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May 14, 2008

Comments

In 1965, as a nineteen year old, I enlisted in the USMC, only to be classified 4-F for a knee dislocation.

By 1968, I heard Sen Eugene McCarthy speak, and became a supporter of his, although no more active than as a voter in the primary election.

By 1970, seemingly like everyone else in the country except for a few trade unions in NYC, I was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, but again, not with any particular enthusiasm or effort. I did vote in every election thorugh the period, however.

By 1973, I was an active participant in the efforts to impeach President Nixon.

I don't recall a single time, throughout this period, when I personally felt any animosity towards those in the military, including those who served in Vietnam. And, while I recall people citing occurrences of incivility directed toward Vietnam veterans, I never met anyone who was involved in or witnessed behavior of this sort.

No doubt it happened. Somewhere. But I have always viewed these reports or incidents as isolated, and as a 'makeweight' that has been used to bludgeon, and taint those who opposed the War itself.

Really nothing more than an attempt to delegitimize opponents of the war. One pew removed from the argument that those opposed to the war were responsible for making the US effort there a failure...rather than anything that McNamara and Abrams and Westmoreland might have done or decided.

It just did not seem to be an issue than, like it seems to be today.

"...most Americans 'opposed the war in Vietnam' one way or another. (I'd guess maybe 75%, but since I have no citation for Gary, I'd better leave highly this speculative quantification in parentheses.)"

Gallup public opinion polls on U.S. public opinion of the Vietnam War during the war. By August-September 1968, a majority of Americans were America-haters, apparently, out to make us lose.

[...] The tide began to turn by October 1967, when more Americans said it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam (47%) than said it was not (44%). For nearly a year, this pattern persisted.

Finally, in an August 1968 poll, Gallup found for the first time that a majority of Americans, 53%, said it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam. This was three and a half years into the war.

(Opposition to the Vietnam War, as measured by this “mistake” question, continued to grow, as the percentage of Americans who said it was a mistake averaged 55% in 1969 and 1970, then increased to 60% in 1971 and 1973. When asked this question in retrospect, Americans have continued to say they feel it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam. Most recently, three polls conducted from 1990 to 2000 found about 7 in 10 Americans saying it was a mistake.)

Damn most Americans for being traitors to America!

It's worth remembering the very different shape that opposition to the invasion of Iraq took.

In the early months of 2003, between 35 and 50% percent opposed the invasion (depending how the question was framed). Even immediately after the invasion began, when Americans are most prone to "rally 'round the flag," only 62% supported the war. (Source: this Wikipedia run-down of Iraq War public opinion polling).

In short opposition to the War on Iraq was much higher much earlier than opposition to Vietnam. But, to use dr ngo's typology, I think that most of the opposition was, from the start, Type B. Although the organizational core of the anti-Iraq War movement--e.g. United for Peace and Justice--consisted of Type A opponents, we got even less press attention than the Type B's, and never represented a significant percentage of the war's opponents. Nor did we Type A's do a good job of converting Type B opponents into Type A opponents as the war went from bad to worse.

My dad was a draftee, who went to jump school in 1965 and marched on the Pentagon against the war, wearing his uniform and medals, in 1970.

He described his process like this: "I participated in the killing of smaller browner people because their government wanted to keep them living in flooded shacks rather than allowing the resources of their tiny country to be more equitably distributed, and it is now clear to me that this was wrong."

Later in his life he became a pacifist. He was puzzled and fascinated by the social memory-cleansing in our country that meant by the time he was dying in 1996, the categories 'soldier' and 'peacenik' had become mutually exclusive.

I think that you've summarized quite nicely the drift and shift for those who weren't there.

On behalf of my generation and the ones coming along behind, I'd like to hereby officially beg the boomers to END THE WAR at last. Can we have a damn election about something else now please?

More. And more.

Thanks for putting this together dr ngo.

Thanks dr. ngo for the recap. I was in the USAF in 1968-73 and most definitely a "B". His story rings true from my experience. At first I was puzzled over the indignation expressed by Nell et al, and then figured out, like ngo did, that she must have been one of the early protesters. Blessings upon her, as she and her group were very small and very ignored/vilified at the start.

I still remember seeing my first anti-Vietnam protest at college (U of Cinn), April 1, 1965. A handful of students carrying signs, mostly ignored by the students, except for one wit who was carrying an "April's Fool" sign behind them.

Dr. said To be fair, many of the same radicals have made similar claims for themselves: We Were The Movement.

There's that aura of self-righteousness stewing up again of people who were political radicals. It's different in my generation, sir, people will only care about abandoning Iraq when they get told about the cost and how it might affect their abilities to purchase some sprawling estate in the suburbs, or if the news of another dead soldier rudely interrupts their Facebook session.

For Mr. Farber, here's a book about why people my age, in general, can't think about anything except themselves. Unless young people are politically conscientious during this point in history, I'm going to be pretty obtuse when I hear a lot of moaning and groaning about the Iraq war in the coming years and decades for political posturing. This war was paid for on credit with an all-volunteer service, how did they shoulder the responsibility and horror of war?

"all volunteer service"

Yes, in the same sense that my garbageman is a 'volunteer; and the postman, and the butcher, etc.

No honor should accrue to me, all to the Quaker students at my high school.

I arrived there in 1966 as an LBJ-admiring, cold-war liberal. They didn't try to tell me everything I knew was wrong (like some of the non-Quaker antiwar students), but quietly put in my hands a few facts at a time about what was going on in Viet Nam and waited for me to reach my own conclusions.

As the previous thread demonstrates, I could stand to relearn their excellent example.

I'm more grateful for this post than I can say.

There's that aura of self-righteousness stewing up again of people who were political radicals.
Fixed.

"For Mr. Farber, here's a book about why people my age, in general, can't think about anything except themselves."

Thanks. I believe that people are individuals, and bear individual moral responsibility, myself. It's one of my lifelong liberal beliefs, as taught to me by my liberal parents (and ex-communist mother).

"Unless young people are politically conscientious during this point in history"

Have you looked at current polling data on how those under 30 look at McCain versus a Democratic nominee, or on the Iraq war?

As regards your cite of Twenge, I suggest more reading.

On behalf of my generation and the ones coming along behind, I'd like to hereby officially beg the boomers to END THE WAR at last. Can we have a damn election about something else now please?

Sure. If we end the actual war(s) we're in and don't start any new ones.

I'd like to hereby officially beg the boomers to END THE WAR at last.

Funny thing about that. A bunch of us thought that nominating a vet who was proud of his service, and wanted to highlight it (rather than his opposition later) would have been a healing gesture. Not so.

Perhaps it has been addressed elsewhere on this blog, but it seems to me that we're allowing the hawks to frame the debate when we accept their terms in describing those who mistreated/neglected/abused the troops as part of opposition to the Viet Nam war. It has always been my sense that such abuse/mistreatment was, in fact, a rarity, blown out of all proportion by the pro-war right. (The "spitting on returning vets" thing, for example, is almost entirely fabricated, and nobody even talked about it until something like a decade after the fact; IIRC, the only documented case of spitting on the vets contemporary to the war itself involved pro-war people spitting on them for losing.)

So what bothers me isn't so much the revisionist history, but the fact that many of us who know better (or should, at least) play along with that revisionism. I'm too young to remember Viet Nam -- I was born in the middle of it, and was only a few years old when it ended -- but it seems to me that we should be calling bullshit on the "anti-war people mistreated the troops" crap at every turn, every time it's mentioned. Whenever it comes up and we let it pass, we simply reinforce that myth through our passiveness.

Just my $.02, and probably not even worth that.

Great post. I'd love to know more about attitudes towards the Vietnam war in other countries. I'm particularly curious if and how the wave of student revolts around the globe were tied in any way to the Vietnam conflict. I have been spending time trying to read about the Japanese manifestations of this and the reactions of those in power, though reading in the vernacular is tough going, though understanding the period helps one understand an author like Haruki Murakami.

Generally, the student revolts were started by some local condition (the most famous and disruptive, at Tokyo University, had its roots in the forced service that medical students were required to do), so this could be viewed as one of those typically US-centric viewpoints (quick, tell me how important our war was to you), so with the appropriate caveats, I toss the question out.

