Ernest Hemingway’s Fiery Rant Against Stolen Valor Is Still Relevant Almost A Century Later
By DANNY LEFFLER on August 9, 2017
Long before Ernest Hemingway wrote, drank and fought his way into the ranks of America’s legendary wordsmiths, the beloved author cut his literary teeth on the beat of a Canadian newspaper. Fresh off a stint driving an ambulance for the Red Cross on the Italian front during World War I, the young Hemingway landed at The Toronto Star Weekly in early 1920, where he covered everything from mobsters to the complete uselessness of wedding gifts — including the rise of stolen valor and the lousy market for war medals that accompanied the end of the Great War.
One of Hemingway’s funniest pieces was “Popular in Peace, Slacker in War,” a sarcastic, mocking lecture for the Canadian citizens who deployed not to the bloody trenches of war-torn Europe with the Canadian armed forces, but to relatively safe jobs in American munitions factories. Sensing these “morally courageous souls” might be a bit ashamed that they were not among their nearly 425,000 fellow countrymen who faced death overseas, the young Hemingway dispensed some sage words to help them pass themselves off as battle-hardened patriots.
Even in the 1920s, donning the proper attire was a crucial part of impersonating a real military man. For this, Hemingway suggests hitting the thrift store for a trench coat and maybe a pair of army boots, which will “convince everyone you meet on the streetcar that you have seen service,” allowing you to “have all the benefits of going to war and none of its drawbacks.”
The phony vet may also face inquiries about why he doesn’t sport the overseas badge of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, to which he should shoot back “I do not care to advertise my military service!” This retort, Hemingway says, will cause the real combat vet “brazenly wearing his button” to feel like a total blowhard.
Papa’s words of wisdom extend into the realm of seduction, too, one of the chief goals of any dirtbag who unjustly dons military dress. If a “sweet young thing at a dance” asks you if you ever met this or that major, he writes, “merely say ‘No,’ in a distant tone. That will put her in her place…” Looking wistfully into a glass of booze works well, too: As Hemingway himself knew, ladies love the strong, silent type.
The key to maintaining the ruse, of course, is research. Hemingway advises the pretend soldier to learn some classic French songs and to get his hands on a solid literary war history, which will empower him to “prove the average returned veteran a pinnacle of inaccuracy,” since “the average soldier has a very abominable memory for names and dates.” “With a little conscientious study,” he writes, “you should be able to prove to the man who was at first and second Ypres that he was not there at all.”
Acting the part is important, too. “Be modest and unassuming,” Hemingway goes on, “and you will have no trouble. If anyone at the office addresses you as ‘major,’ wave your hand, smile deprecatingly and say, ‘No; not quite major.’ After that,” he writes, “you will be known to the office as captain.”
Those unfamiliar with Hemingway’s sardonic, tongue-in-cheek style may take his guide literally, an actual roadmap to usurping the honor that comes with military service. But Papa makes his feelings about stolen valor very clear in the closing section of his piece.
“Now you have service at the front, proven patriotism and a commission firmly established, there is only one thing left to do,” writes Hemingway.
“Go to your room alone some night. Take your bankbook out of your desk and read it through. Put it back in your desk. Stand in front of your mirror and look yourself in the eye and remember that there are fifty-six thousand Canadians dead in France and Flanders. Then turn out the light and go to bed
We were sent links to a story in which David Eugene Christie detailed his exploits in South East Asia / Vietnam. The conflict between the stories and recorded history was apparent from the start, and our research team took action.
What we have learned, Christie was a member of the Royal Canadian Navy & he was shown the door very shortly after completing recruit school (serial 6934) at CFB Cornwallis, NS. He was never qualified as a radioman or “medic” however, he claims he volunteered to deployed to the Republic of Vietnam with a “non-combatant” platoon of medical evacuation lifesavers and he was personally responsible for saving over 100 lives.
