Spitting Report IV: Opposition To The Troops

Professor Jerry Lembcke asserts that it would have been highly unlikely that soldiers or veterans were spat upon because relations between soldiers and the antiwar movement were generally very friendly.

This post raises some serious problems with Lembcke's use of one 1995 study by Beamish et al. to support this claim. In particular, Lembcke somehow falsely reports a 56% incidence of anti-troop behavior as a 6% incidence of anti-troop behavior, a mistake that he has repeated in several publications.

In a very revealing passage, Lembcke argues:

How do you prove that something did not happen? For this book I adopted two strategies. The first was to make the assumption that two mutually exclusive sets of circumstances cannot coexist in the same time and space. In the case of Vietnam veterans and the anti-war movement, I assumed that those two parties could not have been simultaneously hostile to one another and mutually supportive; anti-war activists could not have been spitting on veterans while at the same time befriending them in off-base coffeehouses. (Jerry Lembcke, The Spitting Image, 1998, pp. 3-4)

This reflects a rather unsophisticated view of human nature. The fact that most people don't hate African-Americans doesn't mean that stories of people using racial epithets against them are untrue. To explain spitting, there need be only a non-trivial minority who loathed the military during the Vietnam War (I'll have more on this in future reports).

Lembcke may also be reflecting his own experience as an activist for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group that was always genuinely open to veterans who wanted to give up support for the US government's position in the war and join its efforts. It is not at all a contradiction that most antiwar activists were welcoming to individual servicemen while a minority of those who opposed the war were quite hostile to them. The flaw in Lembcke's logic can be illustrated by observing that, during the Cold War, the US welcomed Russian spies who wanted to change their orientation to the Cold War and join the CIA or the US side; yet Russian and US spies who had not had a change of heart were working hard against each other.

To support Lembcke's view of very little anti-troop behavior by the antiwar movement, he cites a 1995 study by Beamish, Molotch, and Flacks, which counted 495 instances of pro-troop or anti-troop behavior in 380 New York Times and L.A. Times news stories accompanying major antiwar demonstrations.

++++ More to come tomorrow . . . .

Seems like I remember Clinton stated he loathed the military. Was it in his letter to his ROTC superior or to Senator Fullbright? Don't know if he spat though. He did climb trees!
2.21.2007 1:00pm
Hawk (mail):
I find the thesis itself odd. The core concept is that the anti-war movement was fundamentally pro-troop, which is abjectly false. John Kerry's rant is pro-troop?

No, anti-war was not pro-troop, and furthermore, directly harassed soldiers. The interesting fact from his observation was how little the media of that decade was interested in reporting the excesses of the anti-war. The spitting and harassment occurred. The finger in the face screaming rants occurred. I was too young to see clearly, but I have heard many first-person accounts of those actions, they feature strongly in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

No, the initial charge is ridiculous. The important study is not the charge, but the false history created when the media refuses to do its job, because of political affiliations and emotional distortion.
2.21.2007 1:21pm
Gary Imhoff (mail) (www):
I can think of another reason why the presence of Viet Cong flags in antiwar demonstrations would not have been reported on widely. By the time that antiwar demonstrations grew massive, the press' inclinations were also antiwar, and most mainstream reporters and editors wanted to portray antiwar demonstrators sympathetically. Openly rooting for the enemy's victory would not have garnered much support from most moderate Americans who were beginning to oppose the Vietnam War, so the press downplayed it.

A similar bias was displayed last year during the mass demonstrations that supported amnesty for illegal immigrants. Mexican flags were prevalent, even predominant, in the first wave of demonstrations, before the organizers made a concentrated effort to discourage demonstrators from carrying them, or to carry American flags instead. (Mexican flags remained popular in the later demonstrations even despite organizers' efforts to discourage them.) Yet the mainstream press, print and electronic, played down the Mexican flags, rarely mentioned them and instead used photographs and film clips that featured the far less numerous American flags.
2.21.2007 1:25pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Gary Imhoff,

One of the great things about the internet is that future historians will not have to rely on the NYT and LAT to determine the scope of demonstrations.

