The media’s reaction to the Fort Hood shooting was somewhat expected.
The unfounded accusation brands Veterans as ticking time bombs, intentionally or not. Veterans, advocates and other less reactionary journalists responded by pointing out that PTSD does not equate to violence.
Apparently everyone didn’t get the memo. On Tuesday, April 8, Huffington Post published “This Map Shows The Deadly Aftermath Of War Right Here At Home,” a headline sure to have great click-through rates.
The article and graphic compares Veteran-connected homicides in the U.S. per year to U.S. military combat deaths abroad per year. We weren’t the only ones to notice that this connection is unfounded. Gawker and Business Insider both weighed in as well. The response was enough to prompt Huffington Post to add “We regret the lack of contextual information in highlighting these tragedies,” but the graphic remains unchanged.
I’m an intelligence analyst by trade. Trained by the U.S. Marine Corps, I spent 5 years creating intelligence products. I then used the GI Bill and earned a bachelor degree in intelligence studies from the oldest civilian intelligence program in the country, Mercyhurst University in Erie, Penn. For nearly a decade of my life the most important thing in my work was the source of my data. I could not consider someone else’s work as verifiable because somewhere down the line a general, a professor or a client was going to ask me where the numbers came from.
So when reading this Huffington Post article I naturally asked, where did the numbers come from?
The first was from a 2008 New York Times article that listed 121 Veterans who committed or were charged with committing a killing. Notice it does not say murder. The source of this data is not published other than “The New York Times found” them.
Next was from a Current TV, GOOD and MGMT.design collaboration infographic that listed another 43 Veterans who were charged with murder from 2008-2010. The source is simply listed as “Current TV.”
The article does mention and source that there is no connection between war trauma and violence back home, but the graphic’s first caption quickly contradicts this with “The deadly shooting at Fort hood on April 2 wasn’t the first time a recent veteran has returned home to commit a deadly crime.”
The map plots the crimes, highlighting dense areas of murders around U.S. military bases. What calculation was used for the murders per square mile density? Seattle, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, St. Louis and Chicago also have high densities but were not highlighted.
By the way, in 2008, the number of people murdered in Chicago – 511 – was more than 56 times the number of people murdered by Veterans – nine – according to the research presented by the Huffington Post. Both populations – citizens of Chicago and Gulf War II Veterans – were around 2.6 million in 2008.
Take the larger U.S. population into account and the Huffington Post’s Veteran murder rates are dwarfed by the national numbers as compiled by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Huffington Post did later revise the article to read, “the veteran population is no more violent than the general population.”
That’s one way to put it.
Using the graph’s data from 2009 and taking into account that the Gulf War II Veteran population was .62 percent of the total population, I find that the general population is more than 4 times more likely to murder than Gulf War II Veterans.
I’m guessing the title “General Population Murders Four Times More Than Returning War Veterans” wouldn’t be as interesting.
Every day combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were based on data sources my fellow military intelligence analysts and I compiled and disseminated. We knew that faulty information could result in loss of life and we held ourselves to high standards.
Fortunately, the unverified sources and findings presented in this article won’t get anyone killed. But it does tarnish the reputation and character of every Servicemember who may now be looked at differently, even possibly as “an at-risk murderer.”