The Return of the Wacko Vet Media Narrative

As the troop build-up in Iraq produces positive results, many media outlets have seized upon a new anti-war narrative. It's right out of the Vietnam War-era: wacko and self-destructive vets running amok on the home front.

"Soldier Suicides at Record Levels," trumpeted a 1,500-word front-page piece in the Washington Post this week. And for three recent Sundays, the New York Times has dished up a front-page series of more than 10,000-words called "War Torn." It's about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned home -- only to kill again.

According to the Times' series:

"Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Taken together they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak."

The story is flawed, however. Commenting on "War Torn" in his column last Sunday, public editor Clark Hoyt wrote that the series "tangled itself in numbers right from the start." It was "analytically shaky" and relied upon "questionable statistics." His analysis followed howls from conservative bloggers, who were all over "War Torn" long before Hoyt's piece came out.

But give the Times credit for creating the position of public editor, a decision designed to restore its credibility after the Jayson Blair scandal and other problems.

Who is responsible for such agenda-driven reporting at the Times and other media outlets? Mostly senior reporters and editors who are in their 50s and 60s, folks who came of age during the 1960s.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post's story about "record suicide levels" also had problems, as was pointed out by Gateway Pundit and Media Lies.

Among other things, they noted that suicides among soldiers were in fact higher during the Clinton era, according to official statistics.

It's yet another example of how statistics and facts can be tweaked to push whatever agenda or outcome a person desires.

Early in the Iraq war, many media outlets and liberal pundits contended that America would suffer a Vietnam-style debacle. It never happened. So now the vet-as-wacko narrative is being pushed. 

"Why isn't the Press on a Suicide Watch?": That was the headline of a column published by Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, last August. "For whatever reason, I have always found soldiers who take their own lives especially tragic, though some might argue the opposite," he wrote.

Regarded as the "Bible" of the newspaper industry, the magazine is found on the desks of top editors across America.

In another piece last year, Mitchell raised some dark suspicions about one possible cause of the suicides in an article headlined: "Is Depleted Uranium the Suspect Behind Military Suicides?" Used in military shells, depleted uranium could be poisoning soldiers and "cannot be ruled out as a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder," he wrote.

And in a comment that revealed much about his 1960's worldview -- and those of his readers -- Mitchell wrote that the use of depleted uranium was "one of the greatest war crimes and criminal acts against humanity that has been unfolding since the Gulf War from the Balkans to the Middle East and Afghanistan."

There can be no doubt about where Mitchell stands, but that's not the case with agenda-driven reporters and editors at places like the Washington Post and New York Times. Their biases are often a bit more subtle, and insidious. This was especially the case in the pre-blogosphere days.

During the Vietnam War, such agenda-driven reporting had tragic consequences.

Vietnam-era libels

If bloggers had been around during the Vietnam War-era, America's history and culture might look a lot different today (not to mention Vietnam's).


The media's anti-war and vet-as-wacko narrative encouraged Congress to cut off funds from a war we could have won. And those twin-narratives shaped the nation's popular culture, spawning anti-war novels and films that tarnished former soldiers and lowered America's prestige abroad. One of the most iconic of those novels was First Bloodwhich Canada-born David Morrell, a former professor in the University of Iowa's English department, started writing in 1968 and published four years later. The novel's "Rambo" character is not exactly like the character in the movies played by Sylvester Stallone. He's a ticking time bomb.

A former Special Forces soldier who won the Medal of Honor, Rambo is pushed over the edge and goes on a rampage, killing dozens of people and nearly destroying a small town. One blurb promoting the novel warned, "When Johnny comes marching home this time, watch out!

Don't believe it? Consider the opening paragraphs of Morrell's novel:

"His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station at the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky. He had a long heavy beard, and his hair was hanging down over his ears to his neck, and he had his hand out trying to thump a ride from a car that was stopped at the pump. To see him there, leaning on one hip, a Coke bottle in his hand and a rolled-up sleeping bag near his boots on the tar pavement, you could never have guessed that on Tuesday, a day later, most of the police in Basalt County would be hunting him down. Certainly, you could not have guessed that by Thursday he would be running from the Kentucky National Guard and the police of six counties and a good many private citizens who liked to shoot. But then from just seeing him there ragged and dusty by the pump of the gas station, you could never have figured the kind of kid Rambo was, or what was about to make it all begin."

The reality of Vietnam vets was a lot different. According to an article published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2005,

"Statistics indicate that compared with peers who did not serve Vietnam, veterans are: more likely to have attended college; more likely to be married; (and) less likely to be unemployed."

Referring to that story at the Democracy Project blog, Vietnam veteran Bruce Kessler wrote that none of this mattered for the mainstream media, which

"persisted with its theme that Vietnam veterans were terribly psychologically scarred by service in -- what they persist in seeing as -- an unjust war."

But don't bother telling that to the 60's era reporters and editors who propagated that myth, who still cling to it, and who feel a sense of moral superiority for having never served in the military. It's no wonder that that Iraq-is-Vietnam narrative persists -- whether the subject is wacko vets or claims that the war in Iraq is a crime -- or lost cause.

To date, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to inspire anything like the successful anti-war movies and books of the Vietnam era, and it's unlikely that David Morrell or anybody else will get rich off the deranged-vet and anti-war narrative today. The checks and balances provided by countless new voices in the blogosphere will see to that.

