Spitting on Returning Soldiers
June 6th, 2014
For years, we have heard the stories about how liberal protestors of the Vietnam War spat on returning veterans on the tarmacs of airports. Everybody accepted that as truth. Even I did. However, it wasn't true. It was made up. In the first place, such a thing would have been impossible. Anti-war protesters were not allowed on military bases to spit on veterans on tarmacs. Nor were they allowed on civilian tarmacs, nor would they have been able to know when any veterans returned on civilian jets. What about elsewhere? Columnist Bob Greene solicited for and collected dozens of letters telling of stories where soldiers were spit upon, but upon closer investigation, these stories always fell apart, being second- or third-hand reports that could never be corroborated. The stories only started cropping up after the mythical image had been spread via media, such as the first Rambo movie, and records one would expect, such as police reports of brawls that erupted or narratives from studies at the time, simply do not exist. The fact is, liberal protesters during the Vietnam War generally were supportive of the soldiers, not antagonistic. This explains why 94% of returning Vietnam vets reported “friendly homecomings from their age-group peers who had not served in the military.” The protesters opposed the policies and actions of the administration, but wanted soldiers to come home safe—which explains why many veterans were among the protesters, something that would be inexplicable if those protesters treated soldiers that way. So, how did we get the myth of spitting on soldiers? Primarily, it was a way for conservatives to discredit the anti-war movement, and later, as a convenient narrative to paint liberals as unreasonable, or even traitorous. Since the 80s or even earlier, conservatives have used soldiers and veterans as weapons or shields to protect themselves from scrutiny or to attack their opponents. Reagan, on the spot for having put U.S. Marines in harm's way in Lebanon, was in deep trouble politically when so many were killed. His response? That critics and reporters were attacking the soldiers, suggesting that they “died in vain.” George W. Bush continued that tradition, constantly spinning any criticism of his lies or mismanagement as “attacks” on the troops. However, the truth remains: liberals or anti-war protesters did not spit on or, as a general rule, otherwise disrespect returning soldiers for political, ideological, or any other reasons. Well, now we are in a different situation. For the past several years, an American serviceman has been held captive by the Taliban. Conservatives have consistently, over that time, made an issue out of his captivity; they called him a hero, and demanded that he be brought home. Republicans even said that we should trade the five Taliban leaders in Guantanamo for him. We do not leave soldiers behind. So Obama did exactly that. So naturally, conservatives went apeshit, calling the return—something they supported until just a few days ago—illegal, unethical, dangerous, even traitorous. But here is the disgusting, despicable, hypocritical part: they have decided, for political and ideological purposes, that it serves them to spit on this returning soldier. Conservatives are now in full attack mode. The man they called a hero before, now that Obama was the one to arrange his release, is now characterized as a deserter. A traitor. He speaks the language of the Taliban. His father looks like a Taliban. He got other soldiers killed. His return puts others in danger. He is not worth it. He is scum. Now, I have no idea if any of the stories and rumors about Bergdahl are true. Nobody does. And that's the point. The man served in the armed forces, spent five years in captivity, and is not even out of the hospital yet. We have no idea what is or is not true. For conservatives, it doesn't matter. They don't give a shit. All they know is, they can attack Obama over this. For that, Bergdahl gets spit upon. For political and ideological reasons. He didn't even get to an American tarmac yet.