That the mainstream press aired Pickett and Minarik's accounts in 1971 show that the spitting-on-vets meme gained greater currency in those early years than Lembcke allows. But it also dispels the notion, held by many of my e-mail correspondents, that the Vietnam-vet spit stories were suppressed by the "liberal media."
Neither the CBS News reporter nor the Post'schallenges the soldiers' accounts. This could mean that the reporters took the allegations with a grain of salt. Or it could mean that the reporters were subtly acknowledging that the public was now so opposed to the war that it had become normative for them to communicate that view by spitting on Vietnam vets or spitting at the ground in front of them. If the latter was true, one would expected President Richard Nixon or commentariat a soul mate—Paul Harvey, perhaps—would have raised hell about it. As far as I know, Nixon and Harvey were silent on the topic.
I have no reason to believe that Pickett is lying, even if his two recountings of that day in 1971 don't match up perfectly. I'm no human lie detector, but his telephone manner seemed remarkably relaxed and candid for somebody getting a call from the press out of the blue. What argues in favor of Pickett's claim over say, Minarik's, is that a document shows that he made it the year it allegedly happened. And unlike Minarik, he's not making any political hay with it. It's just one soldier's story.
Measuring the truth value of the Vietnam-vet spit stories matters because the issue hasn't receded with the passage of time; it has barnacled itself to the Iraq debate. Just last month (Feb. 15), Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, incorporated the spit tale in his weekly column to criticize members of the Democratic Congress who oppose the Iraq war. Henninger writes:
So horrifying are the famous images in the 1970s of what presumably were not evangelicals spitting on GIs coming home from Vietnam, that House Democrats, with every second intake of breath, spoke of the troops and their families. ...
If Henninger possesses "famous images" of spat-upon Viet vets, I hope he'll share them with us. If you can help me document a spit story, please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Life imitating myth, or life imitating history? The Dec. 8, 2006, Post-Standardin Syracuse, N.Y., reports that a Lauren Maggi spat in the face of soldiers without provocation at the local airport. (Search for the keyword face.) (If you send e-mail, you may be quoted by name unless you stipulate otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)