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Spitting Report V: Servicemen and Anti-War Activists at the Airport.--

In a 2005 Boston Globe op-ed, Professor Jerry Lembcke appears to claim that he had smashed (as false) previous stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans (I wish he had indicated which ones). In the Globe, Lembcke attacks one account that indeed includes some ridiculous statements by the supposed spitting victim:

STORIES ABOUT spat-upon Vietnam veterans are like mercury: Smash one and six more appear. It's hard to say where they come from. For a book I wrote in 1998 I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on.

The story told by the man who spat on Jane Fonda at a book signing in Kansas City recently is typical. Michael Smith said he came back through Los Angeles airport where ''people were lined up to spit on us."

Like many stories of the spat-upon veteran genre, Smith's lacks credulity. GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops. There may have been exceptions, of course, but in those cases how would protesters have known in advance that a plane was being diverted to a civilian site? And even then, returnees would have been immediately bused to nearby military installations and processed for reassignment or discharge. The exaggerations in Smith's story are characteristic of those told by others. ''Most Vietnam veterans were spat on when we came back," he said. That's not true.

There are many problems with Lembcke's arguments—the chief one being that Lembcke claims Michael Smith's account is "characteristic of those told by others."

First, consider the doubtful context of Smith's account. He has been arrested for spitting on Jane Fonda and needs to justify himself. Anything Smith says could be doubted because he is reaching for an excuse for his criminal behavior (charges were eventually dropped).

Second, consider what Smith actually said: "Because of Jane Fonda, most Vietnam veterans were spit on when we came back. When I came back through LA Airport, there were people lined up to spit on us."

It is nonsense to suppose that most vets were spat on and to attribute this behavior to one person, Jane Fonda. Note that Smith does not say that he was spat on, but rather that people "were lined up" to do so; this differs considerably from the more direct accounts in Bob Greene's 1989 book Homecoming that people were actually spat at or spat on. Yet several respondents in Greene's book, even ones who reported no spitting, reported being hassled by groups of activists in the LA airport, including activists in lines or groups

What is particularly misleading about Lembcke's criticism of Smith is that Smith never claimed or even hinted that he had flown into LAX from Vietnam. Many servicemen flew into a military base and then were bused to LAX for flights home. Lembcke well knows this, and yet he would have readers believe that there is something wrong with a serviceman claiming to have been through LAX on the way home from Vietnam. That is a very misleading way to argue, because most readers will assume that Lembcke has some reason for thinking that Smith was claiming to have flown into LAX.

And Lembcke is just being silly with his implication that for protesters to be lined up at a civilian airport, they would have to have had advance notice of when troops were arriving by plane.

An article on the USO club at the civilian San Francisco airport describes how in December 1969, their busiest month so far, 54,766 servicemen stopped into the USO club; the picture accompanying the article shows a soldier signing into a log (December 17, 1970, San Mateo Times). That's over 1,500 a day. That's probably just a fraction of the military personnel who went through that civilian airport every day. Many who arrived at the airport by bus or car from the Oakland Army Terminal would have simply caught their flights for home.

Saying that you went through the San Francisco airport on the way to or from home or another military installation is something that perhaps 500,000 to 2 million men and women in the service did every year. Anti-war activists would not need to be informed about when troops would be arriving by plane to have a critical mass of targets for recruiting or abuse. While significantly fewer service personnel would have passed through LAX, the numbers should still have been huge.

Antiwar activists did stake out the San Francisco civilian airport because there were so many vets returning from Vietnam going through the airport. Indeed, they went to the SF Airport "because it was 'the first civilian ground they'd set foot on back in the states.'" (Tip to Kevin Bowman) Activist Steve Rees writes in his 1979 book, They Should Have Served Coffee, that their standard greeting to servicemen was: "Hey, soldier. Welcome home. F**k the Army. Read all about it in this paper. No charge." (p. 159)

Last, Smith's account is not typical. Most spitting accounts are specific on whether they were spat upon and make no obviously false claims, such as that most veterans were spat upon.

++++

I am suspicious of Smith's account for the very reasons that it is not typical of the stories in Bob Greene's book: because of (1) the criminal context in which Smith's story arose, (2) Smith's vagueness about whether he was actually spit on, and (3) Smith's obviously false speculations (which Lembcke notes but pretends are "characteristic"). But I am not suspicious for most of the reasons that Lembcke raises, which are specious and easily rebutted with evidence.

More tomorrow . . . .

Richard Aubrey (mail):
Lembcke's twisting and planted axioms about troops not being at civilian airports is far too well-constructed to have been an error.
It can only be a deliberate attempt to mislead. You only need one of those do suspect an entire work.

Buckley said, years ago, that Holocaust denial books are not for today. They are for another generation when the survivors and liberators are gone, when they--the books--will merely be one more book on the shelf, one more resource for research. Belleisle's book is still on the shelves in various libraries. I've checked. It will still be there, sometime in the future, when its history will be gone and it will be one more resource for looking at the subject. And, I suspect, this is Lembcke's goal.
2.22.2007 8:00am
bunkerbuster (mail):
In this spitting contest, one thing is undeniably clear: There is a profound need among some people to believer that the spitting took place, regardless of the avalance of evidence and common sense against the notion.

The American right is addicted to victimhood, thus the insatiable need for spitting myths and so on...
2.22.2007 8:27am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
bunkerbuster - please explain why you are (apparently) more persuaded by Lembcke than by JL. I ask because I don't have a horse in this race one way or the other, and it seems that the evidence and logic overwhelmingly favors the conclusion that spitting took place. On what basis do you disagree?

