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Spitting on the Troops: Old Myth, New Rumors (english)
by Jerry Lembcke
Email: jlembcke (nospam) holycross.edu
Address: Department of Sociology, Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA 01610
08 Apr 2003
Modified: 07:08:24 PM
Reports of anti-war movement hostility toward soldiers are circulating is several communities. The reports are reminiscent of stories that activists spat on Vietnam veterans during the 1960s and 1970s. The image of spat-upon veterans is a myth that discredits the anti-war movement and fosters the false idea that we could have won the war in Vietnam had it not been for betrayal at home. The current stories deflect attention from the politics of the war itself and make the anti-war movement a scapegoat for unrelated frustrations.
Spitting on the Troops: Old Myth, New Rumors
The largest anti-war movement in American history emerged during the weeks leading up to the attack on Iraq. Capped by massive rallies in Washington, DC on January 18 and New York City on February 15, the movement spanned generations and united fractious political interests to degrees that surprised participants and pundits alike. Since the bombing of Baghdad began on March 19, opposition to the war has remained at a high pitch with actions, impressive in size and exuberance, occurring on a nearly daily basis in cities and towns across the country.
Though unabated and maybe gaining energy as the war grinds on, mustering for peace is being overshadowed by reports about growing numbers of people turning out for rallies and vigils to "support our troops." Taken at face value by the news media as events sincerely motivated by family and community concern about the welfare of the men and women sent abroad, anti-war activists nevertheless see the flag-draped events as thinly veiled political theater whose real purpose is to mobilize public sentiment for the war against Iraq.
The nightly-news footage of parents and neighbors distraught over their loved ones' deployment to the danger zone testifies to the emotional wreckage left on the home front when troops ship off to war; there is also no doubt that, whatever the intent and stated purpose of the public demonstrations for the troops, the reality is that they are viewed by many observers as a call to support the war, making it hard to dismiss claims that the rallying cry to "support the troops" is really code for supporting the war.
There is still another layer to the pro-troop rhetoric that has escaped commentary, however. Implicit in it is the assumption that someone doesn't support the men and women in uniform. Behind that supposition lurk the myths and legends about home-front betrayal that have bedeviled American political culture since the Vietnam War, and which have been resuscitated recently by rumors of hostility toward military personnel.
Since the war in Iraq began, stories have surfaced in several states including North Carolina and Washington of servicemen being spat on, while in Vermont a National Guard sergeant was reportedly harassed and targeted by stone-throwing anti-war students. In Ashville, NC a local radio station used a reported spitting incident to stoke a rally for the troops without ever confirming that anyone in town was actually against them. A reporter for the city weekly newspaper investigated and found, well, nothing-no evidence of untoward behavior directed at soldiers.
During the 1980s, bogus stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans besmirched the reputation of the anti-war movement and helped to construct an alibi for why we lost the war: had it not been for the betrayal by liberals in Washington and radicals in the street, we could have defeated the Vietnamese. During the Gulf War of 1990-91, the stories helped dissuade young activists from opposing the policy of the first Bush Administration; lest their actions be likened to spitting on veterans, some opponents of the Gulf War lowered their public profile.
The facsimiles of spat-upon veteran stories that are surfacing now continue the smear campaign against the peace community and confuse the public dialogue surrounding the war. Debate about the war itself and the politics that got us into it is being displaced by the ersatz issue of who supports the troops. Everyone supports the troops and wishes them a safe and speedy homecoming. It's the mission they have been sent on that is dividing the nation and it is the mission that we have a right and obligation to question.
The "support the troops" symbolism also comes with a hidden agenda, a subtext that is about the anti-war movement. A common figure on local television news coverage of the day's rallies for soldiers is the person saying he or she out there to protest the protesters. Understandably, the war brings a lot of emotion to the surface and some of that feeling stems from frustration with the economy, a sense of helplessness in the face of large-scale social and technological change, and fear that cherished American values are being lost. For some people the real war is the war at home and the enemy coalition is bundled in the anti-war movement.
The displacement of legitimate anger about the deteriorating quality of life in America from policy makers onto political dissidents is shortsighted scapegoating that won't solve problems. Similarly, making military personnel the bone of contention between pro- and anti-war interests is a counterproductive way of deflecting attention from the exacerbation of real dangers inherent in the management of U.S. operations in Iraq that grows more controversial with each day.
