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Iraq Veterans Crazy Murderers

Today’s NYT marks the start of the “War Torn” feature, “A series of articles and multimedia about veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings, or been charged with them, after coming home.” The first installment begins with the obligatory gut wrenching anecdotes and then gets to the point:

Crazy Veterans NYT Photo 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.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

As sad and shocking as 121 incidents sounds, though, that’s not a high number when you’re talking about well over a million veterans of a five-year-old conflict. As Phillip Carter, one of the lucky Iraq War veterans who has managed to lead a crime-free existence since his return to civilian life, points out,

The article makes no attempt to produce a statistically valid comparison of homicide rates among vets to rates among the general population. Nor does it rely at all on Pentagon data about post-deployment incidents of violence among veterans. It basically just generalizes from this small sample (121 out of 1.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan vets, not including civilians and contractors) to conclude that today’s generation of veterans are coming home full of rage and ready to kill.

Marc Danziger attempts to fill the gap of the innumerate Times editors and calculates that “the NY Times 121 murders represent about a 7.08/100,000 rate” at the low end and 10/100,000 at the high end. Placed into context, “the US offender rate for homicide in the 18 – 24 yo range is 26.5/100,000. For 25 – 34, it’s 13.5/100,000.”

So . . . why is the Times commissioning a series about crazy veterans who come home and kill rather than about the remarkable fact that these people, exposed to stresses beyond what their civilian counterparts could possibly fathom, nonetheless returning home to be model citizens?

UPDATE: Megan McArdle points out that, “More than 20% of these psychotic murders are . . . drunken driving incidents. Yes, the New York Times has discovered, with great fanfare, that military-aged males like to consume alchohol and then drive home.”

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. davod says:

    They just pulled a post Vietnam series and updated the time and place. The difference between then and now is the speed with which others can critique the data used.

    Look to this as just one of many such series you will see in the lead up to the 2008 elections.

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  3. Triumph says:

    Did you actually read the article, James? The subject of the article wasn’t about the proportion of US violent crime perpetrated by vets.

    Rather it was about the psychological damage of war and the fact that the Defense Department doesn’t provide adequate mental health support for vets.

    To suggest that the article was about “crazy veterans” suggests that you either didn’t read it–or either ignored the explicit statements in the article that described violent crime committed by vets as rare.

    If anything, the article portrayed a pretty sympathetic view of the vets. Only one family of a murder victim was quoted, while the bulk of the article contained the view of events from the point of the view of the homocidal vets.

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  5. Brian J. says:

    Yeah, James, and then when they take good enough care of the less-homicidal-than-the-general-public vets, the government can take care of all of us to make sure none of us become those 26 out of 100,000.

    Bring on the mandatory happy pills!

    Of course, the draft would be a short term fix, as it could reduce the general population’s rate of homicide down to the vet level.

    Bring back the draft. For the children!

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  6. vnjagvet says:

    Good spin, Triumph, but not very persuasive.

    Are you arguing that this article is a balanced news article?

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  7. Leisureguy says:

    Why? Probably for the same reason that newspapers inexplicably write stories about the very rare airliner crash instead of about the literally thousands of airliners that land safely. Go figure.

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  9. Triumph says:

    Are you arguing that this article is a balanced news article?

    More or less–although as I said above, it didn’t give the victims’ families much treatment, making it slightly more more sympathetic to the murders.

    The protestations of James and the commentators he quotes are misguided and based on either a lack of understanding of the article’s point or the fact that they failed to actually read the article.

    James and the quotes from Phillip Carter and Marc Danzinger suggest that they think the article is somehow about general homocide trends in the US–this is clearly not the case.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    James and the quotes from Phillip Carter and Marc Danzinger suggest that they think the article is somehow about general homocide trends in the US.

    [...]

    it was about the psychological damage of war and the fact that the Defense Department doesn’t provide adequate mental health support for vets.

    No one’s arguing that NYT is claiming veterans are responsible for most murders. But, if you’re going to argue that 121 cases is evidence that the military isn’t doing a good job of taking care of people, then one would think comparative data helpful. If damaged vets are committing fewer crimes than their civilian cohorts, I’d say the evidence is weak.

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  12. Triumph says:

    No one’s arguing that NYT is claiming veterans are responsible for most murders. But, if you’re going to argue that 121 cases is evidence that the military isn’t doing a good job of taking care of people, then one would think comparative data helpful. If damaged vets are committing fewer crimes than their civilian cohorts, I’d say the evidence is weak.

    Actually, they do give appropriate comparative data. They compare military and new veteran murders before 2001 with the period after and find that there is an 89% increase.