David Paulin, an Austin, TX-based journalist, is an occasional contributor to The American Thinker. He blogs at The Big Carnival.
As the troop build-up in Iraq produces positive results, many media outlets have seized upon a new anti-war narrative. It's right out of the Vietnam War-era: wacko and self-destructive vets running amok on the home front.

"Soldier Suicides at Record Levels," trumpeted a 1,500-word front-page piece in the Washington Post this week. And for three recent Sundays, the New York Times has dished up a front-page series of more than 10,000-words called "War Torn." It's about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned home -- only to kill again.

According to the Times' series:

"Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Taken together they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak."

The story is flawed, however. Commenting on "War Torn" in his column last Sunday, public editor Clark Hoyt wrote that the series "tangled itself in numbers right from the start." It was "analytically shaky" and relied upon "questionable statistics." His analysis followed howls from conservative bloggers, who were all over "War Torn" long before Hoyt's piece came out.

But give the Times credit for creating the position of public editor, a decision designed to restore its credibility after the Jayson Blair scandal and other problems.

Who is responsible for such agenda-driven reporting at the Times and other media outlets? Mostly senior reporters and editors who are in their 50s and 60s, folks who came of age during the 1960s.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post's story about "record suicide levels" also had problems, as was pointed out by Gateway Pundit and Media Lies.

Among other things, they noted that suicides among soldiers were in fact higher during the Clinton era, according to official statistics.

It's yet another example of how statistics and facts can be tweaked to push whatever agenda or outcome a person desires.

Early in the Iraq war, many media outlets and liberal pundits contended that America would suffer a Vietnam-style debacle. It never happened. So now the vet-as-wacko narrative is being pushed. 

"Why isn't the Press on a Suicide Watch?": That was the headline of a column published by Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, last August. "For whatever reason, I have always found soldiers who take their own lives especially tragic, though some might argue the opposite," he wrote.

Regarded as the "Bible" of the newspaper industry, the magazine is found on the desks of top editors across America.

In another piece last year, Mitchell raised some dark suspicions about one possible cause of the suicides in an article headlined: "Is Depleted Uranium the Suspect Behind Military Suicides?" Used in military shells, depleted uranium could be poisoning soldiers and "cannot be ruled out as a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder," he wrote.

And in a comment that revealed much about his 1960's worldview -- and those of his readers -- Mitchell wrote that the use of depleted uranium was "one of the greatest war crimes and criminal acts against humanity that has been unfolding since the Gulf War from the Balkans to the Middle East and Afghanistan."

There can be no doubt about where Mitchell stands, but that's not the case with agenda-driven reporters and editors at places like the Washington Post and New York Times. Their biases are often a bit more subtle, and insidious. This was especially the case in the pre-blogosphere days.

During the Vietnam War, such agenda-driven reporting had tragic consequences.

Vietnam-era libels

If bloggers had been around during the Vietnam War-era, America's history and culture might look a lot different today (not to mention Vietnam's).


The media's anti-war and vet-as-wacko narrative encouraged Congress to cut off funds from a war we could have won. And those twin-narratives shaped the nation's popular culture, spawning anti-war novels and films that tarnished former soldiers and lowered America's prestige abroad. One of the most iconic of those novels was First Bloodwhich Canada-born David Morrell, a former professor in the University of Iowa's English department, started writing in 1968 and published four years later. The novel's "Rambo" character is not exactly like the character in the movies played by Sylvester Stallone. He's a ticking time bomb.

A former Special Forces soldier who won the Medal of Honor, Rambo is pushed over the edge and goes on a rampage, killing dozens of people and nearly destroying a small town. One blurb promoting the novel warned, "When Johnny comes marching home this time, watch out!

Don't believe it? Consider the opening paragraphs of Morrell's novel:

"His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station at the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky. He had a long heavy beard, and his hair was hanging down over his ears to his neck, and he had his hand out trying to thump a ride from a car that was stopped at the pump. To see him there, leaning on one hip, a Coke bottle in his hand and a rolled-up sleeping bag near his boots on the tar pavement, you could never have guessed that on Tuesday, a day later, most of the police in Basalt County would be hunting him down. Certainly, you could not have guessed that by Thursday he would be running from the Kentucky National Guard and the police of six counties and a good many private citizens who liked to shoot. But then from just seeing him there ragged and dusty by the pump of the gas station, you could never have figured the kind of kid Rambo was, or what was about to make it all begin."

The reality of Vietnam vets was a lot different. According to an article published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2005,

"Statistics indicate that compared with peers who did not serve Vietnam, veterans are: more likely to have attended college; more likely to be married; (and) less likely to be unemployed."

Referring to that story at the Democracy Project blog, Vietnam veteran Bruce Kessler wrote that none of this mattered for the mainstream media, which

"persisted with its theme that Vietnam veterans were terribly psychologically scarred by service in -- what they persist in seeing as -- an unjust war."

But don't bother telling that to the 60's era reporters and editors who propagated that myth, who still cling to it, and who feel a sense of moral superiority for having never served in the military. It's no wonder that that Iraq-is-Vietnam narrative persists -- whether the subject is wacko vets or claims that the war in Iraq is a crime -- or lost cause.

To date, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to inspire anything like the successful anti-war movies and books of the Vietnam era, and it's unlikely that David Morrell or anybody else will get rich off the deranged-vet and anti-war narrative today. The checks and balances provided by countless new voices in the blogosphere will see to that.

David Paulin, an Austin, TX-based journalist, is an occasional contributor to The American Thinker. He blogs at The Big Carnival.