A very interesting question, lj. The Crooked Timber posters and readers may have some fruitful answers.

Thanks Nell, I'm an avid reader of CT, but I don't comment cause I find the elbows a bit too sharp there (I bruise like a grape!) so I hope that someone here feels sufficiently moved to toss it out there.

"(The "spitting on returning vets" thing, for example, is almost entirely fabricated, and nobody even talked about it until something like a decade after the fact; IIRC, the only documented case of spitting on the vets contemporary to the war itself involved pro-war people spitting on them for losing.)"

I almost hesitate to say anything. Did this really come up spontaneously again? But this is wrong.

please see here

At that comment I provide a link to a quotes from a book by a Chicago Times journalist who interviewed more than 60 vets who say they had been spat upon and I additionally include 8 clear examples with an additional 2 more controversial examples of contemporaneous newspaper reports of such incidents.

You seem to be relying on the assertions of Jerry Lembke, who indeed has made letures asserting that such reports did not exist until the 1980s. He's wrong, and Lindgren has suggested that it is because he didn't realize that Nexis at the time (and still so far as I know) doesn't have full text versions of all major newspapers from before 1981. This would cause it to appear, if you relied on Nexis, that such news reports did not exist before 1981 even though they actually did exist).

In response to Phoenix Rising's plea: "On behalf of my generation and the ones coming along behind, I'd like to hereby officially beg the boomers to END THE WAR at last. Can we have a damn election about something else now please?"

Nothing would please me more, but NO. At least not until I and my age cohort take our quarrels before the Aesir for their judgement. Thirty years from now someone not yet or only just born is very likely to ask the same of you. I take your point, though and you're right to raise it.

This is a good summary, I think, though I would attach more importance to Type B-2 - those influenced by the draft. This seems to me to have been a powerful motivating factor for many war opponents.

I think it is important to see early support for the war in the light of then recent experience. The US was less than two decades past WWII and only about one decade past Korea. There was an assumption, I think, that we were pretty regularly going to be fighting wars - that it was just part of the world.

For that reason, public thinking about Vietnam was less critical than it might have been. It was certainly vastly less critical than public thinking about Iraq. We tend to think of people as dividing into pro-war and anti-war camps with respect to Iraq, even at the start. With Vietnam I think it is fair to say that a lot of what seemed to be support may have simply been acceptance, or even resignation to unpleasant facts.

It may be that some of the Type B's came to realize that the war was not an unavoidable fact of nature.

I'm particularly curious if and how the wave of student revolts around the globe were tied in any way to the Vietnam conflict.

This needs to be sorted out on a country-by-country basis, I suspect, and in each case local conditions - as you suggest - will play a dominant role in what happened or didn't happen.

That said, I am aware that the Vietnam War - specifically Britain's supine acceptance of it - was regularly cited by British leftists in their litany of criticisms of the government in the period 1964-67 (and probably beyond, but I left there in 1967), where it tied nicely into the previous/ongoing campaign against nuclear weapons on British soil (e.g., Aldermaston). I first saw "Don't make war, make love" on a button in England, and the clear referent was Vietnam, since the Brits themselves were not openly warring with anyone at the time. The Vietnam War was heaven-sent (politically), since it was the visible manifestation of the ongoing threat of militaristic imperialism otherwise too abstract for most Brits to care about. Having said this, the UK was one country to escape real "student revolts" in 1968, so maybe the VN connection didn't mean that much.

In the Philippines, on the other hand, the student movement of the 1960s was to a significant (but not dominant) extent mobilized around the issue of Philippine support for the United States in Vietnam, first diplomatically, then with a unit of combat engineers in 1967. This movement culminated in the "First Quarter Storm" of 1970, which came as close as anything to unseating Ferdinand Marcos at the time, and contributed to the paranoia underlying his declaration of martial law in 1972. Again, local issues were paramount, but the VN war was very much an anti-American, anti-Marcos issue ("Nixon: Marcos:: Diktador: Tuta [lapdog]"), while the apparent successes of the NLF in resisting American power in Vietnam inspired hope in some Filipino revolutionaries-in-the-making.

So: two case studies, both inconclusive, but both suggesting that the American war in Vietnam played an important symbolic/mobilizing role for students dissatisfied with trends in their own societies.

To Nell: I understand the concerns you have expressed, and I don't doubt that you and the people you worked with were careful about keeping your dissent directed at the truly responsible parties. For the most part, my experiences were congruent with yours. But not everyone was so fastidious

I did observe, first hand, a considerable level of animosity toward those in the military from the antiwar left. It always horrified me because, though I myself was active in the antiwar left (in a small way)... I also had a brother who served as a Marine in Vietnam. I did see him treated badly on several occasions--one memorable one was when he came to visit me in college and some (not all) of my friends treated him as if he was, in effect, a baby-eater with blood dripping from his mouth. And that was before he even shipped out.

I remember another friend boasting about how rude he'd been to some soldiers he ran into in an airport--and how offended he got when I expressed dismay. (I believe he called them baby-killers.)

It was a crazy time. I don't want to demonize it, but I don't want to sugar-coat it either. I remember campus antiwar meetings that degenerated into calls to bomb banks or university computer centers. Much as I wanted to express my solidarity against the war, I had to walk out of those meetings. I was willing to participate in the demonstrations, but no way could I agree to be involved in violence at home.

Those experiences were the exceptions, not the rule. But they happened.

Dr Ngo makes a good point when he says that many enlisted men became so only because they were about to be drafted, and were shopping for a better gig. That's what my brother did. The Army offered only what the army offers: fighting with cool weapons. The Marines offered him a job as a mechanic (he had been testing jet engines at Pratt and Whitney beforehand). That background made him just slightly more valuable than your standard grunt. Although, after boot camp--that propaganda is effective--he asked to be transferred to a combat unit. (I apologize; I never got the terminology down.) They had him thinking he wanted to--and I'm quoting here--"kill gooks". Fortunately he was a good mechanic, and those were also badly needed, so they didn't let him go.

Some of the sense of persecution that returning vets felt was much less dramatic than being spat on. A lot of it was not having a place to fit in; girls not meeting their eyes; overheard whispers about baby-killers... that kind of thing.

I know the right later made a big wrong thing out of it. Made it sound like a soldier could hardly walk through an airport without receiving showers of spit. That is very far from true.

But... I won't lie about what I saw myself. There was a certain subset of the antiwar folks who were only to willing to blame the war on the soldiers.

But... I won't lie about what I saw myself. There was a certain subset of the antiwar folks who were only to willing to blame the war on the soldiers.

May I remind people that this WAS a subset---but from the viewpoint of the soldiers, there sure as hell no way to differentiate the subset from the superset...at least without long, extended interaction?

gwangung: that's an important point, I think, and a good one. It happens with a lot of things. Racism, for instance: there must be some times when a cab driver forgets to turn the meter off when heading home, and doesn't realize it until someone tries to flag him down, and then turns the meter off and drives away. If the person who flagged him down is black, that person has no way at all of knowing that it's not (in this particular instance) racism.

May I remind people that this WAS a subset---but from the viewpoint of the soldiers, there sure as hell no way to differentiate the subset from the superset...at least without long, extended interaction?

I don't think this is true. I mean, reading Seb's accounts, I get the sense that even in the worst case, spitting was still a shockingly infrequent occurrence. I suspect that many many more veterans got into random bar fights upon their return than were spat upon. The low frequency of these occurrences suggests that most of the soldiers getting spat upon only had that experience once. So if a veteran did get spat upon, why should they assume that the people spitting on them were representative of the anti-war population at large? Given that 70% of the country was against the war, if spitting was really a defining characteristic of the anti-war movement, there's no way it would be such an infrequent occurrence.

Also, your argument seems to only work if we assume that the only interactions soldiers have with the anti-war movement was that one spitting encounter. But that doesn't make any sense. Most soldiers would have served with other soldiers who were against the war; many soldiers lost all faith in the war because of their service. Many more had close friends and family who were anti-war. Many had read anti-war books and magazines and newspaper articles. Even the most cloistered soldier would have been exposed to the anti-war movement and would have seen that it contained people they trusted. Given that, I have trouble accepting the idea that soldiers had no choice but to assume that any jerk who spat on them represented a larger movement with which 70% of the population agreed.