    This comparison actually makes sense–particularly given the fact that the criminal history of the 121 murderers is so dramatically different than the “typical” murderer.

    Furthermore, the article is pretty clear that the number of murderers is very small and that homocide is extremely unusual behavior for vets. I don’t really see how anyone who has read the article can make an agrument that it is not sympathetic to soldiers.

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  13. Tlaloc says:

    My guess is that the 121 aren’t really out of the entire 1.7 million soldiers. Again- my guess is that you;d find none of them were REMF, but were the guys in the thick of it, which is a much smaller number in the divisor.

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  14. JustADude says:

    Even in the comparison of the civilian/military murder rates one big thing is missed.

    The quoted civilian rate is an annual rate and the 121 on the military side works out to less than 20 per year since it is for the whole war period not just a single year like the stats on the civilians.

    So the rate per hundred thousand for military murders has to be divided by the number of years the conflict has occupied.

    Thus the military annual rate is dramatically less than calculated here.

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  15. Iraq Veterans Crazy Murderers …

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    Code Pink At YouTube: Filth…

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  17. just me says:

    I think there are two things going on here.

    One is the issue of soldiers returning from combat assignments, and not always getting the psychological support they may need. I think this is a legitimate complaint.

    I am not convinced you can argue that the reason the 121 soldiers who have killed somebody are directly related to the war, combat, or even psychological problems. It is very possible any one of these guys may have ended up killing somebody had they not been in the military, and had they not gone to war.

    The reality is that fewer soldiers kill people than those in the general civilian population-maybe we should be looking at why that is the case, even during war time, than trying to turn returning soldiers into potential murderers.

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  22. davod says:

    “Again- my guess is that you;d find none of them were REMF, but were the guys in the thick of it, which is a much smaller number in the divisor.”

    From memory the real studies of Vietnam era vets (as opposed to the “lets get something for the MSM studies” revealed that the REMF were more likely to be the ones with mental/criminal problems.

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  23. Grewgills says:

    This is part one of a multi-part series and so is of course incomplete.

    We are talking a group of pre-screened individuals. Comparing them to the general public is less useful in determining the effects of war trauma than are comparisons to the same (similar) group of pre-screened individuals without that stress. The pertinent part of the article regarding your expressed concerns is,

    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.

    and the most pertinent criticism immediately follows,

    Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by “an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11.” He also questioned the value of “lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide.”

    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.

    Add to this that recent changes in the screening process could be partly responsible. Comparisons of pre and post results to general population numbers could provide some context, but the pre and post numbers are incomplete since there is no systematic tracking available so such comparisons would understate the problem. The current lack of comparison may seem to overstate the problem, but either way the problem cannot be accurately stated due to limited available data. The pentagon should be keeping track of this data for active duty members and I am sure they do. If they are keeping comprehensive records they do not make the data available to the public and would not make them available to the NYT.

    All in all the tone of the article is sympathetic rather than the “crazed killer vet” tone reported by you, Carter, and Danziger.

    Danziger’s statistical comparison appears more flawed than the Times’ general comparison. As mentioned above the groups he is comparing are quite different, his calculation of number of vets in combat makes flawed assumptions by doubling the number of unique individual vets in the second half of our current deployment (among other things ignoring redeployments) and he almost certainly overstates the number of vets that are both stateside and in a position to commit these crimes.

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  24. Grewgills – mine is just a very rough approximation; note that I didn’t ‘double the number of troops’ in my estimate’ – the best estimate I’ve been able to find was for 1.1 million people who served in the combat areas (not all combat troops) from 02 – 05. Extending that number to today gives a number of about 1.9 million. I lowered the number by 40% to make up for rampup and as a fudge factor – and still got homicide rates far lower than for the general population.

    You’re right, I need to correct for the approximately 1/3 – 1/2 of the troops that aren’t stateside (although virtually all of them have been stateside, and so have had the opportunity to commit domestic crimes); that number will be washed away when I correct for gender, since the military in the combat areas are predominantly male, and males commit some 83% of the homicides in the age groups targeted.

    I didn’t do that because it would have made the difference so big as to be difficult to credit without a stronger analysis (hard to do from home on a Saturday night). I’ve reached out to some people who should be able to do a stronger analysis and will post it when I get it.

    Marc

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    Thanks Danziger, for giving a glimpse into the gory details of why it is that the blogosphere has even less credibility than the MSM.

    I never ceased to be amazed at those who criticize the MSM, but seem to think that their critiques can be dashed off on a saturday night without doing any of the hard work necessary to make a credible case.

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