Anti-war activists threw blood on Vietnam Vets!?

Publisher’s Note: It seems fitting on the 4th of July 2015 during American-Australian war games in Rocky that wbt re-posts “Nobody Spat on American GIs!”

Especially given claims by a returning Vietnam Vet that Brian Laver, a leading anti-war activist, threw blood on him and his mates:

"we were splattered with bags of animal blood" 
                     - Brian Lawson, Vietnam Veteran

Is this claim by the Vietnam Vet true, or is it a re-construction like the stories about American GIs being spat upon when they returned from Vietnam and Iraq? The only blood thrown by anti-war activists that I can recall was on the stock exchange in Brisbane.

Of course, there are many real forms of non-violent protest: egging, shoe throwing, pieing, tomato throwing, glitter bombing and even shoe banging.

Famously the former premier of the USSR, Nikita Kruschev , is supposed to have banged his shoe on the desk in the UN General Assembly in protest at the President of the Phillipines and Harold McMillan, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Kruschev, balding, short and fat, was such an easy target for Time magazine that published the fake picture (below) for consumption by U.S. audiences heavily primed for the cold war by successive Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson (LBJ) and of course Nixon (Watergate).

Ian Curr
4 July 2015


Nobody Spat on American GIs!

Stories of spat-on veterans began proliferating in the U.S. media in 1990 as the country ramped up for the first Persian Gulf War. Anti-war activists had spat on troops returning from Vietnam, or so the stories went, and to make sure that did not happen again, Americans were urged to rally around the men and women dispatched to the Gulf. Within weeks, the nation was awash with yellow ribbons, symbols of support for troops, and by inference, the mission on which they had been sent.

Rather than being spit on, returning GIs and veterans led anti-war demonstrations, as in this photo from 1970.

The classic spitting story is told by a Vietnam veteran who deplaned at San Francisco’s airport and was met by spitting women and hippies or “male longhairs,” some carrying placards reading, “Baby Killer.”

Several of the story tellers say they were warned by military authorities on the plane to go immediately to the airport restroom and change into civilian clothes lest they be attacked by protesters. One caller to a radio show interview with me said that he observed the trash can in the restroom piled high with uniforms. When he was asked if there were any photographs of the piled uniforms, he was gone.

The Gulf War context may have catalyzed, “I was spat on, too,” stories that had never been told before — a kind of copycat phenomenon. But the accounts only proliferated after that.

spitting on vetsWith research help from Holy Cross College student Lynn Barowsky in 2008, I began collecting the first-person spitting stories and entering their details into a spreadsheet. To my surprise, the frequency of stories-told had not diminished since they first trended in the early 1990s. I have now recorded over 200 stories from returning vets, all of whom relate some variant of the spitting image.

My 1998 book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, delved into the origins of the stories and inquired into their persistence. I was careful not to call the stories lies, and even allowed that some version of their classic form may have actually occurred — after all, you cannot prove a negative. However, there is no evidence that such incidences actually happened, and a scant record of claims in the media or anywhere else made during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the corporate media would have made every effort to cast aspersions on anti-war activists.

Some particulars in the stories could not be true, such as returnees from Vietnam landing at civilian airports like spittingimageSan Francisco. Rather, those planes arrived at military facilities such as Travis Air Force Base, 50 miles north of the city where protesters could not have gotten near deplaning troops.

Also, it was very unlikely that returning soldiers would have been told to take off their uniforms. Discarding their uniforms would have meant abandoning military property, a serious offense that returning soldiers looking forward to getting home and out of the service would have been hesitant to commit. Plus, it is implausible that young women would spit on anyone as a form of political expression, let alone a battle-hardened male soldier.

Stories of protester hostility toward veterans were incongruent with the historical record that activists had reached out and recruited veterans to the cause of ending the war, and that thousands of service personnel returning from Southeast Asia joined the anti-war movement.

The image of spat-on veterans was displacing memory of veterans politicized and empowered by their wartime experience. The consequence of that displacement would be evinced years later when a new generation, oblivious to the political narrative of antiwar veterans, sought identity within victim-veteran imagery provided by the mental health discourse of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I was most fascinated by the fact that similar stories were told in other nations after other lost wars including Germany following World War I and France after its loss of Indochina in 1954. In both cases, it was women who were alleged to have greeted returned veterans hostilely. The German women, some with pistols tucked in their skirts, were said to have spat on the soldiers.