I recall not only your example, but the failure of most press to report on the background and ties of the anti-war group ANSWER, who organized some of the major demonstrations against the Iraq War. Reporters quite understandably may not have wanted to tar the bulk of people demonstrating with the views of leaders with whom they differed fundamentally on the virtues of capitalism.

If there were an internet like today's in 1969, we would have a much better idea of what sorts of abuse were suffered by protesters, police, and natl. guard.

Because IMO very few people today are really, at bottom, more than casually anti-troops in attitude, I think that many young people today find it hard to imagine that there was a time when there was real disdain for troops by a non-trivial minority of college students.
2.21.2007 1:48pm
MnZ (mail):
Lembcke is simply emblematic of the chauvinism that can exist in any movement.
2.21.2007 2:38pm
James Fulford (mail):

A generation later, in the summer of 1969, long after I had given up trying to explain all this to my children, one of my daughters went on a youth tour to Israel and returned home in high excitement. Having grown up in a culture shot through with the manipulations of girlishness, she had discovered boys' country.

"Do you have any idea," she demanded, "what it feels like to be in a place where everybody loves the soldiers?"

"Yes," I told her, "I do."What Are Little Boys Made Of?, By Midge Decter

The place Midge Decter had been where everyone loved the soldiers was the USA, during the Second World War. The place where college kids despised the soldiers was the USA, circa 1969.
2.21.2007 3:21pm
Davis Nelson (mail) (www):
This post caused me to recall an incident I had not thought about in many years. In the fall of 1969 or 1970, I was a law student at the University of Denver. I was a member of an Army Reserve (Engineer) unit based in Boulder, Colorado. One weekend, the members of my unit were transported to and from a suburban Boulder public park to help renovate it. We traveled in a convoy of open 5-ton trucks through a part of the University of Colorado campus. The entire way, we were heckled; and spit, trash, epithets and obscene gestures were directed toward us by the students on the sidewalks. I recall how shocked I was at the depth of the vitriole directed at us. I can still hear one of my fellow soldiers saying, "I sure hope there are no red lights this way!"

From my experience, the "anti-troop" view was quite widespread at one campus anyway!

I can't imagine that Professor Lembcke looked any further once he found something to support his "assumptions."
2.21.2007 3:53pm
I recently had a retired army colonel, who is also a hard left nutball, insist vehemently that GWB and conservatives who support the Iraq war care nothing about the troops. He really believed this. And he insisted that the Democrats in Congress would never cut funding for the Iraq war because that would hurt the troops in Iraq and Democrats really care passionately about them. I couldn't believe my ears.
2.21.2007 4:04pm
elChato (mail):
Lembcke must be sorry he wrote about this topic- he is being thoroughly owned.
2.21.2007 4:59pm
Loki13 (mail):
I have a general comment, especially in light of picpule, above...

Why this, and why now? The L/L tempest in a teapot is interesting in an academic way (and I mean that in the sense that it is an open academic question to be researched), but I think it is far more interesting in the comments that it has generated regarding the current conflict.

Does the left/Dems care about the troops?
Does the right/Republicans care about the troops?

Or are the troops just a convenient shield for members of both parties? Does the answer to the L/L debate shed any light on this question, or does it simply give credence to the proposition that each side needs to establish their bona fides in the 'caring about troops' debate that is currently being played out, and this debate is a proxy for the one that we need to be having?

Assuming, a priori, that Mr. Lindgren is 100% factually correct... does this do anything more than change a perception about history? Assuming Mr. Lembcke is 100% correct, does this do the same? Or are they using this debate about who the heroes and villains today, when our conflict is not in indochina, but in the Middle East?

If the anti-war contingent spit on troops in Vietnam, does that mean that they hate troops in Iraq now? If they didn't, does that mean they love the troops? Aren't both propositions absurd, given that the times are different and the deference and respect placed upon the military is different?

