Monday, May 17, 2010

The Legend Lives On

The liberal media is at it again. As a result, the next Senator from The Great State of Connecticut may not be its next senator.

Or maybe he will. And its' not because Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's explanation for claiming on several occasions service in the War in Vietnam is at all credible. At a news conference today, the Democrat maintained

On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility. But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.

That service, unfortunately, was stateside rather than in the jungles of Southeast Asia (not bad, as cliches go). To claim otherwise is fairly appalling.

Linda McMahon, the former CEO of the World Wrestling Federation who is the GOP aspirant for the seat (currently held by Chris Dodd) Blumenthal is seeking, apparently thought so. The opportunistic Mrs. McMahon took credit for planting the story with the pinko New York Times, simultaneously the leader and traditional symbol of the dreaded, loathsome "liberal media."

But if the impact of Blumenthal's dishonesty and his defense are not yet fully known, it shouldn't be shocking that the A.G. was not completely forthcoming about his service. In the article breaking the story, The Times reported

In an interview, Jean Risley, the chairwoman of the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial Inc., recalled listening to an emotional Mr. Blumenthal offering remarks at the dedication of the memorial. She remembered him describing the indignities that he and other veterans faced when they returned from Vietnam.

“It was a sad moment,” she recalled. “He said, ‘When we came back, we were spat on; we couldn’t wear our uniforms.’ It looked like he was sad to me when he said it.

It wasn't only Risley's recollection. The Times notes Blumenthal in 2003

addressed a rally in Bridgeport, where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. “When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

At a 2008 ceremony in front of the Veterans War Memorial Building in Shelton, he praised the audience for paying tribute to troops fighting abroad, noting that America had not always done so.

“I served during the Vietnam era,” he said. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.”

Like The Dwelling Place of the Devil he does. Jerry Lembcke, author of "The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam," wrote in spring, 2003 that shortly after the Iraq War began

stories were circulating in several US cities about uniformed military personnel being spat on or otherwise mistreated. In Asheville, North Carolina, two Marines were rumored to have been spat upon, while in Spokane, Washington, a threat to "spit on the troops when they return from Iraq" was reportedly issued. In Burlington, Vermont, a leader of the state National Guard told local television, "We've had some spitting incidents," and then claimed one of his Guardswomen had been stoned by anti-war teenagers.

Upon further investigation, none of the stories panned out — the Spokane "threat" stemmed from the misreading of a letter in the local paper promising that opponents of the war would not spit on returning soldiers — and yet, in each case the rumors were used to stoke pro-war rallies.

Many of the current stories are accompanied by stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans. The recent story of spitting in Asheville, for example, was traced to a local businessman who says he is a veteran who was also spat upon and called a "baby killer" when he returned from Vietnam. An Associated Press story of April 9 reported stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans surfacing in several cities including Spicer, Minnesota whose mayor said he was spat upon in the San Francisco airport while coming home from Vietnam in 1971.

Similar stories became quite popular during the Gulf War of 1991 which raised my curiosity about where they came from and why they were believed. There is nothing in the historical record — news or police reports, for example — suggesting they really happened. In fact, the Veterans Administration commissioned a Harris Poll in 1971 that found 94% of Vietnam veterans reporting friendly homecomings from their age-group peers who had not served in the military. Moreover, the historical record is rich with the details of solidarity and mutuality between the anti-war movement and Vietnam veterans. The real truth, in other words, is that anti-war activists reached out to Vietnam veterans and veterans joined the movement in large numbers.

Stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans are bogus.

This myth of citizens spitting at Vietnam veterans is one rarely, if ever, examined by the media. It serves the interests of conservatives, who can bolster their insinuations about war opponents, or liberals in general, as being unpatriotic or even treasonous. The mainstream media, meanwhile, can report that circumstances, and the country, have changed- after all, if they hadn't, would that really be news? Moreover, it's easy to be lazy and accept a feel-good story- that now, Americans are wildly patriotic in a way that they were not in those silly, radical '70s. (The Times reporters wrote of Blumenthal "noting that America had not always done so"- no need of criticial skepticism when the myth can be swallowed whole.)

The incipient Blumenthal scandal gives the press a chance to look into this ongoing image of the unappreciated combat veteran. A chance it will take every opportunity to pass up.

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