Monday, August 17, 2009

More Warrior Worship at NPR

(photo of a Vietnam era soldier reading a Navy antiwar newspaper - from Sir No Sir site)

In November of 2007 NPR's Allison Keyes trotted out the tired old myth about Vietnam vets being assaulted, harassed and showered with hate on returning from the war. The editors at NPR apparently felt like it was time to drag this corpse of a lie out again - so this afternoon they turned to Blake Farmer of WPLN in Nashville to report on a Vietnam veterans propaganda event being hosted by Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Siegel opens the report by claiming that returning vets "were often greeted with anger about the war," then Farmer takes the baton and is off and running:
  • "....and for some the only greeting as they walked off the airplane was from angry war protesters - until now."
  • "....says he was lucky, lucky he wasn't tossed into the hostility that awaited other discharged service members."
  • "Larry Hamm from West Chester, Pennsylvania recalls angry crowds lining the airport fence, throwing rotten eggs..."
There are a few little problems with Farmer's reporting. To start with, that bit about "until now" overlooks the 200,000 Vietnam Vets and 500,000 adoring spectators who turned out in Chicago in 1986 to honor the vets and pretend that the US military didn't actually slaughter about 4 million Vietnamese. The exaggeration of "crowds lining the airport fence" and "throwing rotten eggs" would be hilarious if it weren't being reported as fact. Jerry Lembcke carefully researched the claims of Vietnam Vet abuse and could find no substantiated evidence of their veracity - not one article, photo, or news broadcast. You probably can guess how interested NPR is in Lembcke's work.


I posted the following comment Monday afternoon on the NPR site for the story and had it removed as "inappropriate":
What a load of historical erasure this story is. NPR continues to cover up the active role Vietnam Vets played in ending the Vietnam War and their role in the "angry" antiwar movement. Frankly, the people claiming the nonsense about "spitting on vets" have no evidence to back up their claims and - in fact - a Vietnam vet, Jerry Lembcke, exhaustively researched the claims and found no evidence - none.

NPR could do us all a favor and cover the real heroes of US wars - people like Camilo Mejia and Victor Agosto who have shown the true courage of exposing US wars for what they are. Of course that would take some courage on NPR's part - something noticeably lacking these days...
I have no idea what made it "inappropriate," but I went ahead and posted this similar but revised version:
This report is full of hearsay and debunked inaccuracies. First, there was a huge Vietnam Vet welcome parade in Chicago in 1986. Second, many Vietnam Vets played an active role in the "angry" antiwar movement of the 60s and 70s. And third, people claiming the abusive treatment of vets have NO evidence to back up their claims and - in fact - a Vietnam vet, Jerry Lembcke, exhaustively researched these kinds of claims and found no evidence - none.

It would be great if NPR could even once seriously cover the war resisters - people like Camilo Mejia and Victor Agosto who have shown the courage of exposing US wars for what they are. I won't be holding my breath though, since I don't think NPR has the courage to challenge the militarism and worship of war that is so pervasive in the US...
We'll see how it fares.


Porter Melmoth said...

Hear, hear in addressing this issue, which is right up there with 'Death Panels' and 'The US is on the path to socialism' poppycock.

I wasn't in The Nam, but I had to register for the draft (six months late!) just as the war was winding down. I witnessed NO abuse of vets ever, and I wasn't in the thick of things, but I didn't have to be. The media was respectful or neutral about them, if I recall.

Those of us who were war conscious always aimed our venom at the makers - i.e. Nixon, Melvin Laird, Westmoreland, et al. Most vets I encountered were so blown away by their experience, they were just trying to keep their shit together.

We did mock those who lusted after going to war and wanted to kill 'gooks', but they deserved it. (Witness Blackwater today.)

Almost all the Vietnam vets I've had exchanges with are critical of the US and the military, and they're not radicals. John Kerry was more typical than the exception.

A particularly hardass vet I know, who loves the US in the 'love it or leave it way' (don't know if love has anything to do with such an outlook...) says of the US military, 'at least HALF of it is pure waste.'

Put that in your bong & smoke it, NPR.

Mytwords said...

It's also interesting to see the venom in the GI antiwar newspapers aimed at the Brass and "Lifers" - these cartoons for example.

Anonymous said...

I have sat with ex-grunts as the terror within their nightmares tore them apart. A good friend died of a vicious cancer caused (he thought) by the Agent Orange that they had to mop from the decks of the Coast Guard cutter he served aboard when the 55 gallon drums broke. A good friend's father came back and there was a hole in his arm that swallowed his job, his money and finally his family.


Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

The Anti-War movement would never have had the success it had without the contributions of anti-war Vets, myself included, who had first-hand experience with the clusterfux that were the USer invasion of Vietnam...

It was the V V A W which was the spine of the movement, after 1967...

BTW: I was there...

Porter Melmoth said...

Good show, Woody. Ya got my vote.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...


That might even be an understatement.