Christie says that he spent 15 months in country with 1st Div/2nd Reg Medevac Unit #6934, quite the coincidence that his medevac unit would have the same number as his recruit school serial…
Now, why would he be wearing a WW2 medal group and the hat badge of a unit he never served in?
Obviously, many people have been negatively impacted by his lies including family, friends & legion mates. We understand that they are all shocked to discover that’s he’s not the man they thought he was.
Mr Christie most likely believes that what he has perpetrated is essentially, harmless and victimless however, his published fairy tales resulted in considerable grief to the surviving sister of then, 19 year old Ranger Sergeant Rob McSorley, a Canadian who was killed in action in Vietnam while serving with L Company (Ranger), 75th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.
Rob’s sister wrote “ This fellow makes me very angry! How dare a fake like him even mention Rob’s name. This is disgusting!! My brother was an honourable man & unfortunately died at a young age – a little over a week past his 19th birthday. Even after all these years, it is still painful & I miss him every day. Mr. Christie has no honour & he should refrain from mentioning my brother’s name in future as he didn’t know him or experience what he went through as he wasn’t there. Mr. Christie, if you’re reading this, please own up to being a fake. In other words, be a MAN!! My brother was more of a man at 18/19 than you will ever”
Sgt Rob McSorley KIA 8 April 1970 http://www.virtualwall.org/dm/McsorleyRG01a.htm
We live in Cape Breton, and for about the last 10 years he (Mr Christie) has been “dressing up” and attending as a “veteran”- Remembrance Day Ceremonies in communities in our surrounding areas as well as schools.
Christie claims that his CO from his Vietnam days, travelled to Cape Breton to award him his Vietnam Campaign Medal..
Christie’s personal shrine which includes a WW2 “six pack” and assorted privately purchased medals of no legal standing.
Time to apologize for your reprehensible actions, surrender the bogus items and just fade away Mr Christie…
Mr Elwyn/Elwin David EVANS of Teulon MANITOBA claims he served in 2 Squadron of the SAS and was taken POW in Vietnam however, Australian Government records tell a different story. The Aus SASR and the NZ SAS served in Vietnam, and there are legends that the UK SAS may have fought alongside them. However, there were No Diggers or Kiwis taken POW during the Vietnam War, and it isn’t a great stretch of the imagination to say that there were no UK POWs either. Mr EVANS is just another just another poser who believes standing next to legitimate veterans, serving CF and RCMP members validates his claims…
Evans has never heard the Odd Angry Shot, the closest he got was the Routine Painful Shit!
Regardless of his claimed country of origin and service, Evans isn’t a recipient of the Military Cross (MC)! He’s rockin’ Sergeant’s rank badges, and during his time of his “service” in Vietnam only Officers below the rank of Major and Warrant Officers were eligible recipients…
He’s not listed on any of the MC databases (UK, Aus, NZ). This dude is an imposter who has worn a pseudo-uniform adorned with unearned medals & insignia and spews tales of his adventures in SE Asia for a gullible audience!
Military Cross (MC)– A third tier gallantry medal, roughly equivalent to Canada’s Medal of Military Valour (MMV), awarded by the UK, Australia, New Zealand and previously Canada.
The MC was/is awarded for exemplary gallantry in the field, and was available only to Warrant Officers and Officers prior to 1993. This would preclude “Sergeant” EVANS for being so recognized during the Vietnam War.
All MCs are named with the recipient’s name and year of the award. Mr Evans claims that his medal is a replacement that he received after the original one was destroyed in a fire!
General Service Medal 1962 (GSM) – The GSM, occasionally referred to as the General Campaign Medal, was awarded for “minor” campaign service (1962-2007). The medal always has an accompanying bar(s) detailing the specific campaign(s). The most common bar would be ‘NORTHERN IRELAND” however, there was a “SOUTH VIETNAM” bar awarded to a very limited number of Australian Army and Air Force Personnel.
