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Feb-25-2008 15:56TweetFollow @OregonNews
Who Really Spat on Veterans During the Vietnam War?Tim King Salem-News.com
"Nixon used hippies as political footballs. Every time there was a rally, orders were given to bust heads" - Redford Givens, San Francisco War Protester
(SALEM, Ore.) - Americans overwhelmingly believe that U.S. combat veterans returning from Vietnam were spit on by anti-war protesters in airports. Many vets will tell you it happened, and others will tell you that they never saw anything close to it.
I have had vets tell me details about experiencing this and I believe them, but is there more to the story than meets the eye?
A former Vietnam era protester from San Francisco who worked with many of the era's most vocal protesters, Redford Givens, says the people doing the spitting weren't hippies, but government provocateurs.
Traditionally, an agent provocateur which is French for "inciting agent" is a person employed by the police or other law enforcement body who acts undercover and entices or provokes another person to commit an illegal act with the deliberate purpose of inciting wider conflict or harm.
In other words, he says the "hippies" who society largely believes harmed these veterans, were most likely posers, and not authentic. He believes they were government agents.
"Nixon used hippies as political footballs. Every time there was a rally, orders were given to bust heads. What would have stopped him from ordering this?"
It was proven through impeachment proceedings that President Nixon lied to his country. To people like Givens, the notion of agents posing as hippies in order to discredit the movement is not that hard to swallow.
The scene brings to mind a pathetic portrayal of 1970's police in Cheech and Chong's "Up in Smoke" which shows Stacey Keach as "Sergeant Stadanko" and his band of boys normally dressed in blue, parading "undercover" as Hare Krishna's in orange robes with tambourines trying to gain access to a rock show in LA, in order to arrest the movie's main characters who are marijuana smugglers.
Can we really conclude that the government of the late 1960's was beyond such tactics?
Givens says the protesters were trying to end a war and that being violent with returning combat veterans would have been highly contradictory to their overall point of lessening violence and death in the world.
"One of my friends put flowers in the GIs rifles at a demonstration. We NEVER had any hostile interaction with GIs. Peaceful demonstrations ended with police attacks that were characterized as 'hippie violence.'"
He says stories about soldiers being insulted were complete fiction.
"We opposed the WAR, not the poor GIs who were forced into it. Any assault on a GI was probably the work of a pro-war agent provocateur because I never saw any of it and I hung with a VERY anti-war group. You don't win people to your side by insulting them or beating them up."
Self-described as an "unrepentant hippie", Givens says he can also testify to the positive effects marijuana and other illicit drugs had on some extremely burned out, combat shocked returning Viet Nam vets in the 1960s; certainly another taboo subject in some circles, but an undeniable truth in others.
His entire point stands in contrast to what so many perceive as the typical American experience, and yet this individual and many others in San Francisco are the same exact people pictured in images from the 1960's and early 70's protesting the war in Vietnam.
But was it the rampant problem it is remembered for today? That is my question to both veterans and former protesters.
If it happened, there also should be some proof through photographs. If we could see photos of that nature then we could possibly identify who was doing the spitting, and perhaps learn that there were hippies harassing returning vets, or maybe we will learn that the harassment actually came from an organized arm of the United States government or even a state or local agency.
Author Jerry Lembcke is the Viet vet who wrote The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, in 1998. He argues that the common claim that American soldiers were spat upon and insulted by anti-war protesters upon returning home from the Vietnam War is an urban legend.
Lembcke says he found no evidence to suggest this ever happened and suggests that vets being called "Baby Killer" may have come in part from the common chant by protesters aimed at President Lyndon Baines Johnson, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
Unfortunately, Greene fell from grace when his employer of 24 years, the Chicago Tribune newspaper,fired him for sexual misconduct.
While Lembcke served in Vietnam, Greene gained his fame touring with rock star Alice Cooper which led to one of his most popular national hits; Billion Dollar Baby in 1975. I guess it is all up to the individual to learn what the truth is, and it is a good idea, because nothing evokes raw emotion like this subject.
As a present day war reporter and photographer, I have a serious problem with people abusing veterans of war, but I also have a problem with campaigns of lies and deceit intended to create something that wasn't, or didn't.
I hope this article brings some real feedback from those who were there, and please be civil because this is not intended to put people on a warpath, it is about establishing truth in a world where all sides far too often uses propaganda for fuel.
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