The German scholar Klaus Theveleit, in his two-volume Male Fantasies, examined the stories and judged them to be what his title exclaimed — male fantasies. Theveleit used a Freudian analysis to explain that the stories were expressions of male fears of women with male powers — even the power to project body fluids.

In turn, the scapegoating of women masked veterans’ fears of their own female Inner-Other laying hidden in the subconscious until brought to the surface by battlefront defeat casting doubt on their masculinity.

Theveleit’s psychoanalytic study centered on veterans who were key members of the Freikorp, formed to suppress the revolutionary upsurge in Germany following World War I. Many of his subjects became prominent Nazis a decade later.

One might think that with the passage of time and the efforts like my own to debunk the spitting stories as myth, their telling would be a past-tense phenomenon — the kind of stories “once told” that are now known to be folklore. But one would be wrong.

The October/November 2014 issue of AARP Magazine ran a story written by Gary Sinise, the actor who played Lieutenant Dan in the movie, “Forrest Gump,” who related a story his brother-in-law, Jack, told upon returning from Vietnam. Jack ducked into the airport’s men’s room to shed his uniform because, “he’d heard the stories about returning soldiers being spit on.” It was what happened “at home” during the war, wrote Sinise, that inspired his commitment to see that it didn’t happen again and that the troops sent to “protect our liberties” will be appreciated and cared for.

I continue to receive stories sent to me as evidence that Vietnam veterans had been spat on. The most recent was received on January 22, 2015 from a veteran who returned through San Francisco in 1970:

“I was followed by five or six hippies who immediately started cussing at me, calling me all kinds of names and spit at me. They didn’t hit me since they were bad shots. I realized that to hit them would create a disturbance, involve the police, and the odds were against me. So, I continued on and got onto my plane. To this day, I don’t even like to go back to that area of the country.”

This fellow was quite angry with me for describing stories like his as myths. In a set of email exchanges between us, he said I was calling men like him “liars” and expressed doubt that I “had ever served my country” and speculated that I had an “anti-military agenda.”

Stories of spat-on Vietnam veterans have become so ingrained in the American discourse about war and veterans that they can now be referenced matter-of-factly with no acknowledgment of their mythical properties. Their migration from bar-stools to the higher cultural ground of literary trope has been assisted by mainstream news organizations, which, with few exceptions, repeat the spit-on stories uncritically.

As recently as February 22 of this year, The New York Times Sunday Review repeated the canard — “…with Vietnam, people spit on you…” — as if it’s just something that everyone knows to be true.

As one of the Vietnam War’s more enduring legacies, the stories of denigrated veterans are now salted into the biographies of the latest generation. The late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle wrote in his book American Sniper of being disparaged in San Diego upon his deployment to Iraq. He recalled passing “a small group of protesters demonstrating against the war. They had signs about baby killers and whatever, protesting the troops going over to fight.”

The new stories also continue a pattern in which claims of mistreatment by anti-war activists are often bundled in resumes displaying remarkable martial accomplishment. In his blog, culture critic Michael McCaffrey challenged the veracity of several boasts made by Kyle and gave particular attention to the “baby killer” incident. It was, said McCaffrey, “at worst, pure fantasy; at best, a great embellishment.”

The American betrayal narrative was provided Presidential imprimatur when Barak Obama used his 2012 Memorial Day speech to announce a $65 million Pentagon plan to commemorate the war in Vietnam with a 12-year series of events running across the 50th anniversary dates of the war. Speaking to cameras with the Veterans Memorial Wall as the backdrop, the President called the Vietnam War, “one of the nation’s most painful chapters.” Treatment of Vietnam veterans he said, “…was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened….We’re here today to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

News pundits were quick to associate the President’s remarks with the enduring images of the Vietnam era spat-upon veteran. The Los Angeles Times editorialized in 2012 that “it was a mythical image — an edifying myth,” the writer said, but still a myth. An edifying myth — and a dangerous myth. The disparaged Vietnam veterans invoked by President Obama are mythical, and it is dangerous imagery. Myths are group stories, stories as real as the people who tell them — as real as the group, the nation, that the stories create.