The truth is that nobody spat on Vietnam veterans and nobody is spitting on the soldiers of our time. Attempts to silence opponents of the war with those figments of hostility toward men and women in uniform are dishonest and should, themselves, be banished from our discourse.
Jerry Lembcke is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam (New York University Press, 1998)
Department of Sociology
Holy Cross College
Worcester, MA 01610
jlembcke (at) holycross.edu
Your full of SHIT (english)
by MicMac Merc
(No verified email address)
08 Apr 2003
I was working in USA Recruiting in 1966 and not only
witnessed the "spitting" - was a recipient.. though
you may want t6o ask what the "spitter" looked like
ex post facto his mission.
Even now, if I see one moron spit on any one in military
unbiform.. that grunty won't have to do a thing.. I will be
all over the "spitters" ass like an octopus...
I may pull a sewer grate this time and stuff them down
inside the pit.
Guess what recruiting office I work for Mr. Holy Cross?
Main St Post Office - almost top floor ( don't know if
it's still there ) Worcester.
SgtMjr. John Maher (Airborne/Ranger) was CO of the office
and my co workers were Sgt. Luck LaChance ( just back
from his tour ) Sfc. Richard "Dick" Tompkins who was
requesting his third tour.
We used to go out to Millbury(SP?) to some pond/beer hall on it by a pond - sensible folks there..
So go sit on your anti-grunt propaganda.. and rotate.
PS: I think I will send your message out to the grunts
list we maintain ( over 5000 Vets, Family & Friends
Nationally) and see what they think about your thesis)
Get your head out of your ass (english)
by Proud Vet
(No verified email address)
08 Apr 2003
Get your head out of your asshole "professor" and
maybe you'll know what it's like to breathe, and maybe
that will help you sort out the facts. Your post said:
A reporter: WHO? nothing you state for reference is backed by fact.. do you really think most reading your drivel are morons.. that they can't read between the lines
and see/know your a PHONY!
YOU give the movement ( and folls like you ) a bad rep. You
are no dif. than that idiot in baghdad who states NO
US TROOPS are here as all watch them roll down the streets
via TV. You think ( and others like you ) we will believe
any thing you spout cause you got a few initials attached
to your name. Sorry 'bout that CHIEF.. that ain't the way
the cookie crumbles..
A BLACK Vet and proud of it!
MONTPELIER, Vt. — A group of Vermont teen-agers threw rocks at a uniformed female Vermont National Guard sergeant last week, in the latest example of a service member facing hostility in the United States.
National Guard spokesman Capt. Jeff Roosevelt said the woman was not injured in Friday's incident, which took place in Plainfield, but said the woman had decided she would no longer wear her uniform outside of work.
"We are a very tolerant state and people in the military also expect to be treated with the same courtesy and respect that we show to others," Lt. Col. Scott Stirewalt, director of security at the Vermont National Guard, told WCAX news.
The teens blocked the sergeant as she went into a store and again on the way out, yelling obscenities at her along the way, Roosevelt said. The group also threw small stones at her car as she drove away, he added.
The sergeant said she believed the protesters had taken part in an anti-war demonstration in Montpelier that day. National Guard troops are often deployed to such events to help keep the peace.
"There were various profanities directed in her direction, along the line of '[expletive] murderer, [expletive] baby killer,'" Stirewalt said. "It culminated with some of the individuals throwing rocks at her, and as testament to her disciplined professionalism, she got in her car and left the area."
in from:Jim Kelly USMC 1964-1968/Vietnam '66-'67
Here are the links to the newspaper articles:
Jack Cunningham wrote:
Dear Jim Kelly, This is an example of Extremists. Free Press is
out the door. To be against the war is one thing, but not to allow
for the facts... is a disgrace. I've sent your article links
out to a few of my friends. I hope the Vermont school system
gets a few complaints. Good luck and please keep us informed.
The rest of Free America cares. Semper Fi Jack Cunningham
----- Original Message -----
To: Jack Cunningham
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2003 9:03 AM
Subject: Incident in Vermont
A situation happened in a public school in Vermont last
week that should have a national focus.Vermont, long known
for its crazy politics, has, in my opinion, gone too far
on this one. I'm the reporter mentioned in the two
articles.A father, concerned about his two daughters
missing classes for an anti-war protest, was arrested for
trying to find out who was organizing the event. He is a
retired (disabled) Philadelphia police officer. I'm not
for any war, having served in Vietnam, but we need to
support our troops if they are asked to put their lives on
the line. Thanks for your time. Here are the links to the
GOD BLESS OUR MEN & WOMEN IN UNIFORM
(America, please do not let American Enemies "In & Out" of
America... do to today's brave men and women of our military, what
they were allowed to do during and after the Vietnam War)
It's not about Politics or "Loving War."
