Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Gumby's a combat veteran, too. Lizette Alvarez and the NYT are starting to piss him off.

The response to my posting about the venerable Lizette Alvarez and her attempts to start a meme concerning combat veterans of the Global War On Terror has been tremendous. A quick look at the subjects that Alvarez has written about in the past few years shows a definite trend. Below I have listed the titles and a brief description (taken from the NYT,) of her articles.

These articles regard the Army, occasionally the Marine Corps, and trend towards a focus on combat veterans and their misadventures following the their combat experiences. There is also a tendency to focus on violence committed by combat veterans. This is combined with articles which point the finger at the Armed Forces and their apparent mishandling of such issues as PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury.) Among these are articles depicting alcoholism, drug abuse, and felony waivers granted by the Army and Marine Corps. It is my assertion that this is a pattern of depiction that is designed to send a consistent message to the readers: "Combat veterans are potentially dangerous. They are trained in violence and are subjected to mind-warping combat that turns their violent training into potentially anti-social behavior. Many of the recruits are defective to begin with, and all are victims of a monstrous system that doesn't care for them, dooming them to eventually give in to their own violent tendencies. Returning Soldiers will be subject to a myriad of problems and while pitiable, one must safeguard themselves against these animal-victims."

Using vignettes designed to inspire shock and pity, Alvarez uses her considerable writing skill to guide the perceptions of the reader gently and not-so-gently towards the conclusions. She also has a tendency to leave the article on a dramatic note, perhaps an open question to be answered by the reader's now-informed opinion. I think that it's effective. If I didn't think so, it wouldn't bother me. Alvarez is no amateur, excelling at her work. That's why her editor keeps her on this path. She devastates Soldiers with a mixture of kindness and horror while simultaneously indicting an entire system that struggles to keep pace in the midst of war.

Message received, Lizette. The question is what is driving this message? While it could be argued, probably by the NYT and Lizette Alvarez, that the message is a compassionate Soldier-oriented concern, it does not appear that way to this Soldier. To this Soldier and combat veteran, it seems to be a consistent pressure towards isolating combat veterans and creating a stigma similar to the Viet Nam Era isolation of veterans. Folks, there is a reason why there is a checkbox on every job application asking, "Are you a Viet Nam Era veteran?" under the EO column. Viet Nam Era veterans have their own demographic group. That didn't happen because American employers were showing a preference for Viet Nam vets, hiring them like they were going out of style.

That's because it wasn't in style; not at all. Viet Nam vets lived in the shadow of a stigma. It's only in the past few years that men who are not veterans are claiming to be veterans; because it is now in style to have served.

This whole line of articles appears to be cleverly designed to gently manipulate public opinion regarding combat veterans. I am not a believer in conspiracy theories or overarching cabals, but I do believe that there are those who hearken to the days when the press was "raising awareness" about Viet Nam. Alvarez even references Viet Nam several times in her writing, showing her hand as far as the influence it has on her "awareness." Awareness is in the eye of the beholder, and some beholders have the ability to influence, through media, the perceptions of larger numbers of people.

I use this blog, since I've been home, to show the perception of Afghanistan, my Army and its methods, counterinsurgency vs conventional methods and other primarily war-related issues as seen through these eyes; forever changed by my experience on the ground in Afghanistan in the Global War On Terror. I work to influence, too. I have an agenda, too... and part of that must be to stand in the face of such portrayals and say, "No."

The argument that these portrayals are not part of an agenda is belied by the clever use of fuzzy numbers, such as the murder statistics claimed in last year's article about murders by combat veterans to make them appear to be an alarming trend. These numbers were later apologized for (after a fashion) by the NYT. Too late, I'm afraid. They had already painted the picture that they wanted to paint, and a mild refutation in the Opinion section doesn't erase the effort. The point is that one without an agenda, who seeks only truth, does not manipulate information to make it appear to be more or less dire than it actually is.

