New England editorial roundup

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester (Mass.), Aug. 23, 2013

The images the world feared to see were stark and shocking. Scores of bodies wrapped in tight white sheets, placid faces sometimes visible, spoke of the horror of chemical attacks.

The line has certainly been crossed in the crackdown by the regime of President Bashar Assad against opposition forces. President Obama last summer warned it would be a game-changer if this happened. In April, the White House concluded, with “varying degrees of confidence,” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons to kill citizens and quell the uprising.

Despite calls for the U.S. to at least institute a no-fly zone over the country, clue-gathering and hand-wringing continued. The sense of urgency heightened, but action by Washington was lacking.

The Syrian government was not so hesitant.

Vehement denials by the regime notwithstanding, it almost certainly sent toxic gas into suburbs east of Damascus, killing, by some reports, well over 1,000 people, including many children.

Wednesday’s attack happened even as a U.N. team was in the country searching for evidence of previous chemical use.

The call by the U.N. Security Council for “a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” into Wednesday’s killings sounds painfully weak in light of the atrocious boldness and ferocity being shown by the Assad government.

Meanwhile, rebel forces in Syria have become mixed with terrorist elements, further complicating what was already a major mess for the U.S. and its allies.

The emergency inside an increasingly unstable Syria has only escalated further. How to stop the killing of innocents is unclear, but it is long past time to stop waiting around.

The Sun Journal of Lewiston (Maine), Aug. 20, 2013

The U.S. public will clearly not repeat the mistakes of the Vietnam era, when war veterans returned to a nation that failed to acknowledge their sacrifice and service.

Veterans returning from America’s most recent wars are deservedly thanked and celebrated, personally and often publicly.

But while we now recognize their service, there is another more subtle offense we must also guard against.

When media coverage focuses on veteran suicides, post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual aggression, we run the risk of assuming many, most or all veterans return as damaged or threatening human beings.

A recent study showed that many of the most publicized behavioral problems associated with service are no more common among veterans than among non-military men and women in the same age group.

For instance, it has been publicized that more American soldiers committed suicide, 349, than died in combat, 295, in Afghanistan in 2012.

Some have assumed this is the result of combat and repeated tours of duty.

But a recent study by the American Medical Association found the military suicide rate between 2001 and 2008 little different than the civilian rate.

The U.S. Army and the Institute of Mental Health found 18.5 suicides per 100,000 service members is slightly lower than the 18.8 rate among a demographically similar population of civilians.

The authors found many suicides were the result of financial and relationship problems, often compounded by substance abuse — the same factors often blamed for civilian suicides.

The researchers found no correlation between soldiers who had been deployed and those who had not and suicide rates.

The military suicide rate has crept up in recent years, but so has the civilian rate.

Some have also questioned estimates that 30 percent of returning vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Similarly high estimates were made just after the Vietnam War, but were later revised downward to about 10 percent, a large number to be sure, but about a third of the original estimate.

Others have questioned what seems to be an extremely high rate of service members reporting sexual assault, pointing out that the information comes from unscientific polls regarding “unwanted sexual contact.”

A law professor and member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Gail Heriot, has written there is “no evidence that the military has a higher rate of sexual assault than, say, colleges and universities. Indeed, what paltry evidence there is suggests the opposite.”

Even if all of the most worrisome statistics are true and correctly interpreted, it is wrong to expand such assumptions to all or most returning veterans.

Most returning vets are not ticking time bombs, sexual predators or contemplating suicide.

They are more likely self-disciplined, task-oriented people trained to work in teams, often in need of a chance to start or resume civilian life.

Assuming otherwise is unfair and usually wrong.

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