Nations bonded by commitments to avenge their hurts are dangers to all. Germany’s dolchstosslegende led it into a terrifying campaign for retribution that, in the end, destroyed Germany itself. France’s generals in the 1950s, feeling abandoned in Indochina by civilian leaders, sought reaffirmation in Algeria and inflamed the conflicts there with consequences that Paris has still not outlived.

The United States, having gone to the Persian Gulf in 1990 to “kick” its Vietnam Syndrome, as President George H. W. Bush said at the time, instead supercharged the jihadi movement into the World Trade Center and found itself, years later, bogged down in a multi-front war with no end, much less victory, in sight.

Remembered by many as a war lost because of betrayal at home, Vietnam has become a modern-day Alamo that must be avenged, a pretext for more war and generations of more veterans.

However, it more correctly should be remembered as a war in which soldiers, veterans and citizens joined hands to fight for peace demonstrating the effectiveness of popular resistance to political authority.

Obama’s endorsement of the Pentagon’s plan to remember Vietnam during the next 12 years as a war lost to betrayal on the home front only beclouds what needs to be remembered lest we are taken down the path to more wars like it.

We need to reject the political, economic, and militarist logic that leads to endless wars, and to remember the inspiring history of returning veterans who, along with the anti-war movement and GI resistance, brought the troops home from Vietnam.

by Jerry Lembcke in Counter-Punch.

Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor Emeritus of Sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam and Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. His newest book is PTSD: Diagnosis or Identity in Post-empire America? He can be reached at

Waterside Worker, Phil O’Brien holding Brian Laver’s right wrist in an attempt to prevent him from mounting the platform of the Vietnam Moratorium in May 1970.  George Georges is at the microphone in front of the bearded Laver. Phil O’Brien was a rank and file wharfie and member of the Waterside Workers Federation. Claims that CPA unionists gagged and physically restrained him were not entirely accurate. Phil O’Brien was never a member of the CPA (see below).
Waterside Worker, Phil O’Brien holding Brian Laver’s right wrist in an attempt to prevent him from mounting the platform of the Vietnam Moratorium in May 1970.
George Georges is at the microphone in front of the bearded Laver. Phil O’Brien was a rank and file wharfie and member of the Waterside Workers Federation. Claims that CPA unionists gagged and physically restrained him were not entirely accurate. Phil O’Brien was never a member of the CPA.
“A collage of an image made by an anonymous photographer, at the United Nations, September 23, 1960, copyrighted RM Bettman/ Corbis/ Associated Press, and a fake image with shoe added to Khrushchev’s hand (unknown author). The fake image is used by multiple medias, including Time magazine.” – from Wikipedia.

7 thoughts on “Anti-war activists threw blood on Vietnam Vets!?

  1. Peace, this week! says:

    A final reminder of some important and interesting peace movement activities this week in Queensland – all directed at building a movement for an independent and peaceful Australia, and challenging the role our government chooses of subservience to the American militarism industry…

    On Wednesday evening, a public forum at The Edge, State Library with Scott Ludlam, Kozue Akibayashi and Richard Tanter (for details see here)

    Thursday – a full day of workshopping strategies and techniques to build our movement, at the QCU building, Brisbane (for details see here)

    Friday, a public address by Kozue Akibayashi at QUT, Brisbane – see here

    Saturday – a display of peace activities during 1st world war, part of the State Library “Comforts from the Home Front” display- see here

    Saturday and Sunday – peace convergence activities in Rockhampton, Yepoon and Shoalwater Bay, to confront directly the massive war “games” being conducted there this week…. see here

    Ross Gwyther
    Just Peace, Brisbane.
    0408 782 983

    [caption id="attachment_28962" align="alignnone" width="479"] May Day March 1978 where the ‘Red Contingent’ outnumbered the combined unions[/caption]

    1. Quaker Grannies' mad hatter tea party? says:

      Three peace activist grannies who staged a tea party and blocked access at an Australian Defence Force training area in central Queensland have been fined for trespassing.

      The trio, aged 71, 69 and 65, were each fined $500 each in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court on Tuesday but avoided convictions.

      The ‘Quaker Grannies for Peace’ were arrested by military police on Monday after they refused to leave the Shoalwater Bay area, where Australian personnel have held a series of joint training exercises with their US counterparts.

      The grannies – Helen Bayes, Jo Valentine and Dawn Joyce – spent a night in custody after refusing to sign bail papers.