Again, these are questions I am not sure that I have the answers to. I do think that both the Republican and Democratic leadership don't really 'care' about the troops, per se, other than as photo ops and as a hammer to attack the opposition with.
2.21.2007 5:07pm
elChato (mail):

I am sure that most responsible people, and surely all of our political leadership of both parties, "cares" about the troops. There are some people who do not, or did not in the past.

We can rarely agree on, and never "prove," the "correctness" of ideological viewpoints but sometimes we can assess the correctness of factual assertions. It turns out Lembcke's factual assertion is incorrect and poorly researched to boot. That is at least interesting. Especially since many others have expressed sentiments similar to Lembcke's.
2.21.2007 5:42pm
Ken Kukec (mail):
Every war generates its own mythology, since before Thucydides gave us his tales of the Peloponnesian dust-up. The Vietnam War produced its fair share, no doubt fostered by the media and arts as well as our own still-fresh divisiveness -- including unreleased POWs, prisoners made to play Russian roulette for their captors' entertainment, and GIs fragging their own officers.

Of these, the girl expectorating on the recently de-planed vet, usually at San Francisco airport, is among the most enduring. (Either that, or Gaylord Perry, a gob of Slippery Elm at the ready, was cruising SFO in hippie-chick drag between starts for the Giants.)
2.21.2007 8:02pm
advisory opinion:
Jim Lindgren writes:

One of the great things about the internet is that future historians will not have to rely on the NYT and LAT to determine the scope of demonstrations.

I wouldn't be so sanguine. Digital data is so ephemeral these days, especially data on the internet with its archival weaknesses. The NYT and LAT at least have microfilm to fall back on, and one worries that future historians will look that far and no further. Just take private correspondence for instance: once an important and easily accessible source of information (usually contained amongst the effects of the deceased), now relatively inaccessible due to its ephemeral and/or unreadable and/or easily degradable nature.

Maybe it's a good thing services like Google Mail have taken over archival duties.
2.21.2007 8:50pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Loki. You are looking for motivations.

Lembcke's could be, looks like, a method of cleaning up, possibly in advance, today's anti-war lefties by retroactively whitewashing their earlier brethren. It would be difficult to be wrong in so many ways by accident.

Lindgren is either doing scholarship for scholarship's sake, or he is making sure the truth is not torqued for current purposes, see previous paragraph, or he is preparing to smirch the current anti-war folks. The difference between Lindgren and Lembcke is that the former can achieve one, two, or three of his goals by the same technique, which is finding out the truth. Lembcke needs to make errors to accomplish his goal.
2.21.2007 8:58pm
dick thompson (mail):

All you have to do is look at the people who showed up for the anti-war protests in DC a couple of weeks ago. These were the same people who were protesting the Vietnam war a generation ago and now they are doing the same thing with regard to the Iraq War. One of the videos even had the folk singers with their guitars out there protesting with the same songs. Do you think that this time they are supporting the troops? Do the troops think that they are being supported by this group? One of the wounded men was there in a wheelchair and the people spat on him as he sat there wtching - right on his amputated foot. That is what the LLL anti-war protesters are like then and now. What wonderful people. So caring and considerate in their actions. So cultured. Such wonderful role models.
2.21.2007 9:05pm
Loki13 (mail):
I believe the politicians on either side (with a few exceptions) do not care about the troops as individuals, but rather as symbols, proxies for their own patriotism and their opponents lack thereof.

I believe the majority of people against the war support the troops, and feel the best way to help them is to get them out of an unwinnable war where they will die or be injured for no reason.

I believe the majority of people for the war support the troops, and feel the best way to support them is to support their mission so the troops do not believe their actions are in vain.

