Though not really areas (journalism and communication) in the mainstream of
management. The following demonstrates the need for a "critical approach".
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 1 Apr 1999 11:52:08 -0500 (EST)
From: Michael CHUMER <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Responsible journalism and biased communication
The communication that I am sending to the list was sent to me by one of my
USNA classmates as a "think" piece. Since as part of the military we were
enmeshed in the Vietnam conflict having spent tours there, I find that there
are indeed lessons tucked into the communication that we as researchers,
communication scholars, and perhaps future journalists should be atuned to.
Due dillgence is at the heart of the communication and should be expected of
journalists and communicators by the public. The press is not immune to
developing a collective consciousness based on shoddy research
proceedures, filtered through a stereotypical investigative lens.
You may draw your own conclusions.
A Voice in the Wilderness
Every once in a while, a real "think-piece" appears and should be shared
with the fraternity.
NBC's "The Sixties": Slandering an Entire Generation of Warriors By Mackubin
There is plenty to criticize in the recent NBC mini-series "The Sixties."
But for my money, the worst aspect of this dreadful
contribution to the popular culture is the fact that it slanders an entire
generation of fighting men: those who put their lives on the line in
There is an undeniable orthodoxy associated with the Vietnam veteran.
According to the conventional wisdom, those who served in Vietnam were
largely young and poor. Minorities were disproportionately represented.
They suffered unspeakable trauma. Many, if not most, committed or observed
atrocities. The horrors of the war led many to turn to drugs
and a life of crime. As many as half of those who served in Vietnam suffer
from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). More Vietnam veterans have
committed suicide than died in the war. Vietnam veterans are
disproportionately represented among the homeless and the incarcerated. The
Vietnam veteran was and is a time bomb waiting to go off. Brian, the
brother in the mini-series who goes to Vietnam reflects this orthodoxy,
returning as the burnt-out, drug-addicted, Traumatized Vet.
Will Rogers once said that "it's not the things we don't know that get us
into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so." This applies in
spades to Vietnam veterans. The fact is, most of what people "know" about
them"just ain't so."
For instance, the war was not fought primarily by reluctant draftees,
predominantly composed of the poor, the young, or racial minorities. The
poor and the minorities fought and died in Vietnam, but so did the middle
class. The record indicates that 86 % of those who died during the war were
white and 12.5 % were black, from an age group in which blacks comprised
13.1% of the population. Two thirds of those who served in Vietnam were
volunteers, and volunteers accounted for 77 % of combat deaths.
Statistics indicate that the suicide, homelessness, and drug abuse rates of
Vietnam veterans are no higher than for non-vets and non-theater Vietnam era
veterans. The incarceration rate is lower. And while PTSD is a real
phenomenon, it is not nearly as widespread as the press portrays it. The
press regularly claims that PTSD continues to affect 500,000 to 1.5 million
Vietnam veterans, i.e. nearly one-sixth (18 %) to nearly one-half of the 3.3
million men who served in theater. These numbers, derived from the flawed
National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Study, are implausibly high,
especially given that fewer than 15 percent of those who served in country
were assigned to combat units.
A much better designed study by the Centers for Disease Control reported
that 15% of Vietnam veterans experienced some symptoms of combat-related
PTSD at some time during or after military service, but that only 2.2 %
exhibited symptoms at the time of the study.
But most tellingly, a comprehensive 1980 survey commissioned by Veterans'
Administration (VA) reported that 91 % of those who had seen combat in
Vietnam were "glad they had served their country;" 80 % disagreed with the
statement that "the US took advantage of me;" and nearly two out of three
would go to Vietnam again, even knowing how the war would end.
For years, many of us who served in Vietnam tried to make the case reflected
in these figures: that the popular image of the Vietnam vet as maladjusted
loser, dehumanized killer, or ticking "time bomb" was at odds with reality.
Indeed, it was our experience that those who had served in Vietnam generally
did so with honor, decency, and restraint; that despite often being viewed
with distrust or opprobrium at home, most had asked for nothing but to be
left alone to make the transition back to civilian life; and that most had
in fact made that transition if not always smoothly, at least successfully.
But the press could always find the stereotypical, traumatized vet who could
be counted on to tell the most harrowing and gruesome stories of combat in
Vietnam, often involving atrocities. Many of the war stories recounted by
these individuals were wildly implausible to any one who had been in
Vietnam, but credulous journalists, most of whom had no military experience,
uncritically passed their reports along to the public.
I always agreed with the observation of Harry Summers, a well-known military
commentator who served as an infantryman in Korean and Vietnam, that the
story teller's distance from the battle zone was directly proportional to
the gruesomeness of most atrocity stories. But until the publication of a
remarkable new book, Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of
Its Heroes and its History by B.G. Burkett and the fine Texas writer, Glenna
Whitley (Verity Press, www.stolenvalor.com) <http://www.stolenvalor.com) ,
neither Harry nor I any idea just how true his observation was.