Racism, for instance: there must be some times when a cab driver forgets to turn the meter off when heading home, and doesn't realize it until someone tries to flag him down, and then turns the meter off and drives away.

hilzoy, I don't think this analogy works at all. African Americans don't get angry because one cab on one particular day seemed to blow by them. They get angry because it happens again and again and again. Now, maybe one percent or ten percent of those incidents are simple mistakes as you describe, but while that might be important for determining individual cab drivers' racism, it doesn't change the overall conclusion at all. I mean, if blacks experienced were passed by only 90% or 99% as much as they are now, would you take that as a sign of dramatic racial progress in our society?

Cabs ignoring black people is a much more common experience than vet spitting.

Most soldiers would have served with other soldiers who were against the war; many soldiers lost all faith in the war because of their service. Many more had close friends and family who were anti-war. Many had read anti-war books and magazines and newspaper articles. Even the most cloistered soldier would have been exposed to the anti-war movement and would have seen that it contained people they trusted.

I'm not sure that this is true of the whole population of soldiers, particularly that over-represented minority who came from military families and military-approving rural communities, especially in the South. We are talking about 18-year olds who had literally never been to the city until they were drafted, who had never met a Jew or an atheist before, whose entire family assumed that in volunteering for the service they were doing not just the right thing, but the normal one. As a 24-year old private (with seven years of college behind me, including three years overseas) I felt myself in a whole different generation and culture from many of my fellow conscripts.

Now this was at the beginning of training, but they were being sent overseas after less than six months on US Army bases - and mostly kept too busy and too broke to venture off base beyond the nearest "Town Without Pity" that sold cheap beer and did laundry. And while in Vietnam they would certainly have encountered a lot of cynicism about the war, the majority of embittered GI's did not join, or sympathize with, a "movement" which they saw, from a distance, as characterized by long-haired draft-dodging hippies. For such as these, any hostile encounter on their return to The Big PX would have confirmed their worst suspicions about the anti-war movement. They certainly did not know "people that they trusted" within it.

Plenty of others, of course, were more sophisticated (? - make that "experienced in a wider range of human environments"?) before the army, or had more varied/fortunate encounters while in it, as you suggest and so would not have jumped so easily to generalize from a single unfortunate incident. But to assume that all shared this experience - or should have, which you nearly imply - is simply wrong.

I don't think all soldiers could be expected to have that experience and I apologize if I implied that. And you raise some good points about how it was much harder for many people to get exposed to some kinds of information back in the day.

Nevertheless, I do think that soldiers who were spat upon were disproportionately likely to have connections that made the anti-war movement seem less threatening. I mean, the prototypical southern 18 year old who comes from a long line of soldiers and grew up in a conservative southern town where everyone supports the war is just not very likely to encounter vicious anti-war protesters when he returns to that town. On the other extreme, people who came from places like San Francisco and grown up talking to Jews seem far more likely to have encountered hateful anti-war protesters upon their return.

I'm going to make a prediction right now that, within a decade of our withdrawal from Iraq (whenever that is) we will hear stories of Iraq War protestors spitting on Iraq veterans.

So here we are in 2008 worrying about what it must have felt like to be spat upon by some antiwar hippies. While this can't have been a pleasant experience, it certainly beats having your village pillaged or napalmed, your countryside defoliated with Agent Orange that still causes birth defects and your siblings raped or shot - and yes, it was US soldiers who did that. There is some injustice in both cases, but can we please get some sense of perspective here.

I was involved in the antiwar movement in the late 60s and was definitely anti-soldier at the time. Probably would have been proud to say rude things about them at the airport, or whisper loudly with meaningful looks at a restaurant. The fact that most of them were draftees didn't change my feeling that they were baby-killers. Unfair, perhaps, but I certainly felt that way and certainly wasn't alone. (Those feelings also didn't stop me from volunteering for the military 10 years later...humans are strange.)

Obama's remarks didn't upset me in the least, nor make me feel the bus wheels rollin' over me.

But I am mightily sick of the "soldiers are heroes" theme. They're not. Having served in the volunteer military as a Spc3, I can say that most troops are young kids, not very educated in general, some of whom are are nice as pie, and some of whom ain't nice at all. Most of them are just average Americans from the lower-end of the socio-economic pool. They and the military machine they serve should not be fetishized as untouchably holy saints. The job they do can be important, but it can also -- as in the case of the Iraq war -- be bad for our country. Is that "the troops'"
fault? No, but I'm not gonna call them "heroes" nor thank them for "protecting our freedom". They're not doing that.

Bring them home. And stop the worship of the military. It's a tool and one that is being used right now for ill.

"The low frequency of these occurrences suggests that most of the soldiers getting spat upon only had that experience once. So if a veteran did get spat upon, why should they assume that the people spitting on them were representative of the anti-war population at large? Given that 70% of the country was against the war, if spitting was really a defining characteristic of the anti-war movement, there's no way it would be such an infrequent occurrence."

Why do you get to assume they were an infrequent occurrence? Do you think that every incident that happened in the whole country was recorded in newspapers? Do you think those 10 were the only was reported in newspapers? There really isn't any way to get a good handle on the frequency, and as such I don't see any reason why we should get to assert that they were "such an infrequent occurrence". Zinberg for example suggests that there were a fairly large number of GIs under his care that complained about it. And non-spitting vicious behaviour toward the troops at the time is also widely reported--it isn't as if calling them baby-killer at the airport is such an enormous step up.

If we must make general statements, I would suggest that from all appearances, the anti-war movement has done a much better job of controlling such outbursts this time than they did with Vietnam. Most of the nasty things this time seem to be centered around Rev. Phelps, who pretty clearly isn't an easily classifed creature of either the left or right. But that is just a gut feel, I wouldn't make solid sounding assertions about frequency of occurrence. I mean just yesterday there were at least 3 or 4 people on this blog who seemed to believe that there wasn't a single documented case before 1980 while I found evidence of at least 8 in contemporaneous newspapers and more than 60 first hand accounts were collected by a reporter from the Chicago Tribune.

I think that being spat upon after returning from a controversial war would be pretty tramatic even if it only happened once.

I still don't get what's wrong with Obama's statement/ It seems an obvious fact to me tht the anti-war movement was also anti-military and anti those soldiers who supported the war and the military. I don't believe that this anti feling was expressed primaritly by spitting. it was expressed primarily by attempts to shove ROTC off campuses, encouraging the people to resist the draft, support for AWOL soldiers, excouragement and support for anti-war soldiers and so on.

My objection to Obama's stement is this: to a certain extent I think that the distain for the American military as an institution is justified. Rudeness to individual soldiers isn't, but many basic assumptions that Americans have about military service do need to be challenged, and if those challenges are made civilly but preceived as rude, well so sad too bad. However during the anti-war days the challenges often were made uncivilly, perhaps not buy spitting but in a tone of moral superiority.

For example: 1, It is no more partriotic to join the miliatry than to do any other public service job in this country. Military serevice does not confer superior patriotism on anyone
2. Most militry actions and procurements have nothing to do with defense. On the contrary the military industrial complex is the biggest parasite of all on the taxpayer and most of our wars have been unnexessary.
3. The decsion to kill another person is a very serious matter. it is not OK to kill people over slogans like stopping Communism or defending democracy or fightng therrorist there so we don't have to fight them here. No one would be irresponsible to kill their neighbors so frivolously. Obeying orders isn't agood enough reason to kill either.
4. Supporting a war is not the same thinga as supporting soldiers and opposing a war doesn't have to be gthe same thinga as opposing military service.

So Obama was right: the anti-war movement did demonize all things military. However many of the criticisms were and stil are valid. The tone in which thsoe criticsm were made back in the day sucked though.

Turbulence: I mean, if blacks experienced were passed by only 90% or 99% as much as they are now, would you take that as a sign of dramatic racial progress in our society?

Dramatic? No. But assuming that there are concurrent gains in similar situations then yes, I'd say the 10% reduction would betoken non-trivial progress.

[The 1% is more borderline, obviously.]

