Boy, I am out of it. I never realized the Vietnam vet spitting story had been pretty much debunked. Although it doesn’t surprise me, as the whole narrative was a little too tidy for real life: Recently discharged Vietnam vet, in uniform, comes home not to a festive parade, but to a cold, sterile airport. While walking through the airport, not a hero, but just another shlub between planes, a contemptuous fellow traveler, usually a woman, spits on him. Baby-killer! Etc.
I don’t just say this because I’m not a spitter, myself. I know spitting on another person is a time-honored insult, but it never occurred to me to do it, ever. (I like the gypsy custom of spitting on a person’s shadow, though; that’s kind of chilling.) To spit well takes practice; otherwise you’re left with drool all over your chin. Women don’t do that spit-a-hocker thing men do. I’d think even Hanoi Jane Fonda would rather fling a verbal insult than saliva, and face it: Most people just wouldn’t do that.
As for male spitters, there isn’t a riper opportunity for a butt-whippin’ than a filthy civilian hippie expectorating on a uniformed soldier. Most people are smarter than to invite a butt-whippin’.
If you’re an urban-myth spotter, though, you look for the consistencies, or inconsistencies, that make a story too good to be true. Jack Shafer in Slate explains:
While Lembcke doesn’t prove that nobody ever expectorated on a serviceman–you can’t prove a negative, after all–he reduces the claim to an urban myth. In most urban myths, the details morph slightly from telling to telling, but at least one element survives unchanged. 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.
(And yes, boys and girls, I’m aware Bob Greene swallowed this gob whole and got another tiresome book out of it.)
Anyway, it hardly matters now. The spitting story is now part of the landscape, contrary to the best efforts of Jack Shafer and Jerry Lembcke. And now we have a whole new generation of wounded vets coming home (or not coming home), and the spitting story is always the subtext of the new welcome-home movement: Never again! Support the troops! No problem. I support the troops. But when you press people on what that means, actually, you rarely get a straight answer other than: Don’t spit on them. Agreed. No spitting.
I know I have some military readers, so let me ask this question, something I’ve always wondered about: Those care packages that various groups are always fund-raising for, or collecting for, or sending out — are they worth it? I ask because they so often seem compiled for a troop of hardscrabble mercenaries, not soldiers in the most technologically advanced, well-trained and generously funded fighting force in world history. If I were putting together a soldier care package, I’d try to put myself in a soldier’s shoes and imagine what I’d miss most about home. I’d include… something like… DVDs and video games; meaty letters including photos of lovers/spouses/children; digital cameras; a pint of excellent bourbon in unlabeled, non-breakable flasks; Tabasco sauce for MREs; maybe some discreetly packaged porno. But the ones that I see people sending include things like baby wipes, toothpaste and Kool-Aid. I always think, can’t they get adequately supplied with toothpaste and baby wipes any other way? What kind of Army can’t get its troops adequate wiping supplies?
Probably the same one that can’t get decent body armor. Never mind.
One of my old neighbors, a Marine and Vietnam vet, said a bottle of Tabasco was as highly prized as a bottle of scotch whiskey. He carried his at all times, like his rifle: This is my hot sauce. There are many like it but this one is mine, and better stay mine, if my comrades know what’s good for them.
Day three at home with my poor sick bunny. I’m racing to get a story done so that if I’m felled next, my calendar will be clear. Downside of freelancing: No paid sick days.
One bit of bloggage: Have you driven a Ford lately? No? Well, you can still buy Bill Ford’s house. One error Autoblog makes: You can’t have a “view of Lake Huron” from Ann Arbor. You can have a view of the Huron River, however.
Remember the Michigan county treasurer who lost $200,000 in the Nigerian e-mail fraud? The story gets worse.