Spit Take

The return of the spat-upon Vietnam vet myth.

In today’s Washington Post, reporter Steve Vogel profiles the veterans who have appointed themselves as a sort of welcome-home brigade for soldiers returning from service in Iraq. Several paragraphs into the piece, Vogel repeats a bit of urban legend about the treatment accorded to soldiers returning from Vietnam, writing, “Many veterans of Vietnam, returning to a deeply divided United States, were greeted with scorn, even spitting or hostile epithets, when they arrived home in uniform.”

Although it’s impossible to disprove a negative, there is no evidence that anybody ever gobbed on a soldier returning from Vietnam. Holy Cross sociology professor Jerry Lembcke devoted an entire book to demolishing the spit myth, and in 2000, in this “Press Box” article, Slate press critic Jack Shafer reprised Lembcke’s findings when the New York Times and U.S. News & World Report repeated the myth inside the same week. Shafer writes, “In the tale of the spitting protester, the signature element is the location: The protester almost always ambushes the serviceman at the airport—not in a park, or at a bar, or on Main Street. Also, it’s not uncommon for the insulted serviceman to have flown directly in from Vietnam.”