January 14, 2008

TownHall Looking Generous in Comparison

by PG

When trying to leave a comment on a TownHall.com blog last year, I got signed up to their newsletter and can't seem to get off it. Most of what they send me is predictable and some is just advertising, but occasionally they manage to surprise me. One such email came the day after Christmas, with the headline: "America's wounded troops facing homelessness need your help this winter."

Dear Townhall Subscriber,
Frankly I'm still angry after reading that news article. Maybe you read it, too. I'm referring to the recent the Associated Press article headlined: Study: Veterans Make Up 1 of 4 Homeless
The article went on to cite government statistics that on any given night, 194,254 homeless people are America's veterans! As a wounded veteran myself, that headline hit me like a cold slap in the face.
My name is Jorge DeLeon. I lost my right leg when my [tank?] rolled over a land mine in Afghanistan. And I just can't believe so many other wounded troops who have sacrificed for our country may be left out in the cold during the coming winter months. Other wounded troops - many with young children - are facing a cutoff of their heat, electricity or hot water.
Right now I'm working with a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is doing something about it, and I'm humbly asking for your help. ...
Here's the paragraph that really set me off in the November 8 news article, which ran in hundreds of newspapers around the country: "Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job." Shelters and soup kitchens? What in the world is going on here?? Many of these "younger veterans" have small children, just like I do. They've risked their lives and limbs serving our country. And this winter they won't even have a roof over their head...or a hot meal to eat?!
The government claims it's doing whatever it can to help. But obviously that's not enough. The bottom line is that these desperate servicemen and women are counting on patriotic Americans like YOU to "throw them a lifeline." ...

I am guessing that if a significant conservative media source was willing to forward this message on its mailing list, it was deemed appropriate for its audience and unlikely to offend most of them. So adverting to the difficulties faced by veterans in the context of an explicit charitable call to assist them seems to be acceptable.

In contrast, the lengthy NYTimes piece on "veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings, or been charged with them, after coming home" has aroused tremendous anger. Several blogs have pointed out that the rate of accused and convicted killing among Iraq/Afghanistan vets is no greater than the rate of convicted killing among the male American population -- which is fine if we think veterans are the same caliber of person as the average American. I was under the impression, however, that until recently the military did not take people with criminal records: "The Times’s analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of these young men, unlike most civilian homicide offenders, had no criminal history." In other words, if you think the point of the story is to imply that vets are more likely to kill you than their comparable non-veteran peer group would be, the comparable peer group is not all Americans, or all American males, or all young American males. It would be the group of Americans who were eligible to be recruited into the military and weren't.

However, I don't think the point of the story is to depict veterans as crazed murderers. Rather, it seems to be to highlight what some veterans are suffering and how that suffering may end up touching other people -- in the worst case scenario, due to a killing. The first paragraphs are about a 20 year old vet who self-medicated with beer that other people have to buy him, and who killed only when approached in a high-crime area by two armed gang members. The police officers quoted from the case specifically talk about how the vet's thoughts were framed by his combat experience.

Perhaps it's just that I'm not old enough to remember the kind of antagonism toward Vietnam veterans that made it necessary to include them as a protected group in employment policies, but I didn't see anything in the article that was bashing veterans. Indeed, it self-consciously noted,

Given that many veterans rebound successfully from their war experiences and some flourish as a result of them, veterans groups have long deplored the attention paid to the minority of soldiers who fail to readjust to civilian life.
After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press “to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace.” An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive “wacko-vet myth,” which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.
The only bit of the article that raised my eyebrow was this: "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."

Gun ownership is classed among homelessness and child abuse? I understand how possessing a firearm enables crimes, because it's easier to kill someone -- particularly unintentionally or on the spur of the moment -- with such a weapon. However, it isn't what I would have thought an inherently "bad" behavior.

January 14, 2008 01:06 AM | TrackBack
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