And I believe that those who, like Mr. Thompson, needlessly attack the motives of either side do no more than deflect attention from the issues and probelms at hand. To set up a false dichotomy (either for the war or against the troops sounds suspiciously like 'America- love it or leave it') does a disservice to the majority of Americans who have sloowly come to realize that Iraq was a horrible mistake, and would like their leader to both stop posturing and doubling their bets and find a solution that will get us out of this mess with a modicum of dignity and a minimum of casualties.

Because it's better to support a living troop than a dead ideal.
2.21.2007 9:21pm
Loki13 (mail):
Also, since I didn't see links for it, and in the interest of fairness, I will provide links to Jack Shaffer's article in response to Mr. Lindgren's original posts, as well as Lembcke's response. Not saying they're right... but I was surprised to not see prominent links. After all, it is easy to box yourself:

Jack at Slate on spitting

Mr. Lembcke's Response

I do find it *interesting* that some of the things that were corrected and challenged were not addressed by Mr. Lindgren. I happen to think that Mr. Lindgren has raised good points which require further refutation by Mr. Lembcke.... I'm just saying.
2.21.2007 9:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I must be missing a sequence someplace. Loki's links from 9:29 show the Shafer and Lembcke replying as if Lindgren's work was unfamiliar to them.
In any event, they certainly don't do much to discredit Lindgren's points, which is Loki's implication they should.

Loki. 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. He wants us to fail, but knows that being too assertive about it, like cutting the funding today, would be politically disastrous. So he's planning on hamstringing the effort. Troops will die and gradually the hamstringing is to bring failure and the fact that it was done by a thousand cuts is presumed to be too complicated for the voters to understand. Yup, your kind of folks.

And I think you're too smart to believe it's a "mess". The difficulties of war are grist for the mill, but you know better. You, like so many, hope others don't.
2.21.2007 9:53pm
Loki13 (mail):
I apologize for not making myself more clear.... the links I posted are articles in response to Mr. Lindgren's first series of articles (not today's). The reason I posted them is that some of the issues addressed by Mr. Lindgren today are addressed (albeit partially) by the previous rebuttal posts. By not linking to them, it appears that Mr. Lindgren is operating in a vacuum, and that all the weight of authority is on his side.

As it happens, I think Mr. Lindgren has made some more solid points, but without understanding the substance of the refutations (his link was to Shaffer's old column) the reader may be misled. I don't think the refutations will change the opinions of many- but it may help frame the debate, and show that there are, in fact, two sides contesting the issue. It will also illuminate that the debate is not over whether *any* spitting occured, but over the meme of --soldiers returning to airports and being met by spit--

To sum: I currently believe Mr. Lindgren has the best of the argument, but I believe it is an argument, and I think that his accidental oversight in not linking to his opponents previous rebuttals gives a false impression to the reader.

I do believe there is a difference between the difficulties of war and 'the mess' we are currently involved in. Moreover, from day one, we have not had a realistic plan for what we are doing, nor have we had a compelling rationale for the wasting of blood and treasure in Iraq (Afghanistan? sure... not Iraq). But that's me. If I felt our leaders could come up with a good solution for rectifying the problem they created, I would support it. Pouring more troops (which would *still* not be enough) is not my idea of a good solution.

But that's me.
2.21.2007 10:14pm
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 2:34am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Colin. Ref Murtha. Do you know what he's intending? Do you have any indication my characterization of his purpose is wrong? He will not fight to defund--end--the Iraq venture now, which is what anti-war people claim to want. Instead, he will bleed it to death so it will fail to the dems' domestic advantage. His goal, I should say, not necessarily the actual result.

