Spitting Report IV: Opposition To The Troops

Professor Jerry Lembcke asserts that it would have been highly unlikely that soldiers or veterans were spat upon because relations between soldiers and the antiwar movement were generally very friendly.

This post raises some serious problems with Lembcke’s use of one 1995 study by Beamish et al. to support this claim. In particular, Lembcke somehow falsely reports a 56% incidence of anti-troop behavior as a 6% incidence of anti-troop behavior, a mistake that he has repeated in several publications.

In a very revealing passage, Lembcke argues:

How do you prove that something did not happen? For this book I adopted two strategies. The first was to make the assumption that two mutually exclusive sets of circumstances cannot coexist in the same time and space. In the case of Vietnam veterans and the anti-war movement, I assumed that those two parties could not have been simultaneously hostile to one another and mutually supportive; anti-war activists could not have been spitting on veterans while at the same time befriending them in off-base coffeehouses. (Jerry Lembcke, The Spitting Image, 1998, pp. 3-4)

This reflects a rather unsophisticated view of human nature. The fact that most people don’t hate African-Americans doesn’t mean that stories of people using racial epithets against them are untrue. To explain spitting, there need be only a non-trivial minority who loathed the military during the Vietnam War (I’ll have more on this in future reports).

Lembcke may also be reflecting his own experience as an activist for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group that was always genuinely open to veterans who wanted to give up support for the US government’s position in the war and join its efforts. It is not at all a contradiction that most antiwar activists were welcoming to individual servicemen while a minority of those who opposed the war were quite hostile to them. The flaw in Lembcke’s logic can be illustrated by observing that, during the Cold War, the US welcomed Russian spies who wanted to change their orientation to the Cold War and join the CIA or the US side; yet Russian and US spies who had not had a change of heart were working hard against each other.

To support Lembcke’s view of very little anti-troop behavior by the antiwar movement, he cites a 1995 study by Beamish, Molotch, and Flacks, which counted 495 instances of pro-troop or anti-troop behavior in 380 New York Times and L.A. Times news stories accompanying major antiwar demonstrations.

More to come tomorrow . . . .