All GSMs are named with the recipient’s Name, Rank, Corps / Regiment.
Interestingly, EVANS is wearing 2 General Service Medals side by side!
United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Medal – a service medal awarded to individuals who served a minimum of 90 days as a member of the UN Force in Cyprus after 26 March 1964. Evans claims that he earned this medal as a member of the 6th Bn of the Parachute Regiment in 1963-4.
SV-C has searched the London Gazette, which lists the details of UK national level honours and awards, EVANS in not listed asMilitary Cross recipient. Nor, is he listed as an Australian recipient of the MC. As the MC was awarded only to Warrant Officers and Officers until 1993, this would certainly preclude “Sergeant” EVANS for being so recognized during the Vietnam War.
Elwyn Evans contacted us in December 2019 and demanded that we remove the posts detailing his medallic fuckery™ from all SVC platforms or, he would be taking legal action against us.
So, according to Evans, over the course of 4 years (1963-1967) *He joined the Brit Army, *Trained as an infantryman, *Qualified as a paratrooper, *Served as a Peacekeeper in Cyprus, *Was promoted to Sergeant, *Earned his blade badge with the SAS, *Fought in Vietnam with @ Ia Drang in 1965, *Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, *Escaped from captivity, *Fought his way back to friendly forces, *Awarded the Military Cross, *2 tours of duty in Northern Ireland and, *Emigrated to Canada. Cool story Bro!
As per our SOPs, we invited him to prove us wrong.
Evans then provided us with a long list of his “proof of service” including images of his now expanded group of medals and an image purporting to be him as a Sergeant in the UK Special Air Service Regiment.
The 8 of the medals Evans wears are privately purchased, commemorative medals of no legal standing, they are self awarded, make believe embellishments “recognizing” his fictional military service.
The trinkets include the British Forces Campaign Medal, the Prisoner of War Medal General Service Medal, the British Army of the Rhine Medal, the Parachute Regiment medallion, the Cold War Medal, the Special Forces Medal, the Veterans Star and the Vietnam Veterans Medal…
Anyone can purchase them for on line for a few hundred bucks plus shipping and handling.
Like convicted Valour Thief Peter Miklos Toth of Red Deer Alberta, Evans figured that parading with CF members and the RCMP on Remembrance Day 2016 would bring some legitimacy to his medallic fuckery™
The uniform, insignia and head dress that EVANS is wearing are nothing more than a fantasy creation. 2nd Special Air Service (SAS) was disbanded shortly after the 2nd World War, therefore the insignia are incorrect regardless, he’s not old enough to have soldiered during WW2!
The winged blade badge of the SAS would be sewn on a tan beret, and not what appears to be either the head dress of the United Nations or the UK Army Air Corps. The distinctive parachute wings are SAS specific and awarded only to members of the SAS Regiment.
He is also a convicted prohibited weapons manufacturer however, medals aren’t awarded that type of captivity…
Oh, we almost forgot the picture, remember the one with showing Evans as a SAS Sergeant in 1964? A quick image search shows that it’s actually Israeli Defence Force SF operators rehearsing just prior to the Entebbe Raid in 1976.
SVC now believes that Mister Elwyn David Evans has jumped to more time periods than Marty McFly!
Evans has also been show cased on our partner’s pages in the US and in Australia at www.anzmi.net
SVC would like to take this opportunity to recognize the assistance of provided us by trusted friend, the late, Sergeant First Class Jonn Lilyea, a US Army Gulf War Veteran & co founder of the web site “This Ain’t Hell” (TAH)
Mr Brent Errol Tremblay, embellisher & fake combat wounded veteran, welcome to the jungle!
Stolen-Valour Canada was advised by a number of parties that there was a potential issue with the US medals and insignia that Brent Tremblay of Neville, Saskatchewan had been photographed wearing.
