Wednesday, January 16, 2008

War and Crime: Does American Military Intervention Produce Crime at Home?

The case for the Iraq war has often come down to this: If we don't fight them there, they will come here and kill us. President Bush has said that often, as has Rudy Giuliani. Its not clear that American forces in Iraq truly reduce the numbers of terrorists motivated to come and kill Americans. Indeed some believe that the specter of the American army occupying a Muslim country has helped recruit new soldiers for the Jihad.

Now recent research by New York Times reporters Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez and published last week in the NYTimes raises the question of whether the formula is really backwards. If we send soldiers to fight in contemporary asymmetrical wars like Iraq today (and Vietnam a generation ago), with lots of opportunity for emotional trauma and little of the social solidarity of conventional wars of necessity, will they come home and kill us? Sontag and Alvarez, using only journalistic methods, found 121 cases of Iraq veterans who have been accused of involvement in killings here at home.

One wonders, in retrospect, whether the crime rise of the 1960s and 1970s was linked to the even larger number of soldiers who served in Vietnam. Was the crime decline of the 1990s the fruit of a whole generation coming of age after 1975 with little experience with combat passing through their crime prone years? Will the Iraq war, which for now involves far fewer US combat forces, over time create a new homicide wave at home?

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