I mean, the prototypical southern 18 year old who comes from a long line of soldiers and grew up in a conservative southern town where everyone supports the war is just not very likely to encounter vicious anti-war protesters when he returns to that town.

If they'd teleported, sure, but the odds were pretty good that a prototypical southerner trying to return home from, say, Fort Dix would have interact with a healthy number of potentially anti-war people on his trip. I think it's going to depend on what "returning home" means in this context, and it's not clear to me that this was a uniform notion.

I didn't mean to make any claim about the frequency of anti-vet stuff (not just spitting) compared to racism; just that it seemed to me that in both cases, there would be things where one might assume the worst without knowing, quite reasonably, given a suitable backdrop. (If we were only talking about spitting, then there wouldn't *be* a suitable backdrop, but then we also wouldn't be talking about potential misinterpretation -- being spat on is pretty easy to interpret.) But if we're talking about hostility to vets in general, in the late 60s and early 70s, then sure.

wonkie: I think what bothers people might be this claim that you make: " It seems an obvious fact to me tht the anti-war movement was also anti-military and anti those soldiers who supported the war and the military."

Insofar as the claim is about the anti-war movement as a whole, I think people who were in that movement, and who, to their credit, were not against the soldiers at all, might get upset.

What I don't see is why one has to take Obama's claim that way.

Well that's how I remember it. I dsin't live in a particularly radiacllized areas. i lieved in central Iowa. But the anti-war movement mutated into the counre culture and the counter culture was in many ways and at many levels anti-military. Agsin this seems so obvious to me as to be indisputatble. Freaks didn't enlist. Nor did they encourage other peole to do so. Remember "What if tghey gave a war and nobody came"?

wonkie: yeah, but it's the conflation between 'they thought people should not participate in the war' and 'they were anti-soldiers' that might rankle.

I agree with you that that conflation also existed at the time. That's why I think the thing to do is: acknowledge that fact, and admit that anyone who did conflate these things was wrong. I think that going all defensive about it is the last thing we should do. That said, though, I don't think it was universal, and people who did get this one right might mind our seeming to imply that it was.

"I did observe, first hand, a considerable level of animosity toward those in the military from the antiwar left."

We've seen at least commenter Jeff testify that he and his friends at the time thought it appropriate to feel such animosity towards those who "volunteered" to join the military. (This seems consistent with Jeff's general contemporary level of analysis, I notice.)

(I don't know, but I'm inclined to suspect that not all of Jeff's friends always stopped to ask military personnel in uniform if they'd been drafted, or volunteered, before setting whatever look on their face was going to set, or otherwise making a conscious choice as to how to treat uniformed military personnel when they crossed their path between 1966-75, but I certainly could be entirely wrong.)

It occurs to me to analogize this to the way, for instance, "Thoreau" at Unqualified Offerings rants on and on about the "Nazis" of the TSA, and his endless justifications for why low-wage employees should be abused and treated with contempt and hatred, and sabotaged if possible, since they are, he says over and over and over again, morally identical to Nazis.

Me, I think this is seriously morally obtuse: the conflation of people who are, at worst, no worse than any other abusive private security guard in America, with those who put people into ovens, makes, shall we say, no moral sense to me, and it seems to me that all anger at ludicrous security theater and policies should be directed solely at those responsible for those policies, and that people who feel justified in abusing low-wage jobholders trapped in a job that is unlikely to be a lifelong ambition to hold, when said people are privileged professionals/academics, is beyond contemptible (and one hell of a moral example to set for students), but that's why I see such treatment of TSA employees, and of U.S. military personnel, as analogous.

I think contempt for those responsible for bad or outright evil public policy deserves to be put on those responsible, and not on those who are, you know, not responsible, for the party.

This seems like an extremely simple conclusion, to me, and it's why I felt that way when I was 7-8 years old, and first starting to pay attention to the Vietnam war, circa 1966-8, and have never seen a reason to change my mind, but obviously a fair number of people use a different moral calculus, both then and now.

Why do you get to assume they were an infrequent occurrence? Do you think that every incident that happened in the whole country was recorded in newspapers? Do you think those 10 were the only was reported in newspapers? There really isn't any way to get a good handle on the frequency, and as such I don't see any reason why we should get to assert that they were "such an infrequent occurrence". Zinberg for example suggests that there were a fairly large number of GIs under his care that complained about it. And non-spitting vicious behaviour toward the troops at the time is also widely reported--it isn't as if calling them baby-killer at the airport is such an enormous step up.

I make that assumption because I've discussed related issues with a bunch of Vietnam Vets and none of them have reported being spat upon. Heck, in the last thread on the topic, several veterans spoke and none of them reported being spat upon either. There were also a bunch of anti-war people who reported never seeing a veteran get spat upon, despite all their experience hanging out with anti-war folk. I'm certain that some veterans did get spat upon. But if it was not an infrequent occurrence, I think we'd see more people saying they experienced it. When I said infrequent, I was thinking on the order of 1 spitting incident per 100 veterans. If you wan to argue that its much more frequent, then one of every ten or every 5 veterans would have been spat upon, and while the sample size for my anecdotal reports is small, I think its big enough to suggest that outcome is very very unlikely.

Now, this is not something I can prove, so feel free to disagree. I just think that the numbers don't make sense.

To be honest, I think even if one of 100 soldiers was getting spat upon, this is an incredibly stupid issue to focus on. Based on conversations with vets, a lot more than 1 out of 100 think they were discriminated against while looking for jobs. Getting spat upon is no fun, but it kind of pales in comparison with not being able to get a job and thus not being able to support your family. Vets made up a shockingly large fraction of the homeless for a long time after the war, and I suspect at least some of those vets could have avoided downward spirals of poverty and homelessness if people had been more willing to hire veterans in general when they returned.

Oh, I thought you were positing a number in the dozens or low hundreds. If you're eyballing it in the 8,000-10,000 range that sounds like a reasonable guess. And whether or not that kind of number counts as important is a judgment call that I'm not deeply invested in.

As for its importance, I'm not particularly convinced that it is important in itself. If it is important, it is as suggestive of other types of discrimination which are harder to prove. If it is true that somewhere in the 8,000 range actually experienced something as extreme as being spat upon, one would expect that lesser discriminations which can be implemented without direct physical confrontation would have been much more frequent. But those are really hard to prove so people tackle it from this kind of angle.

On the flip side, there seems to be quite a few people, even here, and enough to make Lembke's very poorly researched book sell quite well, who seem to really want to say that the spitting thing was pretty much a lie made up to make (some poorly defined group) look bad. I'm not really sure what is behind that.

At this point I've spent way too much time on a point I'm not that interested in, so I think I'll try to stop. (I just get latched on to things and can't let go sometimes).

OF course another point that needs to be made is that rightwing support for soldiers is mostly support for the war, not the soldiere. And another point that needs to be made is that real support for thesoldier is those actions which actually help the soldier like medical benefits. I think Obama went on to make those points in his speech since he was arging for Webb's bill.


But backt to the subject of this debate.

people do generalize the behavior of individuals to the group the individual is identified with and they also generalize group behavior to individuals. I remember being really pissed at flag burners for this reason.

it is important therefore, if one is ging to be part of a group that intends to change the larger society to monitor the group behavoir and try to control the group behavior and steer it in a constructive direction. One of the failings of the anti-war movement is that not enough consideration was given to how group behavior effected communication with those outside the group.

there was a whole lot of showing off, brattiness, overt or covert sneering, immaturity and self-righteousness diplayed frequently and widely by enough members of the group (the movement) to make the whole movement look bad. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement didn't make this mistake. They worked really hard to present themselves to the public through the medium of TV in a way that would communicate effectively to people outside their movement.

I think that the anti-Iraq war folks these days are aslo doing a much better job of communicating to those who supported the war or still support it. A person can assert thatthey are right about something without making the assertin in a way that is guaranteed to piss off other peolple. Movements can do the same.

Of course I realize that there was a pre disposition to demonize the anti-war movement. And there was a lot of really awful behavior directed toward people who were involved in the anti-war movemtn. How many soldiers got shot for being pro-war? There were more dead on the anti-war side than just four in Ohio. Nethertheless if a movemtn is going to succeed, then the movement has to communicate with people outside the movement and that doesn't happen if the movement has a big streak of publically displayed self-indulgence and immaturity which gives those who oppose the movemtn lots of ammo to use agsinst it.