Mr Tremblay rockin’ the US Combat Infantry Badge along with the Purple Heart. Interestingly, he’s not wearing the 2 medals he could be entitled to for his CAF service in Cyprus
Prior to investing any research effort into what could potentially become an wild goose chase, we contacted Mr Tremblay in (July 2018) order to provide him with an opportunity to sort out the reported situation. SVC does not act upon unsubstantiated intelligence or malicious tips, and we were hoping that he’d take advantage of our offer to assist to protecting his reputation.
Eventually, he read the emails, refused to cooperate and/or protect his reputation and, in fact, he made the now standard threats of legal action against us should we share our research on our media platforms. (22 Mar 2019)
However, we learned through an intermediary on 27 Mar 2019, Tremblay made the decision to ”cowboy up” and admit he had no lawful entitlement to wear the US military awards including the Purple Heart and CIB.
When contacted, Mr Tremblay told us that he had made an apology on an obscure fishin’ bubba’s FB page (he refused to share the apology, only his reaction to their messages of support) and that he had destroyed the US medals and insignia…
But, we already knew that as a result of our cross border partnerships, as SVC obtained the results of a FOIA request. Our American friends used Tremblay’s full name / confirmed date of birth in their communications with the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, Missouri.
Mr Tremblay was a member of the Royal Regina Rifles for a short period of time (1980-81). He then joined the Regular Forceas a Cook, completed his trades training at CFB Borden and subsequently served in Cyprus with the 2nd Bn PPCLI. He left the CAF shortly after his early repatriation to Canada.
As a legitimate Canadian Forces veteran with service in Cyprus Tremblay could be entitled to the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal and the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Medal…
Thanks to investigative assistance of the late SFC Jonn Lilyea US Army (a Desert Shield / Storm infantryman / CIB recipient) and a co-founder of the US Blog This Ain’t Hell, we were advised that there was absolutely no record of Tremblay’s claimed service during Operation Desert Shield / Storm.
Had he been on Active Duty and deployed to the Middle East, the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, Missouri would have held the documents.
It’s really quite simple,
Tremblay lived in various locations along the I-5 corridor in Washington State / Oregon (1990ish-2000s). He was a Power Generation Equipment Repairman serving with the 41st Infantry Brigade of the Oregon National Guard just long enough to have his official portrait taken…
He never served in the South West Asia theatre of operations in any capacity so, he could not have met the criteria for being awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge…
There’s probably more to Tremblay’s story however, SVC has focussed on his medallic fuckery alone.
Fakers got to keep on fakin’… We’ve concealed the identity of “service dog” as he’s just another innocent victim / stage prop in Tremblay’s military themed fairy tale. (2 Oct 2019)
However, the official records tell a different story.
Mr JOHNSTON was a US Marine Corps Private First Class (E2), Aircraft Recovery Specialist (1994-98) and a US Army / National Guard Specialist (E-4) Unit Supply Specialist (2010-2011). He served for a total of 4 years and 9 months in the US military, and even using new math, that doesn’t add up to the near 20 years of service he claims.
The attached US DD214s, courtesy of our US Partners, indicate that JOHNSTON was never a Staff Sergeant of Marines nor was he a Scout-Sniper with seven combat deployments!
But, he has all the medals & dress blues…
Baby Blue Marine…
Johnston must also be a time traveller as he’s rockin’ the Medal for Humane Action which recognizes 120 days of service during the Berlin Airlift 1948-49… There are many other inconsistencies with his group of medals when his official documents are reviewed. There’s no explanation for the UK General Service Medal (Northern Ireland) along with the Gulf War (90-91) group…
His medal group indicates he was Wounded In Action twice while serving as a member of the US Army, the records do not support that claim!
Of course, no “Staff Sergeant/Scout-Sniper” would ever deploy to an operational theatre without his mail clerk credentials!
We are asked to have a look at Dobson’s high speed, low drag claims by some brothers from another mother.
