascist, repressive regime they didn't like, as long as it was opposing us. In other words, they're not contrarians, they just like the kind of people who oppose western democracies for their own sweet sakes.
Got to be one of the two.
Your call.
2.21.2007 9:55pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If I didn't recognize the Cramer name, I would laugh derisively and say that this was an unrealistic parody of thoughtless, knee-jerk partisan gibberish. Is this really the caliber of your thought and argument, or are you just trolling? I would be ashamed to have my name attached to such hackneyed nonsense. Your comment is blithe, spiteful, and vacuous. The last paragraph, especially, is just an off-the-cuff smear of "the left." It reflects no actual thought or insight whatsoever.
Try again. Remember Michael Moore's opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan? Remember Michael Moore's calling the people that are blowing up civilians with car bombs to the Minutemen? Perhaps Michael Moore's portrayal of Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a happy place where children flew kites? Or the on-again, off-again support of the Nazis at the start of World War II, depending on whether the Soviet Union was on the side of the Nazis at the moment? Or the continual efforts of the left to portray the Rosenbergs as "victims" of McCarthyism? Or Noam Chomsky's explanation of why he doesn't actually visit Cuba, socialist paradise?

It is nearly impossible to smear the left on this matter, because there is almost no despicable position that the left hasn't been willing to take. The left has never defended cannibalism by America's enemies, but that's about the only defense that they haven't been willing to make.
2.21.2007 10:42pm
advisory opinion:

Ad hominum is Latin for "to the person" and means attacking your opponent personally rather than addressing the substance of his arguments. Which is essentially what you're doing — attacking what you presume to be Lindgren's impure political motives rather than his actual arguments.


Haha. Zing. Sorry Justin, FredR and RBG have got you banged to rights.
2.21.2007 11:07pm
Kevin Bowman (mail):
Lembcke's claim that soldiers did not fly into SF International and that, if they did, protesters would not know when to look for them is easily debunked. In this essay by antiwar activist Steve Rees in a 1979 book, he recalls how his group purposely sought out returning GIs to talk too them and hand out newspapers in SF International.
2.22.2007 12:26am
Jim Lindgren (mail):
Kevin,

Thanks.

I link and credit your significant find in Friday's morning's post on "academic folklore."

This post was too long to fit it in, so I included it in what will be Friday's post, when I take up the civilian airport argument again.

Jim Lindgren
2.22.2007 12:58am
Colin (mail):
Clayton Cramer: the U.S. is one side, and so the left has to be on the other. That's why they opposed overthrowing the Taliban, where we had a clear legal basis. That's why they have been doing their best to make sure that we lose Iraq--because anything that is on the other side of the U.S. must be good.
...
It is nearly impossible to smear the left on this matter, because there is almost no despicable position that the left hasn't been willing to take. The left has never defended cannibalism by America's enemies, but that's about the only defense that they haven't been willing to make.


Richard Aubrey: You think the people who support the war want to get the troops out alive. Have you checked out Murtha's scheme? It is to have US troops die and make certain they fail.

I wrote a couple of comments, trying to find some way to express how nasty, false, and inane these comments are. I deleted them, though. I don't think that I can do any more to highlight the insanity in these remarks than to set them out and make sure they don't get lost in the rush.
2.22.2007 2:37am