The NYT attempts to resurrect the "crazy war vet" myth Posted by: McQ
on Friday, January 18, 2008
You want comparisons to "Vietnam"? The NY Times recently ran a story which claimed that Iraqi and Afghan vets were, in essence, ticking time-bombs ready at any time to explode with murder and mayhem. They based that conclusion on 121 cases they found around the US which involved veterans of those two wars.
Maybe you're too young to remember the myth of the crazy Vietnam vet, but I'm certainly not. Much like the story presented by the Times, it was spread by the media for years based primarily on anecdotal evidence then used to at least imply that what was reported was simply the tip of the iceberg.
But the Times put a major investigative effort into the "sensational" story that 121 returning vets had committed capital offenses (of course, 20 percent of the cases cited involved manslaughter charges stemming from drunken driving, not first- or second-degree murder . . . ).
Well, a quick statistics check let the air out of the Times' bid to make us dread the veteran down the block - who the Times implies has a machine gun under his bathrobe when he steps out front to fetch the morning paper. In fact, the capital-crimes rate ballyhooed by the Gray Lady demonstrates that our returning troops are far less likely to commit such an offense.
Peters has a number of theories as to why the Times wrote the story which I'm not going to go into here. My concern, having lived through this sort of thing once, is to nip it in the bud. Stories that carry implied messages like that in the Times story effect attitudes and, then, lives. Vietnam veterans battled this stereotype for years. Things like the sham Winter Soldier "investigations" perpetrated the myth which the media gladly carried forward:
Although the “Winter Soldier investigations” were thoroughly discredited, they continued to be used to discredit the Vietnam era military, such as in a 1993 “Newsweek” story by Brownmiller about gang rape by soldiers. They also continue to be the basis for the myths and stereotypes which linger, even today, about Viet Nam veterans.
Unfortunately, these sorts of myths have a long half-life if left unchallenged. That's why it's important to address them when they pop up. The good news is we have a tool now which wasn't available then. The "new media".
You can find a good round-up of blogger reaction here. Many did the math and found the Times stats wanting.
What is important to understand here is that what is being perpetrated by such media outlets as the Times is a myth, at least if you run the numbers. And it is also important to look at the anecdotal cases the Times uses to come up with their 121. Bob Owens does a great job doing that. What you'll find is many of those the Times cited had been in trouble before they ever went to war. A sort of Beauchampesq on the part of the Times in attempting to blame the war before the soldiers were ever in the war zone. But since it fits the "victimhood" meme much of the media likes, such facts are inconvenient.
The bottom line: be very careful to look deeper into the numbers and incidents in which the "crazy vet" myth is pushed. Most likely, once you get into the details, you'll find an outcome much like this one. And most importantly, don't allow the media to again do to a generation of soldiers what it did to a previous generation.
Peters has a number of theories as to why the Times wrote the story which I’m not going to go into here.
One theory Peters doesn’t consider is the desire to distract attention away from another, greater (possibly even real) threat — one we won’t be reading about in the NYT anytime soon, despite the terrible trend. (Scroll for the alarming statistical chart that shows where we’re headed with this.)
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.
Nauseating melodrama pretending to be journalism. While it is possible that there is an agenda behind the article, it could just be an example of template reasoning, sensationalism, and pseudo-intellectual posturing. For example:
The troubles and exploits of the returning war veteran represent a searing slice of reality. They have served as a recurring artistic theme throughout history — from Homer’s “Odyssey” to the World War I novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” from the post-Vietnam-era movie “The Deer Hunter” to last fall’s film “In the Valley of Elah.”
This kind of stuff has no bearing on whether or not there is an increase in violent crime on the part of veterans. It’s there because the writers have already bought into the crazy vet myth and thus everything else has to suit the myth. The implication that Odysseus is a violent war criminal is particularly silly, and as much as I love Homer, he is not the go-to source for searing slices of reality.
After the past few days of people anguishing and moralizing over Dales decision vs Rhett I am really disappointed with the paltry contributions to this post. Where are all the self-righteous, indignant, moralizers now? Billy Beck, just when we need you, you are silent.