I've had a huge response to Tuesday's column about The New York Times' obscene bid to smear veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan as mad killers. Countless readers seem to be wondering: Why did the paper do it?
Well, in the Middle Ages, lepers had to carry bells on pain of death to warn the uninfected they were coming. One suspects that the Times would like our military veterans to do the same.
The purpose of Sunday's instantly notorious feature "alerting" the American people that our Iraq and Afghanistan vets are all potential murderers when they move in next door was to mark those defenders of freedom as "unclean" - as the new lepers who can't be trusted amid uninfected Americans.
In the more than six years since 9/11, the Times has never run a feature story half as long on any of the hundreds of heroes who've served our country - those who've won medals of honor, distinguished service crosses, Navy crosses, silver stars or bronze stars with a V device (for valor).
But the Times put a major investigative effort into the "sensational" story that 121 returning vets had committed capital offenses (of course, 20 percent of the cases cited involved manslaughter charges stemming from drunken driving, not first- or second-degree murder . . . ).
Well, a quick statistics check let the air out of the Times' bid to make us dread the veteran down the block - who the Times implies has a machine gun under his bathrobe when he steps out front to fetch the morning paper. In fact, the capital-crimes rate ballyhooed by the Gray Lady demonstrates that our returning troops are far less likely to commit such an offense.
Again, the Times' smear certainly wasn't an accident. The paper's staff is highly paid and highly experienced. Its editors know that a serious news story has to put numbers into context. But their sole attempt at context was to note that offenses by former soldiers have ticked up since we went to war.
The Times is trying to make you fear our veterans (Good Lord, if your daughter marries one, she's bound to be beaten to death!). And to convince you that our military would be a dreadful place for your sons and daughters, a death-machine that would turn them into incurable psychopaths.
To a darkly humorous degree, all this reflects the Freudian terrors leftists feel when confronted with men who don't have concave chests. But it goes far beyond that.
Pretending to pity tormented veterans (vets don't want our pity - they want our respect), the Times' feature was an artful example of hate-speech disguised as a public service.
The image we all were supposed to take away from that story was of hopelessly damaged, victimized, infected human beings who've become outcasts from civilized society. The Times cast our vets as freaks from a slasher flick.
The hard left's hatred of our military has deteriorated from a political stance into a pathology: The only good soldier is a dead soldier who can be wielded as a statistic (out of context again). Or a deserter who complains bitterly that he didn't join the Army to fight . . .
At the risk of turning to anecdotal evidence - a technique much-abused by the left - I have to declare that I personally know hundreds of veterans. (Can anyone at the Times head office make that claim?) Not a single one of them has committed a crime worse than exceeding the speed limit on the Interstate.
Not one vet I know is in prison for a crime he or she committed after taking off the uniform. And in nearly 22 years of active service, I encountered only two soldiers who committed violent crimes (no murders).
Contrary to the Times, veterans are consistently among the most upstanding members of their communities. They volunteer. They vote. They take pride in being good neighbors. And those I know have raised their children more successfully than the average liberal household.
But what's the image that the left, whether the Times or the silly people in Hollywood, presents to us? Vets are nuts. Violently nuts. They kill their neighbors. They kill their own kind. And they're just waiting for the right moment of madness to kill you.
A longstanding goal of the left, recently invigorated, has been to drive a wedge between our military and our society. The real vet is the neighbor who fixes your kid's bike (or your computer). But the left's archetypal vet is the Marine colonel in "American Beauty" who, frustrated in his suppressed gay passions, murders poor Kevin Spacey.
Yes, war is a terrible crucible. Some vets, past and present, do need help. And they deserve the best help our country can give them. But the left-wing fantasy of hordes of psychotics driven mad by drill sergeants and Army chow is just that: a fantasy.
Of course, if the Times responds at all to the storm of protests their insult to our veterans aroused, the editors will try to fudge the numbers in their favor. You just can't argue with ideologues. They lie and they cheat. And they justify it as being for the greater good of ignorant fools like us.
So let me suggest the best-possible revenge on the veteran-trashing jerks at The New York Times: Instead of fleeing in terror the next time you see a veteran you know, just thank him or her for their service.
And let's save the leper's bells for dishonest journalists.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer who has yet to kill any of his neighbors (although they'd better keep their grass cut).