Strategy notes for PTSD & various links

Note: Our coordinator for Case of the Week is currently recovering from dental surgery, so Case of the Week will resume next Saturday as usual. In the meantime, here are some resource & blog links, plus strategy notes from Dr. Srader on the PTSD case.

Resources Everyone Should Know About

Google Scholar. Google Scholar was recently removed from Google’s default “More” menu, but it still exists and it still works great. Google Scholar is an integrated search engine for scholarly sources like science and law journals; it also cross-compiles different sources to provide you with free copies of articles, when it can find them. An essential bookmark for anyone who likes top-notch sources.

COG’s Think Tank search engine. Searches a large collection of think tanks (and only think tanks) to help you filter out some of the junk you get with regular Google searches.

Dropbox, Google Drive, or similar services. If you have a decent internet connection, they’re an invaluable help in sharing files with your partner and keeping backups so you don’t lose all your work if you computer crashes. Free if you only need a few gigabytes.

NFL Open Evidence Project for 2010-2011. The NFL 2010-2011 topic was almost identical to this year’s Stoa topic, so the NDCA has literally tens of thousands of pages of relevant backfiles on their website. (Be warned, however, that NFL debate is a very different beast; files often contain content that’s inappropriate for NCFCA/Stoa debate, both strategically and in other ways. As such, the Open Evidence Project is more useful for ideas and link-mining than actual briefs you can use.)

Blogs Worth Following

Tip: It’s easiest to follow debate blogs by using an RSS reader like Google Reader. For example, in Firefox, you can click the “Bookmarks” button and click “Subscribe to This Page”. Whenever a new article is posted, you’ll automatically get it.

Northwest Christian University Forensics – Doyle Srader’s video blog for NCFCA/Stoa. Dr. Srader’s decades of experience give him a unique perspective on argumentation that you won’t find in many of the standard NCFCA/Stoa coaching circles.

WhyDebate Journal – A useful variety of strategy and coaching articles by Anthony Severin, who runs the innovative online debate camp/tutoring program WhyDebate. (Anthony also writes for COG.)

The Ethos Blog – The official blog of the Ethos sourcebook, with articles and links from various contributors.

Maximize your Speaking – The blog of Travis Herche, a highly-decorated NCFCA veteran and rhetoric coach.

Loose Nukes – The personal debate blog of Daniel Gaskell, COG’s Lead Editor. Updates are somewhat infrequent, but the blog is still active and there are a lot of useful posts in the archives.

Strategy Notes for the PTSD Case

By Dr. Doyle Srader

Keep in mind that I spent only an hour researching this affirmative, and roughly an hour writing it. If I spent more time cutting cards about this, I imagine I’d have very different opinions. But based on these little crumbs of work, here’s my take:


This case is not ready to run. You need a good deal more of everything: more solvency evidence, more evidence that combat-induced PTSD is a growing problem, and evidenced answers to various disadvantages. Here’s a partial to-do list for research and argument construction:

  • Look for evidence that new advances in brain science can make a diagnosis of PTSD objective. In particular, watch ScienceDaily for new breakthroughs in this area, because they’re coming almost weekly.
  • Get a better impact card for how bad combat-induced PTSD is, because the one in the mock-up is pathetic. A better card shouldn’t be hard to find; just look for personal narratives from people who have it. You want the judge to shudder with disbelief when you finish that part of your speech.
  • Look for evidence about how the military budgets for purple hearts, both the citations themselves and the benefits that go along with them. The effect of the plan is to swell the population of purple heart recipients enormously, so you need to be ready with evidenced answers to spending arguments. Being indignant about “Well, if they’ve earned the honor, then we just need to dig deep and pay for it” will only get you so far.
  • Work up a good counterinterpretation for “reform presence/commitment” topicality. The boiled-down essence of your position should be something along the lines of “The plan has the US federal government commit to properly categorize, and therefore recognize, injuries that US troops suffer in overseas combat zones. It’s a perfect parallel case to committing different military hardware or troop formations, which are the heart of the topic.”
  • You’ve got to have very good answers to the “waters down tradition” argument. That thing is dangerous. You should do as much reading as you can about the purple heart and its history, about military decorations in general, and about how the military has handled changes like racial integration; what did the top brass do to overcome resistance further down the chain, and why would it work again this time? How important is it that professional soldiers identify themselves as those who are able to follow orders?
  • A nice little add-on you might be on the lookout for: I’ve seen articles about how the military is signing up too many recruits with mental illnesses and severe learning disabilities. Look for evidence that this practice is hollowing out our readiness, and that if at the very heart, military culture was confronted with the fact that mental illness is debilitating, they’d screen those recruits more carefully and wind up with a fighting force that was more combat-ready.
  • Similarly, if you watch carefully, I suspect you can find cards that treating PTSD immediately, while the soldier is still on active duty, is far more effective and cheaper than treating it years later, when the veteran can’t hold her/his life together anymore. Use that to turbo-charge solvency, and also to turn back spending arguments.
  • If they counterplan to give the medal to soldiers with PTSD everywhere, not just acquired in combat zones, you’ve got two fairly powerful lines of attack. First, the counterplan is functionally plan-plus, which means it doesn’t compete, because it doesn’t prove the plan is a bad idea. You should feed a hungry person in front of you even though there are hungry people all over the world who also need feeding. Second, you can run the waters down tradition argument on the counterplan. In your research, you should find cards emphasizing the importance of combat wounds in the tradition of the purple heart, so read those as your link cards against the counterplan, and then your own solvency cards to prove why the plan doesn’t get the disadvantage.
  • Be sure your 2AR rhetorical posture hearkens back to the Rosa DeLauro quote at the top of the 1AC: this is a debt we owe. This is about our honor. Presumption is on your side. Any argument the negative tries to win has to be so compelling that it justifies leaving veterans suffering terribly without adequate care.


