Re: Antiwar Spitting (multiple posts)
Sat, 24 May 1997 17:49:39 -0400

From: Don Caswell (

ClassLass@AOL.COM wrote:

> (snip)
> There appears to be a need to dispel the possible
> reality that some service personnel were spat upon and turn it into a
> reflection of a feel of rejection. =


(snip) =

> People here have related that they have heard first hand stories f=
> individuals who say they were spat upon by protestors. This gets brush=
> aside as repeating of urban legend. =

> Then, I question whether in an effort to
> rewrite history, we might not do the same to what happened in Nazi Germ=
> Call it an allegory. Discount the first hand accounts. =


This poster responded before I got around to it and did a better job
than I could have, fortunately. Although no one I know personally ever
claimed to be spit on, I am convinced that quite a few returning vets
were, in fact, spat upon and made to suffer other indignities. I vaguely
recall a newstory involving a spat-upon vet becoming involved in a
scuffle in an airport (SFO?). And I recall enough of the animosity of
the period to believe that this event was not unique
Although this kind of behavior was anathema to most of us in the peace
movement, the movement to end the Viet Nam War was not entirely
pacifist. There was a strong element of anger among many of the people
protesting the war =96 anger that could easily express itself in spitting=
or even in violence. For many people, the war was only part of an entire
spectrum of government and "establishment" activities that the people of
that era considered threatening. Returning soldiers were a convenient
symbolic target for their fear, anger, and even hatred of what they saw
happening throughout the country.
In the past 20 years, I have heard more people claim to have been spat
on than I can possibly believe, but that does not mean the even is
entirely myth. =

As for bra-burning, I know that this occurred in more than one place.
For a brief period, any feminist rally could easily become a
bra-burning, depending on the mood of the participants. Of course,
usually only two or three bras were set afire, and the bra-burning was
not the main focus of the gathering, but it was a great way to get in
the newspapers and occurred rather frequently =96 at least as many times
as the draft-card burning that it was modelled after, to my
recollection. =

The booby-trapped Vietnamese child is a different sort of animal. It is
difficult to believe this story is anything other than an attempt to
dehumanize the Viet Cong so our troops would find it easier to kill
them. Legends like this have spread through the troops of armies
throughout history, e.g., compare to WWII stories about the Japanese and
19th C. ones about American Indians.

-- =

Donald Caswell
=96 Speaking for myself, not my employer.



Responding to the comments from "ClassLass" (no name signed) re. the tendency
of several of us to dismiss the spitting on vets as "urban myths" -- I think
you didn't get the point, which is not do deny that incidents of spitting,
namecalling, and other forms of abuse of returning soldiers took place. I
think clearly they did take place. I expect LOTS of vets heard whispers or
calls of "babykiller," for example. However, I think the critical comments
about "myth" have more to do with how these individual incidents have come to
serve as a metaphor for the mainstream public memory of (a) what happened to
all returning soldiers, and (b) what the antiwar movement was really like,
etc. This myth is an effective complement to the mainstream/elite propaganda
about the war: that the U.S. lost the war because we weren't "allowed" to win
it because of antiwar sentiment at home. That is, the antiwar movement --in
reality, seeking to stop the destruction of a peasant culture AND the unending
deaths of young American men-- thereby becomes the force that "betrays" the
soldiers by undermining their cause and "forcing the government" to "pull the
rug out from under them." Thus the soldiers --again, from an antiwar
perspective-- who were lied to by their government, exploited for their beliefs
regarding patriotism, duty (and too-often their economic vulnerability), and put
into a form of conflict that inherently defied traditional military tasks
(while raising horrible spectres of immorality and criminality in many soldiers'
minds, if they were able to pause and reflect) are turned not against their
government but against their alleged betrayers. Thus the government is able
to carry on its imperial policies in the world and, where deemed "necessary,"
is able to lie again and send off another contingent of America's (mostly
working & lower-middle class) young men. [For more on this argument, cf. my
article "America's Post-Vietnam Stress Disorder" in Peace Review, 8:2 1996]

That's the hook in the "myth" that needs to be confronted. That's the
propaganda piece --not the very existence of not of incidents of abuse.

