The Spitters Are Back

Righties can’t let go of the stories about antiwar protesters spitting on soldiers during the Vietnam era. There’s a new round of blog posts about it, mostly linking back to this one. Although it would be foolish to claim it never happened, I do have a few clarifications to make.

First, regarding Jerry Lembcke — the sociologist did not, I believe, claim that no antiwar protester ever spit on a soldier. His research focused on a particular spitting narrative, that of antiwar protesters lining up at airports to spit on veterans who had just returned from Vietnam. He explained this is a Boston Globe op ed in 2005.

One can, of course, chop parts of Lembcke’s many articles and his book out of context to make it seem he was claiming there was no spitting whatsoever, and I’m sure righties do that all the time, but everything of his I’ve ever read was specifically focused on the spitting-at-the-airport stories. This was an issue because, for some reason, in the 1980s and 1990s such stories were so common you’d think every soldier walking out of an airport must’ve been wringing wet with spittle, yet Lembcke was unable to find contemporary news stories about this phenomenon. He concluded that the airport spitting stories amounted to an urban legend.

On the Right, however, Lembcke’s claims were contorted into a claim that no soldier was ever spit on by anybody during the Vietnam era, and I see they’re still arguing with Lembcke based on this assumption.

The examples of soldier-spitting dug out of old newspapers by the rightie bloggers do not take place in airports. (I see one airport story, but it’s not clear that it was taken from a newspaper.) Hence, they do not disprove Lembcke’s contention that the airport stories in particular are apocryphal.

Such claims made many years after the fact are suspect for many reasons. For one, urban legends have a way of planting themselves into peoples’ heads as false memories. Two, although it’s impossible to prove it never happened — can’t prove a negative, you know — if it had happened half as much as it was claimed to have happened, you’d think somebody would have noticed it at the time. But the airport-spitting stories didn’t take off until several years after the war.

Another point the righties love to drag up and argue about is that, somewhere, Lembcke wrote that soldiers didn’t land at the San Francisco airport, at which much of the alleged spitting took place. And, of course, soldiers did land at San Francisco sometimes, so that is not true. Without seeing exactly what Lembcke wrote I can’t defend it properly, but his point may have been that soldiers didn’t typically return from Vietnam to the U.S. together in a troop ship. They flew back to the states as individuals on commercial flights, to whatever airport was closest to home. Thus, it made no sense for protesters to hang around in airports just waiting to find soldiers to spit on, since on many days they would have waited around all day and never seen one, or maybe just one or two, and then there was no way to know whether they had just returned from ‘Nam or not.

And, indeed, I never saw any protesters at airports, even the San Francisco airport, in those years. On the other hand the Hare Krishna devotees were thick as fleas at San Francisco and other airports back then. They were generally benign as long as you bought their flowers. But maybe some folks mistook them for antiwar protesters.

The next point I’d like to make regards the Right’s false dichotomy that in those days the Left was antiwar and anti-military and hated the troops, and the Right was prowar and pro-military and supported the troops. It wasn’t that simple. For one thing, as the war turned sour many hawks blamed the soldiers for being slackers and drug addicts. It was not at all difficult to find people who were pro-war and who badmouthed the troops for losing it. For all we know some of the people who spat at soldiers were pro-war.

Further, as the war continued the enlistees were increasingly against the war themselves. This page (hat tip to Steve Gilliard) lists various protests and riots by soldiers on military bases during the Vietnam War era. It so happens I spent the summer of 1971 living on post at Fort Ord, California, with my brother and his wife, and those enlistees I met had, um, attitude problems. They hated the war, and the military, and didn’t want to be there. I remember a couple of fellows claiming they took part in antiwar protests — in civilian clothes — on their days off, but they may have been bragging to impress me.

In any event, by 1970-71 or so it was the returning veterans themselves keeping the antiwar movement alive, and not just as part of the Winter Soldier campaign. By then the Pentagon had switched to a lottery system to call up enlistees, and fewer and fewer young men were being called, and after 1971 or so (as I remember) there was less antiwar activism on most college campuses than there had been earlier. As soon as the guys figured out they weren’t going to be drafted, they tuned out the war and went back to planning keggers. It was mostly the returning veterans who cared passionately that the war end asap. I rather doubt they spit on other veterans.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Well, OK, here’s an update — Here’s a photo (source) of a Vietnam protester not spitting at a soldier.

As the article linked to says, sometimes encounters between demonstrators and protesters got hostile. And sometimes the protesters gave the soldiers flowers.

Conservative Correctness

Bill Scher discusses rightie aversion to political correctness..