Dobson is wearing the MiD oak leaf on his NATO Former Yugoslavia ribbon and he’s not listed an the GG’s website detailing the recipients. Now, there could be 3 reasons for that, (1) an administrative error, (2) he’s a former SF operator and his award was never named publicly or, (3) he’s wearing it without lawful authority…
Secondly, he’s wearing the undress ribbon of a medal that only 31 Canadians have ever been awarded, we can find no record of him serving on either the UNOSOM 1 or 2 missions.
This medal is separate and distinct from the Canadian Somalia Medal that members of the CAR Battle Group were awarded.
SVC has reviewed the nominal roll for the CAR BG and he’s not listed as a member on that either.
We are also well connected with the Airborne Forces groups, and not one soldier can recall serving with him as a jumper. Additionally, the Pathfinders are one of the tightest fraternities in the Canadian Army, and again no one knows of him, attended the patrol pathfinder course with him, nor served with him regiment!
We can find absolutely no evidence of Mr. Dobson being an Infantryman in The Royal Canadian Regiment, a paratrooper, member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment and/or a Pathfinder,
He’s not Mentioned in Dispatches,
Dobson didn’t receive the MiD from the Brits either as some have suggested… http://forces.gc.ca/assets/FORCES_Internet/docs/en/honours-history-medals-chart/commonwealth-and-foreign-honours.pdf
He didn’t serve in Canadian Forces Europe, the Former Yugoslavia or Somalia,
Not a single day in the Canadian Army, however, he’s wearing a lotta bling for a fella that was in Army Cadets!
SVC reached out to Dobson with the goal of assisting him sort out the situation, although he has read our emails, there’s been no response.
With a 0 and 3 record, we can safely assume he wasn’t on the regimental unarmed combat team. Two KOs and a turtle, yep, that’s the fighting spirit the CAR was known for!
We were asked to review a number of photographic images of “Sergeant” Robert Cooper who resides in the Wetaskiwin, Alberta area.
Our review identified many inconsistencies in his medallic display and, when combined with his confusing claims of service, that gave us cause to question his entire military narrative.
Our team conducted a thorough review of all available records, this included websites, newspaper articles, photographic images, regimental tour books, searchable data bases of medal recipients and extracts from military documents in Canada and the US in order to determine the legitimacy of his claims.
SV-C then reached out to the regimental and corps associations, their museums and other organizations in which Cooper has claimed to have served. The publicly accessible records, that we have had the opportunity to review, do not support the majority of his claims. The absence of verifiable records alone does not conclusively prove that an individual is a fake or embellisher, it just indicates that there are no records…
Mr Cooper has been playing his came for a number of years until the RCMP came knocking on his door.
From the images we were asked to review, It appears that the individual is wearing the Medal of Bravery (MB) and the Sacrifice Medal (SM). Fortunately, one’s entitlement to the MB is easily confirmed via the list of recipients available on the Governor General’s website ( http://gg.ca/honours.aspx?lan=eng ). Not surprisingly, Cooper is not listed.
Entitlement to the SM is somewhat more difficult, there have been approximately 850 awarded since its creation and the names of the living recipients are not in the public domain, except for the individuals who received their’s @ Rideau Hall during the initial presentation ceremony. That being said, it’s virtually impossible for a living individual to have a SM without an accompanying campaign medal.
Cooper claims this group of medals from his “service” as a civilian contractor working for the US Army and USMC.
US Purple Heart Medal – In 1997, at the urging of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the USCongress passed legislation prohibiting future awards of the Purple Heart to civilians. Today, the Purple Heart is reserved for men and women in uniform. Civilian employees of the U.S. Department of Defense who are killed or wounded as a result of hostile action may receive the Defense of Freedom Medal created after the terrorist attacks on 11 Sept 2001.
Once again, purchasing a bogus certificate and wearing a fake medal doesn’t change simple arithmetic and recorded history!