My skin still crawls when I happen to encounter one of 'em.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the substance of the post--that the report was wrong to ignore the contributions of vets to the anti-war movement and that it misleadingly over-emphasized the negative treatment of soldiers returning from Vietnam. But it might be overstating the case to claim there is no evidence at all for such treatment.

Lembke's book has not gone uncriticized and a fair amount of historical debate remains over the issue of the actual degree to which vets were subjected to mistreatment upon return. But certainly the right has consistently inflated what may have been isolated incidents of spitting etc. into a propagandistic myth used to increase support for its dubious war efforts.

You could check out this article for an entry into the debate:

Anonymous said...

Anything that disagrees with NPR's stance is "inappropriate", by definition.

By the way, do you suppose Inskreep ever served in Vietnam or anywhere else?

Or how about Vivian Shiller?

Or how about Alicia Shepard?

When it comes to issues like Vietnam, these spoiled, rich NPR Ivy league types should just STFU.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

But it might be overstating the case to claim there is no evidence at all for such treatment.

I was spat upon, vilified and cursed

by the good burghers of ABQ, in 1970, two years AFTER my return from the War, when I helped lead anti-war demonstrations...

WarOnWarOff said...

As I've previously stated, my father served three tours there (yes, sorry, he was a "lifer"), and we were living on and off army posts most of the 60s and 70s. As far as I know, he as never subjected to any kind of anti-war abuse, nor were any of his associates. The story is pure bunk. These journamalists who came of age in the time of Reagan's historical revisionism are just reflecting that know-nothing, amnesiac time in which Murica jest wanted ta Feel Good Again, but it has no relation to truth whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Good work holding NPR's feet to the fire on this issue

Porter Melmoth said...

Good points, gang. I would add that those who are exploiting the Vietnam vets today don't actually give a damn about the vets themselves. They're just appropriating the issue to look good in spite of the fact that there are two messy wars going on right now that 'they' (e.g. Neoconicists, et al) need to dress up.

And Woody, any spit gobs that landed on you in your anti-war demonstrations are, to my mind, badges of honor.

Anonymous said...

All I need to know is Nixon cutting VA funding and the unwillingness to even admit the horrors of Agent Orange even as Zumwalt's kid was dying. Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange? I'm kidding, right?

That's the kind of abuse many veterans encountered but rather than deal with the perps of those abuse many choose to lay their anger off on me and others. Cause they couldn't "get to" the real abusers but they tried to get to people like me. And that was encouraged by those that cynically used Vietnam Vets to build their political careers.


Anonymous said...

This kind of story reminds me that NPR, and public broadcasting of all kinds, is not what it was when I was a younger man. There has been a concerted effort, seemingly successful, by conservatives and corporate shills to infiltrate and infest public broadcasting institutions, in order to water down and as much as possible eliminate any liberal or progressive influences. hence the flap over that healthcare doc on PBS awhile ago, which ended up "concluding" that a universal mandate was the only solution (which would neatly line the pockets of ins. companies without doing anything to address cost concerns).

Anonymous said...

There has been a concerted effort, seemingly successful, by conservatives and corporate shills to infiltrate and infest public broadcasting institutions,"

I think it is much worse than that.

It's that the so called "progressives" in public radio (people like Terri Gross) have basically sold out.

If the people who have been with NPR for YEARS (some for over a decade) had not gone (silently) along with all the propagandist crap, it would never have gotten legs.

In some regards, people like Gross are actually more responsible than the managers like Schiller, who are basically just PR hacks.

In a very real sense, Gross and the others have acted as 'enablers" for the transformation that has destroyed public radio. These folks deserve nothing but scorn -- and they certainly should never be hired by anyone else if they ever leave NPR.

Steve Hall said...

@Anonymous -

Can you provide more information about how Terri Gross specifically has sold out?

Rhadamanthus said...

Kind of funny, since about five weeks ago, On the Media actually discussed the Jerry Lembcke research when an Iraq vet said he'd been spit upon. You'd think NPR might do a simple search of their own stories before ignoring the research.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you completely. The real disgraces in the treatment of vets were the efforts to deny them full participation in political and social life if they failed to tow the pro-war line, and the failure to support them in substantive ways after their return.

My father was drafted, served a year in Vietnam, decorated, and later became very anti-war and anti-military. Later in his life he worked as a counselor helping other vets get the benefits they deserved from an ever-reluctant VA. So he knew all too well where the real mistreatment came from, and it wasn't from anti-war protesters.

My only point was that there is also evidence of isolated acts of stupidity by our side, including those mythologized by the right (indeed, it would be amazing if there hadn't been, since stupidity is pretty equal opportunity). When we say things like "there's no evidence X or Y ever occurred" when in fact there is, we leave ourselves open to being discredited by the right.

Anonymous said...


I listen to GasBag (does anyone love the sound of their own voice more?) and if it ain't pop culture or jazz or a re-run (thank God for dead people) she don't have a thing to say.

Frank Luntz tore her up because she couldn't figure out what "connotation" means and that's Frank's stock in trade.

Give me Amy Goodman and leave Terry and her co-talking nonsense peddler (Mommy Most Inane of Radio Times) somewhere south of . . .