Memorial Day Editorial (May 28)
For the Wheeling newspaper editorial pages, the first two summer holidays are predictable - include: an old column by Adam Kelly - "the Country Editor," an editorial demonstrating how patriotic the papers are, and a column or two from their stable of right-wing syndicated columnists. This year didn’t disappoint with columns by Pat Buchanan and Scott Rasmussen, an oldie-but-goodie by Kelly, and a bizarre editorial. Readers of the Intelligencer are probably familiar with Buchanan’s world view, and probably wonder, as I do, how Rasmussen’s poll results can have any credibility given his non-neutral, conservative and pro-Republican columns. (Not surprisingly, Rasmussen’s finished near the bottom out of 28 national pollsters in predicting the last presidential election.) I hope to deal with some of Kelly’s writings later this summer. Today I’d like to focus on the editorial.
While the editorial, "Honoring Heroes Who Were Different," is unsigned, my hunch is that it was written by Mike Myer. (The column uses one of Myer’s favorite methods of arguing, the straw-man fallacy, and it attacks one of his favorite targets – intellectuals, who are always "so-called" or "pseudo." For example, see his column on "pseudo-intellectual" Froma Harrop a couple of months ago.) This editorial begins:
Today, even as we honor those who gave their lives in military service for us, Americans are tolerating another round of warnings about those who came home.
They are different, some so-called intellectuals tell us. They are to be feared, others add.
Okay, how about providing some examples, or even one example of a politician, columnist, political leader, Democrat, or even a "so-called intellectual" who has said this? I spend probably far too many hours surfing the web including visiting some "out-there" political sites and in all my travels I have yet to see this argument made by anyone. (And if someone had actually said this, I’m sure our writer would have named him/her.) The editorial’s premise is totally bogus – there is nothing here – the purpose of this assertion is simply to set up a straw man as a means to attack the usual targets.
The column continues by tying this to Vietnam War veterans so that the writer can get to what I believe is the purpose of the editorial – to attack those who opposed the Vietnam War:
Sadly, this is nothing new. Many Vietnam-era veterans remember coming home to be spit upon and accused of being "baby killers."
The editorial compares the non-existent attack upon today’s veterans to the supposed attacks on returning soldiers during the Vietnam War. I say "supposed" because academic research exists that questions whether veterans were actually verbally abused and spat upon when they returned (or at least to the extent that we now allow editorial writers to use "many" to describe the extent of the occurrences without any evidence). One of the researchers is Jerry Lembcke, a Holy Cross University sociology professor and Vietnam War veteran, who researched the topic and wrote The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam that summarizes his research. In an article for the Boston Globe, he writes:
For a book I wrote in 1998 I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on. (Follow the link to read more of his analysis.)
Additionally, as Lembcke and others have written, the supposed spitting does not pass "the smell test." We are to believe that in all those cases of the "many veterans" who were spat upon, not a single one physically responded to their attacker. A writer at Slate likens this to other urban legends and argues:
Why does it always end with the protester spitting and the serviceman walking off in shame? Most servicemen would have given the spitters a mouthful of bloody Chiclets instead of turning the other cheek like Christ. At the very least, wouldn't the altercations have resulted in assault and battery charges and produced a paper trail retrievable across the decades?
Having read a number of sources Monday and yesterday on this matter, I’m not ready to say unequivocally that soldiers were never spat upon. What I would say is that if it did happen, it was indeed very rare and certainly does not justify the use of "many." Why then is it accepted as an absolute truth? Lembcke answers:
The persistence of spat-upon Vietnam veteran stories suggests that they continue to fill a need in American culture. The image of spat-upon veterans is the icon through which many people remember the loss of the war, the centerpiece of a betrayal narrative that understands the war to have been lost because of treason on the home front.
Does that explain the editorial? Since it’s more of the usual straw-men, name-calling and lack of evidence from the Intelligencer, it’s fairly easy to dismiss it as the ranting of a writer who spent the weekend watching a Rambo marathon on Spike TV. But I think that Lembcke is on to something. This editorial is not just about thanking veterans for their service. By linking the editorial’s premise to the Vietnam War, it’s also about using veterans and Memorial Day to attack those who opposed that war. Maybe the Intelligencer should publish an editorial attacking those who would use the special days set aside for veterans as an excuse to further their own political agenda. Wait, nevermind.