Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spitting on familiar ground

"They use thought only to reinforce their prejudices, and speech only to disguise their thoughts."

—Voltaire (1694-1778), Dialogue XIV

More than three decades after the end of the war in Vietnam, the far right has launched another savage and dishonest campaign against the antiwar movement for its alleged disrespect of U.S. soldiers and veterans, including this week's shrill denunciations of a small group of anarchists who burned a U.S. soldier in effigy during a massive antiwar demonstration here in Portland. The focus, not surprisingly, is on the thirty anarchists rather than the 15,000 people who demonstrated peacefully. Only 14 arrests, on relatively minor charges, were made.

Now there are reports, since discredited, of incidents involving demonstrators who alleged spat on, or near, veterans in New York and Washington, D.C.

This loathsome strategy is already too familiar from the Vietnam years and their aftermath, as discussed on the very first post to appear on Runes in December, 2006. In each case, the reported incidents were either grossly exaggerated or didn't occur at all. As Jack Shafer writes at Slate, in reference to a Newsweek article that perpetuated this pseudohistory:
"Like other urban myths, the spit story gains power every time it's repeated and nobody challenges it. Repeated often enough, it finally sears itself into the minds of the writers and editors at Newsweek as fact."
Shafer continues:
"The myth persists because: 1) Those who didn't go to Vietnam -- that being most of us -- don't dare contradict the "experience" of those who did; 2) the story helps maintain the perfect sense of shame many of us feel about the way we ignored our Vietvets; 3) the press keeps the story in play by uncritically repeating it, as the Times and U.S. News did; and 4) because any fool with 33 cents and the gumption to repeat the myth in his letter to the editor can keep it in circulation. Most recent mentions of the spitting protester in Nexis are of this variety."
An anonymous comment on my earlier posting added:
"What I find particularly troubling about seeing headlines and articles like this is that I don't think the journalists involved even realize they're saying something that anyone would disagree with or take issue with in any way. The propaganda here is so thick and constant it's become unconscious. Only through decades of repetition can something so utterly false become this assimilated into our everyday discourse."
Meanwhile, right-wing hysteria—and the resort to such desperate tactics—seems to increase in direct proportion to public opposition to Bush's illegal war in Iraq.

PHOTO: Part of a large antiwar demonstration in Portland, Oregon, in March, 2006. (Photo by author.)

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