Today's peace movement is being held back by distorted memories of yesterday's peace movement. The documentary Sir, No Sir! reminds us that many, many vets supported Jane Fonda and the anti-war protests. The protestors cared a lot more about the V.A.'s treatment of wounded vets than did the hawks.
The most pernicious myth, still believed by many, holds that anti-war protestors spat on returning soldiers. If you know of anyone who still believes this nonsense, show 'em this interview with Jerry Lembcke, who teaches Sociology at Holy Cross College. Lembcke examines the origins of this legend in a book called The Spitting Image.
I kept looking back in the historical records, when people were actually coming home from Vietnam and I found out that no, there was no record. Not only was there no record of people spat on, but none of anyone claiming that they were spat on. So then I got interested in the stories as a form of myth and found out that in other times and other places, especially Germany after WWI, soldiers came home and told stories of feeling rejected by people and particularly stories of being spat on.
The correspondent who brought this interview to my attention offers these observations:
I was very active in the late 60's and 70's anti-Viet Nam War movement.
I can tell you categorically that all the many activists I associated with would never countenance anyone spitting, much less spitting on a military veteran. We took protesting seriously. Anybody engaging in such outrageously disgusting behavior would have been ostracized.
For us the Johnson and Nixon administrations were the culprits. We very clearly understood that our disapproval needed to be directed at the officials running the war, and not at soldiers and/or common folk who were simply being duped and suckered by the government's lies and propaganda.
By 1970 the organization Viet Nam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) was in full swing and I distinctly recall that at any sizeable protest event a noticeable contingent of VVAWs was almost always present. Usually they wore camo or olive BDUs conspicuously decorated with very graphic anti-war messages. These guys tended to be fairly tough, no bull-shit patriotic working class guys who weren't kidding around. Civilian protesters greatly respected and admired the VVAW and even tended to be a little afraid of them. For example, the VVAWs generally wouldn't tolerate any misuse of the American flag in their presence. While firmly against the war, I can assure you the VVAWs would not have hesitated for a moment to physically attack any protester who spit on, or verbally denigrated a fellow soldier.
HOWEVER, I definitely recall that as an anti-war protester we were frequently bombarded with verbal abuse, epithets, and worse by construction workers, cops, etc. For protesters, marching back then could be somewhat of a physically risky practice. In fact, for a long time, prominently wearing an anti-war button out in the street was likely to garner you some choice vituperations from a passing truck driver or cabby.
I'm glad this pathetic national myth of the "Spat upon Viet Vets" is finally being exposed.