Thanks - Mike
2.22.2007 9:05am
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
I've a bemused attitude towards the whole thing. I would offer a couple observations--I flew to and from Vietnam on a commercial airliner from military bases. Once I was discharged, I immediately put on my civvies, not to avoid censure or spitting, but because I had dreamed for 1 year 11 months and 11 days of getting out of the Army.
That's an individual's memory. What happened to others and how they felt may differ.
2.22.2007 9:14am
rarango (mail):
"avalanche of evidence and common sense?" Wow--what Mike BUSLOt said!
2.22.2007 9:37am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Bunkerbuster, I'm one of the people who was spit on. The investment in fantasy is yours.
2.22.2007 9:55am
PersonFromPorlock:

The American right is addicted to victimhood...

Wow. See Matthew 7:3.
2.22.2007 9:57am
MnZ (mail):
I suspect that people like bunkerbuster are one of Lembcke's target audiences. They have already adopted the theory that Vietnam vets were never, ever, ever spat upon. They just need a fig-leaf of evidence, which Lembcke provided. Now, spit deniers can paint any evidence to the contrary as propaganda.

I am highly disturbed that a significant number of people on the Left need to deny that spitting ever took place. A political movement that feels the need to rewrite history to make itself morally spotless is dangerous.
2.22.2007 10:01am
JosephSlater (mail):
The meta-question is this: what difference does it make whether (i) there is no reliable proof of instances of protesters spitting; (ii) there is reliable proof of a small handful of such events; or (iii) there is proof of, say, a few dozen such events?

I think the VietNam war was a huge mistake and had I been old enough, I would have protested against it. But I also know that there were some radical nuts involved in anti-war activities whose actions and positions -- including spitting or not -- I would have opposed. There were also nuts in the pro-war camp, broadly defined, who did and said dumb to reprehensible things. There were also lots of smart, responsible people in both camps. I think every sane person today, pro or anti war in retrospect, would agree with that.

So the Holocaust-denier analogy is wildly over the top and inapt. And while I think some parts of the right have adopted the worst aspects of "victimology" from some parts of the left, I think it's worse than that.

Honestly, is there any reason to debate this issue now aside from a very "presentist" concern with labeling "anti war" folks generally as "anti troops"? Let's not kid ourselves: the whole Republican strategy these days is to equate opposition to Bush's plan to "not supporting the troops."

I personally would go for a "it could be true that there were a few instances of spitting, but this wasn't a broad, widely used tactic" compromise.
2.22.2007 11:17am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Slater. You may as well ask Lembcke and Shafer why THEY are bringing it up again.
Your point seems to be, let them make their case and don't be all anal about it.

Point is, as I have said, the left is likely trying to make the spitting a Designated Myth so as to be able to say the same about current or future vileness which they either plan to commit or don't see themselves being able to control. Better to be able to sneer, "Vietnam spitting myth again." than to have to accept that they and their folks have reverted to type.
2.22.2007 11:37am
Adeez (mail):
Joseph Slater: you hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, I tried posting a similar sentiment regarding this same issue about a week ago. Man, I was not a popular commenter on this site that day.

But I cannot agree more that this is a non-issue, and none of my "lefty" friends assert that these incidents didn't occur. Frankly, I don't know. And if I had to guess I assume that it did occur in a few instances. The point is that the popular (badly mistaken)sentiment is that those who oppose the war oppose the troops, and by extension, the country. This is a laughable claim that millions are dumb enough to believe. In order to bolster this nonsense, it's very important to highlight these incidents so all the fair-minded, patriotic people who oppose our occupation will be lumped with the dirty lawless hippies. That's the proverbial forest through which this trifling debate serves as trees. OK, a poet I'm not.

For what it's worth, I'm a self-described liberal, and the notion of spitting on returning troops is reprehensible. As it is to everyone else I know who refer to themselves similarly.

Hopefully we can get past this and actually begin discussing the merits of the occupation, where our beloved soldiers are being maimed and murdered as we chat.
2.22.2007 11:43am
Elliot Reed:
Honestly, is there any reason to debate this issue now aside from a very "presentist" concern with labeling "anti war" folks generally as "anti troops"? Let's not kid ourselves: the whole Republican strategy these days is to equate opposition to Bush's plan to "not supporting the troops."
No, there isn't any reason to debate this issue now, other than pursuant to the Republican campaign of conflating opposition to the war and opposition to the troops. See the recent hit campaign against Barak Obama's (correct) observation that George Bush has been wasting the troops' lives.
2.22.2007 12:18pm
Jason J. (mail):
Does anything whatsoever actually turn on this?

Say Lembcke is right, and no Vietnam vet was ever spat upon. What then? The anti-war movement was right about Vietnam?

Say the other side is right, and vets were routinely spat upon. That means the anti-war movement was wrong about Vietnam?

This issue is of absolutely no consequence. It has no import for current or future events, nor should it affect how we look at past events (other than the narrow ones at issue here).

People who spit on other people are assholes. So if the spitting story is true, we know that the anti-war movement included some assholes. We already know that. (I'm with the anti-war crowd; I'm just saying that any movement of any significant size is necessarily going to contain some assholes.)
2.22.2007 12:20pm
Some Guy:
Have I missed an acknowledgment by Lembcke of these arguments or any response on his part? None of the spitting incidents have been proven, but his research and attempts at disproving them are in shambles. Has he had the intellectual integrity to admit that much?
2.22.2007 12:39pm
MnZ (mail):

No, there isn't any reason to debate this issue now, other than pursuant to the Republican campaign of conflating opposition to the war and opposition to the troops.