So i don't know how much actual spitting happened. I suspect not much. Also Obama doesn't even mention spitting. He mentions attitude type things: demaning and shunning. I think t hat part of why there is a perception that the most or all of tha anti-war movement folks dmeanned annd shunned is that many, many did and the movement in general manifested an awful lot of demeaning and shunning behavior toward everyone that wasn't in the movement. Freaks vs straights. People who dress like this vs those who don't. the undergeround newspapers the hippie grocery, the little movie house where you could smoke pot while watching Bbetty Boop cartoons, the book stores full of books that regular stores didn't carry, head shops, rock concerts--the underlying assumption whas that new structures needed to be made to provide a superior alternative to the decayed decadent old stgructures in order to reflect the superior values of the new counterculture. And inplicit in that was: join us and be good, or stay in your tired out dead slient majority world of the unenlightened and be bad.

It might be impossible to assert that a chanfge must be made without offending the people who don't see the need for change. However the counterculture asserted the need for change in a way that, if not deliberatley calculated to be offensive, sure as hell was was likely to be taken that way.

Which is sad because for the most part I think that changes and challenges of the countercouture/anti-war movement were changes thaht needed to be made and challenges that needed to be heard. In my opinon most of what happened inthe late sixties and early sevventies was good for America. However the way it happened was so politically inept as to be counterproductive. Instead of looking back at the anti-war movement with respect as people do the Civil Rights Movement, many many Americans look back and see nothing but arrogant screaming assholes, broken glass, burning flags and people walking barefoot into restaurants.

The way I felt then was:
Bliss it was to be alive in that dawn,
but to be young was a very heaven.

or something like that.

I really truly thought that we were going to change, if not the worrld, at least America.

However if one wasn't part of it, it all looked pretty self-indulgent. There was a failure to communicate, perhaps because so many movement people were young.

wonkie: I agree completely about bearing in mind how one looks to people outside one's own group. One of the reasons Jeralyn's post bothered me was that I think: surely, those of us on the left should resist any claim that being anti-war involves being anti-military; we should oppose flat-out calumny and misrepresentation; but we should also be willing to just admit when people on our side get it wrong.

To me, responding to Obama's rather anodyne statement the way Jeralyn did looked a lot like saying: it's more important not to say anything that might possibly be construed as disrespecting boomers than it is to just recognize that some people on the left back then did make mistakes and get on with the business of trying not to make them again.

"So here we are in 2008 worrying about what it must have felt like to be spat upon by some antiwar hippies. While this can't have been a pleasant experience, it certainly beats having your village pillaged or napalmed, your countryside defoliated with Agent Orange that still causes birth defects and your siblings raped or shot - and yes, it was US soldiers who did that. There is some injustice in both cases, but can we please get some sense of perspective here."

Who in the thread, exactly, do you feel needs the lecture on perspective? Which comments, specifically, are you responding to?

I ask because by being non-specific, you are addressing all of us, and I'm unclear how or why it is you'd think that you have superior knowledge and perspective to all of us on this point, and need to be informed of the need for perspective. Do you feel that you have greater knowledge or moral perspective than all, or most, of us on the the topic of Vietnam, or war crimes? If so, why? If not, why or who are you instructing, specifically?

"For example: 1, It is no more partriotic to join the miliatry than to do any other public service job in this country. Military serevice does not confer superior patriotism on anyone"

I wouldn't agree that it confers "superior patriotism" on anyone, and I doubt that conceptualizing people as having superior and inferior forms of patriotism, and trying to measure them, is a particularly useful approach to the subject, but I will again say that I think some people go way too far in their corrective in pointing out that patriotism has innumerable forms of expression that should be respected, and that joining the military is hardly the only way (which is correct, of course).

When one joins the military, one surrenders an immense amount of personal freedom in a way entirely unlike any civilian role, including that of police, or even weekend National Guard duty, let alone being a doctor, nurse, teacher, child care worker, etc., and one is volunteering to put one's fate for the term of one's enlistment in the hands of one's government -- an act of great faith often betrayed in some way by the government -- and agreeing to give one's life for that of others, on a daily basis if one is anywhere in a modern war zone. (Even the Green Zone in Iraq is frequently mortared and shelled, and you might meet a suicide bomber near an entrance; is that part of daily life for civilians in the U.S.? If we were in Israel, the terms of this discussion would be somewhat different.)

That is, I point out, very different from any other role citizens can choose to play in U.S. society and polity, and that distinction is crucial, and not to be glossed, I opine.

If you're willing to be my squadmate, and throw yourself on a grenade to save the lives of me and our comrades, yes, you are making a far greater sacrifice than if you engage in any other kind of role in society that doesn't require you to be willing to give up your life, on faith, at any time.

Period, full stop.

but we should also be willing to just admit when people on our side get it wrong.

I think we -- or at least, people of prominence -- would be more inclined to do so if the cost of such admissions weren't so goddamn high. As a nation, we're haphazardly (and naively, and hypocritically) requiring perfection of our candidates, and where we don't require perfection we often require dogma.

@wonkie: There was more to it than simple immaturity (something unsurprising from a political movement whose largest active base was among people 17-24).

Other factors included: the McCarthyist repression of the 1950s that led to most leftists going effectively undercover, which cut off the New Left from communication with older leftists.

Had there been more of an unbroken connection, there was no guarantee younger activists would have heeded all the advice given, but there would have been more fruitful conversation. There was a lot of reinvention of the wheel and needless mistakes because there were fewer sources of people who'd done this kind of thing before.

This was one of the big differences between becoming an activist in a Quaker environment, where the chain was unbroken, and doing so in a secular environment, school or not.

Another factor was the shock effect for young people who were true believers in the American self-narrative. The emotional effect of learning in a short span of time that a lot of what you grew up believing is a lie is very strong. The anger resulting from shattered idealism is of a different kind than that resulting from life-long, continued, repeated, expected injustice (as in the civil rights movement).

There's a class and race aspect, too: middle-class kids' sense of entitlement made them want a fast fix, and expect response to their demands. Working-class kids were a lot less likely to expect such a response, and much less likely to be surprised when authorities lied or police were selective and rough in enforcement. Working-class black and Latino kids started out with a less thoroughgoing investment in the national story to begin with, and were completely prepared for nonresponse and abuse from the authorities.

The ways in which we got it wrong we learned from and apologized for years ago, and applied the lessons in this latest round of antiwar activism. Still waiting for political leaders to acknowledge, atone for, and apply the lessons from their considerably more serious "mistakes."

YOu have a valid poitn gary.

I was responding to the idea which is prewuently put forth from the political right atht there is someting especially patriotic about the military service. I am not trying to promote more patriotic than thou arguemtns.

Nell: yes to what you just said. About the quick fix: I recall watching an old interview with I forget which member of the antiwar movement (possibly in Berkeley in the 60s?), and hearing him explain why he had decided to embrace violence by saying: Well, we had tried peaceful means, and they didn't stop the war! I thought: this is so wrong, as an understanding of what democracy is. In a democracy, you never have any guarantee that your methods will work, in the sense of bringing about the policy you want.

(I should say: iirc, the person in question wasn't saying 'it didn't stop the war' as a way of explaining why he had given up on *democracy.* That would have made some sense. It was more as though he thought: when you sincerely protest against something you believe is deeply wrong, you *will* get results. That seemed very odd to me.)

Gary: If you're willing to be my squadmate, and throw yourself on a grenade to save the lives of me and our comrades, yes, you are making a far greater sacrifice than if you engage in any other kind of role in society that doesn't require you to be willing to give up your life, on faith, at any time.

True, but I disagree with the period (let alone the full stop!). There's a tricky balancing act here that's not being accounted for, namely that the US has been a hyperpower for so long that most of these volunteers/recruits were not (AFAICT) genuinely understanding of those sacrifices. [This is particularly true of the National Guard, and particularly untrue (from what I know) of those in the special forces. YMMV.] This... I don't know what to call it, freedom from fear? consequence? is part of the reason IMO that our society has become increasingly militaristic, and strangely increasingly worshipful of the military. We can idealize war, and its warriors, since we don't understand it -- and in many ways, yearn for the glory it supposedly provides without comprehending the cost.