There are inconsistencies also in Alvarez' stance on PTSD, for instance. Notice that when it suits her purpose, PTSD is a "mental disorder," but when it suits another purpose, it is a "wound." A quick glance at the titles of the articles below will bear this out. Her latest column cries out about the Purple Heart, but an earlier article warns of untreated "mental disorders," PTSD being chief among them. Who would advocate for the award of a medal for a mental disorder? Who would even generate an article announcing that the DoD had denied a medal for a mental disorder? Nobody. For a wound? Yes.

The point is that this appears, to this Soldier, to be an agenda-driven relentless line of march that Alvarez and the NYT are on. I find this to be less than acceptable, to put it mildly. I could rant like a field Soldier about this, but I choose not to. Instead, I'm trying to show, through the eyes of a combat veteran, how this continuing behavior by Alvarez and the NYT appear to be less than helpful in any regards.

I am "on about" this subject, obviously. Hey, it's upsetting to actually witness the attempted stigmatization of my kind, who have only the best for our nation in our hearts. To be thus treated by a reporter and a large publication is just as frustrating as can be.

I think I need a little help again (no, not from a professional... heh heh.) I emailed the Public Editor at the NYT, but have not received a response. It appears that he is a busy man, and that only a volume of contacts will bring to his attention that I am not the only one who sees this pattern and objects to it. So, if you can spare a moment to copy and paste his email address into your email, I would appreciate a moment of moral outrage on your part to be sent in his direction. This has worked before, and while I hope not to make a staple out of this type of activity, I feel compelled to stand up to certain behaviors and object. If you're with me and Gumby on this, please send a note to Clark Hoyt at:


Your help would be greatly appreciated. If they know that we're aware and that we're keeping an eye on them, it may dissuade them from continuing to portray combat veterans as dangerous or at best pitiable "victims" of the Global War On Terror. This is the beginning to the path of having to spend public money on "Don't Forget; Hire The Vet" advertising as a result of a persistent meme. It's time to stop this portrayal of combat veterans as somehow "less than" because of their combat service.

What follows below is a list of Lizette Alvarez' articles for the past year. This goes to show the pattern of her portrayal of combat veterans as victims or as dangerous potentially violent criminals.

Purple Heart Is Ruled Out for Traumatic Stress

The decision ends hope of recent war veterans who have the condition that the medal could honor their sacrifice.
January 8, 2009

A Focus on Violence by Returning G.I.’s

The Army is reviewing whether combat trauma played a role in killings by soldiers in Colorado.
January 2, 2009

Despite Army’s Assurances, Violence at Home

Abuse allegations against a soldier illustrate the gaps in the way the Army handles domestic violence cases.
November 23, 2008

Mental State of Soldier Questioned

An internal Army document raises questions about the mental state of Specialist Robert H. Marko during his time at Fort Carson in Colorado and his time in Iraq.
November 21, 2008

New Veterans Hit Hard by Economic Crisis

A combination of factors including unemployment and injury has forced many veterans into foreclosure.
Noveber 18, 2008

Mental State of Soldier Questioned


An internal Army document raises questions about the mental state of Specialist Robert H. Marko during his time at Fort Carson in Colorado and his time in Iraq.
November 21, 2008

Soldier, Student

They know where the exit is and how many windows there are. Crowded classrooms can send them into a panic. They have trouble focusing. They can't remember facts. And no one around them understands what they've seen. The new G.I. Bill is expected to swell the number of post-9/11 veterans at the nation's colleges and universities. These new students will need help. Are campuses ready?
November 2, 2008

Combat to College

A new G.I. bill is expected to swell the number of veterans in the nation’s colleges and universities. But the transition is especially difficult for returning soldiers. Are campuses ready for them?
November 2, 2008

Army and Agency Will Study Rising Suicide Rate Among Soldiers

The Army will collaborate with the National Institute of Mental Health in an ambitious five-year project to identify the causes and risk factors of suicide.
October 30, 2008

Action Is Sought to Ensure Timely Financing for V.A.