      After appearing in court, the women said they broke the law to advocate for peace.

      ‘The Quakers have a 335-year history of exercising democratic rights to create peace through dialogue,’ Ms Bayes said.

      ‘Peace can only be created through peaceful methods, not bombing and killing and making the other lose.’

      The women, who have fourteen grandchildren between them, said they were arrested for blockading after bringing tea and cake to ‘create dialogue’ with soldiers involved in Exercise Talisman Sabre at the training site.

      The exercise involves some 30,000 defence personnel and trains Australian and US forces in ‘high-end’ war fighting.
      The grandmums at the protest site at Shoalwater Bay.

      The grandmums at the protest site at Shoalwater Bay.

      The grannies are among a number of activists who have converged in Rockhampton to protest against the exercise.

      Two others were arrested for trespassing at the site on Monday, while three Christians were apprehended for infiltrating the training area last week.

      The senior commanders of the American and Australian ground forces involved in the joint exercise will hold a press conference in Brisbane on Wednesday to discuss the importance of the war games.

      Source: AAP Brisbane

      1. Too much law, not enough justice says:

        This is my friend, Andy. He is not allowed “associate” with me or some of our friends or “any peace convergence coordinator” after (allegedly) trespassing on “Commonwealth land” during the US-AUS military exercises – Talisman Sabre.

        Since he is not allowed to associate with me, I have not asked his permission to post this picture.

        I am not a criminal – why am I being denied access to my friend – who is also not a criminal? The “peace convergence” is not a criminal organisation – why are people involved being denied access to their friends and colleagues including legal/police support team & media team?

        Our friend, Jim, who was arrested with Andy, is in prison now after refusing to sign bail conditions that prohibit association and political expression. As their cases have not yet been heard, they are not “guilty” of an offence at this time.

        As Jim said in court “These are punishments, not bail conditions.”

        This is a sign of the times in Queensland, at least. The state wants to criminalise association through political expression and vice versa. This must be challenged! We love Andy & Jim!


  2. Talisman protestors fined $500 each, one still in jail ... says:

    [Publisher’s Note: I post Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin article here as a record of the general antipathy of local media to the paece makers at Talisman.]

    PROTESTS at Shoalwater Bay against exercise Talisman Sabre have so far cost police over $50,000.

    One of the protesters arrested yesterday morning, Nicholas John Deane, was fined $500 in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court this morning after pleading guilty to trespassing on the site.

    The court heard Deane, 68, was found inside the military training area with camping and cold weather items and refused to leave when approached by members of the Australian Defence Force.

    He was arrested and held in the Rockhampton Watchouse overnight after refusing to sign bail.

    Police prosecutor Senior Constable Manon Barwick said Deane, and other protesters, had cost police over $50,000 in responding to incidents at Shoalwater Bay and prevented them from attending emergency situations.
    Peace Pilgrims march with banners and flags to the Rockhampton Courthouse in support of three activists who were charged for entering the Shoalwater Bay Training area in protest of Exercise Talisman Sabre.
    Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin

    Peace Pilgrims march with banners and flags to the Rockhampton Courthouse in support of three activists who were charged for entering the Shoalwater Bay Training area in protest of Exercise Talisman Sabre.

    Deane’s defence solicitor said he had spent over a decade writing submissions on the US-Australian alliance and was “very passionate” about the issue.

    She described his actions as a “last action to bring this (issue) into the public forum”.

    She asked that a conviction not be recorded so the Sydney grandfather could continue to carry out his Justice of the Peace duties.

    She also asked that certain items seized from Deane be returned, including a camping knife on a string and other equipment used by Deane’s uncle in the battle of Dunkirk.

    Magistrate Michael O’Driscoll said he had no choice but to record a conviction as the offence came under Commonwealth law.

    Deane was convicted and fined $500. All property seized by police was forfeited.

  3. Blood poured on Vietnam Vets? says:

    ” … a twenty-one year old typist, Miss Nadine Jensen, poured a mixture of red pigment and mineral turpentine over her head and clothing and, running between the ranks of the 1st Battalion RAR on parade after a tour of duty in Vietnam, smeared the red liquid on some of the soldiers, …”

    AUSTRALIAN PEACE MOVEMENT 1960-67 – A STUDY OF DISSENT by Ralph V. Summy (Radical Times Historical Archive)

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