Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published April 18, 2003

Spitting on Bill


After the Vietnam War I read news stories about servicemen who were spat on when they returned to the United States . The stories were anecdotal and a few years later I read an opinion column that said these stories were all fabrications. I wanted to believe this because, whatever the follies of our foreign policy, servicemen were the wrong people to blame.


When I turned eighteen on December 10, 1968 , my lottery number was fixed at 41. I could have been cannon fodder because the draft was in full swing but I was lucky. Our Congress had rigged the system so that boys who attended college got college draft deferments. This deferment improved on an idea from earlier wars that a fighting America couldnít imperil its war effort by drafting farmers and men who performed certain vital occupations. By the time of the Vietnam War college educations were deemed vital to the nationís security. Coincidentally, most Congressmenís sons attended college.


My Dad, a World War II veteran, felt we had no business in Vietnam . He didnít think America had a strategic interest there. He doubted the ďDomino theory.Ē He fretted about a land war in Asia . He especially didnít want his son to be sent off to die in Vietnam just so some damn politicians wouldnít have to admit that theyíd made a big mistake. I was in junior high when I first heard him cuss out Lyndon Johnson for sending more troops to Indochina . I was in college when I participated in my first anti-Vietnam War protest march.


The United States eventually did pull out of Vietnam ingloriously. In doing so we shamefully left tens of thousands of Hmong and Vietnamese friends behind to fend for themselves after the North Vietnamese overran the country. Unlike earlier generations of veterans, dispirited Vietnam Era servicemen got no welcome and no thanks when they came back home. Despite the cocky dismissal in that Op Ed piece some veterans were spit on, including Bill, who sings with me in our church choir.


Bill never saw action in Vietnam but he saw more than enough of the consequence of war. He was a military dentist who helped rebuild the broken faces of young soldiers suffering from traumatic combat injuries.  Some of these damaged young men had volunteered to save a foreign people from tyranny. Some had been drafted, as I might have been, and had no choice other than comply or flee to Canada . Whether the Vietnam War was folly or not, these soldiers weren't to blame for it yet some of them were spit on when they returned.


Bill didnít take his uniform off quite fast enough. After he was spit on a superior officer encouraged him to remove his uniform and blend back into the civilian population. Bill smiled when he told me this story but it was the steely smile of a man recalling a cruel indignity. Billís experience helps explain the bitter and, I think, wrong-headed denunciations of todayís anti-Iraq War protesters.


Iím glad that America has a spirited Peace community but I have to shake my head at some of our anti-war protestors. There has been a foolish strain of peace-at-any-price idealism ever since World War II. Traumatized by the vast and pointless slaughter of  the First World War these idealists were willing to cede the Sudatenland to Adolph Hitler to avoid war. Some of their descendents today seem intent on blaming the United States for the destruction of the World Trade Towers.


While I can find plenty of  fault with America ís foreign policy I still believe that America has been a force for good in the world. I am a little taken aback by those who are mortally offended by America ís military. After all, our soldiers, sailors and marines have fought for freedom and democracy. They have put an end to the reign of tyrants and liberated concentration camps. They have done these things at great personal sacrifice.


Five years ago, as students from Duluth ís NJROTC program presented the American flag at a school board meeting, my Board colleague Eileen walked out of the room. Evidently she was offended by what she regarded as a display of militaristic nationalism. Over the past month Iíve wondered whether any of the young people who presented the flag to us at that meeting were sent to Iraq. I've also wondered whether my colleague would be so quick to turn away in disgust if any of our former students were brought back home in flagged draped coffins.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com  


Eileen Zeitz Hudelson wrote a vigorous denial of my charge that she walked out on the students who presented an American flag to the School Board.