13 January, 2008

NYT at it Again


This time it's the "trained killers walk among us" angle. The AP condenses the NY Times' long article:

At least 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have committed a killing or been charged in one in the United States after returning from combat, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The newspaper said it also logged 349 homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans in the six years since military action began in Afghanistan, and later Iraq. That represents an 89-percent increase over the previous six-year period, the newspaper said.

The Times itself adds predictable spin:

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.

I'm still sifting through it all, but here are my thoughts so far (I'll update as I continue to read):

1. Winds of Change and commenters to "Armed Liberal's" post are deconstructing the numbers.
2. Note the conflation of proved and accused in, "121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing...or were charged with one."
3. NYT includes deaths from drunken driving in its tally.
4. The first two cases the article describes in detail (I'm still reading) involve a veteran's reaction to crimes being committed against him! In the third case cited, a veteran days away from deployment kills a woman who threatens to kill his family while he is gone. The use of deadly force is certainly debatable in each case, but it doesn't fit the image of "poor innocent civilians suffer at the hands of trained killers gone crazy," does it?

I am not dismissing the very real "anger issues" of returning/wounded veterans, the deadly results of all-to-frequent delays in psychiatric care for those who need it, and the truth of the criminal cases the NYT cites. But I am very close to dismissing their conclusions and inferences

They did it after Vietnam, and they're doing it again.

Phillip Carter says it well:
To be sure, the article contains many truths about the struggles veterans face when they come home. Combat sears the mind and body in ways we can only begin to understand. An increased propensity to violence has been noted among veterans of previous wars, and by commanders supervising troops coming home from this one. However, there's a long road from those observations to the conclusions in this article, and the evidence simply doesn't add up in this story.

More broadly though, I worry about the larger narrative of this story. It seems like we've been down this road before — casting veterans in the role of crazed, violent, disturbed young men who come home from war to become homeless or criminal (or both). America needs to wrap its arms around its sons and daughters who go to war, not alienate them and push them away with this kind of narrative. We sent these men and women to fight; we have a sacred trust to ensure they're taken care of when they come home. Irresponsible journalism like this impedes that effort by giving people the wrong impression about combat veterans.

Tiger Hawk is superb on this:
In effect, if you take a couple of million young people, mostly men, and train them to kill and then subject them to extraordinary psychological and physical pressure on the other side of the world, make them confront one of the most vicious enemies the United States has ever fought, and force them to act with great restraint in the face of terrorism targeting women and children, their propensity to commit violence in other contexts will go up, but still be less than for American civilians of the same age.

If anything, that is evidence of the extraordinary professionalism of our military.

The question, therefore, is whether the editors of the New York Times were disingenously slamming the military, or just did not understand the math.

Democracy Project also makes good points.

The International Herald Tribune (NYT's international affiliate) puts the real point of the article in an appalling headline: "Iraq veterans leave a trail of death and heartbreak in U.S."

More here.