Switching perspectives somewhat, I don't see those in the military as inherently possessed of greater sacrifice than those in other professions, because that sacrifice is -- for us -- so often fictitious. Gruesome as the Iraq debacle has been, and as unacceptable as I find the list of casualties, in gross terms it has been remarkably sparing of American lives. [And therein lies a rub: it hasn't been at all sparing of non-American lives.] I can't find all the statistics I'd like, but for at least 20 years prior to Iraq you were a hell of lot more likely to be put in harms way as, say, a firefighter than you were in the military. Hooray peace, and all it brings.

And that brings me to the last issue I have with this, which is the notion that one's life is necessarily the greatest sacrifice of all, especially when given in battle. Put simply, I don't believe that's true; it's a form of hero worship that, truthfully, I find repugnant. This isn't to minimize the sacrifices made by soldiers -- far from it -- but rather to note the minimization of other sacrifices. Call me a child of existentialism if you will, but I truly do believe that in many ways, dying is easy while living is hard; and it's not clear to me that a moment of excruciation followed by oblivion is necessarily a worse fate than a lifetime of pain or despair in the service of others.

Again, this isn't to minimize the service or sacrifice of soldiers, for whom I generally have tremendous respect. But I profoundly believe that we need to put this kind of respect into perspective, lest we end up worshipping soldiers -- in the abstract -- above all else.

"Other factors included: the McCarthyist repression of the 1950s that led to most leftists going effectively undercover, which cut off the New Left from communication with older leftists."

This seems to me a somewhat suboptimal description. First of all, the New Left was created entirely because the Old Left was seen as a failure, and while innumerable books have been written on this history (books I sucked up by the dozens when I was 10-16; sale on Kirkpatrick Sale, anyone?), some of that was because much of the Old Left seemed coopted, whether by CIA funding or unhelpful alliances, or pure stodginess and ineptitude -- hello, Port Huron Statement? -- the rest of what you seem to be alluding to was the internal fight in the left between the communists and those unwilling to draw any lines between the communist and non-communist socialist left, which was fought out during the Fifties, although it very much was rooted in battles within the left going back through the Forties, Thirties, Twenties, Tens, Oughts, and the communalists of the late 19th century.

It was hardly just McCarthyites who saw Stalinism as something not to be aligned with, but to be disassociated from and denounced.

But that also gets into the divisions between liberals and leftists, of course.

But I'd say that some 80% or more of disregard by members of the New Left for the Old Left was voluntary, and a deliberate rejection, rather than any kind of inability to chat with a communist if you wanted. I never noticed a lack of leftist bookshops in most university towns, let alone larger cities, post-1968, or any lack of visible communists or members of the Old Left in such places, or when any organizing took place.

To be sure, I grew up in NYC, which is a different experience than growing up elsewhere.

I pretty much agree with the rest of your points, Nell.

"Gruesome as the Iraq debacle has been, and as unacceptable as I find the list of casualties, in gross terms it has been remarkably sparing of American lives."

I think that's an important point, but a different issue. I don't see how it affects the difference in the choice facing and individual, and the difference in the consequences made in the life of someone joining the Army while current deployments are going on.

Moreover, it's easy to look at the number of American dead, rather than the number of Americans profoundly wounded. I wish people would quit focussing only on the dead, rather than casualties overall. Having a brain injury, or a limb blown off, or just profound PTSD (I don't think I've mentioned here before that I worked at SEA-VAC, the Seattle Veteran's Action Center, for a good part of 1978-9), is a profound loss, no matter that you're still walking, or wheeling, around.

"because that sacrifice is -- for us -- so often fictitious."

Andy.

"...but for at least 20 years prior to Iraq you were a hell of lot more likely to be put in harms way as, say, a firefighter than you were in the military."

Do me a favor, and give us actual stats on that, please? Look into rate of military death in accidents compared to the rate of overall civilian deaths by accident, as well, if you want to be maximally convincing; I'm not sure what figures you'll come up, but I'd like to know, and I think actual facts are helpful when discussing this sort of assertion, if you'd be so kind.

"But I profoundly believe that we need to put this kind of respect into perspective,"

I doubt anyone will argue against having proper perspective. But I could be wrong.

Some casualty figures, for argument.

Sebastian:

I stand corrected on the "only reported incident" claim, but to be fair, Atkinson's interviews took place in 1981-1982, which doesn't exactly dispel the "nobody talked about it until the 80's" idea. Couple that with the extremely-well-documented unreliability of human memory, especially concerning emotionally-charged issues, and I'd say that doesn't rank very high on the compelling-o-meter.

Thus, even though you object, I think Turbulence's claim that it was likely a "shockingly infrequent occurrence" makes a lot of sense. Perhaps the press wasn't as sensationalist in the 60's and 70's as it is today, but I'd expect them to jump all over stories like that where they encountered them.

I'm not really sure why you think that the press would encounter them all that often. The military people I know (a very small cross section to be sure) wouldn't dream of contacting the press under almost any circumstance. Which doesn't make it impossible for the incident to come across the reporter's desk, but certainly makes it unlikely.

I'm also not sure why you focus on the Atkinson interviews. The Zinberg interviews would have to be on or around 1971 since he talks about them in December of that year. (And you should remember that his interviews were not *about* spitting incidents. They came up in the context of treatment. Though he also suggests that some though not all of them may be drug users coming up with an excuse. But even if that were true, it suggests that it had become part of the popular understanding of the Vietnam experience by 1971, not as some post-facto idea in the 1980s.) The General Chapman interviews are from 1969.

Also the unreliability of human memory is something I'm especially open to as a problem area, but mostly in the realm of things like witness identification and an explication of exact words and the like. For example I'm likely to be open to the argument that a woman would misidentify her rapist if asked for an ID of someone who was otherwise a stranger twenty years later. I'm not as open to her being confused about the actuality of the rape unless there is strong evidence of something else going on.

If someone confronts you and spits on you, I'd be skeptical that you could tell me exactly what they said 20 years ago, and I'd be skeptical if you thought you could pick them out of a lineup 20 years later, but I wouldn't be nearly as skeptical that the incident happened at all unless I thought you were a liar for some other reason.

Thus, even though you object, I think Turbulence's claim that it was likely a "shockingly infrequent occurrence" makes a lot of sense. Perhaps the press wasn't as sensationalist in the 60's and 70's as it is today, but I'd expect them to jump all over stories like that where they encountered them.

And how would they encounter them?

They wouldn't witness incidents themselves, unless they took place at defined events. They'd have to be told about them. And I doubt vets would have called up the press about it, particularly when a lot of vets would consider the press part of the problem.

The problem is, such incidents are today spoken about as if there were widespread, or at the very least not uncommon, and I'm afraid there's just not much evidence to support that point of view. I have no doubt that there are a few a-holes out there who acted badly. But today it's talked about as though it were typical of the anti-war movement, an idea that there's simply no evidence to support.

It'd be like bringing up Timothy McVeigh, and framing the debate through that lens, every time the subject of libertarianism came up...

You'd think there'd be a lot of evidence in the form of police reports about veteran soldiers beating the crap out of the long-hair who spit on them.

That's one way the story doesn't pass the smell test to me. Recently returned proud combat veteran, who days earlier had been fighting for his life is faced with the ultimate personal and public humiliation and... stands there? Walks away? Just takes it?

I don't know- I wasn't there. But my mother was one of those radical anti-war commune-living hippies- when I asked her, back when I first heard such stories in the early '80s, she said she thought it was probably bullshit, overblown isolated incidents at worst. To her and her peeps, the soldiers were victims. They knew full well that most of the soldiers were conscripts and everyone knew someone who'd been drafted and killed. Further, they actively recruited returning veterans into the anti-war cause. It wasn't difficult to do, either.

Gary: Andy.

Well, no sh** Sherlock. I didn't say that there were no casualties at all, only that the specter of death is often fictitious -- and prior to this debacle, was almost non-existent (see below).

Do me a favor, and give us actual stats on that, please?

Oy. Didn't I just say I couldn't find all the stats I'd like? Still, here are a few to get the ball rolling. On the military side...