As the veterans’ health system strains to handle a growing caseload, a move is under way in Congress to avoid yearly delays in financing that can hamper the medical care of the nation’s veterans.
September 19, 2008

War Veterans’ Concussions Are Often Overlooked


The complications from concussions, a signature injury of the Iraq war, often are not recognized in singular ways.
August 26, 2008

After the Battle, Fighting the Bottle at Home


A body of evidence suggests that alcohol abuse is rising among veterans of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
July 8, 2008

Army and Marine Corps Grant More Felony Waivers


The trend raises questions about the military’s ability to attract quality recruits at a time when it is trying to increase enlistment.
April 22, 2008

Nearly a Fifth of War Veterans Report Mental Disorders, a Private Study Finds


Little more than half of the returned soldiers who reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression have sought mental health treatment.
April 18, 2008

Six of the Fallen, in Words They Sent Home

Unlike soldiers of previous wars, who were only occasionally able to write letters, many who served and died in Iraq left behind an extraordinary electronic testimony.
March 25, 2008

When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly


An examination of cases of fatal domestic violence and child abuse indicate wartime pressures have complicated the Pentagon’s efforts to change the current system.
February 15, 2008

In More Cases, Combat Trauma Is Taking the Stand

Prosecutors, judges and juries are increasingly prodded to assess the role of combat trauma in crimes by veterans.
January 27, 2008

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles


The 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.
January 13, 2008


  1. Great post. So far the conventional wisdom regarding veterans is misguided, but not at the egregious point that Vietnam vets had to endure. But I fear that since vets are such a small proportion of Americans (and declining rapidly due to the aging of WWII/Korea vets), bad times may be around the corner. We'll see how this all pans out...

  2. I've read most of these articles and while I agree with most of your critique, I doubt its actual propaganda, or has some malignant purpose behind it aimed at hurting veterans. I think it far more likely that the reporter in question is trying to hold the DOD and VA accountable for how they deal with the impact of combat stress on veterans in the long term. Not enough is done to track this and determine what are the long term effects. The failure seems to be that their is an assumption the VA is not doing enough at the outset, and then filling in anecdotal evidence to support that assumption.

    She does engage in my least favorite reporter error, Post Hoc Ergo Proctor Hoc. She seems to argue with far more certainly than is possibly warranted that criminal and violent behaviors can be directed attributed to combat stress. Why people behave the way they do is complex question that she is way to cavalier about answering. I think we are seeing hubris more than intentional harm.

    I think now and well in the Vietnam and post Vietnam era, journalists were less engaged in propaganda and more applying their specific worldview and biases to complex questions without sufficient skepticism and due diligence. However, I certainly want reporters at the Times and elsewhere aggressively reporting on how the DOD and VA treat veterans, and hold them accountable for their failings. I just wish they did a better job of it.

  3. Thanks, and I agree with both of you. We are not at the level that Viet Nam vets had to endure, but I don't want to get there. As far as the other points; agreed. I do think that Alvarez would tell you that's what her reasoning was, and I agree also that it is an assumption; but she is tainting veterans with her exercise at demonstrating that her world view is correct. That is my real complaint with this reporting.

    Thank you for offering the opportunity to clarify that. Great comments and much appreciated.

  4. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/14/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  5. Too many people rely on the MSM as their only source of information.
    Easy and instant. Plus, those professionals are getting paid to report so they must be right, right?
    We are lazy and gullible.
    She may not have been intending harm but, dammit, the soldiers of this country should not be unfairly squeezed into an ugly pigeon hole category that is going to cause them to be shunned, misrepresented and denied any care they deserve while and after serving.

    Blue, I hope your blog continues to draw more and more readers so that as many people as possible can find truth, open their eyes to reality and spread THAT instead of just parroting too many who get paid to be ignorant.

  6. Looks as if Ol Gumby is green with rage... heh heh... and rightly so.

    Thanks for the comment and good weishes for "Baby" Erin. She is thankfully on the mend!

  7. Semper Gumby has good reason to be pissed...
    He's also smart enough to know to let the "Wordsmith" do his talking for him.

  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/us/19recruits.html?hp

    She's doing it AGAIN. God forbid anyone might possibly join up out of love for their country or their friends . . .


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