The other point, why lefties are always on the other side, has three possibilities. One is, as the French lefties say, "pas d'ennemies dans la gauche", or words to that effect. Or, they really like those other people, nasty,tyrannical and vicious and the fact that those other people oppose the US is not a bug, but a feature, or at least irrelevant. Or, as Cramer says, they simply find where the US is and reflexively take the opposite view. The second and third would explain why the left is on the side which, as Kevin Drum said, is against everything they stand for. Drum was asking himself why he didn't speak up about human rights in Iran. He answered himself that doing so might make Bush look good. So he'll keep his mouth shut. I haven't checked back, but I expect he's been good to his word. It is astonishing to people who were absolutely stupid enough to think the left was ever honest when they see the left favoring theocratic, misogynistic, homophobic, violent,expanisionist groups who use the laws of war as a shield and favor civilians as targets.
Perhaps you can think of some reason other than the three I mentioned to explain it.
2.22.2007 7:53am
Loki13 (mail):
Richard Aubrey (may I call you Dick?),

If you start with the a priori worldview that 'leftists' (whatever that means to you) are bad, then it should come as no surprise when all evidence will seem to confirm the view that you already have.

I could explain that what is going on between the Congress and the Executive is a much more complicated dance involving both Separation of Powers AND electoral politics, but I don't believe that would impact much on your wworldview. Everything that fits, fits... everything that doesn't (Reagan and Iran, Regan retreating from Lebanon, Bush cutting Clinton-like deals with the worst of the Axis of Evil etc.) is simply discarded.

I know nuance is discredited in some circles today, but it can be a useful tool in analyzing complicated situations.

Remember- only you have the power to be a uniter, not a divider.
2.22.2007 8:25am
MnZ (mail):

On the one hand, there are people on the Left that are radically against the U.S. and virtually everything it stands for. On the other hand, there are people on the Left that love the U.S. and support virtually everything it stands for.

The Vietnam Vet spitters would have been closer to the former. Those anti-war protestors that actually supported the troops would have been closer to the latter.

In my opinion, the opinions of the former should largely be ignored and/or rebutted while the latter are an important part of the larger debate in society.
2.22.2007 10:22am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Loki. I didn't start--speaking chronologically--with the idea the left is always wrong. In fact, I invested time, money, energy, and quite a bit of personal risk in what would today be called liberal or leftist work.
It took experience to teach me what was actually going on.
So, in one sense, I didn't start there, I ended up there.

Murtha is not a felon because, in Abscam, he rolled on his colleagues. His work to end the war could be done as the dems did in 1975. Why is he choosing a different path? Likely because he remembers it was, politically, a bad idea. This current technique can get the dems where they want to go without the baggage they collected the last time they wanted the US to lose. Remember Jim Webb's interview with McGovern? We can still win this thing, he said. George said, you have to understand. I want to lose. Since George was running for president, we have to assume he wasn't the only one.

Getting old is a bitch, but it does allow for a good deal of experience. And knowledge gained in real time. Which makes things kind of difficult for your kind of argumentation.
2.22.2007 10:32am
Loki13 (mail):

Getting old is a bitch, but it does allow for a good deal of experience. And knowledge gained in real time.

I have a bit of older wisdom, too. "I have seen the enemy, and he is us."

I find it hard to credit the arguments of anyone who blames all the ills of society on a monolithic political side (i.e. the 'left' or the 'right'). All of these years with Republican control of the Legislature and the Executive branch, and you place the blame for Iraq squarely on the shoulder's of... Murtha?

Self-examination is a wonderful thing. Perhaps the Republicans would be better served looking for what went wrong in the last six years and fixing &coming back stronger than continuing to stew angrily at this silliness. Your arguments that this Dem congress is the same as 1975 is no more productive than a leftist arguing that W. is the same as Nixon. Those who learn from history are doomed to make stupid analogies, after all.
2.22.2007 11:00am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Loki. I'm not so old you can plant an axiom unnoticed.

I do not "blame all the ills". That was a lie. Once caught lying, don't expect to be taken seriously in the future.
2.22.2007 11:38am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Loki. Show me where I place the blame for Iraq on Murtha.
Nobody is stupid enough to have gotten that from what I said. Nobody.

You lied.
2.22.2007 11:40am
Loki13 (mail):

Have you checked out Murtha's scheme? It is to have US troops die and make certain they fail.

I'm sorry I mischaracterized your position. Clearly, you simply hate Murtha and hope to hang all future problems in Iraq on him.

