Lembcke, a staunch anti-war activist, member of "Vietnam Veterans Against the War", and to this day, a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy has become the sole "academic" reference for the repudiation of the spitting myth. To say he is biased would be an understatement.
To the surprise of no one, the media and many current anti-war groups quickly accepted Lembcke's assertions in an attempt to rehabilitate an anti-war movement devoid of credibility. Unfortunately, to anyone who reads his book, Lembcke's work is flawed at every level and wouldn't be worthy of mention except that it is now the single source cited by anyone wishing to ignore historical fact and propagate Lembcke's position that Vietnam Vets were not spit on. This is exactly why the anti-war movement has no credibility with mainstream Americans: Many are against the war but few want to be lumped in with these wild eyed ex-hippies trying to convince the American people their servicemen committed war crimes and atrocities against the Vietnamese.
The facts are really very simple and undisputed. U.S. Servicemen in Vietnam were accused of committing war crimes and killing innocent men, women and children in Vietnam as early as 1964. This was ingrained in the pop culture of the time. Don't think so? Find a 1966 rendition of Arlo Guthrie's song Alice's Restaurant and listen to it. Pay special attention to the parts about burning woman and children. Lembcke's own organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War conducted the "Winter Soldier" tribunals in which Vietnam Veterans confessed to war crimes. John Kerry testified to Congress that these war crimes were being committed and that military leaders at all levels knew about these things. "Baby Killer" was a common term in the 1960s and early 70s. Just pick up an old National Lampoon or copies of any of the underground newspapers of the time.
The 1960s were extremely violent times. Quick read of the AVAILABLE newspapers and you have stories of police officers and antiwar protesters fighting in the streets. And for the record, spitting by both men and woman is easily documented. A sampling? Antiwar demonstrators instructed to spit on LBJ's car. Bob Hope's car was spit on when it was stopped by antiwar protestors as he tried to attend the Army Ball in LA. The mayor of Oakland was spit on A news reporter reported that a police officer was spit on by an antiwar protestor at the Oakland Induction center during attempts by antiwar protestors to close the center down. Abbie Hoffman was charged with spitting on a police officer at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. If you think spitting was disgusting, then you wouldn't want to hear the reports of police officers being hit with human excrement and urine. Perhaps Lembcke can be excused for not knowing any of this as it happened YEARS BEFORE Vietnam Veterans Against the War formed. There is even a story of two 12-year-old girls spitting on the King of Saudi Arabia! Probably not worth mentioning except Lembcke actually says in his book "Girls don't spit".
As part of his findings, Lembcke challenges the notion that servicemen would be in a civilian airport. This is just plain stupid. A person on their way to Vietnam would be coming from HOME. They would travel on commercial planes to the closest airport to their embarkation point which for many, was San Francisco. How many servicemen did this? Enough that there was a scheduled shuttle bus to Travis AFB from San Francisco International Airport during most of the Vietnam War. Going home was the same process in reverse. Hit the ground on the West Coast and head to the closest airport to catch a civilian flight home. It is estimated that thousands of servicemen went through the San Francisco Airport every day during the Vietnam Conflict.
And in the early 1970s, a person could literally walk right up to the gate in most airports. Were there demonstrators in the airport at SFO? Yes. Again, this is not disputed. San Francisco was literally the cradle of the antiwar movement. The number of antiwar activities that occurred in and around San Francisco is astounding: Oakland Army Induction center, Travis Air Force Base, The Oakland Naval Facilities, the Presidio, Haight-Ashbury, Berkeley, Stanford et al. And from all accounts, the events were violent and people were just plain pissed off. That demonstrators were in the Airport is not disputed. Evidently, when they arrived at the airport, the demonstrators became very placid and unemotional and immediately changed their tactics.
Another absurdity: Lembcke states (page 3 &“ 4): "two mutually exclusive sets of circumstances cannot coexist in the same time and place". In the case of Vietnam veterans and the anti-war movement, I assumed 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 coffee houses.
This is the worst kind of pseudo-science: easily debunked and devoid of credibility. It assumes that the anti-war movement was highly organized and that it's members shared a common goal and common techniques to achieve these goals. Nothing could be further from the truth. The anti-war movement was highly fragmented and geographically dispersed. San Francisco was far removed from the streets of New York City, Washington DC, Cambridge Massachusetts, or Ann Arbor Michigan. The University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) was a hot bed for student dissent and anti-war activities five years before the Vietnam Veterans Against the War was even formed. To assume that these disjoint organizations operated cohesively with any kind of unified platform is ludicrous. None other than Dr. Hunter S Thompson, attending an antiwar demonstration in Washington DC observed that there were actually fist fights developing between various antiwar factions. That Lembcke would lump the entire antiwar movement into one group and make his grandiose leap of faith is absurd. Antiwar groups were setting off bombs in New York City and the Weatherman were robbing banks. Street riots and campus unrest was commonplace and all these groups had leaders that were not necessarily cooperating with other antiwar groups. Articles appeared in newspapers about escalating violence when the government did not respond to the antiwar movement's demands. To it's credit VVAW worked diligently to control violence at the events it sponsored, Not always with success. Again, this is all part of the historical record.
FACT: 3.3 million people served in the Armed forces during the Vietnam conflict. At its height, VVAW stated it had 30,000 members. These numbers are disputed and newspaper accounts place membership closer to 8,000 with a core of about 1,000 active members. Using the 30,000 claimed members would still mean less than one percent of Vietnam Veterans actually joined VVAW. Not exactly the kind of numbers that would allow an organization to claim it "represented the majority, or even a large segment of Vietnam Veterans". The truth: most Vietnam Vets came home, figured the war was a waste and were anti-war. The numbers speak for themselves. The vets refused to associate with the VVAW as the VVAW's attempt to incite mutiny and unrest in combat units could further endanger American Soldiers.
The saddest part of Lembcke's so-called science: He simply groups everyone who says they were spit on and collectively dismisses ALL THEIR FIRST HAND REPORTS as False Memories. It doesn't matter which side of this issue you are on, you have to have serious reservations about the accuracy of any work where the author simply ignores ALL the eye witness reports offered by the vets. This isn't science and it isn't the kind of reference proponents should be quoting when they say Vietnam Vets were not spit on.
Dr. Lembcke, heres a bit of science you obviously haven't heard of: Occam's Razor. Simply stated: all things considered, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Let's apply the razor to this situation. Servicemen during the Vietnam conflict were being categorized as war criminals. The Anti-war movement contained elements that were confrontational and violent. Given the large number of servicemen in and around airports during the Vietnam War and the accessibility of the airports to demonstrators, antiwar demonstrators could and did come in contact with servicemen at the airports. The airport demonstrations were commonplace and wouldn't be covered by the press.
If spit on, the serviceman could retaliate and risk punishment, report the incident, or ignore it. Reporting the incident takes time and no one, either going to or coming back from Vietnam would want to invest time in this sort of thing. So we are left with the first person accounts by the GIs that these things happened and which have been reported in books like Bob Greene's Coming Home. And it's safe bet, the antiwar heroes that did the spitting aren't going to come forward, isn't it?. No false memories, no bogus hypothesis and everything explained rather easily. Except it doesn't explain why you are so interested in heaping scorn on a bunch of people that have already suffered enough.