Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 16, 2013

Hyping the Horrors of Military Service

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, thankfully, do not have to face the kind of opprobrium that an earlier generation of Vietnam veterans encountered. But there is still a tendency to pathologize vets, to assume that they are victims of a sinister system, innocents who have been sent into battle against their will and forced to pay a high cost.

Take the surge of concern about military suicides. The problem is a real one—the suicide rate is rising in the ranks of the military—but let’s not get carried away. Given the demographics of the military (young white males are one of the population groups most likely to commit suicide) and the easy availability of lethal weapons, one might expect that the suicide rate in the military would at least be higher than in the general population. That’s not the case. As this New York Times article notes: “In 2002, the military’s suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 troops, well below the comparable civilian rate. But today the rates are nearly the same, above 18 per 100,000 people.”

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Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, thankfully, do not have to face the kind of opprobrium that an earlier generation of Vietnam veterans encountered. But there is still a tendency to pathologize vets, to assume that they are victims of a sinister system, innocents who have been sent into battle against their will and forced to pay a high cost.

Take the surge of concern about military suicides. The problem is a real one—the suicide rate is rising in the ranks of the military—but let’s not get carried away. Given the demographics of the military (young white males are one of the population groups most likely to commit suicide) and the easy availability of lethal weapons, one might expect that the suicide rate in the military would at least be higher than in the general population. That’s not the case. As this New York Times article notes: “In 2002, the military’s suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 troops, well below the comparable civilian rate. But today the rates are nearly the same, above 18 per 100,000 people.”

Nor is it the case, as widely assumed, that most service members who commit suicide are traumatized combat vets. As the Times article further notes: “Pentagon data show that in recent years about half of service members who committed suicide never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. And more than 80 percent had never been in combat.”

Then there is the problem of sexual assault in the military. No doubt the issue is a serious one, but is it really the case that women in the military are more likely to be assaulted than those in civilian life? It’s hard to say for sure because statistics in this area are suspect, but isn’t it possible—even likely—that the military is simply better about tracking the problem than is civilian society?

I do not mean to minimize the problems of suicide and sexual assault, nor do I mean to deny the problems caused by post-traumatic stress syndrome. There is no doubt that many who have been in combat will bear the psychological scars for years to come and they deserve our sympathy and compassion along with the best treatment available. But I worry that by hyping these issues—while neglecting by comparison the daily acts of heroism and self-sacrifice performed by our service personnel—the media foster the image of soldiers as crazy or criminal. That is about as far from reality as it is possible to get.

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No, the IRS Should Not Be Policing Tax Exemptions Before It Grants Them

In response to the IRS scandal, voices are rising in defense of the Internal Revenue Service’s need to police the behavior of non-profit 501 (c) groups. Didn’t the IRS need to ensure that groups applying for non-profit status would conduct themselves properly once they had received it? That is the question raised. The answer, actually, is no, not really. The IRS’s enforcement power has to do with misconduct following the granting of tax-exempt status. It should not presume lack of good faith on the part of those applying for the status. What it can do to them, fairly and legally, is revoke the status based on the organization’s behavior after the exemption is granted—thus effectively crippling and destroying it. That is its policing power. It is the threat of losing the status that acts as the deterrent to violating the guidelines and boundaries established by the law. When COMMENTARY was threatened in just this way in 2009 (almost certainly as the result of a political witch hunt the origination of which I do not know) we had no doubt that what the IRS was doing was within the scope of its mandate. We knew that because we were and are highly conscious of the boundaries drawn by the law—that we could not endorse candidates or promote the electoral interests of a political party.

What the IRS was doing in its examination of the applications for tax exemption was nothing less than attempting to use its power to prevent the promotion of ideas someone believed would be injurious. That is the outrage, as is any effort to defend the conduct by saying the IRS was only doing its job.

