14 January 2009

Information Operations

Where do misperceptions come from, and how do they eventually become accepted as truth? For example, we all "know" that most Vietnam Veterans are homeless, jobless drug abusers who have violent and suicidal tendencies. Right?

Well, there's a lot of sources, such as the portrayals in movies, TV, and newspapers.

Old Blue, who was deployed to Afghanistan, has been watching articles written by Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times over the past year. Here are the names of just a few of those articles:

A Focus on Violence by Returning G.I.s
Despite Army’s Assurances, Violence at Home
Mental State of Soldier Questioned
Army and Agency Will Study Rising Suicide Rate Among Soldiers
After the Battle, Fighting the Bottle at Home
Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles

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."

No one's saying combat doesn't affect people. But the thing is, statistically, a lot of these assertions don't pan out to the extent the author suggests.

He sees a parallel to the information disseminated about Vietnam Veterans:

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.

Repeat something often enough, and it becomes conventional wisdom.

Old Blue has written to The New York Times and tried to explain, through the eyes of a combat veteran, how these characterizations are "less than helpful", as he puts it. He hasn't received a response yet, and is hoping a few more emails will get their attention. Contact information for The New York Times Public Editor can be found in his post here.

Thanks for your help.

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