* For military casualty statistics, we have a FAS report [warning: PDF] on American military casualties, which seems fairly reliable. Note that the only conflict of significance in the period 1980 - 2000 (which is what I was referring to) was Gulf War I, with a death count of 382 in a population of 2,225,000. This works out to a death rate of .17 deaths per thousand, which is (presumably) high for the Armed Forces in that time period.

* Let me repeat that, during that time frame, the first Gulf War was the only significant conflict of the US Armed Forces. There were also comparatively small conflicts in, e.g., Lebanon (241 killed in the Beirut bombing, 265 in total) and Bosnia (approximately 320 of 39,000 peacekeepers killed). The FAS numbers add up to a total casualty list of around 1000 for that time frame. With a total active duty population of anywhere between one and two million -- can't find accurate historical statistics along the way -- this gives us a lethality rate of something between 0.5 and 1 in 1000.

Moving on to firefighters:

* The US Fire Administration, a division of FEMA, maintains a website on firefighter fatalities. The Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study 1990-2000 [PDF] has most of the data you'll need, though it's not terribly convenient for this format. The relevant fact is that there were approximately 100 fatalities per year for this time period, which stacks up to about 2000 fatalities. [That, and it lists all firefighter casualties over those ten years.] The NFPA reports that there were 1,140,900 firefighters in the US in 2006, which is higher than in previous years (around a million is pretty typical for that time-frame). This works out to ballpark 2 in 1000 deaths for firefighters, at least twice as much for the military.

* Things get even stickier if we broaden to casualties. There are roughly 80,000 firefighter casualties in the US per year since 1980 (lost the relevant link, sorry, though the NFSA FAQ confirms this for 2006), while there are... not remotely that many in the Armed Forces, at least in Iraq (which I assume accounts for most of the casualties). [The maximal estimate I've seen for American casualties in the Iraq War is 100,000 which amortizes out to around 20,000 per year. The official estimate is around 35,000, which amortizes to around 7,000 per year.] And that's for the Iraq War; assuming proportional casualty rates during 1980-2000, we're looking at more then an order of magnitude difference between the military and firefighters.

* Conversely, one could ask how many times a firefighter is put into -- if you'll pardon the pun -- the line of fire as versus a soldier. Consider, from the NFSA FAQ again, the fact that "A fire department responds to a fire every 19 seconds." Clearly not all of these fires will be dangerous; on the other hand, not all firefighter responses are to fires. Nevertheless, that's in excess of 1.5 million responses per year. Even if only 1% of those are serious -- and I mean serious by fire department standards -- that's still 15,000 major fires every year. [Hell, there was a major fire a block away from my apartment on Tuesday.] How many major armed engagements were there in 1980-2000? A damn sight fewer, I'm willing to bet, although I could well be wrong.

None of this is to denigrate the risk that soldiers face, mind, but I stand by what I said: from 1980-2000, at least, being a firefighter was a significantly more dangerous occupation than that of a soldier. I'm willing to bet that this also tracks with the mythologizing of the military -- other than the obvious Reagan boner for such things -- in keeping with my claims above.

I doubt anyone will argue against having proper perspective. But I could be wrong.

Trivially true, but not terribly helpful. The issue isn't an abstract proper perspective, but that I think what I said represents a better perspective than the one against which I'm railing.

"* For military casualty statistics, we have a FAS report [warning: PDF] on American military casualties, which seems fairly reliable."

That's defining away all non-combat deaths as not relevant. This is not a useful comparison to civilian deaths unless we're also not counting civilian deaths unless they are combat deaths. The question is what are the comparative overall death and injury rates?

To quote your own link back to you:

World War II was the first war in which there were more battle deaths than deaths from other causes such as accidents, disease, and
infections.
In WWII, using the same source, we see World War II Total Deaths were 405,399, but only 291,557 were combat deaths, and 113,842 were not, and there were 671,846 non-moral wounded. "How did that compare the civilian rate of death?" is the question.

"The FAS numbers add up to a total casualty list of around 1000 for that time frame."

Yeah, they're only counting deaths in combat: what's the relevance of this to overall civilian deaths, if we're not also excluding all civilian deaths not from combat? I'm asking how the overall rates of death compare, not the rate of death in combat to non-combat deaths.

"None of this is to denigrate the risk that soldiers face, mind, but I stand by what I said: from 1980-2000, at least, being a firefighter was a significantly more dangerous occupation than that of a soldier."

If you find overall comparative rates of death from all causes between firefighters and military personnel, that'll answer the question of whether one occupation is more dangerous than the other.

I very much appreciate the work you put into this; thanks muchly!

I reiterate that I couldn't find all the stats that I wanted. Nonetheless...

Yeah, they're only counting deaths in combat: what's the relevance of this to overall civilian deaths, if we're not also excluding all civilian deaths not from combat?

I think you're using the word "civilian" in a different sense than I've heard it before; presumably you mean "non-combat deaths", right? One could, if one were so inclined, go through the Retrospective Study and delete all non-"combat" firefighter deaths to get a more accurate comparison like that, I suppose. The problem going the other way is in something like this NEJM study of Gulf War veterans that they're counting all fatalities (of veterans, which is not particularly helpful), including not just "non-combat deaths" but also deaths to which combat is not directly attributable. I don't know of any similar longitudinal study of firefighter mortalities, especially as compared to the civilian population, but you're welcome to look.

That being said, consider this summary of American dead from the Statistical Information Analysis Division, where deaths are broken down by type. Note that the 382 dead in the Persian Gulf war are total deaths as determined by the military, consisting of 147 deaths in battle and 235 "other deaths". It doesn't address the incidence of increased mortality -- which is what I'm guessing you were talking about above? -- but it pretty definitively shows that those are the only deaths officially considered to have resulted from the Persian Gulf War. [I think I remember a pretty ugly truck accident that single-handedly killed more people than did any single engagement in Iraq.] I wish it included other wars too but, well, them's the breaks.

Interestingly, this document also shows 467 officially wounded in the War, which -- let's assume for simplicity's sake -- constituted exactly one year 1990-1991. This, as compared to 80,000 casualties annually amongst firefighters. Now I freely grant that this could be misleading as "casualty" -- or, as here, "wounds not mortal" -- isn't a well-defined, or at least uniformly define, term, but I'd say it's pretty dang indicative of what I've been saying.

Contrariwise, if we look at here, there were anywhere from 800 - 2000 deaths per year in the military during that time-frame. This is significantly higher than that of firefighters, I agree. The catch is, as near as I can tell this includes all deaths of military personnel, whereas the firefighter casualties include only deaths directly attributable towards their missions. For example, "homicide" is counted in this regard which... well, it's not clear how pertinent this is to the dangerousness of the military per se, and "suicide" almost certainly is not.* We're into some pretty grey areas here.

Finally, let's recall the claim I made above:

"...but for at least 20 years prior to Iraq you were a hell of lot more likely to be put in harms way as, say, a firefighter than you were in the military."

The relevant words there are "put in harms way". If you, as a soldier, are driving a truck around the US and get killed in a crash, or are killed by improperly secured ordinance, AFAICT this counts as a casualty in uniform... but it doesn't IMO speak to being "put in harms way" except in a very generic sense. Fatalities incurred by non-combat-related activities simply aren't relevant to the question. YMMV on all of these, of course.

* Incidentally, 10% of all military casualties every year are "self-inflicted"? And that's just the official tally? Yikes.

hilzoy: It was more as though he thought: when you sincerely protest against something you believe is deeply wrong, you *will* get results.

And yet, you can see how a young white person in 1968, particularly one who didn't grow up in the south or come from a very political family, might get that very idea from the then-recent sweeping successes of the civil rights movement.

"If you, as a soldier, are driving a truck around the US and get killed in a crash, or are killed by improperly secured ordinance, AFAICT this counts as a casualty in uniform... but it doesn't IMO speak to being 'put in harms way' except in a very generic sense."

This seems to be the key point we're viewing differently. It's my impression that one is a heck of a lot more apt to be killed in training, or via non-combat death, in the military, than is the average rate of such deaths for civilians, and that's my point. But I'm too busy or lazy, take your pick, to do my own factfinding right now, so if you'd like to leave the discussion to rest until such time as I have time to go do my own figure-researching, and bring the topic up again with you, that's absolutely fine by me.

