Searching the news archives for evidence of spat-upon returning Viet vets.

Media criticism.
Feb. 12 2007 5:31 PM

More Spit Takes

Searching the news archives for evidence of spat-upon returning Viet vets.

Jim Lindgren, professor of law and Volokh Conspiracy blogger, has done yeoman's work in scouring the news archives in search of evidence to refute Holy Cross College scholar Jerry Lembcke's stand that the returning-Vietnam-vets-spat-upon-by-protesters story is an urban myth.

If you're arriving late to the story, I've written about the spit myth a number of times  since 2000, most recently last week. Like Lembcke, I've have yet to see anything that corroborates the tales told by some vets about being gobbed on by protesters at airports while in uniform during the Vietnam War era.


In his Feb. 8 Volokh Conspiracy post, Lindgren presents his findings (scroll down and click the "show the rest" link for his complete case). Lindgren writes that, contrary to Lembcke's claims, many easily discovered newspaper stories from the 1967-1972 era show servicemen were spat on frequently. He starts by citing a Bucks County Courier Times article from 1967 in which two sailors were spat on outside a high-school football game by a gang of about 10 young men, one of whom said, "We're going to get a couple of sailors." One of the attackers was sentenced to time in a reformatory following the assault.

He also cites James Reston of the New York Times, who wrote of servicemen guarding the Pentagon being spat on by anti-war protesters during the famous October 1967 demonstration. He has other stories about protesters slinging saliva on an ROTC officer, on ROTC students, and on a military recruiter. He points to a 1967 New York Times story in which Neil Sheehan writes that National Guardsmen were being trained not to react when protesters spat on them, as well as several other stories culled from the press to establish the culture of protester-spitting.

But for all his industry, Lindgren has failed so far to produce a contemporaneous news account—or other corroborative evidence—of a protester ambushing a returning veteran with a gob of spit, which I take as the main point of Lembcke's book, Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

Lembcke has responded to Lindgren's challenge in an e-mail, which he's sent to his critics. I publish it here as a sidebar. For the point-counterpoint effect, open Lindgren's piece in one browser window and Lembcke's response in another.

I, too, have been probing the newspaper archives. As I've written before, I'm prepared to believe that returning Vietnam vets were ambushed at the airports by protesters. I just want to see the evidence.

Many who believe that it was normal for protesters to spit on newly returned Vietnam vets point to a June 2, 1971, Washington Post article about the pro-Nixon Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. The story's lede is about Vietnam veteran Jim Minarik, a founding member of the group and a "former paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division" who has plans to teach that fall at the University of Dayton. (The Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace were led by John O'Neill and opposed John Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War. O'Neill, you may recall, co-authored the 2004 book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.)

Minarik tells Post reporter Ken W. Clawson he was discharged from the Army on Dec. 10, 1968, and that an hour later—while he was still in uniform—two people spat on him as he walked a street in Oakland, Calif. He also claims in the article that a San Francisco restaurant denied him entrance that evening and someone called him a war criminal simply because he was in uniform. Conservative syndicated columnist Holmes Alexander repeated Minarik's story in a widely published column that same month. Post reporter Clawson, who died in 1999, joined the Nixon administration in February 1972 as deputy communications director.

Minarik also appears in a Feb. 2, 1971, Elyia, Ohio, Chronicle-Telegram news story. It describes Minarik as a "conservative" University of Dayton student who had just appeared on The Mood on Campuses in 1971, a public television program moderated by Studs Terkel that gathered the views of students and professors. He tells the Chronicle-Telegram that he's "very impressed" with President Nixon's efforts to establish communications with students.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.