Freedom of Speech at MUHS?
On March 5, two students from Middlebury Union High School telephoned
The Eagle newsroom alerting us that students would be walking out of
class at 11 a.m. to attend an on-campus protest of the looming war
with Iraq. Around the nation, students and others were planning a day
of anti-war protests. Other schools in Addison County also experienced
some protest activities.
According to the unidentified callers, students planned to occupy the
school cafeteria in a peaceful anti-war protest. The student callers
who tipped us off wondered if The Eagle was interested in covering the
event since we covered the recent, controversial Bread & Puppet
Theater performance at the high school. What responsible newspaper
could refuse requests like these? The event promised to be a local
news story in the making-an extension of the internal and external
debates going on around the
nation as America contemplates war in the Middle East. As noted, MUHS
was the scene of the controversial Bread & Puppet Theater performance,
a decidedly anti-American performance that shocked many patriotic
parents, and students, as well as some staff members of this
When The Eagle dispatched its reporter, Jim Kelly, to the school, he
was met in the lobby by a uniformed Middlebury police officer. Kelly
was told that the news media would not be permitted in the school to
cover the protest event.
Kelly then headed to the administration office and encountered
Principal William Lawson.
Lawson told Kelly that the media was intentionally being kept out of
the school because he, "...didn't want any trouble."
In what way does the news media covering a legitimate news story
about a school protest create trouble? Perhaps Mr. Lawson was thinking
of another public relations fiasco. Was he still smarting after the
Bread & Puppet debacle?
Lawson informed our reporter that the demonstration was not officially
sanctioned by the school, yet he was aware of it in advance and didn't
know who was behind it.
When asked if he would take any measures to stop the walk-out, Lawson
told Kelly "I'm not going to throw my body in front of them." Sounds
like a classic example of the crew commandeering the ship.
Our reporter inquired if action would be taken to discipline the
students skipping class to attend the protest. Lawson was hesitant and
vague in his response, saying, "We'll take whatever measures are
Kelly was then escorted out of the building by the police officer. We
later learned from Middlebury Police Chief Hanley that a reporter from
The Addison Independent was also turned away. The Eagle's Kelly was
permitted to stay outside and cover anything from that vantage
pointexcept the protest was indoors and not visible from the school
With that said, we understand the need for public schools to control
campus security, but on the other hand, MUHS is a public institution.
At what point is freedom of the press denied when an administrator
refuses a reporter's access to cover a news-making event such as a
student protest? If schools can hide behind "security" to keep out the
press when controversial political events take place during school
hours (with the principal's apparent awareness), then citizens need to
ask themselves what exactly does the word public mean in the context
of a public high school?
MUHS has exercised what we think is poor judgment in a number of
politically touchy areas in recent weeks. It has kept parents in the
dark regarding a controversial political "infotainment" event held on
school grounds, and it has attempted to squelch news about a student
protest that parents, and other taxpayers, including the School Board,
might like to know about.
We later observed that several adults--including a Social Studies
teacher (see story) who may have been behind the Bread & Puppet
event-posed the student protestors in front of MUHS for a group
photograph. What's up with that?
Was the protest a spontaneous event spearheaded by students or were
some faculty members behind the walk out? Who were the adults taking
photographs of the placard-bearing students in front of the school
following the protest? Were these adults teachers or staff members? We
want to know. If true, how can the administration possibly justify
students missing out on valuable class time to attend a one-sided
protest rally? MUHS test scores
are nothing to brag about. Students missing classes over
extracurricular events-especially blatant political events that just
might be orchestrated by non students-is risky business. Today's
public high schools are being scrutinized under the public's
microscope like never before and that's as it should be.
The Eagle will continue to keep its eye on MUHS during these highly
Copyright © 1999-2002 The Addison Eagle News & Reporter
Website designed and maintained by Jim Kelly
A Trip to MUHS and Jail
By Ron O'Neill
Affairs at Middlebury Union High School seems to be getting out of
control. As a parent of two MUHS students, I am concerned about what
my children are learning and who they're learning it from when they
head off for school every morning.