This is obvious because, as all people realize, the current blame for Iraq lies with the administration and legislature who took us there.

Umm... oh, nevermind.
2.22.2007 2:26pm
rarango (mail):
Were the democrats serious about ending the war they can do it in the very near future by simply cutting off funding. Money bills start in the HR, so the obvious question is why don't they cut off funding with a resolution that says "no part of this appropriation may be spent to support military operataions in Iraq...." or similar wording.
2.22.2007 2:31pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):

They did that in 1975 ref. SEA and people managed to put two and two together. The dems were so insistent about it that they gave some senior officers a hard time about funding for POW retrieval on the grounds that it might be a way to get back into the fighting.

Murtha's way is more subtle. As with overly restrictive ROE, we have more casualties and less success. Eventually, the ability of the military to do the job is hamstrung and we fail and leave. But, the difference is, Americans die until that point. The dems' plan doesn't seem to mind that, or they'd defund right now. It appears their idea is that, by the time the thing fails, if it does, the details of the situation will be too finicky for the voters and we won't know why it happened or who willed it. That way, they get to undermine us in a war without paying the post-1975 price.
2.22.2007 3:02pm
rarango (mail):
Richard Aubrey--I understand your point--I have yet to hear most legislators respond to that (other than people like Feingold and Kucinich who I admire for their consistency and princpals). IMO, and answering my own question, the Democrats do not have the political courage to cut the funding (as well as a guaranteed 2/3 majority to override). The logic to me is this: (1) the troops are in an ill-conceived and mismanaged fiasco, in what has become a sectarian civil war, and getting killed and maimed in the process; (2) we care about the troops; ergo, (3) we want to get them out of harms way as quickly as possible.

Sounds to me like that would be a political winner--why dont they do it tomorrow?
2.22.2007 3:09pm
Loki13 (mail):

Here's why... you defund, and suddenly you can be attacked mercilessly for not supporting the troops. Let me give you an example...
1972 (prior to the Presidential election)-
Nixon reduces troop level in Veitnam from 150k to 30k

1/1973 Nixon, without prior Congressional approval, signs accord with Vietnam to withdraw ALL troops from Vietnam.

9/1974 Congress refuses to fund SVietnam army

1975 Congress refuses further funding.


His work to end the war could be done as the dems did in 1975. Why is he choosing a different path? Likely because he remembers it was, politically, a bad idea. This current technique can get the dems where they want to go without the baggage they collected the last time they wanted the US to lose.

So, uh.... Congress in 1975 caused us to lose Vietnam... and they didn't support the troops. Do you see how it works now? BTW, the political price paid by Congress for refusing to get us back into the quagmire *Nixon* had lost? Dem control until Gingrich.
2.22.2007 6:56pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):

Loki, for some reason, left out a couple of items.

The ARVN had, by that time, become more capable and, in conjunction with US air power, thrown back a major NVA offensive several years after US ground troops were largely gone. In other words, sort of like we hope to see the Iraqis doing shortly.

Congress defunded the support to the government of SVN. Not another bullet, gallon of fuel, or spare part.
Naturally, that put them at a disadvantage in the next NVA offensive. This disadvantage was taken to prove that the Vietnamese never had a chance. Which was true, but not for the ostensible reason. They never had a chance with Congress. The NVA they could, and had, handled. The US congress is a different matter.

Nixon's withdrawal of troops--Congressional permission is not necessary--was not the reason SVN fell. Withdrawing the troops as the ARVN could take over was part of the plan. I don't think anybody but Hanoi foresaw Congress' role in this.

I was commissioned in the Infantry in late '69. I have since discovered that surprisingly few of the guys from this point on, if not from earlier, went to US forces as platoon leaders. Many of us were trained further to be advisers to ARVN units. Several were assigned to Transportation--complicated, but it worked. Point is, the changeover was underway much earlier. Tough, but had a chance. Except for Congress.
2.22.2007 8:41pm