I will add that there is and was another very difficult issue underlying this
confrontation for antiwar people.... Namely, IF one views the war as
essentially a criminal act of aggression on the part of an enormously powerful
military power against a mostly peasant population caught up in a struggle of
self-determination, then who is responsible for this criminality? Well,
obviously, the political decision-makers --those who made the policy decision
that set the policy in motion, dispatched troops, authorized the bombing, the
napalm, etc. But, what about the actions of individuals that, in effect,
make the policy work? Where does responsibility end? This was one that
antiwar people grappled with in a variety of ways. I think the answer is, at
some point, it ends nowhere --we all share responsibility to the degree to which
our actions are not directed to the goal of ending the war. And here people
came down in very different places. Those who took a moral position against
the war would have to include in their vision those whose very actions were a
direct extension of the policy against the Vietnamese people. I think this is
where some who maybe did not work through the whole moral picture got caught
in "taking it out on the soldiers" who delivered the policy to the Vietnamese.
In effect, not acknowledging (a) the profound dilemma raised by the very
inappropriateness of military action to the Vietnam context, and (b) the
profound degree of exploitation built into military recruitment, the draft, and
the economy --and, in all likelihood, not adequately confronting their own

Ted Morgan

Department of Political Science
Maginnes Hall #9
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA 18015
phone: (610) 758-3345
fax: (610) 758-6554

From: Renny Christopher <>

Surely she does not mean to imply that the racist myth of the booby trapped
Vietnamese child is anything more than a myth? I would be equally suprised
by documentation indicating that there was truth behind this myth as I
would be by documentation showing that Americans had used booby trapped
American children in our own civil war.

Renny Christopher

From: "Ken Kalish" <>

List Members:

Something was disturbing me about this "myth" of spitting and the "myth" of
the booby-trapped kids, but I wasn't able to bring clarity to my thoughts.
It took the words of this remarkably brave woman to bring me out of the

Upon my return to the United States from Viet Nam, I was sent to Treasure
Island for out-processing. The Navy needed bodies to patrol the streets of
SFO at that time, and those of us "in transit" were selected to wrap an SP
arm band around our crows and head out in defense of the public peace. My
area of patrol included the downtown strip, from Chinatown across the park
and over to the row of theaters, then up the hill to the Mark. I am one of
hundreds of folk so assigned, and any one of them can tell you of the
stunned sailor/marine/soldier/airman who came to us with a great yellor
honker hanging from some part of their uniform.

Spitting is not and was not a myth. In fact, the kind souls at the USO
kiosk at the airport were among those who warned us to be on guard for that
behavior (and the Hare Krishnas, but that's a myth of a different thread).
Dig out some of those very kind non-combatants and they'll verify that one
for you.

As for the booby trapped kids, that, sadly, is also not a myth. Between
June of 1967, when I arrived in Vinh Long, and March of 1969, when I left
Saigon for the land of the Round Eyed Wimmin, I personally encountered
three of them. One about twelve, strapped to a water buffalo, screaming in
terror, tears running down his face and chest, two grenades tucked under
the pad upon which he sat. We couldn't do anything for him, because the
water buffalo hated americans. A very brave RF\PF tied the buff to a tree
and pulled the grenades out. The other two were also "volunteers," but
neither was quite so fortunate.

I agree, it is very tempting to rewrite history into something more suited
to our own personal prejudices. Unfortunately, it is also very dangerous.

From: Aurum Geurin Weiss <psyagw@panther.Gsu.EDU>

Whoa! Hold on there, please. I have a stong reaction to your comparing
whether or not vets were spit on to the events of the holocaust. the
difference between experience and urban myth is important to me as a
clinician, and important to the vets involved in terms of their healing.
I do think that it is important in your life to separate out what you
expected to happen, from what you actually experienced, from the stories
that we all construct over time about what we experienced. Furthermore,
if this is an urban legend, then it is potentially instructive to us all
and worth our study in terms of what it teaches us about the climate of
the times.
Avrum Geurin Weiss