As if the MUHS Bread and Puppet fiasco of a few weeks ago wasn't bad
enough, on March 5, The Eagle received several telephone calls from
students at the school stating that a peace protest was going to be
held in the cafeteria, at 11 a.m. The Eagle's reporter, Jim Kelly,
headed to the school to cover the protest, but was turned away at the
front door by an armed
police officer who stated that no members of the news media were
permitted to see the event.
Being the production manager at The Eagle, I heard about Jim being
turned away, and was outraged. My daughters were in that school and I
had no way of knowing whether there was anything a father should be
concerned about. These are things I feel I shouldn't have to worry
about while my children should be receiving an education. However, I
really wanted to know if my children were being forced to participate
in the protest, or if they were missing valuable class time because of
I left the office and headed to the school to get a first-hand look at
the situation. I arrived at the school as the protest was underway in
the cafeteria. I was met at the front door by the same armed officer
who greeted Jim Kelly an hour earlier.
I, too, was told by the officer that no members of the media were
allowed inside-the officer assumed I was there as a reporter. I was
not. I was there as a parent.
I asked to speak to the principal and was told by the officer that he
was busy. He directed me to the administration office and I waited
while the officer looked for the principal. A few moments later, both
Principal Lawson and the police officer returned to the office. I
explained to Mr. Lawson that I was there to check on my children and
make sure there was nothing going on that I needed to be concerned
about. He assured me that everything was under control. After making
sure that my children were not a part of the
protest activity, I turned to leave and was escorted to the front door
by the officer.
On my way out the front door, the students who were protesting filed
out of the cafeteria, through the front door and into the bus circle.
I held the door open for the students as they left the building to
assemble in the circle.
Walking out with the students were several adults who I didn't
recognize. One individual, a bearded man who appeared to be in his
late 40s, was carrying what looked like a camera bag. I asked him if
he was a teacher--he responded that he was "not answering any
questions." There was also another individual-- a woman-- who I can
only assume was a teacher, as well. She was organizing the students
into a group photo opportunity. It struck me as an odd thing--teachers
appeared to be leading this protest.
Principal Lawson came outside and told me I needed to leave. I asked
him who the adult male was that was carrying the camera bag. He told
me the man was a teacher. I wondered why teachers would be organizing
such an activity during school hours?
Both Principal Lawson and the officer told me that if I didn't leave
immediately, I would be arrested for trespassing. I calmly explained
to the principal that, as a parent, I have every right to know what is
going on at the school my children attend. He told me he didn't have
to answer any of my questions and told me, again, to leave.
At this point, it was clear to me that there were things happening at
MUHS that the teachers and administrators didn't want parents, the
media, or the community-at-large to know about. This is a disturbing
thing to think about-our children are being exposed to these kinds of
events (and tactics by the administration) without the consent of
parents. After I repeated my question to the principal about the
unidentified adults and what their involvement had to do with school
curriculum, the police officer told me that if i didn't leave I would
be put in handcuffs. I said "you'll just have to arrest me." And so he
I was forcefully placed up against the wall in front of the student
protesters and led into the school resource officer's office to await
a Middlebury Police car to haul me off to a holding cell downtown.
After being fingerprinted and photographed, I was written a citation
and told to appear in the District Court of Vermont for an arraignment
on April 21 for the charge of trespassing.
Is this any way to treat a concerned parent? What my children are
exposed to in school is every bit my concern as much as what they are
exposed to outside of school. It's my job as a parent to protect my
children in whatever way I am able. If that means irritating a school
administration, then so be it.
There was no reason that Principal Lawson could not have
satisfactorily answered my questions and sent me on my way. Instead he
chose to flex whatever muscle he could muster and remove me from
March 5 was a sad day for the rights of parents in Vermont. I am sure
that I am not the only parent who is concerned that my children are
being exposed to what amounts sometimes to anti-American and far-left
ideology at school.
I fear my children are being forced to listen to beliefs that are
antithetical to long-held American values which are being expressed by
some people who are supposed to be giving them a balanced education.
Ron O'Neill, a resident of Salisbury, is production manager/editorial
correspondent at The Eagle. He was the owner of a graphics art company
in Florida and a former Philadelphia police officer.
Copyright © 1999-2002 The Addison Eagle News & Reporter
Website designed and maintained by Jim Kelly