Saturday, April 08, 2006

James Taranto links to this correction in the New York Times.
An article on Feb. 9 about the military's recruitment of Hispanics referred incompletely to the belief of some critics that Hispanics in the Iraq war and blacks in the Vietnam War accounted for a disproportionate number of casualties. Statistics do not support the belief. Hispanics, who are about 14 percent of the population, accounted for about 11 percent of the military deaths in Iraq through Dec. 3, 2005. About 12.5 percent of the military dead in Vietnam were African-Americans, who made up about 13. 5 percent of the general population during the war years. The error was pointed out in an e-mail in February; the correction was delayed for research after a lapse at The Times.
The story referenced was one on how the military is targeting to enlist Hispanics. The whole tone of that article was that there was something underhanded and unethical about targeting Hispanics. This is the line that sparked the correction.
Critics also say that Latinos often wind up as cannon fodder on the casualty-prone front lines. African-Americans saw the same thing happen during the 1970's and 1980's, an accusation that still reverberates. Hispanics make up only 4.7 percent of the military's officer corps.
The fact that a journalist would trumpet that myth from Vietnam without having done any research to assure its truth is typical. I'm not sure why it took two months for the New York Times to ascertain that this old distortion from Vietnam was false. I suggest that they read B. G. Burkett and Glenda Whitley's book, Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History, that explodes a lot of myths about Vietnam War veterans. They also exposed how many supposed vets who ran around pretending to be vets who had suffered in Vietnam and hadn't been anywhere near the place. They clear up a lot of media distortions about who the men were who fought in Vietnam.

Or, if the New York Times is too lazy to read an entire book, they could check out some of these sites: Statistics about the Vietnam War or Vietnam War Myths where they would find clarification that explodes a lot of the propaganda that still lingers about who fought in the Vietnam War.
Myth:
Most Vietnam veterans were drafted.

2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. Approximately 70% of those killed were volunteers.

Myth:
A disproportionate number of blacks were killed in the Vietnam War.

86% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasians, 12.5% were black, 1.2% were other races.

Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book "All That We Can Be," said they analyzed the claim that blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam "and can report definitely that this charge is untrue.

Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia - a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war."

Myth:
The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.

Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.
Granted that the reporters wouldn't want to trust one source on the Internet, but there is no reason why it would take two monts for a trained reporter with some bare research skills to track down proof of their mistake. That the New York Times would make such a mistake and have no clue that they were buying into disproved myths is not surprising to many of us. Just remember, if they can't get 30-year old history right, don't be shocked about the errors that they have about current events.

UPDATE: Well, it's a small world. Apparently, it was Stephen Spruiell of NRO's Media Blog who wrote the letter to the NYT alerting them to their error in the original story.