- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The book, “Stolen Valor — How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History,” made the case years ago as to how the Vietnam veteran’s image was unscrupulously tarnished through a combination of lies, poor journalistic judgment and distortion.

The picture Vietnam veterans were largely malcontents unable to adjust to civilian life after the war was an inaccurate one. Charlatans, fraudulently claiming to have served and earned medals for valor, told outlandish tales, reported by anti-military journalists who failed to research facts. The combined actions of the charlatans and journalists thoughtlessly stripped away a measure of integrity from true medal recipients and those who honorably served in Vietnam, planting in the public’s mind a seed of doubt as to the mental stability of returning veterans.

Three-plus decades later, the anti-military journalists are hard at work again. A recent, lengthy, Page One article in the New York Times cites the statistic veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed or are charged in 121 serious crimes, planting the seed again in the public’s mind they are an unstable lot.

Preferring the “shock and awe” of this pronouncement, they made no effort to put things into perspective. The reality of the numbers simply do not support the fiction the New York Times seeks to perpetuate. The reality: returning veterans actually are far less likely (almost by a factor of 6) to commit murders compared to their civilian peer group. Yet such an article has stolen valor from hundreds of thousands of veterans who have served with great honor, courage, conviction and respect for human life during multiple combat tours.

Quick to run a high-profile, negative story about the U.S. military, the New York Times seems slow to publish a high-profile, positive one. Should it now want to do so, a place to start might be to share truly accurate insights about the values of our young fighting men and women on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. One of many to be shared is that of a 32-man U.S. Army infantry platoon ambushed in the mountains of Afghanistan last year.

Searching for al Qaeda operative Habib Jan, the platoon, outnumbered more than 3-to-1, was hit by a group of Jan’s followers. Fighting alongside the Americans were five Afghan soldiers.

The battle raged for 17 hours — from day, to night, into day again. Ammunition and water ran low as the platoon was pinned down. An Afghan soldier was wounded. Absent surgery, he would die. In an act demonstrative not only of courage but also of respect for the life of an allied Muslim soldier, the American platoon commander, Lt. Sean McQuade, ordered 12 men to carry the wounded Afghan down a rocky mountain slope as the remaining 20 men provided covering fire.

During the downhill movement, the wounded man was occasionally exposed to enemy fire, prompting medic Sgt. Jose Rivas to shield him with his own body as he tended to the soldier’s wounds. Eventually, a Black Hawk helicopter swooped in, resupplying the 20 platoon members holding the high ground before then picking up the wounded Afghan. Sgt. Rivas’ mission accomplished, he returned to rejoin the fight above.

As enemy fighters poured in from just across the Pakistan border to further heavily tilt the numbers in their favor and against the Americans, the platoon continued to defend itself. Eventually, a combination of artillery, mortar and air attacks proved too much for Jan’s followers, who withdrew. Miraculously, not a single American or Afghan soldier was killed.

Those serving in uniform, for the most part, represent a microcosm of American society. The values possessed by Sgt. Rivas and other platoon members to risk their lives for another are values initially instilled in them by family and finely tuned by the military as part of the warrior ethos. The New York Times does a great disservice to our warriors by baselessly suggesting combat service causes them to suffer a deviant change, losing touch with these values. They do a disservice as well in failing to report on stories depicting the true warrior ethos.

The impact of the publication of “Stolen Valor” was to inspire legislation expanding law enforcement’s ability to prosecute those who fraudulently claim to have received military medals.

Action has been taken to stop charlatans from tarnishing the warrior image. What will it take to stop the media from doing so?

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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