The Spitting Image

"The Spitting
" is a 1998 book by sociologist Jerry Lembcke. The book argues that the common claim that American soldiers were spat upon and insulted by anti-war protesters upon returning home from the Vietnam War is an urban legend intended to discredit the anti-war movement. Lembcke's book argues, further, that posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a socially-constructed diagnostic category that disparages the image of Vietnam veterans and provided another way to discredit the many veterans in the anti-war movement. Lembcke writes that this discrediting of the anti-war movement was foreshadowed by Hermann Goring's fostering of the stab in the back myth, after Germany's defeat in Europe in 1918 [ [ Stabbed in the back! The past and future of a right-wing myth Kevin Baker Harpers June 2006] ]

A persistent criticism leveled against those who protested the United States's involvement in the Vietnam War is that protesters spat upon and otherwise derided returning soldiers, calling them "baby-killers", etc. Lembcke says he found no evidence to suggest this ever happened and suggests it may have come in part from the common chant by protesters aimed at President Lyndon Baines Johnson, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" One of the hallmarks of the period's anti-war movement was its stated support for the troops in the field and the affiliation of many returning veterans with it. At the time he wrote The Spitting Image he had not found a single media report to support the claims of spitting. He theorizes that the reported "spitting on soldiers" scenario was a mythical projection by those who felt "spat upon" and was meant to discredit future anti-war activism. He suggests that the images of pro-war antipathy against anti-war protesters helped contribute to the myth. Lembcke argues that memories of being verbally and physically assaulted by anti-war protesters were largely conjured, arguing that not even one case could be documented.

However, some news accounts that mention spitting do exist, although there has been no visual evidence to support those accounts. After a review of contemporary news sources, Northwestern Law School professor James Lindgren claimed to have found news accounts that discussed spitting incidents. Lembcke provided an 18-point response to Lindgren at expressing interest in one of Lindgren's claims. A December 27, 1971 CBS Evening News report from veteran Delmar Pickett who said he was spat on in Seattle appears to also have some validity as a claim, but not as evidence that the incident reported actually happened. [CBS Evening News, (Charles Collingwood reporting) [] ] [ [ Vietnam Veteran CBS News broadcast from the Vanderbilt Television News Archive ] ] "Spitting Image" contrasts with author and columnist Bob Greene's 1989 book "Homecoming" in which Greene prints several letters he had solicited from veterans, asking to hear from them if they had been spat on and focuses on firsthand accounts of mistreatment from anti-war protesters. [ Clarence Page, September 2, 1998 [] ] Greene's book contains 63 accounts of spitting. Lembke claims that some of the stories that Green published to "have elements of such exaggeration that one has to question the veracity of the entire account." He also points out that there were several newspaper accounts of pro-war demonstrators spitting on anti-war demonstrators and suggests that these accounts may have been reinterpreted over the years. [] In "The Spitting Imae" Lembcke acknowledge that he cannot prove the negative--that no Vietnam veteran was span on--say (p. 68) it is hard to image there not being expressions of hostility between veterans and activists.

"Spitting Image" asserts that the claims of abuse of soldiers by antiwar demonstrators became ingrained in the American consciousness only some years after the war had come to a close; Lembcke attributes the legend's growth to films relating to Vietnam, notably "Rambo". He writes that these claims were used by President George H. W. Bush as a way to help sell the Gulf War to the American people. Lembcke believes that the myth is currently useful in promoting the yellow ribbon campaign; it has led some to think that for one to support troops, one must also support the war, because it ties together the ideas of anti-war sentiment and anti-troop sentiment, although a common chant has been "Support the Troops: Bring them Home!"

Review of Jerry Lembcke's book

A "Los Angeles Times" book reviewer wrote:

:"The image is ingrained: A Vietnam veteran, arriving home from the war, gets off a plane only to be greeted by an angry mob of antiwar protesters yelling, 'Murderer!' and 'Baby killer!' Then out of the crowd comes someone who spits in the veteran's face. The only problem, according to Jerry Lembcke, is that no such incident has ever been documented. It is instead, says Lembcke, a kind of urban myth that reflects our lingering national confusion over the war." ISBN 0-8147-5147-4

Cinematic depiction of related veterans' experiences

The notion of soldiers being spat upon was featured in some American movies made long after the end of the war, including the Rambo series. According to the Digital History Project at the University of Houston:

*In First Blood (1982), John Rambo captured the pain of the returning veterans: "It wasn't my war--you asked me, I didn't ask you...and I did what I had to do to win....Then I came back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting on me, calling me a baby-killer...." []

*The 1976 film "Tracks" features a fictional anti-war activist who spits on his opponents.

*In the 1994 film "Forrest Gump", a protester calls Forrest (in uniform) a baby-killer.


ee also

*Sociology of memory
* [ Spitting on the Troops: Old Myth, New Rumors] by Jerry Lembcke

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • the spitting image — one who looks like someone, a dead ringer    Patty is the spitting image of her mother same face, same hair …   English idioms

  • the spitting image of — informal the exact double of. → spitting image …   English new terms dictionary

  • (be) the spitting image of somebody — be the spitting image of sb idiom to look exactly like sb else • She s the spitting image of her mother. Main entry: ↑spitting imageidiom …   Useful english dictionary

  • be the spitting image of someone — be the spitting image of (someone) to look very much the same as someone else. He s the spitting image of his father …   New idioms dictionary

  • be the spitting image of — (someone) to look very much the same as someone else. He s the spitting image of his father …   New idioms dictionary

  • be the spitting image of — ► be the spitting image of (or be the spit of) informal look exactly like. [ORIGIN: originally as the spit of or the spit and image of: perhaps from the idea of a person apparently being formed from the spit of another, so great is the similarity …   English terms dictionary

  • is the spitting image of — bears a striking resemblance to …   English contemporary dictionary

  • spitting\ image — • spitting image • spit and image noun informal An exact likeness; a duplicate. John is the spitting image of his grandfather. That vase is the spitting image of one I wanted to buy in Boston. Compare: like father, like son …   Словарь американских идиом

  • spitting image — If a person is the spitting image of somebody, they look exactly alike.( Spit and image is also used and some suggest it is a hasty pronunciation of spirit & image , to suggest that someone completely resembles someone else. Example: He s the… …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • spitting image — n be the spitting image of sb to look exactly like someone else …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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