Elliot, I personally don't consider this a debate. Debates should be about opinions...not easily verifiable facts.

I don't think anyone should comflate opposition to the war to opposition with opposition to the troops. However, we should also not conflate opposition to the war with moral superiority. Many spit deniers want to do just that.
2.22.2007 12:42pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Joseph Slater,

I personally would go for a "it could be true that there were a few instances of spitting, but this wasn't a broad, widely used tactic" compromise.

Well, as one who has some academic training in history, I wouldn't. You don't "compromise" on such things; you try to find out what actually happened, and state your conclusions with whatever degree of certainty the ascertainable facts warrant.

Now, so far as I can see, Lindgren has pretty well demolished Lembcke's case here — Lembcke's case being that spitting incidents belong pretty much in the realm of urban legend. I don't care particularly to whom Lembcke's debunking or Lindgren's (IMO vastly more convincing) counter-debunking is politically useful. But there are, if Lindgren is right (and, for that matter, if several commenters to this series of threads are not lying) living people to whom what Lembcke claims is mythical actually happened. It seems at least minimally due to them not to add insult to injury, yes?
2.22.2007 12:57pm
G. Taylor:
Lembcke appears not to know the meaning of the word "credulity."
2.22.2007 1:47pm
Loki13 (mail):
Again, since Mr. Lindgren did not see fit to include links to either Mr. Shaffer's reply or Mr. Lembcke's reply to his original post (not his current 5 part opus), here are the links:
Shaffer at Slate

Lembcke's Letter

Not saying that they're persuasive.... but geez, you think Mr. Lindgren would have at least either provided links or responded to their refutations of his post.
2.22.2007 2:03pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
But I cannot agree more that this is a non-issue, and none of my "lefty" friends assert that these incidents didn't occur.



You're not the only "lefties" on the planet. Some, like Lembcke, apparently, are interested in claiming that spitting incidents did not occur or at the very least are largely a myth. That is demonstrably false. It is not a waste of time to point out bad scholarship.

It has no import for current or future events, nor should it affect how we look at past events.


As has already been pointed out, whether or not a past event actually occurred is obviously important for discussions about current and future events. The claims that the Republicans are engaged in a mass smear of the left is a red herring. Whether or not that is true has nothing to do with whether Lembcke's claims have merit. I assume that you have chosen to whine about it here, because you have nothing substantive to add to the examination of the spitting incidents.
2.22.2007 2:28pm
BobNSF (mail):
All these spitting threads certainly put the threat of global warming in perspective. Surely the forecasted rise in sea levels won't compare to the tides of saliva that once washed across the nation...
2.22.2007 2:38pm
Loki13 (mail):
What I would like to see is a longitudinal study of spitting incidents between right- and left- wwing blogger on volokh over disputed claims over spitting incidents from Vietnam.

Yesterday, I was flying into San Francisco Airport (SFO). My plane had been diverted due to bad weather. Unfortunately, I was easily identified because of my uniform (flowers in my hair). I was approached by Gabriel Malor, MnZ and Dick Aubrey, who proceeded to spit at me and call me a spit-denier. Because of this, I know that all the rightists are spitters, and that's why we're losing in Afghanistan.
2.22.2007 2:50pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Geez, Loki. You started out all rational and stuff.
2.22.2007 2:56pm
JosephSlater (mail):
In order:

Richard Aubrey:

Fair enough to ask why anybody on any side is bringing this up, so I agree with you there. On the other hand, this statement of yours is, IMHO, over the top: "the left is likely trying to make the spitting a Designated Myth so as to be able to say the same about current or future vileness which they either plan to commit or don't see themselves being able to control.

"The left" isn't some monolithic group, and even the groups that are within the left don't plot about how to excuse "future vileness which they plan to commit," and even if they did, they wouldn't do it by arguing about what some people may or may not have done 40 years ago. Imagine a comment in some other hypothetical thread that accuses "the right" of making up something to excuse "future vileness," and think about how you would react.

Adeez, Elliot Reed, and Jason J.: I agree. Of course in fairness, that's a critique of Lembcke as well.

Michelle Dulak Thomson:

As someone with a PhD in history (Georgetown, 1998), I like to think that I understand the norms of the discipline. But part of history is historiography, and historiography involves asking why certain questions about history are asked at certain times by certain people. That's especially true, where, as here (as I tried to point out in my first post), it's almost impossible to see any actual importance or significance this debate has outside misplaced presentist concerns about people who oppose the Iraq war.

BobNSF: Post of the day.
2.22.2007 2:57pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Loki13,

Thanks for linking Shafer (NB only one "f" in there) & Lembcke. I too don't understand why Lindgren didn't, especially as neither piece is particularly persuasive and both are answered exhaustively in this later series of posts. Lembcke in particular doesn't help his own case with this:

At the time I wrote, I did not find any first-person "I was spat on" stories that had been told in the late 1960s or early 1970s and still today I have almost nothing of that sort. I did find some second/third-hand claims of spitting, from that time period, and I recounted some of those on pages 80-82 of the book. Subsequent to the book's publication I wrote some op-ed pieces and gave some public speeches in which I may have

[may have!]

rounded off my own work, saying on occasion that the stories were bogus—by which I meant that, as a collection, they were "bogus" for the betrayal narrative for the war's loss that they help construct. I've never said that one or more of the stories could not be true.

