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The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam

2.9 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814751473
ISBN-10: 0814751474
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Images of long-haired antiwar protesters, almost always women, spitting on returning Vietnam veterans have become a shameful part of America's collective memory. Lembcke (sociology, Holy Cross Univ.), a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, here presents a stunning indictment of this myth?an illusion created, he maintains, by the Nixon-Agnew administration and an unwitting press to attribute America's loss in Vietnam to internal dissension. In fact, the antiwar movement and many veterans were closely aligned, and the only documented incidents show members of the VFW and American Legion spitting on their less successful Vietnam peers. But Lembcke's most controversial conclusion is that posttraumatic stress disorder was as much a political creation?a means of discrediting returning vets who protested the war as unhinged?as it was a medical condition. The image of the psycho-vet was furthered through such Hollywood productions as The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. This forceful investigation challenges the reader to reexamine assumptions about the dark side of American culture that glorifies war more than peace. Highly recommended for large public libraries and for all academic peace studies collections.?Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

No, Holy Cross College sociology professor Lembcke can't prove a negative, but he makes a strong case that tales of antiwar activists spitting at returning vets are myth. Lembcke, a Nam vet who was active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, opens with Persian Gulf War politicians' use of "the spitting image" and then traces Nixon and Agnew's agitated response to antiwar activism by GIs and veterans. He notes that contemporary media, government, and polling data show no evidence of antiwar spitting incidents; the few events reported had supporters of the war targeting opponents. But later studies reported hostility toward veterans; "the spitting image" epitomized that narrative. Similar images were common in post-World War I Germany and France after Indochina; Lembcke suggests the Nixon administration cultivated this notion of betrayal because it stigmatized both the antiwar movement and veterans against the war. With development of a new psychiatric diagnosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, a good vet/bad vet split was complete, and Hollywood films shifted attention from the war itself to its GI victims. Mary Carroll --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 217 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814751474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814751473
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I decided to take up the reader from Dallas who suggested that "Google dispels all of the 'research' done for this book".
Guess what? I found most all of the references agreed with the author's point of view. Most all referred to this as an "Urban Legend", where those people who state this theory in discussions do so after having only read about it once, or who are so committed to the Vietnam War - and I think one can make a noble case for it - that they are willing to try anything to discredit anyone who felt otherwise.
Ironically, the author notes that the relatively few cases in which there is evidence of it having taken place...mostly came from prior war veterans, dismayed that returning veterans "couldn't do what we did". In some cases, the reporting of drug use by some overseas veterans, sadly, helped feed some of this animosity.
The author, a Vietnam Vet himself, emphasizes that very, very few cases of this exist to begin with. All the more reason to treat this as the Urban Legend that it is.
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Format: Hardcover
Lembcke's thorough analysis probes the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran. He reminds us that the anti-war movement saw an ally in veterans and the largest group of veterans was in fact Vietnam Vets Against the War. While violence and 'spitting' did occur, it was normally against the peace activist or even the anti-war veteran, who received the harshest treatment from hawks and mainstream veterans organizations who looked down on them for losing the war.
However, the nixon administration needed to discredit both groups. Thus the strategy began to de-politicize vets by portraying them as damaged people and attacking the anti-war activists by introducing fictious images into popular culture to discredit their efforts.
However, like Howard Zinn in the People's History of the United States, the goal is not simply to set the record straight; but it also affects how we act today. This memory has discredited activism on college campuses in the 80's and 90's, especially during the gulf war. Students who equate activism with spitting on veterans quickly shy away from that type of activity.
The book does a complete job showing why and how this attack on our cultural memory was accomplished by looking at police reports, newspaper articles and films(since many people's primary reference for this war is rambo). This false memory has been damaging to activists, veterans and the country as a whole, and this book helps us to come to a better understanding of what really happened.
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Format: Paperback
Dewey Canyon III, the protest in 1971 where vets (many VVAW) threw their war medals back at the capital building, is imortalized on the jacket of this insightful volume. Lembke dissects dozens of stories of 'Nam vets being spat on by the anti-war movement at home (usually, legend has it, by a young woman in the San Francisco airport). But even more importantly he eloquently exposes and breaks down who the myth serves, and the importance of accurate recollection:
"...Ironically if the real [emphasis added] Vietnam War had been remembered, the Gulf War might not have been fought. We need to take away the power of political and cultural institutions to mythologize our experiences. We need to show how myths are used by political institutions to manipulate the decision making process. And we need to dispel the power of myths like that of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran by debunking them."
"...instances of attacks of U.S. officers by their own men are all but forgotten in the popular remembrances of the Vietnam War. Many Americans today "know" that GIs were mistreated upon their return from Vietnam. Their images of Vietnam veterans run from the hapless sad sack to the freaky serial killer; for them post-traumatic stress disorder is a virtual synonym for the Vietnam veteran. But they have never heard of "fragging," the practice of soldiers killing their own officers. The true story of the widespread rebellion of troops in Vietnam and the affinity of GIs and veterans for the politics of the left has been lost in the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam veteran."
This is a must read for anyone fighting to keep the real legacies of the Vietnam War alive.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I work in a field which often brings me to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. While at the memorial, I frequently hear tour guides, some of whom I know personally, talk of the alleged experiences of Vietnam vets returning to the US after their service. They were, the story goes, spat upon and called baby killers, and subject to other atrocities. What stands out of those commentaries is that they all use the same lines, the same clichés, and that they were all reported in third or fourth hand. "My cousin has a friend, whose brother got back from Vietnam, and..."

A friend of mine, a former Navy officer, and I have talked at length about those stories. From different sources, we learned that they're simply not true. In my case, first, I've talked with many a Vietnam vet---some of whom have returned from more than one tour of Vietnam---and have never had such an experience, and know no one who has. Then in the film "Sir, No, Sir" which I reviewed for Amazon.com, a Vietnam vet asserts that they didn't return to civilian airports but to military bases. So such atrocities couldn't have occurred.

My friend the Navy vet said that it was during an ROTC course taught by a Marine Lt. Col. that the issue came up. In one of the books for the course, the author(s) commented that it did not occur, and they apparently traced the sources of the myth.

Lembcke, a Vietnam vet himself, begins the book with a couple of observations. First, many, many a Vietnam vet had purchased first class SLR cameras from the PX. If there were so many cameras purchased, why is there not so much as one picture available of all these atrocities? Next, he asserts, and provides substantial evidence for the fact that many if not most returning vets were part of the anti-war movement!
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The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam
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