Thanks again for your responses.

"And yet, you can see how a young white person in 1968, particularly one who didn't grow up in the south or come from a very political family, might get that very idea from the then-recent sweeping successes of the civil rights movement."

One of my other favorite quotes, which is on my blog sidebar:

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
-- Cicero
Ignorance carries its own punishment.

And it's unnecessary.

But, sure, there were lots of dopey people all around, just as there always are.

So one more of my sidebar quotes:

"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook

Or 1969 or 1970, when this person's turn to violence is more likely to have happened.

If the film was The War at Home, which focuses on the course of the antiwar movement at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, then the person is Karleton Armstrong, one of those who set the bomb at Sterling Hall that killed a physicist and wounded four other people in the middle of the night in August 1970.

If it was, then my hypothetical about the civil rights movement doesn't apply. But neither does the quote adequately characterize Armstrong's thinking.

By that stage violence seemed to permeate the country: the MLK assassination, the RFK assassination, the police beatings outside the 1968 convention and the old Democratic machine quashing the peace plank inside it, the escalation of police-demonstrator confrontations that followed all through 1969, culminating in the May 1970 murders of students at Kent State and Jackson State and Kent State in the midst of a national paroxysm of protest of the invasion of Cambodia...

To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. - Cicero

An important maxim, one that illustrates why I'm concerned about reinforcing distortions of history by people who know better, or should.

Americans are particularly susceptible to serious ignorance or misapprehensions about what happened before we were born, a condition that most often requires focused individual effort to counteract. Lots of factors contribute (relatively short history as a nation, national identity involving "the fresh start", mobility of population, seriously dumbed-down mass media, etc.). Our hyperpower status has also minimized popular interest in and knowledge about the rest of the world.

The history taught in public schools is sketchy and selective -- though in this we're maybe not as far off the global norm wrt covering up the less glorious episodes in our own country's history.

then the person is Karleton Armstrong, one of those who set the bomb at Sterling Hall that killed a physicist and wounded four other people in the middle of the night in August 1970

Karleton Armstrong then returned to Madison and opened a rather good deli. Got shut down a few years back as part of the gentrification project; he was promised new space elsewhere that, like so many of those businesses that were evicted, never materialized. It's just one of those things that we've somehow... put behind us.

[He still runs Loose Juice, definitely the best drink-and-smoothie cart around town. Go figure.]

In their defense, though, it's worth noting that they set the bomb well after hours expecting everyone to be gone; it was intended to be a protest, not a murder. Pity they didn't understand the postdoc schedule.

As an amusing aside, Sterling was so heavily reinforced after the explosion that it's considered to be one of the toughest buildings in the Midwest. Two-foot thick concrete walls interlaced with some serious rebar; you can put a 40,000lb torque beam on the wall without blinking. They're trying to tear it down as part of the campus-wide remodelling, but the problem is that it's so heavily reinforced that a wrecking ball would quite literally bounce...

PS: Gary, not a problem. Sorry I couldn't find anything more dispositive; I'm sure it's out there, but a) I'm not sure it's online, and b) I'm not quite sure what "it" is that I'd be looking for anyway. Pity, that.

My dad graduated from Wisconsin, where he met my mom, and I, as a 10 year old, remember the horror and revulsion that they had when that bombing took place, not only because that was part of their home, but because my dad had classes in Sterling. I wish I could talk to my mom (who was much more talkative than my dad is) and ask her what she thought about Karleton Armstrong being part of the Madison scene.

I note this as a counterpoint to Nell's point: one of the blessings of the US seems to be the absence of historical memory. You look at places like the Balkans, where historical memory seems to reinforce the constant warfare and enmity. This is not to reject the notion embodied in Gary's quote of Cicero, but I do wonder if sometimes, forgetfulness is a blessing rather than a curse.

Nell: "hilzoy: It was more as though he thought: when you sincerely protest against something you believe is deeply wrong, you *will* get results.

And yet, you can see how a young white person in 1968, particularly one who didn't grow up in the south or come from a very political family, might get that very idea from the then-recent sweeping successes of the civil rights movement."

Despite what Gary said: yes, I can see that. I'm quite sure that a lot of people made no such mistake, but I suspect a number did: seeing the 'we were right, we marched, things changed' aspect of things, rather than the enormous tactical skill of the civil rights movement. In this it would, I think, help to have been a kid during the civil rights movement.

iirc, this was fairly clear in some of the interviews from 'Berkeley in the 60s'.

It's sort of the way, for a long time after the 60s, marches became one of the standard tactics on the left, despite the fact that (as far as I can see) marches don't actually accomplish much except in rather unusual circumstances. People are odd that way.

Sort of the way, yes.

Marches have been a standard protest tactic for too long and in too many places for me to agree that they don't accomplish much.

Agreed, it's hard for people now to imagine how unusual the 1963 march on Washington was in the U.S. -- and what a radical idea it was when A. Philip Randolph first wanted to do it, decades earlier. (In fact, the way in which Randolph originally wanted to do it was more radical; the actual 1963 march was channelled into bounds acceptable to the Kennedy administration and the pooh-bahs of the Democratic party through early negotiations.)

And the 1963 march was highly unusual in being tied to a demand for specific legislation, so that it created the dynamic of "a big march gets something done" in the sense of helping bring about a very particular, fairly short-term objective.

In some cases what marches accomplish is to make it impossible to deny the existence of a particular current of opinion or demand, or kind of person.

In other cases what's accomplished is the solidarity and encouragement of the participants and onlookers. By itself, and repeatedly, that would just be self-indulgent expressive politics, but there are situations where that's exactly what needs to get accomplished.

In some cases they provide a way for media to cover a story that would otherwise be too risky to do. Not in this country, but in a different situation: in El Salvador, I was once part of a street demo in which there were as many press as demonstrators. We were chanting and holding banners naming the head of the air force as responsible for the murder of two men the night before, and demanding their exhumation. The TV and radio stations that covered the demo couldn't have just reported the murder on their own, and certainly couldn't have brought the general's name into it. But we made it 'news'.

Apologies if I'm telling you something y'all already know, but I think that it is worth looking into the history of the 1963 march and how the antecedents (including the Bonus Army protests) influenced it. It strikes me as telling that the 1963 March was initially planned in 1941(!).

linked to that, I read an article about how we are imagine the act of Rosa Parks being a spontaneous one, yet in reality, it was long in the making. Historical amnesia is also us thinking that somehow, things magically organize themselves when the time is right. This is not to disagree with the points you make, and I fear that I am telling all of you stuff you all already know, but when we talk about marches having losing their effectiveness, it may be that we are failing to plan them sufficiently, and enlist a body of support to make them work. Perhaps it is no longer possible, the 1963 March participants, despite their disagreements, were committed to a goal in a way that may no longer be possible in the (what seems to me) more politically fragmented reality we live in.

"I read an article about how we are imagine the act of Rosa Parks being a spontaneous one"

Er, anyone who has any knowledge at all of the civil rights movement knows exactly how planned and detailed the event was. It's in every book in the movement; it's not a secret. The only people unaware of it are those who have never read a single book on the topic, or even looked at a decent web page, let alone Wikipedia.

"I fear that I am telling all of you stuff you all already know"

That's fine, but if you're going to bother, why not give some links so people can read up for themselves, rather than making vague statements?

1941. EO 8802.

This is reasonably accurate. More.

"The only people unaware of it are those who have never read a single book on the topic, or even looked at a decent web page, let alone Wikipedia."

That was overly harsh of me. Sorry, LJ, and everyone.

That's fine, but if you're going to bother, why not give some links so people can read up for themselves, rather than making vague statements?

Because I am at my university and the connection is having problems?

I'd also add that since you've asked me previously not to give you any advice, I think it is unfair that I gain the benefit of your advice, even when it is offered with your characteristic style and aplomb. It is good to know that the NC air has not dulled any of that famous Farber sharpness.

I'm back home and I see I should have just shut up and let it pass. Gary, apologies for not seeing your comment before I posted mine, the fact that the typepad comment form kept reloading in Firefox should have given me some hint. Hope you are settling in.

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