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The War in Vietnam: Studies in Remembrance and Legacy, 2000–2014 (June 2016): The Myth of Spat-On Veterans

By Jerry Lembcke

The Myth of Spat-On Veterans

Claims of veterans treated badly by war protesters did not appear until about 1990, and B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley’s Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and History was one of the first attempts to work the stories into a narrative for the coming-home experience.  H. Bruce Franklin touched on the mythical character of those claims in Vietnam and Other American Fantasies.  In his book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, Jerry Lembcke made the stories of spat-on veterans a case study in myth creation and noted their similarity to stories told in Germany after World War I, when they became part of the Dolchstosslegende, or stab-in-the-back legend, which fed a home front betrayal narrative for Germany’s defeat.  Claims that the spitters were often women or girls lends a sexual tenor to the interpretation of the war as a solipsistic affair “that Americans did to each other,” themes that are explored by Katherine Kinney in Friendly Fire: American Images of the Vietnam War.