Vs., from the op-ed Lindgren quotes above:

STORIES ABOUT spat-upon Vietnam veterans are like mercury: Smash one and six more appear. It's hard to say where they come from. For a book I wrote in 1998 I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on.

Lembcke's e-mail linked in Slate goes on to say that

What you [Lindgren] appear to have is documentation that there were reports and claims of spitting, but that's not the same as "documented spitting." If we used a courtroom standard, you have ALLEGATIONS, but no evidence.

These would be the "allegations" of which Lembcke previously said he could find no trace pre-1980, but that Lindgren evidently found easily in a bit of spare time.

Look, I don't know about the other folks here, but I find it deeply disturbing that an academic would "round off" to this degree: "Well, I said that I couldn't find any accounts of anyone whatsoever claiming to have been spat on, or claiming to have seen someone being spat on, but actually I did find a bunch, just couldn't confirm that they actually happened." Really, if you found allegations of spitting but they were all second- or third-hand, would it kill you to say that, rather than asserting that no allegations had been made when it's child's play to prove that isn't true?
2.22.2007 2:57pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Dang, posted too soon! Loki13 with a very legit contender for post of the day!
2.22.2007 2:59pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
A few quotations from Orwell are appropriate here.

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

"All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting." (This cuts both ways)

"War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil"

"So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot."

And most importantly in this context:

"He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."

Anyone who lived through the Vietnam War era as a young person knows full well that the war protestors did not support the troops. They held them in the utmost contempt and would spit and yell, "baby killers" at soldiers. Now it's politically risky to insult soldiers, so let's rewrite history while we're at it.

In their effort to rewrite history Lembcke and his defenders are demanding a level of proof that they hope won't come about. But if it does, then they will just move on to the next distortion of history knowing full well that

" A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth gets its boots on." -- Mark Twain
2.22.2007 3:01pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I personally would be delighted if more people on this blog had political beliefs similar to those of George Orwell, although I think a fuller examination of what he wrote and thought might not lead where Zarkov wants to go.

Oh, and I lived through the Vietnam era as a young person, and know enough to say that any blanket grouping of "war protestors" as believing much of anything in common (besides opposint the war) is rubbish.
2.22.2007 3:07pm
PTB:
I may be joining this discussion very late, and I have no interest in the "debate" (really too kind a term) whether, if I understand it, the spitters in fact actually supported the spittees; I just have my own story. 37+ years later, it still astonishes me. In September 1969, two years nine months and six days after reporting for duty, I was on my way home from Ft. Lewis WA to New York City, to resume law school, from which I was drafted in October 66. The Army owed you a coach class ticket at the military discount rate from your last post to your Home of Record. I turned in my voucher for a series of flights to new York from Sea-Tac. I was in uniform, as you had to be in those days to take advantage of the military discounts all airlines then offered. I was in O'Hare, changing planes. The uniform showed that I was a 1LT Armor. (Never went to RVN, although I had orders to go more than once- just the mysterious way the Army can do things).

The big deal for me was, "All these CIVILIANS!" Hadn't seen so many in one place in two years nine months and six days. As I approached the junction where gate corridors met, I saw a group of young people (I had just turned 28) carrying signs. They looked the same as the groups that gathered from time to time at the Ft. Lewis gate. I noticed a very attractive young woman. She noticed me. I smiled. She smiled, pursed her lips, and from a distance of about six feet deposited a nice wet loogy on my uniform jacket, right over my parachute badge. Then she grinned again. I said nothing, did nothing, just kept on my way- I couldn't miss my flight without a big hassle. I've mentioned this to maybe 3-4 other people in my life. As I said, it still astonishes me today. I read nothing much into it, certainly no long term grievance. It was just more of the late '60's madness. I hold no grudge against the young woman either, who must now be a grandmother pushing 60. I'm no kid myself. But thanks for thinking of me.
2.22.2007 3:10pm
Geo:
I can understand the touchiness of this subject, but why is this here? Is there some relevant legal issue at hand?
2.22.2007 3:16pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Joseph Slater,

OK, you finished your diss. and I didn't. To be pedantically accurate, I barely started mine, though I did pass my orals. (The lesson of grad school: There really are some things that can't be written the night before they're due . . .)

But part of history is historiography, and historiography involves asking why certain questions about history are asked at certain times by certain people. That's especially true, where, as here (as I tried to point out in my first post), it's almost impossible to see any actual importance or significance this debate has outside misplaced presentist concerns about people who oppose the Iraq war.

Well, see, here's where we differ. I find it quite possible to see "actual importance" in all sorts of questions that wouldn't interest anyone who wasn't similarly concerned with getting the facts straight on a particular historical point. My own work, such as it was, didn't get too much into the factual nitty-gritty, because I was writing about Franz Joseph Haydn and the factual ground is pretty well exhaustively picked over there; but, believe me, if I'd found out about, say, a private set of performances of Haydn's Opp. 71/74 previous to their public premieres, it damn well would have mattered. To me, and to a few other musicologists, at least. I imagine that makes me a peculiar historiographical subject in your eyes, but, believe me, there are an awful lot of us in academe. Don't get musicologists started on the size of Bach's chorus, or whether Handel was gay, or whether Monteverdi's Arianna really survives in score in the possession of some Continental billionaire.