What we do know, Cooper was a Signalman (Private) radio operator in I Headquarters and Signal Squadron located in CFB Calgary in the early 1980s. By all accounts, he had a some what lack lustre career trajectory, he couldn’t pass the Battle Fitness Tests required of all soldiers in the field force and it’s reported he went AWOL on at least 2 occasions! And, he was shown the door…
It appears that Mr Cooper doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to his claim of being involved in a mine strike! And, if you are offended by this caption perhaps, you should direct your ire towards Mr Cooper, an individual who portrays himself as a combat wounded vet!
Stolen Valour Canada was advised by a number of parties that there was a potential issue with the medals that Mr Lafontaine, a former Gunner and Supply Technician, had been photographed wearing.
SVC does not act upon unsubstantiated intelligence or malicious tips that are often initiated as a result of petty jealousy, marital misadventure or, sheer vindictiveness. We won’t waste any staff effort on someone’s “gut feel” nor do we do participate in witch hunts. Tipsters must provide evidence (pictures, news articles, social media links) of their concerns before we can move forward.
Prior to investing any research effort into what has the potential to become a wild goose chase; we contact named individuals in order to provide them with an opportunity to sort out the reported situation. Our hope, they would take advantage of our offer to protect his reputation and silence this issue once and for all.
To that end, we asked that he provide us with the documentation that would prove his entitlement to the Special Service Medal – ALERT (May-Aug 94), UNPROFOR (Jan-Jun 95), UNMIH (Jun-Nov 96) and the Canada 125th Medals.
Of particular concern to us, his claim of being held, along with a Corporal as a “hostage” by the Serbs for 31 days in 1995.
SVC is well aware of hostage incidents involving Canadians that occurred in the UN’s Bosnia-Herzegovina Command including those involving Canadian Army units in Bosnia (GT 12e RBC, RCD BG, 3 R22eR and Canadian UN Military Observers) over the course of the UN Protection Force mission.
There is no open source evidence that CF personnel were held in excess of one month by any of the warring factions. However, given the press coverage of actual hostage events, it’s difficult to believe there’s absolutely no record of the event Lafontaine describes…
Mr Lafontaine quickly sent us a copy of his Military Personnel Records Resume (MPRR) dated 6 August 2003 however, there were a number of anomalies that caused us some concern. Now, these anomalies could be easily explainable administrative errors or, more ominously, could it be an attempt to deceive us by providing an altered document?
When the anomalies were questioned, Lafontaine’s response followed an entirely predictable path,
(1) Feigned cooperation,
(2) Indignation, denial and veiled threats of legal action when asked to clarify our specific concerns,
(3) Removal of photographic evidence of medallic fuckery™ from social media accounts, and
(4) Followed by blocking us from those same accounts.
An interesting response particularly, after he willingly sent SVC his MPRR… Was it because we questioned his claims?
Former MCpl Lafontaine’s work in the veterans community, for which he has been formally recognized by the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Affairs Ombudsman doesn’t earn him a pass on his highly suspicious operational narrative.
The puck is clearly in his end of the rink, he can either produce independently verifiable documents that will support his claims or, he can apologize for his medallic fuckery™ and commit to surrendering his bogus medals and insignia.
***Update 17 Sept 2018***
Lafontaine, in a now pulled French language radio interview, admitted that his hostage story was a complete fabrication and that he purchased the UN Haiti medal and added it to his group. He has yet to cowboy up in regards to the medals he wore indicating service in Alert, Bosnia (UNPROFOR), along with the Canada 125th Anniversary medal, the Chief of Defence Staff Commendation and a Commander’s Commendation..
Mr Gerry Conway is another dude who likes to enthral gullible audiences into believing his military fairytales. Conway has spent the past few years telling Guelph, Ontario school kids of his exploits and then being splattered with piss outside of a US Marine Base in San Diego, California.
The Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star with the V for Valor and the Purple Heart, which Conway has absolutely no entitlement to, are clearly visible.
