The first reports from the recent Ft. Hood shooting were barely in before news organizations began to hint that Spc. Ivan Lopez suffered from PTSD and that his actions were likely due to having experienced “the horrors of war”.
This story was one of the worst, with the writer even saying, “When troops come home, the madness of war comes with them.”
With reports like that masquerading as news, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear Americans everywhere making similar comments. So, the next time you overhear someone talking about how a person who volunteered to serve our country is now a danger to society, take a deep breath, count to ten, and then …
Recognize that the person talking simply does not know.
This is, as teachers say, a teachable moment. Try to think of that person the same way you would your four-year-old when she tells you that 2 + 3 = 8. She just doesn’t know … yet. Unfortunately, sometimes grown people don’t like to be challenged or corrected, so you’re going to need a tactful way to tell that person that he or she is simply wrong.
So what can you say to help teach that person that what they are saying is just not the truth of the matter?
1. You could start with statistics.
Tell them that in 2011 there were 458 instances of workplace violence in America and only one of those took place on a military installation. (That was the other Ft. Hood shooting, which involved a radicalized soldier who believed he was acting in accordance with Islam.) But if the person you are talking with just wants to repeat crazy vet myths, that usually means they aren’t receptive to actual facts, in which case…
2. You could turn the tables on them.
Try saying this: “You know what all of those shooters on military bases – AND all the workplace AND all the school shooters had in common? Testes.” Only six of the 67 perpetrators of mass shootings since 1982 have had military service in their backgrounds, but all but one of them has been a man. You could even have a little fun with it. Try saying, “Every one of those shooters also once learned to jump rope. Could double dutch be the problem?”
3. Of course you could use the most direct fact:
2.5 million service members have deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and just over 100 of them have killed someone after coming home. Though it should go without saying that all murder is awful, statistically speaking, veterans are actually doing much better than the population as a whole.
4. But don’t just take my word for it. Share what the experts are saying:
Consider these words from retired Lt. Col Dave Grossman in 2012, who quite literally wrote the book about the effect of combat on a person’s mental state:
“I heard a National Public Radio piece a few months ago, saying that, ‘Over a hundred veterans have come home and committed murder!’ Think about that for a minute…We’ve had over 2 million Americans in the war zone, and are currently in our 10th year of war. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that the homicide rate for Americans between ages 18-25 is around 25-per-100,000. So, out of any million Americans in that age group, there should be around 250 murders per year. Out of 2 million, there should have been 500 murders. Extrapolate that back across 10 years of war, and there should have been, statistically speaking, thousands of murders by this population group. All they ‘proved’ is that the murder rate for our vets is less than a tenth of that for other citizens of the same age!”
5. Make an effort to explain to this person what PTSD actually is:
Tell them that as many as 70 percent of Americans have experienced something that could cause PTSD and it’s estimated that 20 percent of those people will show signs of it. And then tell them that it is very rare for people with PTSD to become violent.
All of that said, at some point you’ll probably encounter someone who watched “Rambo” a few too many times and is so deeply entrenched in their ignorance that they refuse to absorb actual facts. As Grandma used to say, you can’t fix stupid – and if someone is determined to stay stupid, the best you can do is to limit your exposure to them. So take another deep breath … and just walk away.
Photo Credit: U.S Department of Defense, Creative Commons