Have you been in an airport recently, and maybe seen a gaggle of America’s heroes returning from Iraq? And you’ve probably thought, “Ah, what a marvelous sight. Remind me to straighten up the old ‘Support Our Troops’ fridge magnet, which seems to have slipped down below the reminder to reschedule my acupuncturist. Maybe I should go over and thank them for their service.”
No, no, no, under no account approach them. Instead, try to avoid making eye contact and back away slowly toward the sign for the parking garage. You’re in the presence of mentally damaged violent killers who could snap at any moment.
You hadn’t heard that? Well, it’s in the New York Times: “a series of articles” — that’s right, a whole series — “about veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings, or been charged with them, after coming home.” It’s an epidemic, folks. As the Times put it: “Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: ‘Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.’ Pierre, S.D.: ‘Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.’ Colorado Springs: ‘Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.’”
Obviously, as America’s “newspaper of record,” the Times would resent any suggestion that it’s anti-military. I’m sure if you were one of these crazed military stalker whackjobs following the reporters home you’d find their cars sporting the patriotic bumper sticker “We Support Our Troops, Even After They’ve Been Convicted.” As usual, the Times stories are written in the fey more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone that’s a shoo-in come Pulitzer time: “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.”
“Patchwork picture,” “quiet phenomenon”… Yes, yes, but exactly how quiet is the phenomenon? How patchy is the picture?” The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan either “committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one.” The “committed a killing” formulation includes car accidents.
Thus, with declining deaths in theater, the media narrative evolves. Old story: “America’s soldiers are being cut down by violent irrational insurgents we can never hope to understand.” New story: “Americans are being cut down by violent irrational soldiers we can never hope to understand.” In the quagmire of these veterans’ minds, every leafy Connecticut subdivision is Fallujah and every Dunkin’ Donuts clerk an Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with an annoyingly perky manner.
It was the work of minutes for the Powerline website’s John Hinderaker to discover that the “quiet phenomenon” is entirely unphenomenal: It didn’t seem to occur to the Times to check whether the murder rate among recent veterans is higher than that of the general population of young men. It’s not. Au contraire, the columnist Ralph Peters calculated that Iraq and Afghanistan vets are about a fifth as likely to murder you as the average 18-34 year-old American male. Better yet, the blogger Iowahawk meticulously drew his own “patchwork picture” of another “quiet phenomenon”: the Denver newspaper columnist arrested for stalking, the Cincinnati TV reporter facing child-molestation charges, the Philadelphia anchorwoman who went on a violent drunken rampage. As Iowahawk’s one-man investigative unit wondered:
“Unrelated incidents, or mounting evidence that America’s newsrooms have become a breeding ground for murderous, drunk, gun-wielding child molesters?”
Why would the Times run such a series? My columnar confrere Clifford May connected it to a notorious anniversary: Seventy-five years ago, in February 1933, the Oxford Union passed a famous resolution, by an overwhelming margin, that “this House would under no circumstances fight for its King and country.” The Union was the world’s most famous debating society, in a great university of the dominant global power; its presidents have gone on to serve as Prime Ministers at home and overseas, from Gladstone in the 19th century all the way to Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s.
So the debate and its resolution sent a message to Britain’s enemies: As Churchill saw it, the vote was a “disgusting symptom” of the enervation of the ruling elites. Clifford May sees that same syndrome today around the western world, but, in fact, it’s worse than that.
The Oxford debate took place a decade and a half after the worst carnage in human history. The First World War cost the lives of some 20 million people. Do you remember back in 2004 when Ted Koppel devoted one episode of Nightline to reading out the names of everyone killed in combat in Iraq? If he’d attempted a similar task with the British Empire’s war dead in 1919, the half-hour episode of Nightline would have had to be extended to ten months — or longer if Ted took bathroom breaks, or indeed pauses for breath. The war reached into the smallest English hamlet and culled a generation of young men. It swept through the glittering palaces, too: The brother of Queen Elizabeth (the mother of the present queen) was killed on the western front in 1915. It would be a statistical improbability to have been at that Oxford Union debate and have come from a home in which on some mantle or bureau there was not a photograph of a son or uncle or fiancé forever young.It would be as if millions upon millions had been slaughtered in the first Gulf war, and 15 years later Harvard or Yale were debating whether we should do it all over again.
In other words, we don’t have their excuse. Our war has one of the lowest fatality rates of any war ever, and, when they get so low that even Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid temporarily give up the quagmire bleating, the Times invents bogus stories to suggest that the few veterans lucky enough to make it out of Iraq alive are ticking timebombs ready to explode across every Main Street in the land.
A few days before the Times series began, The National Journal published the latest debunking of a notorious survey: in 2006, the medical journal The Lancet reported that the Iraq war had killed over 650,000 civilians, over 90 percent victims of the US military. That’s 500 civilians a day. Which is quite a smell test. The figure was over ten times the estimates even of hardcore antiwar left-wing groups. Who are these 500 daily victims? Why aren’t there mass riots by Iraqi civilians protesting the daily bloodbath?
Because it’s fake. It didn’t happen.
Yet it’s indestructible. I picked up a local paper in New Hampshire the other day, and a lady psychotherapist was twittering about our “mentally wounded” troops returning home after killing gazillions and bazillions of Iraqi civilians. In 1933, the debaters at Oxford were horrified by the real cost of war. In 2008, the editors of the Times, our college professors and Hollywood celebrities, are horrified by a fiction. Faced with an historically low cost of war, they retreat into fantasy. Who’s really suffering from mental trauma? Who needs the psychotherapy here?
© Mark Steyn 2008