…Michelle has become a “hate crime howler.”

Michelle is by no means alone in promoting a “Conservative Correctness” (see the War on Christmas, the Dixie Chicks, Dick Durbin’s torture speech) where if you say something impolitic about the president, the war, interpretation of scripture, etc. an attempt is made to shame the speaker, pressure associates and stifle debate.

The kind of thing conservatives used to complain about. (Actually, still complain about.)

I understand why most conservatives play this game. Because to them it is a game.

Because they’re hypocrites and bullies. Their interest in conjuring up a phony narrative of the nature of liberals, and the joy they derive in getting under the skin of liberals, supersedes any interest in intellectual consistency. …

… “Conservative Correctness” should be called out for what it is. Mischief making.

For whatever excesses have occurred under the umbrella of “P.C.,” at least the intentions were generally honorable — mainly, trying to rid society of debilitating bigotry.

“Conservative Correctness” is not well intentioned. It’s simply just about intimidating people who disagree with you. …

… C.C. is not guided by principle. It does not wait for an actual transgression. It is happy to selectively quote, distort and manufacture outrage.

Therefore, it is C.C. that needs to be dismissed and ignored, so our campaigns can be real debates over issues, and not a string of ridiculous distractions.

It’s important to understand that bigots don’t believe nonbigotry is guided by principle, either. Wingnuts practicing “C.C.” generally think they’re only doing to lefties what they believe lefties do to them.

White racists, for example, nearly always believe deep down inside that all other whites believe as they do, and whites who say otherwise are either kidding themselves or lying. I know this is true because I grew up among white supremacists in a segregated community, and I’ve seen social-psychological studies that confirm my observations.

The more overheated whackjobs sincerely believe that the only reason white liberals cozy up to minorities is to serve some larger and nefarious goal, such as (back in the day) instigating a communist takeover. I guess these days they think we’re trying to instigate an islamofascist takeover; I haven’t been keeping up.

Bigots generally are not the most nuanced thinkers on the planet. They’re more the “you’re either fer me or agin’ me” types. Anyone who doesn’t want to wipe out Muslims and spread Judeo-Christian hegemony throughout the planet hates America.

Social psychologists will tell you that bigotry is a strategy for “conserving cognitive resources” (I love that phrase). People do tend to be uncomfortable with others who are “different.” This may be something of a vestigial instinct, a holdover from those long-ago days when human civilization was all about fighting off other tribes who wanted to kill your tribe and take all your stone tools. From here, we liberals might define ourselves as people who have gotten over our instinctual fears of the “other” and instead find diversity stimulating and enjoyable.

Political conservatives are not necessarily bigots, but I think much of today’s right-wing extremism is fueled by irrational fears of the “other” and modernity generally. And because righties conserve cognitive resources by thinking in simplistic stereotypes, they aren’t capable of thinking through their fears and perceiving how irrational most of them are. They also find it inexplicable that there are other people living among them — us — who aren’t afraid of the things they are afraid of. To them, we’re the irrational ones, because we don’t understand that all those islamofacists are lurking just outside the cave and want to break in and murder us and steal our stone tools. Or else, we do understand it, and we’re working for the enemy tribe. They think we must be fixin’ to stab them in the back and invite the enemy into the cave for a mastodon barbecue.

When the phrase “political correctness” was first coined, as I recall, it was something of a joke, ribbing academics for going overboard creating “inclusive” language, like “physically challenged” for “disabled.” Wingnuts seized the phrase and turned it into an all-purpose explanation for why liberals say crazy things like “racial discrimination is wrong” — the standard response is “Oh, you’re just being P.C.” Meaning, “you don’t really mean what you say.”

But we really do mean what we say, and when righties conjure up some phony outrage in order to bash liberals, we get all caught up in answering charges, explaining logical fallacies, and pointing out hypocrisies. We do this because we assume they mean what they say. And, frankly, the more cognitively challenged among them probably do mean what they say, because they can’t critically think their way out of a wet paper bag.

But Bill’s hypothesis is that many of the opinion leaders among them — he discusses Michelle Malkin because he knows her personally — don’t mean what they say. They know good and well that many of the outrages they gin up to bash us with are contrived. They’re just trying to bully us, often because (deep down inside) they think we’re trying to bully them. So while we’re exhausting ourselves in a mighty intellectual struggle, they’re just playing tit for tat and barely working up a sweat.

And if this is the case, we’ve got to stop letting them jerk our chains. We should just dismiss their lunacy with “Oh, you’re just being C.C.”