In response to the IRS scandal, voices are rising in defense of the Internal Revenue Service’s need to police the behavior of non-profit 501 (c) groups. Didn’t the IRS need to ensure that groups applying for non-profit status would conduct themselves properly once they had received it? That is the question raised. The answer, actually, is no, not really. The IRS’s enforcement power has to do with misconduct following the granting of tax-exempt status. It should not presume lack of good faith on the part of those applying for the status. What it can do to them, fairly and legally, is revoke the status based on the organization’s behavior after the exemption is granted—thus effectively crippling and destroying it. That is its policing power. It is the threat of losing the status that acts as the deterrent to violating the guidelines and boundaries established by the law. When COMMENTARY was threatened in just this way in 2009 (almost certainly as the result of a political witch hunt the origination of which I do not know) we had no doubt that what the IRS was doing was within the scope of its mandate. We knew that because we were and are highly conscious of the boundaries drawn by the law—that we could not endorse candidates or promote the electoral interests of a political party.

What the IRS was doing in its examination of the applications for tax exemption was nothing less than attempting to use its power to prevent the promotion of ideas someone believed would be injurious. That is the outrage, as is any effort to defend the conduct by saying the IRS was only doing its job.

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Erdoğan to Bring Father of Flotilla Participant to White House

On Tuesday, I posted here about how Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was being two-faced in his dealings with Benjamin Netanyahu after the latter’s apology for the loss of life in the raid on the Mavi Marmara. The reason for the apology—part of a deal brokered by President Obama—was to allow Turkey and Israel to reconcile and renew their partnership.

Turkey appears to have violated that deal by seeking referral of the case to the International Criminal Court, litigation which Obama and Netanyahu understood Erdoğan would not support once he had his apology. Just as Erdoğan sought plausible deniability when he first invited Hamas to Ankara, telling Western officials that the invitation came from his political party (AKP) and not from the state, so too does the referral to the ICC come from a familiar proxy: a law firm where one principal has been a long-time AKP party activist and the other has been intimately involved in the IHH, the pro-Hamas organization that sponsored the Mavi Marmara. The proxy issue goes farther, of course, as the AKP had provided the ship to the IHH in the first place.  

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On Tuesday, I posted here about how Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was being two-faced in his dealings with Benjamin Netanyahu after the latter’s apology for the loss of life in the raid on the Mavi Marmara. The reason for the apology—part of a deal brokered by President Obama—was to allow Turkey and Israel to reconcile and renew their partnership.

Turkey appears to have violated that deal by seeking referral of the case to the International Criminal Court, litigation which Obama and Netanyahu understood Erdoğan would not support once he had his apology. Just as Erdoğan sought plausible deniability when he first invited Hamas to Ankara, telling Western officials that the invitation came from his political party (AKP) and not from the state, so too does the referral to the ICC come from a familiar proxy: a law firm where one principal has been a long-time AKP party activist and the other has been intimately involved in the IHH, the pro-Hamas organization that sponsored the Mavi Marmara. The proxy issue goes farther, of course, as the AKP had provided the ship to the IHH in the first place.  

Anyone who believes that Erdoğan seeks to bury that hatchet more than rub salt into the wounds of the last two years needs only to consider the special guest whom he has had join his delegation. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The father of a victim of the deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 is accompanying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his US visit that kicked off on May 15… [Ahmet] Doğan said that he had written a letter to Obama requesting a meeting but Erdoğan had asked him to join the delegation. “I met with [Erdoğan] in Ankara before his departure to Washington. He said that he could give the letter to the U.S. President but that it would be better if I gave it him in person. So he asked me to join the delegation,” Doğan said….

It is actually quite amazing: Erdoğan has endorsed an Al Qaeda financier, embraced not only Hamas but the most militant faction within that terrorist organization, defended the Sudanese leader against charges of genocide, and has been the largest leak in multilateral efforts to sanction Iran. And yet, Obama will not only welcome him to the White House with the highest honors, but help fulfill the Turkish premier’s blatant desire to use the White House as the backdrop to follow through on  his pledge to bash Israel at every opportunity.

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