The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam

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NYU Press, 2000 - History - 217 pages
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How the startling image of an anti-war protested spitting on a uniformed veteran misrepresented the narrative of Vietnam War political debate

One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester — often a woman — spitting on the uniformed veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition.

In this startling book, Jerry Lembcke demonstrates that not a single incident of this sort has been convincingly documented. Rather, the anti-war Left saw in veterans a natural ally, and the relationship between anti-war forces and most veterans was defined by mutual support. Indeed one soldier wrote angrily to Vice President Spiro Agnew that the only Americans who seemed concerned about the soldier's welfare were the anti-war activists.

While the veterans were sometimes made to feel uncomfortable about their service, this sense of unease was, Lembcke argues, more often rooted in the political practices of the Right. Tracing a range of conflicts in the twentieth century, the book illustrates how regimes engaged in unpopular conflicts often vilify their domestic opponents for "stabbing the boys in the back."

Concluding with an account of the powerful role played by Hollywood in cementing the myth of the betrayed veteran through such films as Coming Home, Taxi Driver, and Rambo, Jerry Lembcke's book stands as one of the most important, original, and controversial works of cultural history in recent years.


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The spitting image: myth, memory, and the legacy of Vietnam

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Images of long-haired antiwar protesters, almost always women, spitting on returning Vietnam veterans have become a shameful part of America's collective memory. Lembcke (sociology, Holy Cross Univ ... Read full review

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Jerry is a coward and scumbag who was lucky enough to avoid combat. He must have been smoking crack to say spitting on Vietnam Vets was a myth. I would love to plant a roundhouse directly to his temple!


About Soldiers Veterans and
Good Veterans
The Evidence or Lack Thereof
The Mental Labeling
Women Wetness and Warrior Dreams
Coming Home
We Are What We Remember
About the Author 217

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About the author (2000)

Jerry Lembcke grew up in Northwest Iowa. He was drafted in 1968 and served as a Chaplain’s Assistant in Vietnam. He is the author of eight books including The Spitting Image, CNN’s Tailwind Tail, and Hanoi Jane. His opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is presently Associate Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Holy Cross College and Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

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