WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Here in "Cheesehead" country, where Green Bay Packers fans go to Lambeau Field with snow shovels, military recruiting never has been much of a problem -- until now.
"These are outdoors, patriotic people," a military recruiter told me as I prepared to speak at a Boy Scouts function here. "Young people up here are tough. They hunt, they ice fish, they go to football games in an open stadium in the middle of a blizzard. This used to be a great place to be a recruiter, but not anymore," he continued.
"What's happened?" I asked this two-tour veteran of the "global war on terror."
His reply was blunt -- and an indictment of the so-called mainstream media: "The press is killing us. We have parents and high school guidance counselors telling our best prospective recruits that they have too much potential to waste it in the military. Last year, we had to debunk myths about how the war in Iraq was being lost. Now when we go to talk to parents, they ask us about stories they have heard about suicides, drugs -- and now murders. There is no 'good news.' It's very discouraging."
Remember those words: "very discouraging."
The "murders" my recruiter referred to are those "documented" by The New York Times in a front-page story entitled "Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles." The "Deadly Echoes" piece appeared concurrently with the hunt for a male Marine suspected of killing a fellow female Marine in North Carolina -- a story that has been repeated almost hourly on the cable news channels.
The authors of the Times piece claim that they found 121 cases where veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing, or were charged with one, after their return from war. What this amounts to, says the Times, is "a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak."
The Times reprints one local newspaper headline reading, "Iraq veteran arrested in killing." The story goes on to fan the flames: "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.'"
This collection of sensational headlines is an effective gimmick, but it ignores reality. The homicide rate for 18- to 34-year-old civilians who have never served in the military is actually five times higher than it is for those who are now, or who recently have been in, the armed forces.
Had the Times wanted to make a different point, instead of impugning the U.S. military, they could have done a Google search to find these headlines: "Deputies: Couple commits suicide after foreclosure notice," from KATU-TV; and "Foreclosure May Have Led to Homicide-Suicide," from WRTV; and "Lengthy SWAT Standoff Over Foreclosure Ends in Suicide," from the Houston Chronicle. The New York Times could compile such headlines to dissuade Americans from homeownership.
"Very discouraging" is how the recruiter described the current attack on those who serve in the U.S. armed forces. He's right; and the recent Times hit piece is just part of a pattern that began to emerge in the so-called mainstream media as the situation on the ground in Iraq began to improve late last year.
By autumn 2007, casualties, attacks on civilians, roadside bombings, assassinations and sectarian violence in Iraq had plummeted. But for the potentates of the press, the lack of bad news from the battlefield didn't mean that bad news about our military couldn't be created elsewhere.
From October through December last year, there was a series of print and broadcast "investigative reports" about high rates of suicide, desertion, drug abuse and divorce among members of our military. A Nov. 17 Associated Press story blared: "Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980."
In fact, the drug abuse and suicide rates for military personnel are considerably lower than that for the same age group in the U.S. population, and the divorce rate in the military remains slightly lower than in the overall population. The desertion rate for the Marines actually has declined since Sept. 11, 2001.
Despite significant improvements on the battlefield in Iraq, the combined effects of this adverse "reporting" have created a more challenging recruiting environment -- and made it more difficult for young war veterans to find good jobs once they have completed their service. In December, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-old veterans was nearly 17 percent -- more than three times the rate for non-veteran Americans. It's clear evidence that the smear has worked.