But, as I also said, there are living people affected by this spitting question — people insisting that it happened to them, and happened to many others. I would not want to go about telling these people en masse that they're either lying or mistaken unless I had a hell of a lot better case than Lembcke does. YYMV, of course.
2.22.2007 3:25pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Is it lamer to commit a typo, or to correct it? YMMV.
2.22.2007 3:36pm
The Drill SGT (mail):
LOL PTB,

I have to support your general story. I was in the Army from 8 Sep 69 till 21 Mar 72. I came through SEA-TAC a couple of times including a memorable visit to UW to see my girl friend before going to VN in May of 70. We of course had to fly in uniform to get cheap seats. Airports were stalked by protesters looking to heap abuse on service people. I was never spat upon, but I saw others receive a dose and I was called a baby killer countless times by my civilian peers from the left. That particular visit to sunny Seattle was memorable because of course I was headed off to Nam and because United lost my bag, so I spent 4 days on the University of Wash campus in uniform.. Oh Joy!!

As for my return, it was as others said. We flew by chartered airplane into Travis. Processed, then went by chartered bus to SFO and split up for flights across the country.

Any given spitting incident might be bogus, but the climate of hate by the left for people answering the call from their country was not. They were ugly people who thought their cause was just and that any action they took was therefore justified.

The Left learned from that PR failure and now claims to "support the troops" but are rooting for failure. Once in awhile the cover slips and I can see those same snarls on protester faces.
2.22.2007 3:37pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
JosephSlater:

"Oh, and I lived through the Vietnam era as a young person, and know enough to say that any blanket grouping of "war protestors" as believing much of anything in common (besides opposint the war) is rubbish."

Beliefs tend be to be highly correlated. Try living in Berkeley for a few years. Of course not all war protestors would spit on the troops, but many were not all that upset when it happened.

If Orwell were alive today, do you think support campus speech codes? Do you think he would be a Chomsky supporter? Who better divined the real meaning of the left?
2.22.2007 3:46pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Joseph Slater:
Can you think of another reason for the left to be bringing this up at this time? If it's so unimportant, why bother, and why bother now? And why make the debunking so lame?
Keep in mind that Lembcke has framed the discussion so that, he hope(d), it would follow that since he did not find or admit finding evidence, nothing happened.
The first thing to say is the obvious; absence of evidence....
It is, as he says, difficult to prove a negative, and all he ended up proving was that he couldn't, or wouldn't admit, finding evidence. That lasted until JL started looking and then Lembcke's most important point, outside some gassy psychoanalying, dissolved. Did he think he could get away with it? He has. There are maybe ten people who know better due to JL's work. For the rest of society, the spitting is an urban legend and a genuine professor proved it!!

Historians must wonder about why, as some have said a particular question is asked at a particular time. If you have a better reason for Lembcke to exert himself, let's have it.

It doesn't matter that the left isn't monolithic. Lembcke has done what he has done and those for whom it is useful will use it. That there is no giant lefty planning commission doesn't mean a thing.

It's difficult to prove the future, so there is really no reason to insist that spitting or its like can't possibly happen again. My point is that this may well be a way providing in advance ammunition to discredit that which is actually true.
2.22.2007 4:20pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Michelle:

I don't know whether it's more sane to finish a diss. in history or not, given the job market and opportunity costs. And I absolutely agree that individual historians are and should be interested in issues that much of the general public -- heck, even good parts of the historical profession -- aren't.

Still, anybody claiming to do history should have an answer to the "so what?" question about what they are studying/claiming. And I'm still asking folks on both sides of this debate: what difference does it make whether there were (i) literally no spitting incidents; (ii) a couple of spitting incidents; (iii) a couple of dozen spitting incidents?

I've heard no answer to that on any of these threads that should be satisfactory to an historian. Because, as I assume you can see from the comments, people are getting into this topic not just even to fight over the merits of "the anti-war movement" during the Vietnam era -- as if it were one, cooridnated bunch of folks -- but to get into the current anti-war movement. And that is bad history, IMHO. Of course that opinion won't stop the debate, because there's a lot of folks ideologically invested in this one way or another.

Oh, and I've corrected my typos in posts immediately following the one with the typo, so either you're not lame or we both are.

Zarkov:

I've lived in all sorts of places, albeit not Berkeley. My point was that protests against the war included straight-arrow types, war veterans, college students that didn't want to be drafted, young folks trying to be where the action was, serious ideologues of all sorts of stripes (including some pretty radical/crazy ones), veterans of other wars (such as my father, a pretty straight-laced guy in most ways), and many others. If I were to argue like you did, I could say, "of course not all war supporters were happy that the Kent State students were shot, but many were not all that upset when it happened." But it's all more complicated.

As to Orwell, FWIW, I don't know what he would think about campus speech codes (it would probably depend on the code), but he might well be skeptical; I doubt he would be a Chomsky supporter. For the record, I'm not a Chomsky supporter myself. Do you think Orwell would be a Bush supporter?
2.22.2007 4:23pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Richard Aubrey:

"The Left" isn't bringing anything up. This isn't a big talking point in liberal-left quarters. I don't know why Lembcke decided to study this issue, and I don't know why Jim Lindgren has devoted so many blog posts to it. I remain unconvinced that Lembcke wants to excuse some future behavior because again, I don't think people on the right or left really think that way. So, I'll take Lembcke at his word that (rightly or wrongly) he thought he had discovered an urban myth. If it makes you feel any better, I strongly doubt that Lembcke's study has had the effect you claim on society.

