"Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles" overlaid the template of the "troubled Vietnam Veteran" (who came home irrevocably damaged, a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder) onto soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Times also leaned on an outdated, exaggerated study to make an ideological point about the horrors of war,while relying on shaky statistics to link the historically unpopular Vietnam War with Iraq.
In the first in a series, "War Torn - Casualties on the Home Front," the Times' Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez did somedubious research, without context or reference to the larger population, and unearthed a grand total of 121 cases in which veterans were charged with a killing after coming home from war, claiming that "In many cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment appeared to play a role."
From the Sunday front-page story, accompanied by a photo collage of killer veterans:
"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. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment - along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems - appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.
"Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving."
"The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
"This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower."
The Times reached back not only to Vietnam but to Ancient Greek mythology to make its case for the psychological horrors of post-war life:
"Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse - and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.
"'The connection between war and crime is unfortunately very ancient,' said Dr. Shay, the V.A. psychiatrist and author. 'The first thing that Odysseus did after he left Troy was to launch a pirate raid on Ismarus. Ending up in trouble with the law has always been a final common pathway for some portion of psychologically injured veterans.'"
John Hinderaker at the Powerline blogput the numbers in context, something the Times didn't bother doing.
"As of 2005, the homicide rate for Americans aged 18-24, the cohort into which most soldiers fall, was around 27 per 100,000. (The rate for men in that age range would be much higher, of course, since men commit around 88% of homicides. But since most soldiers are also men, I gave civilians the benefit of the doubt and considered gender a wash.)
"Next we need to know how many servicemen have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. A definitive number is no doubt available, but the only hard figure I've seen is that as of last October, more than 500,000 U.S. Army personnel had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Other sources peg the total number of personnel from all branches of the military who have served in the two theaters much higher, e.g. 750,000, 650,000 as of February 2007, or 1,280,000. For the sake of argument, let's say that 700,000 soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have returned to the U.S. from service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"Do the math: the 121 alleged instances of homicide identified by the Times, out of a population of 700,000, works out to a rate of 17 per 100,000-quite a bit lower than the overall national rate of around 27.
"But wait! The national rate of 27 homicides per 100,000 is an annual rate, whereas the Times' 121 alleged crimes were committed over a period of six years. Which means that, as far as the Times' research shows, the rate of homicides committed by military personnel who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan is only a fraction of the homicide rate for other Americans aged 18 to 24. Somehow, the Times managed to publish nine pages of anecdotes about the violence wreaked by returning servicemen without ever mentioning this salient fact."
Move America Forward made a similar argument.
To make the Iraq-Vietnam comparison explicit, Sontag and Alvarez unearthed a study from 1988.
"The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation's inmate population.
"As Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, former advocates for Vietnam veterans are disheartened by what they see as history repeating itself."