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December 21, 2008

Could there be a link between certain types of military service and criminal behavior?

The front page of this morning's Los Angeles Times has this provocative article headlined, "'Lethal Warriors' in Iraq, linked to string of crimes back home."  Here are exceprts from the article:

On Nov. 30, 2007, Kenneth Eastridge, a wiry, heavily tattooed survivor of the fighting, found himself at a rough Colorado Springs bar called the Rum Bay, not far from the unit's Ft. Carson base. Eastridge, a high school dropout from the projects of Louisville, Ky., had joined the Army to escape what seemed the dead-end prospects of civilian life, only to run repeatedly afoul of Army rules and face a court-martial.

So on that cold night just two days after his discharge, Eastridge was at loose ends again, in the company of two other war-coarsened vets from his unit, Louis Bressler and Bruce Bastien.  Police say the trio plotted a robbery in the company of an Army private, leaving Bressler worried that the private would divulge their plot.  Later that night, police say, Bressler shot the soldier to death with a .38-caliber revolver.  Now Eastridge, 25, sits behind bars in a Colorado prison, having agreed to a 10-year sentence in exchange for his testimony.

The Army was quick to downplay any link between what he and the other soldiers saw in Iraq and the allegations against them. "Anybody that does crimes of that nature, it goes deeper and farther back than anything in the U.S. Army," said Lt. Col. Brian Pearl, the 2-12's commanding officer. "Nothing here has trained them to do what they are charged with."

Yet there is a larger story of those who fought with the 700-soldier unit: a string of alleged robberies, domestic violence and senseless murder. Six of the veterans are behind bars, implicated in four separate shooting incidents and five slayings since August 2007.  The killings stretch from Colorado to an Orange County beach town, where a veteran of the company is accused of beating his girlfriend to death.

December 21, 2008 at 10:03 AM | Permalink


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Wait, so they recruited someone from the "projects of Louisville, Ky" facing the "dead-end prospects of civilian life" and then failed to reform him, they are now to blaim for his acts? While it could be an unfair and biased reaction, I can't help but think he was already on the track for a life of crime before the Army ever came calling. The Army may not have helped things, but without alot more it seems unreasonable to blaim them. Lower recruiting standards, get recruits more likely to have been involved in, and return to crime... Absent a serious study of the circumstances of individual criminals both before and after military service, I think the notion is unfounded. The only study like that involved suicide/domestic violence, which is totally different.

Posted by: Monty | Dec 21, 2008 11:31:52 AM


That there is a link between military service and crime is not surprising and comports with the experience & statistics. Perhaps a volunteer army draws, as you suggest, disproportionately from youth who were at risk, however, your argument comes dangerously close to slandering the character of our young volunteers. Perhaps, and I believe more likely than our young volunteers lacking in moral fiber, not enough transition assistance exists from the nasty -- but unfortunately necessary -- business of putting a man in your sights and deciding whether he should live and die (while someone else is doing the same to you) and civilian life. Even in peacetime (and who could believe there was a time when we didn't send our young men off to fight) there is a sharp difference between life in uniform in the army or marines and civilian life that many young men simply aren't able to make without substantial assistance.

When I left the marines (what seems like yesterday but closer to 17 years ago) I had a good plan on what to do afterwards & ended up in school, passing the bar and leaving the corps as a memory. Many of my close friends from those days, however, found themselves going from leading men, being well respected, and having a steady check to be unemployed for months with no readily marketable skill. I strongly suspect they aren't / weren't alone.

I will agree with you that the "why" of veterans being disproportionately represented in jails & among the homeless appears to be well understudied. With that stated, your suggestion that the young men who are called to service and possibly called to lay down their lives for ours are some how more likely to be deficient in moral fiber and therefore more likely to commit crime, to be blunt, is revolting.

Posted by: anon | Dec 21, 2008 9:31:05 PM

It has been reported that in recent years, recruiters have had to "look the other way" at certain things, in order to fulfill their recruitment quotas. Politicians have long known it and accepted it, in order to avoid the political suicide of initiating the draft.

But even if this were not the case, it is important to remember that when we send our men and women to see and to do terrible things, they are changed forever by it. They are no longer the boy or girl next door.

This is why we say, war is a bad thing.

Posted by: Spoonless Eddie | Dec 22, 2008 12:07:13 PM

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