Your post, however, is evidence that the real reason people here find this interesting is to make accusations against the current "left" or anti-war movement. And to repeat my previous post, I don't think that's good history.
2.22.2007 4:32pm
Loki13 (mail):

Can you think of another reason for the left to be bringing this up at this time? If it's so unimportant, why bother, and why bother now? And why make the debunking so lame?
Keep in mind that Lembcke has framed the discussion so that, he hope(d), it would follow that since he did not find or admit finding evidence, nothing happened.

Well, since Lembcke's book was published in 1998, and his research conducted before that... I can only draw the rational conclusion that the monolithic left was planning 9/11in the 90s to draw us into an unwinnable war in Iraq that they could then agitate against while claiming to support the troops (based on Lembcke's 90s research) in their effort to make Amerika lose the war and be humiliated again, just like Vietnam.

Of course, I could, instead, wonder why so many bloggers are trying so hard *right now* to discredit Lembcke, and started trying when the anti-war movement began gaining steam in 2004-05.... but what fun would that be?
2.22.2007 4:37pm
James Lindgren (mail):
LOKI:

Last week I linked to Lemcke's response to my second post in an update to that second post.

As for your calling his comments "refutations," I hope that you are not being serious.

And if you notice, I AM responding to the more substantial comments in Lembcke's response, such as the civilian airports one -- with actual EVIDENCE.

There is more to come, icluding more problems with arguments that Lembcke makes in his response to me.

Be patient.

Jim Lindgren
2.22.2007 4:45pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Joseph Slater,

Still, anybody claiming to do history should have an answer to the "so what?" question about what they are studying/claiming.

But I have an answer, more or less along the lines of "we ought to know what actually happened, as well as we can."

That works for Haydn string quartet performances, and that works for spitting incidents.

And I'm still asking folks on both sides of this debate: what difference does it make whether there were (i) literally no spitting incidents; (ii) a couple of spitting incidents; (iii) a couple of dozen spitting incidents?

Well, I suspect in one sense it matters because by some assessments of the climate there were probably well more than "a couple dozen spitting incidents"; and I think you could easily find more than 24 people who claimed to be spat on, which would mean that your upper estimate would brand at least some of these liars, which then would involve you in figuring out which claims were true and which false. That would be difficult and not at all fun.
2.22.2007 4:47pm
James Lindgren (mail):
JosephSlater wrote:

Oh, and I lived through the Vietnam era as a young person, and know enough to say that any blanket grouping of "war protestors" as believing much of anything in common (besides opposint the war) is rubbish.



Ah, so you agree with me.


That's one of my main points, that Lembcke's either/or view of human nature is wrong and unsophisticated.

Jim Lindgren
2.22.2007 4:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Loki. You may not be aware that Shafer tried the same thing in Slate several years ago. He had the same point, as in prove it. When a number of responders said it happened to them, he got kind of vague and claimed that wasn't proof.

So what's the point?

I'm interested in debunking this for two reasons. Facts are facts and ought not be twisted into something they aren't. Or lied about. And because the left--monolithic or not--will be using Lembcke when something happens that makes them look bad. One reason to bring this up now is not that the anti-war movement is gaining steam, but that it's showing signs of its old viciousness. Just a report here, and one there, but more than before. I presume we'll see some acceleration. Lembcke's book, whether that was its purpose or not, will be used to dismiss that which actually happens by comparing it to an old urban myth. I know the book hasn't had the result I predict it will have. That's because it hasn't, yet, been necesssary to use it so. And I don't know whether it will be successful, although, as I say, not all that many people follow JL and may actually believe Shafer and Lembcke.
I have some acquaintances definitely afflicted with BDS. One thinks Bush is responsible for international things which happened before he was president, that he is responsible for the excessive interest in high school football in Texas, and several other things which Congress did. She has three daughters who believe her. Lembcke will come in handy in the near future, I am sure.
2.22.2007 4:51pm
Loki13 (mail):

I have some acquaintances definitely afflicted with BDS. One thinks Bush is responsible for international things which happened before he was president, that he is responsible for the excessive interest in high school football in Texas, and several other things which Congress did. She has three daughters who believe her. Lembcke will come in handy in the near future, I am sure.

Then they're crazy leftists.
There's also crazy rightists.

Me. I just don't like the crazy. It's a personal thing. This site tends to attract more of the rightist crazy (is it the pajamas?), so I spend more time having fun with them.

Mr. Lindgren-
I missed your link in the seond update. I do think youshould include a link to it and Mr. Shaffer's column in your final post in the interest of fairness. As for my characterization of Mr. Lembcke's points as rebuttals- well, that's what they were intended as. They may not be persuasive to you or many readers. As for myself, I feel like the debate between the two of you is like two ships passing in the night-
Mr. Lembcke is original claim was that the meme of soldiers being spit upon (as a widespread thing) when deplaning was a myth.

You claim that soldiers were spit upon.

Both of you have made arguments past your original researched claims that I don't feel are yet supported. But I also believe that both your research and Mr. Lembcke's research has done a service in advancing the debate.
2.22.2007 5:14pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Michelle:

I don't agree that figuring out whether X did or didn't happen by itself makes X a worthy subject of serious history: it still must answer a "so what?" test. Whether I ate breakfast with a large or small spoon on the majority of days of 1988 is not a subject of serious history. In contrast, you would have an obviously good answer to the "so what" question if you had discovered heretofore unknown Haydn quartets.

