Thursday, July 03, 2008

Repeating A Myth

Barack Obama gave a speech on June 30, 2008 in Independence, Missouri, homeplace to the greatest President of the 20th century, about patriotism. It contained this interesting observation:

some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Did you notice? "Some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted.... by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day."

It's distressing to hear Obama peddling this conservative urban myth, that the opponents of the Vietnam War shunned, or worse, veterans returning from the war. This self-serving tale of the right should have been put to rest with the publication in 1998 of "The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam" by Jerry Lembcke. In an article written for The Boston Globe on April 30, 2005, the author told of a Michael Smith, who in a typical story, claimed that he returned to the U.S.A. via an airport in Los Angeles where "people were lined up to spit on us." But, Lembcke explained,


Like many stories of the spat-upon veteran genre, Smith's lacks credulity. GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops. There may have been exceptions, of course, but in those cases how would protesters have known in advance that a plane was being diverted to a civilian site? And even then, returnees would have been immediately bused to nearby military installations and processed for reassignment or discharge.

The exaggerations in Smith's story are characteristic of those told by others. ''Most Vietnam veterans were spat on when we came back," he said. That's not true. A 1971 Harris poll conducted for the Veterans Administration found over 90 percent of Vietnam veterans reporting a friendly homecoming. Far from spitting on veterans, the antiwar movement welcomed them into its ranks and thousands of veterans joined the opposition to the war.


I don't know. Maybe Obama, who wasn't born until August, 1961, was too young during, and immediately after, the Vietnam War to have been paying attention, and there were those four years (1967-1971) he was living in Indonesia. But with the FISA bill, withdrawal from Iraq, campaign financing, and gun control, at some point those of us on the left are going to have to stop making excuses for Mr. Obama and instead ask: What does he actually believe?


HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

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