His obvious and frankly ridiculous uniform embellishments prompted us to contact our US counterparts in order to initiate a Freedom Of Information Act request to secure Conway’s military career file including the DD Form 214. The DD 214 is the capstone military service document, as it represents the complete, verified record of a service member’s time in the military (Active and Reserve), awards and medals, and other pertinent service information, such as highest rank/rate and pay grade held on active duty, total military combat service and/or overseas service.
The results will determine if, in fact, he was a member of the US Army, served in Vietnam with the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valour and the Purple Heart which recognizes an individual wounded in action.
Additionally, the documents will prove his entitlement to lawfully wear the RANGER tab, US parachute wings, Air Assault wings (established in 1974 without retroactivity), Canadian Parachutist Wings and, what he likely believes to be British Parachutists Wings (however, he’s wearing the hat badge of the UK Parachute Regiment, as he likely doesn’t know the difference)
Mr Conway and his claim of being a US Army soldier leaving a US Marine Base to face 1000 protesters is nothing but a fabrication meant to deceive his gullible audience in a sick sympathy play!
Veterans take mental health issues seriously and many fight the stigma of PTSD on a daily basis yet, Mr Conway perpetuates lies and mistruths that lead to the view that all returning service members are damaged goods…
No need to run his particulars with the National Personnel Records Center, as he has admitted to never being an American Soldier, a paratrooper or a Vietnam War veteran.
Lest We Forget
“So where do these stories come from?”
The Myth of the Spitting Antiwar Protester – The New York Times
JERRY LEMBCKE OCT. 13, 2017
“The reporter was asking about accounts that soldiers returning from Vietnam had been spat on by antiwar activists. I had told her the stories were not true. I told her that, on the contrary, opponents of the war had actually tried to recruit returning veterans. I told her about a 1971 Harris Poll survey that found that 99 percent of veterans said their reception from friends and family had been friendly, and 94 percent said their reception from age-group peers, the population most likely to have included the spitters, was friendly.
A follow-up poll, conducted in 1979 for the Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs), reported that former antiwar activists had warmer feelings toward Vietnam veterans than toward congressional leaders or even their erstwhile fellow travelers in the movement.
I was glad the reporter was interested in the origin of these stories, because beginning even before the war ended, news organizations had too often simply repeated them — even though some stories had the hallmarks of tall tales all over them. Even The Times once quoted, matter-of-factly, a veteran telling of how he arrived stateside from Vietnam on a stretcher with a bullet in his leg, only to be splattered with rotten vegetables and spat on by antiwar college kids.
Whoppers like these go unchallenged by reporters and scholars perhaps because of their memoirist first-person quality, stories told by the men who say it happened to them. I collect the stories, I told the reporter, and have a spreadsheet with about 220 first-person “I was spat on” accounts.
But you don’t believe the stories, right? she asked. Acknowledging that I could not prove the negative — that they were not true — I went on to say there is no corroboration or documentary evidence, such as newspaper reports from the time, that they are true. Many of the stories have implausible details, like returning soldiers deplaning at San Francisco Airport, where they were met by groups of spitting hippies. In fact, return flights landed at military air bases like Travis, from which protesters would have been barred. Others include claims that military authorities told them on returning flights to change into civilian clothes upon arrival lest they be attacked by protesters. Trash cans at the Los Angeles airport were piled high with abandoned uniforms, according to one eyewitness, a sight that would surely have been documented by news photographers — if it had existed.
Listeners, I speculated, are loath to question the truth of the stories lest aspersion be seemingly cast on the authenticity of the teller. The war in Vietnam was America’s longest war at the time, and its first defeat. The loss to such a small, underdeveloped and outgunned nation was a tough pill for Americans to swallow, many still basking in post-World War II triumphalism. The image of protesters spitting on troops enlivened notions that the military mission had been compromised, even betrayed, by weak-kneed liberalism in Congress and seditious radicalism on college campuses. The spitting stories provided reassuring confirmation that had it not been for those duplicitous fifth-columnists, the Vietnamese would have never beaten us.