I don't mean to impune the motives of either Lembcke or Lindgren here. If Lembcke is correct, there's an urban myth out there, and tying an urban myth to a larger political context is a good answer to the "so what" question. On the other hand, if Lindgren is correct, it's appropriate to say, "what X historian claimed was an urban myth really ISN'T an urban myth."

But this debate has devolved into something quite different, and it's worth pointing out the obvious elephant in the room that, respectfully, you haven't yet acknowledged: what seems to be at stake for at least some of the participants in this debate is the Very Nature of AntiWar Movements in The Past 40 years. My main point here is that assuming or pretending that the facts on the "spitting" issue -- whatever they are -- even begin to answer that question is just bad history, plain and simple.

James Lindgren:

If you are saying that we agree that the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era included all sorts of different people, with very differing views, styles, and tactics, then yes, we do agree on that.
2.22.2007 5:15pm
elChato (mail):
Has Lembcke responded to all this detailed refutation of his claims- and the exposure of the weakness in his research methods?
2.22.2007 5:25pm
BobH (mail):
When I rotated back to the US from overseas in 8/70, I took a non-military flight that went out of and into civilian airports: Pan American (may it rest in peace) from Berlin Tempelhof to JFK in New York. As far as I know, all Army personnel in West Berlin returned to the US via that route; I don't know about Air Force folks.

From JFK, where I cleared through regular immigration and customs along with everyone else on the on the flight, I went to Ft. Hamilton, in Brooklyn; I believe I arranged my own transportation (by taxi), though the Army might have sent a van or small bus to the airport. There was no spitting anywhere along the way.
2.22.2007 5:50pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Joseph Slater,

I don't agree that figuring out whether X did or didn't happen by itself makes X a worthy subject of serious history: it still must answer a "so what?" test. Whether I ate breakfast with a large or small spoon on the majority of days of 1988 is not a subject of serious history. In contrast, you would have an obviously good answer to the "so what" question if you had discovered heretofore unknown Haydn quartets.

Well, umm, OF COURSE. Undiscovered music by certified Great Composers is news, whatever else it is. But my hypothetical was about previously unknown private performances of a set of existing Haydn quartets that were subsequently publicly premiered — that is, about the sort of historical detail that only historians generally care about. My dissertation-that-didn't-get-finished was about the importance of audience to the music: How did Haydn's quartet-writing change from the time when his customers would have been people playing the music in private for their own pleasure, to the time when he was writing quartets to be played at public concerts? (For what it's worth, there are some things in Opp. 71/74 that are generally supposed to be concessions to the public-performance situation, but I think it's a lot more complicated than that.)

Yeah, way too much information. But you see what I'm getting at. "Whether a set of Haydn quartets got played in private before it was played in public" is the sort of question that would intensely interest me, and possibly a couple dozen other people, but would bore most of the readers here to tears.
2.22.2007 6:11pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Michelle:

I'm sorry I misunderstood your topic. Having said that, I would say that you still have a fine answer to the "so what?" question. As I said earlier, the fact that most people wouldn't be interested in a particular diss. subject is not at all dispositive about it's worth as an historical subject. I'm personally not all that interested in lots of stuff that I would still happily grant has real significance.

But I stand by my earlier points about the topic at hand, and second Elliot Reed's comments.
2.22.2007 6:39pm
DaveN (mail):
Elliot Reed wrote:

Thankfully, this meme hadn't made an appearance on this blog before Lindgren started this line of posts. I can think of no reason for a partisan hack like Lindgren to be spending this much effort writing about this stuff other than to support that meme while maintaining plausible deniability.

Perhaps it so that partisan hacks can make ad hominem attacks on the author--a meme readily apparent when one uses name calling ("partisan hack") rather than serious discussion. This contrasts sharply, by the way, with the serious discussion of people like Joseph Slater who see no need to resort to name calling.

But then, name calling is much more fun than serious discussion.
2.22.2007 6:39pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Let me amend my endorsement of Elliot Reed's comment to exclude the remark about Lindgren. And I appreciate DavidN's kind words. But I do think Elliot R. had a valid point before the name-calling.
2.22.2007 6:49pm
Adeez (mail):
For those who continually make claims about the "left," for example:

"The Left learned from that PR failure and now claims to 'support the troops' but are rooting for failure. Once in awhile the cover slips and I can see those same snarls on protester faces."

"because the left--monolithic or not--will be using Lembcke when something happens that makes them look bad."

As an avowed member of this "left" you all speak of, I must say but for my visiting this site I would not even have known about this issue. I listen to Air America almost every day. I read publications like the Village Voice and the Nation. Are you listening to or reading stuff that I'm not? I mean this in all seriousness: do you actually spend time hearing the other side's perspective?

That's one of the reasons why I visit this site, despite being in the minority politically. We can learn from each other and better hone our own views by engaging in serious debate with those with whom we disagree. Because from some of what I read on this site generally, I suspect some commenters have absolutely no idea what the "left" in fact believes, and instead relies on some delusional caracature.

Oh, and for what it's worth: many of those who oppose this occupation today are far from what any of us would describe as a leftist.
2.22.2007 7:01pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Joseph Slater,

Was it this bit of Elliot Reed you endorsed?

No, there isn't any reason to debate this issue now, other than pursuant to the Republican campaign of conflating opposition to the war and opposition to the troops. See the recent hit campaign against Barak Obama's (correct) observation that George Bush has been wasting the troops' lives.