I think this case is beatable on the “waters down tradition” argument, and is in danger on the “reform presence/commitment” argument.

I like your chances better on the “waters down tradition” argument if you’ve researched it in depth. Some important moves:

  • Make sure the judge understands that this turns solvency. After the plan, the stigma is a thousand times more intense than before. Before, PTSD sufferers were viewed by others as just a little weak and loopy, and fit to be teased. After the plan, they become the ones who whined and whined until the top brass destroyed the time-honored tradition of the purple heart just to shut them up. No one will come forward to get treated for PTSD after the plan.
  • To strengthen that argument, be sure you find evidence, which is plentiful, that soldiers are already coming forward for treatment in increasing numbers. That undercuts affirmative significance, and, more importantly, gives your turn uniqueness. Right now things are improving, so it’s irrational to adopt the plan and undo all that progress.
  • Emphasize that their inherency argument about “stigma” makes the turn that much stronger. It’s exactly that stigma, that stubbornly-wedged idea in military culture, that proves the plan will strip the purple heart of value. They’re likely to answer with evidence that orders from the top can bring about change, which you can answer by saying that such change happens only slowly, and the effect of silencing PTSD sufferers is immediate. They might use integration of the military as a counter-example, but nothing in that example corresponds to the ability of PTSD sufferers to simply hide their condition by denying that they have any symptoms.
  • I think you can also get a lot of mileage out of the argument that it parallels affirmative action almost precisely: racism is a stubbornly-wedged idea in hiring, so let’s just wave our hands and pass a rule about hiring more racial minorities and then racism will conveniently go away. Instead, you can argue, people get stuck with the label of “affirmative action hire,” which undercuts the opportunity they previously had to prove themselves. In this case, someone with a purple heart will just have a PTSD purple heart, which becomes a badge of shame, not honor. You can’t rewire people’s attitudes overnight just by announcing a rule change, goes the argument.
  • See if you can’t find evidence for other impacts to devaluing the purple heart, other social goods that purple heart recipients supply. As you read about the award, you might find that purple heart recipients are often the most visible participants in Memorial and Veterans’ Day events, that they speak to schoolchildren and instill patriotism, that military recruiters ask them to talk to recruits, that they testify before Congress when military cuts are proposed, etc. Read those as additional impacts, but make sure the judge understands that all you have to win is your solvency turn.

“Reform presence/commitment” topicality is a strong argument, but ultimately I think it’s risky to stake the debate on it.

  • I think a reasonably strong analogy is to say football teams have players, but they also have set offenses and defenses. Changing the offense that your football team runs is parallel to reforming your military’s presence or commitment; all the affirmative does is change a rule that impacts players individually, not regarding their position in the group. The example that hit me was a rule that anyone who’s late to practice three times is benched for one game. That wouldn’t change the team’s offense or defense, except by indirect effect. Similarly, the plan doesn’t change the configuration of our force deployment except by indirect effect.
  • The reason I think this isn’t a winning strategy against a skillful, experienced team is that this topic is written so incredibly loosely. “Reform” really doesn’t have any particular meaning. It’s a very hazardous move to try to turn your gut feeling that this is not what the topic is about into a topicality win. I think you should introduce the argument, and if the affirmative team undercovers or poorly explains it, you might pursue it, but I wouldn’t advise you to stake the debate on it unless they were in terrible shape on the issue.

Other arguments like spending. It’s true that the plan would result in an explosive increase in the number of purple heart recipients, so you might be able to put together a strategy based on that cost. Not only do the citations themselves cost a little dab of money, but every single recipient gets a fairly long list of privileges regarding medical treatment and other benefits, and those could genuinely run into money. You do put yourself in an unfortunate rhetorical situation where your opponent can say “So these people put their lives on the line for us, and we’re too stingy to give them a medal because we don’t want to pay for their medical treatment?” But if you’re in good shape on the “waters down tradition” argument, you might be able to argue that this honor isn’t really deserved, however proud we are of veterans, and defuse that line of argument a bit.


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