The “war at home” phrase captured the idea that the war had been lost on the home front. It was a story line promulgated by Hollywood within which veteran disparagement became a kind of “war story,” a way of credentialing the warrior bona fides of veterans who may have felt insecure about their service in Vietnam. In “First Blood,” the inaugural Rambo film, the protagonist, John Rambo, flashes back to “those maggots at the airport, spittin’, callin’ us baby killers and all kinds of vile crap.” The series supported the idea that decisions in Washington had hamstrung military operations. “Apocalypse Now” fed outright conspiracy theories that the C.I.A.’s secret war run from Washington had undercut the military mission. “Coming Home” and “Hamburger Hill” played on male fears of unfaithful wives and girlfriends, a story line hinting that female perfidy and the feminist subversion of warrior morale had cost us victory.
Women had been prominent in the opposition to the war. Two organizations, Women Strike for Peace and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, led early protests; Cora Weiss, Jane Fonda and Joan Baez lent their social and celebrity standing to the efforts to end the fighting. New Left organizations such as the campus-based Students for a Democratic Society intersected with the burgeoning women’s movement to boost young women into leadership roles in the antiwar movement. Placards reading “Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No” — no to the draft, that is — lent credence to the fears of conservatives who were pro-war and distraught over loosening strictures on premarital sex and believed that the rising of the women meant societal collapse.
The adoption of long hair, embroidered shirts and bell-bottom pants, and general rejection of military bearing by men in the movement evinced a softening of conventional sex-gender boundaries. By the late 1960s, troops in Vietnam were battling authorities over hair length, and the right to wear love-bead necklaces and draw peace symbols on their helmets.
Finger pointing for the loss of the war began even before it was over. The pacifists and radicals who stoked the antiwar movement were easy targets for the patriotic right wing looking for scapegoats, but the visibility of women in the resistance to the war made them suspects as well. After Ms. Fonda went to North Vietnam on a peace mission in 1972, she was denounced as a traitor in profanely sexist language and tarred as “Hanoi Jane.” Years later, the feminist author Susan Faludi wrote that fears of emasculation having cost America its victory in Vietnam were the basis of a backlash against women in the 1980s.
But, the reporter pressed, why spitting? Resisting the urge to plunge into the Freudian exegesis I wanted to take, I pointed to the long history of spitting imagery in legends of betrayal. In the New Testament, Christ’s followers spit on him in renunciation of their loyalty. Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, soldiers returning from the front claimed to have been spat on by women and girls. The German stories were studied by historians and found to be part of the “Dolchstosslegende,” or stab-in-the-back legend, that the military had been betrayed behind the lines, sold out at home.
Anticipating the question, I agreed that the presence of such stories in religious teachings and myths only pressed more questions to the fore about where the biblical Apostles and German folklorists got them, questions that will keep professors and students of cultural studies occupied for years.
But, I ventured, where the stories go — how they play out in the political culture — is more important than where they come from. The reporter seemed interested. In Germany, I recalled, the imagery of shellshocked World War I veterans became a stand-in for the nation’s lost pride and damaged sense of racial superiority. The riffs of betrayal in the photographs, films and news reports of veterans made victims by war kept alive the certainty that enemies outside the gates could never defeat a rearmed and unified Germany; the stories incited a dangerous witch hunt that led to the Holocaust.
Is the abiding American discomfort with the war it lost in Vietnam and the enduring allure of the spat-upon veteran stories indicative of betrayal preoccupations at work in our own culture? Is it the post-Vietnam lost-war narrative that feeds the back-to-the-future sentiments in campaign promises to restore and rebuild America? And are the recent public and political spectacles of nativism and gun-toting masculinity symptoms of a wounded people more than deviant personalities?