Mr. Burkett is best known to those of us who live in New England as the man
who sent Joe Yandle back to prison. Yandle admitted to being the getaway
driver during a 1972 liquor store holdup in Medford, Massachusetts that
resulted in the murder of the store manager. Under Massachusetts law, even
though Yandle did not pull the trigger, he was equally complicit with the
gunman. Convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison without
parole, Yandle never claimed to be innocent, but contended that the hell of
the Vietnam war had driven him to drugs and crime.
The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes did a segment on Yandle in which Mike
Wallace told viewers that Yandle did two tours in Vietnam and "came home
with a Bronze Star for valor, two Purple Hearts and something else--a heroin
habit." The 60 Minutes report was instrumental in convincing then-Governor
William Weld to commute Yandle's life sentence to time served--23 years.
But Mr. Burkett discovered that although Yandle had indeed served in the
Marines and had been honorably discharged, he had never set foot in Vietnam.
He had manufactured the claim that he had survived the 77-day siege of Khe
Sanh. He certainly did not rate the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for
What is striking about the Yandle case is the predisposition on the part of
journalists uncritically to accept the claim that service in Vietnam was an
indicator of, even an explanation for, criminal activity at home. How could
hard-nosed, ace investigative reporter Mike Wallace and others like him be
so easily taken in? Mr. Burkett's answer to this question stands as a rebuke
to American journalism.
The fact is that the media has peddled the "Vietnam vet goes berserk" angle
for a very long time. A milestone of sorts was the 1988 CBS documentary "The
Wall Within" which constituted a veritable caricature of Vietnam veterans:
they routinely committed war crimes. They came home from an immoral war
traumatized, vilified, then pitied. Jobless, homeless, addicted, suicidal,
they remain afflicted by inner conflicts, stranded on the fringes of
This image had its genesis in the anti-war left of the 1960s and 70s. The
war was uniquely brutal and unjust, went the argument, and brutalized those
who fought it. At first the anti-war left vilified veterans as war criminals
and baby-killers. But this approach evolved into the idea that the Vietnam
veteran was a victim: he was victimized first by his country, which made him
poor and then sent him off to fight an unjust war. Then he was victimized by
a military that dehumanized him and turned him into a killer. All the
Vietnam veteran had to do to receive the absolution of the anti-war left was
to confess his sins.
Mr. Burkett demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that most of those who
"confessed" were frauds. Nonetheless, the public confessions made for great
theater: Mark Lane's absurd Conversations With Americans, Paul Solotaroff's
equally disreputable The House of Purple Hearts, the Vietnam Veterans
Against the War and the now-discredited "Winter Soldier" Investigation of
1970 all reinforced the image of the Vietnam veteran as victim.
At about the same time, anti-war psychiatrists such as Robert Jay Lifton
claimed that since Vietnam was worse than earlier wars, returning soldiers
would suffer severe psychological effects specific to the war. Mr. Lifton
was instrumental in the development of PTSD. Finally, to justify its budget
as the World War II veteran population declined, the VA came on board. (A
National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the VA had reported that
25 % of the World War II vets suffered from emotional and psychological
symptoms similar to those ascribed to PTSD.) Ideology and the self-interest
of bureaucrats constitute a powerful combination..
"The Sixties" illustrates that this image of the Vietnam vet prevails even
today. But is it true? Mr. Burkett shows that the answer is no. In the
course of trying to raise money for a Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Mr.
Burkett discovered that reporters were only interested in homeless veterans
and drug abuse and that the corporate leaders he approached had bought into
the popular image of the Vietnam vet: not honorable men (and women) who took
pride in their service, but whining welfare cases, belly-aching about what
an immoral government did to them.
Fed up, Mr. Burkett did something that any reporter worth his or her salt
could have done: he used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to check the
actual records of the "image makers" used by reporters to flesh out their
stories on homelessness, Agent Orange, suicide, drug abuse, criminality, or
alcoholism. What he found was astounding. More often than not, the show case
"veteran" who cried on camera about his dead buddies, about committing or
witnessing atrocities, or about some heroic action in combat that led him to
the current dead end in his life, was an impostor.
Indeed, Mr. Burkett discovered that over the last decade, some 1,700
individuals, including some of the most prominent examples of the Vietnam
veteran as dysfunctional loser, had fabricated their war stories. Many had
never even been in the service. Many, like Joe Yandle, had been, but had
never but had never been in Vietnam.
Stolen Valor makes clear why, intentionally or not, events like "The
Sixties" slander all those who served in Vietnam. The fact is that Vietnam
veterans have fared as well or better than any other generation of warriors,
and it's about time that the myths that have tainted America's view of
Vietnam veterans are put to rest. By unmasking the despicable phonies who
have stolen the honor of the legitimate Vietnam veterans and exposing the
complicity of the press in this theft, Mr. Burkett has done an immense
service to his fellow veterans, and by extension to his country.
Mackubin Thomas Owens is an Adjunct Fellow of The Claremont Institute
http://www.claremont.org http://www.claremont.org, professor of
strategy and force planning at theNaval War College in Newport, RI, and a
Marine infantry veteran of Vietnam. He can be reached by e-mail at
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