Good thing that my own research doesn't involve anything that can possibly be construed as political. Mr. Reed, if I ever had any beef with Mr. Obama, I really would do him at least the courtesy of spelling his first name right.

But, Mr. Slater, do you seriously mean that I and everyone else should stop talking about a particular historical topic because doing so would further the anti-Iraq-war cause?
2.22.2007 7:07pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
JosephSlater:

While opponents of the Vietnam included many types, the distribution was hardly flat, as you seem to be implying. A large number of opponents did engage in vicious behavior, and no attempt to rewrite history is going to change that.

As to Orwell, I don't think he would be a Bush supporter, but he wouldn't think much of his opposition either. Orwell was hardly a man of the left after 1940. Read his collection of essays As I Please 1943-1945, or In Front of Your Nose 1945-1950. Look at Orwell's attitude towards Harold Laski, who served as chairman of the British Labor Party 1945-1946. Laski was also a member of the executive committee of the Socialist Fabian Society, so he is a good example of a man of the left in the first half of the 20th Century. Orwell was even critical of Laki's writing style. In Orwell's famous essay Politics and the English Language, he says:


Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.


Come to think of it. The left still writes like that.
2.22.2007 7:56pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Adeez. Let's play a mind game: Presume that a bunch of lefties are accused of spitting on the troops late this fall.
Not all lefties did it--they wouldn't fit--and not all lefties approve. But all lefties would think this is a Very Bad Thing from a PR point of view and that the rest of the population may decide that the action characterizes the anti-war movement.

What to do? Publicly disapprove and reprove the spitters? Possible, but it has no precedent. It also admits it happened.
Deny it happened? In that case, the Viet Nam era's spitting becomes important. If it happened once, it can happen again. If it didn't happen then, maybe it didn't happen this time. And if those who claim it happened going on forty years ago can be shown to be peddling an urban legend...? What could be better? Not only are they wrong, they're evil liars. That's a two-fer.

Adeez, you can add whatever else lefties might do about such a thing. I don't see any other practical choices. Do you?
2.22.2007 8:03pm
Steve Reuland (www):
Eh, I don't really have much of a dog in this fight either. But I must say I find it rather strange that the person being roundly accused of twisting the truth for political purposes is not Michael Smith.
2.22.2007 8:06pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Joseph Slater,

I'm afraid I neglected to address this:

But this debate has devolved into something quite different, and it's worth pointing out the obvious elephant in the room that, respectfully, you haven't yet acknowledged: what seems to be at stake for at least some of the participants in this debate is the Very Nature of AntiWar Movements in The Past 40 years. My main point here is that assuming or pretending that the facts on the "spitting" issue -- whatever they are -- even begin to answer that question is just bad history, plain and simple.

Well, of course they don't. An allegation that the famous images of Jane Fonda at her Viet-Cong anti-aircraft gun were produced with a really, really early beta of PhotoShop would not either, but I'd still want to debunk it.

I think, by the way, that any attempt to conflate the anti-Vietnam War movement with the current antiwar movement does a disservice to the former. There was, I gather, a lot of nastiness in the later anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations, but at least they were free from our friends of International A.N.S.W.E.R., who are the prize organizers of today's lot. I had hoped that Stalinism had died with Stalin, but here the merry minions are, carrying on with evident glee and basically massacring everything they touch. If there ever was a case for us getting out of Iraq, Israel getting out of the West Bank, or indeed anything else these folks have advocated at all, ten seconds of their case in favor will convince you otherwise.
2.22.2007 8:55pm
Eli Rabett (www):
People were a hell of a lot more likely to getting seriously beat up for being anti-war than soldiers were spit on (if at all).
2.22.2007 10:35pm
FredR (mail):

As someone with a PhD in history (Georgetown, 1998), I like to think that I understand the norms of the discipline. But part of history is historiography, and historiography involves asking why certain questions about history are asked at certain times by certain people. That's especially true, where, as here (as I tried to point out in my first post), it's almost impossible to see any actual importance or significance this debate has outside misplaced presentist concerns about people who oppose the Iraq war.


Who decides the significance, Mr. Slater? Isn't it enough that Lembcke and Lindgren wanted ask it? If this is a "norm" then who establishes it?

If nothing else it is worthwhile to point put Lembcke's appallingly bad methodology and why it went unchallenged by his fellow sociologists. If this is an example of the work professionals are producing, then academia is in worse shape than it appears from the outside.
2.22.2007 10:36pm
Elliot Reed:
OK, point taken about the namecalling. That was out of line.
2.22.2007 11:44pm
MnZ (mail):
FredR said:

If nothing else it is worthwhile to point put Lembcke's appallingly bad methodology and why it went unchallenged by his fellow sociologists. If this is an example of the work professionals are producing, then academia is in worse shape than it appears from the outside.


However, it does help explain the Chomsky phenomena. If academics don't bother to challenge shoddy research by members of their own field, then why would they do it when a linguist decides that he is an expert in history, political science, economics, etc.?
2.23.2007 12:42am
A. Zarkov (mail):
MnZ:

"However, it does help explain the Chomsky phenomena."

Good point. Stephen J. Gould's book, The Mismeasure of Man did immense damage in the public's mind to the field of psychometrics. The academics failed to respond outside of professional journals when they should have hit him head on for his shoddy scholarship and mendacity. Until this day many journalists believe intelligence tests don't measure anything useful.
2.23.2007 3:21am