Saving Private Beauchamp

Ken AshfordIraq, Right Wing Punditry/IdiocyLeave a Comment

Beauchamp45The blogosphere is abuzz over Scott Thomas Beauchamp’s Iraq blogging. Mr. Beauchamp blogged some controversial posts about his military unit for The New Republic, under the pseudonym of Scott Thomas.

The posts were deeply disturbing.  In one, an Iraqi boy who calls himself James Bond has his tongue cut out for talking to Americans; in the other, dogs feast on a corpse in the street. Perhaps the most shocking was this account:

One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.

The right wing blogosphere went nuts, accusing TNR (a publication which has been, by the way, hawkish on the Iraq War) of fabricating a soldier and lying about his experiences. There were repeated attempts to prove that Scott Thomas was a fake.

But yesterday, Mr. Beauchamp unveiled himself, proving that he a) does exist and b) is in Iraq. Rather than admit they were wrong, the right-wing has now taken to slandering Mr. Beauchamp.  It has been vicious.  Here’s a typical example:

Scott Thomas is a lying sack of shit. Every unit has a Scott Thomas, the whiny pissant whose brilliance is never recognized and who is always being abused by the chain of command for stuff that’s not his fault. It would be normal to hear folks telling him to STFU and do his damn job.

The same milblogger also advices Scott Thomas to "watch his back".  His personal life has been probed.

The controversy has become so full blown that even the Washington Post covered it.

Digby, I think, is asbolutely right when she writes:

This soldier certainly had no idea what he was dealing with, and I suspect TNR didn’t either. (Up until now, the right has been sympathetic with their editorial line on the war, after all. For all the disdain for the blogofascists of the left, this is undoubtedly the first time TNR’s felt the full force of the wingnutosphere, which makes our little ideological disagreements look like kisses on the cheek. )

But this is bigger than blogospherics. There has been precious little good writing about the actual gritty experiences of average soldiers in these wars. Everything has been so packaged and marketed from the top that it’s very difficult to get a sense of what it’s like over there. I have no idea if this piece is accurate, but regardless it didn’t seem to me to be an indictment of the military in general, merely a description of the kind of gallows humor and garden variety cruelty that would be likely to escalate in violent circumstances. And so far, there has been nothing substantial brought forward to doubt his story — the shrieking nitpicking of the 101st keyboarders notwithstanding.

It certainly should not have have garnered this vicious right wing attack from everyone from Bill Kristol to the lowliest denizens of the right blogosphere. They want to destroy this soldier for describing things that have been described in war reporting since Homer so they can worship "the troops" without having to admit that the whole endeavor is a bloody, horrible mess that only briefly, and rarely, offers opportunity for heroic battlefield courage (which, of course, it sometimes does as well.)

She ends with these wonderful words:

I hear so much from the right about how they love the troops. But they don’t seem to love the actual human beings who wear the uniform, they love those little GI Joe dolls they played with as children which they could dress up in little costumes and contort into pretzels for their fun and amusement. If they loved the actual troops they wouldn’t require them to be like two dimensional John Waynes, withholding their real experiences and feelings for fear that a virtual armchair lynch mob would come after them.

Thank God Joseph Heller and James Jones and Erich Maria Remarque and countless others aren’t trying to write their books today. They’d be burned as heretics by a bunch of nasty boys and girls who have fetishized "the troops" into a strange form of Boy Band eroticism — that empty, nonthreatening form of masculinity the tweens use to bridge the scary gap between puberty and adolescence. Private Peter Pan reporting for duty.

The real men for them are the civilians on 24 torturing suspected terrorists for an hour each week, keeping the lil’est tough guys safe from harm with hard sadism and easy answers. That’s where this wingnut war is really being fought. With popcorn.

Greenwald calls this one of Digby’s best posts ever, and adds:

I would simply add that right-wing troop-exploiters always reserve their most hateful, vicious and deeply personal attacks for soldiers and veterans who deviate from their political church — Jack Murtha, John Kerry, Wes Clark, Max Cleland, Scott Beauchamp. Similarly, the minute Pat Tillman’s political views became known, the use they had for him vanished (and nobody has less interest in finding out what happened to Pat Tillman than they do). As Digby points out, they "support the troops" only to the extent that the troops are useful props for their political agenda.

Digby is quite right.  The right’s view of the war is that it is some clean, sanitized movie from the 1950’s.  But war was NEVER like that — only war movies.  And while they try to build heroes of our soldiers, they are fictional heroes, not authentic humans.  Pat Tillman is another example — once a darling of the right, it now appears that his death was, shall we say, somewhat less valourous than we were led to be believe (i.e., he wasn’t killed in combat so much as murdered by his own squad):

Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman’s forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player’s death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

“The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described,” a doctor who examined Tillman’s body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors — whose names were blacked out — said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman’s comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed. The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman’s death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly-fire accident.

The Associated Press, through a FOIA request, received some information that is stunning — and raises the specter that Tillman might have been murdered by a U.S. colleague.

– In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop “sniveling.”

– Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

– The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman’s death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn’t recall details of his actions.

– No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene — no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

I’m not a pacifist, but I think people who are so gung-ho for war ought to understand what war necessarily entails.  It’s NOT a freakin’ John Wayne movie.  These things happen, and anyone who is serious about talking about war should do from a reality-based perspective.  Support the troops?  Sure.  Fetishisize them?  No way.  As Farley writes:

Young men in war suffer incredible pressures, pressures that civilians can’t begin to comprehend. Sometimes they do horrible things, but they probably wouldn’t have done them if they hadn’t been placed in extraordinarily difficult situations. Facing criticism about such actions from people who cannot understand the context can be extremely unsettling. Nevertheless, horrific behavior on the part of soldiers is an inevitable part of war, and as such needs to be taken into account when we think about war. To do that, we need to face facts, and not pretend that awful things never happen.

See also, Tbogg: "We love our military except for that one guy. He sucks"

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is interesting:

"So why the craziness?

Partly, I think, new media hatred of TNR. Partly that Thomas is obviously a liberal Democrat who’s also a soldier. But mainly, it seems to me, the conservative blogosphere has taken such an almighty empirical beating this last year that they have an overwhelming psychic need to lash out at those still clinging to sanity on the war. This Scott Thomas story is a godsend for these people, a beautiful distraction from the reality they refuse to face.

It combines all the usual Weimar themes out there: treasonous MSM journalists, treasonous soldiers, stories of atrocities that undermine morale (regardless of whether they’re true or not), and blanket ideological denial. We have to understand that some people still do not believe that the U.S. is torturing or has tortured detainees, still do not believe that torture or murder or rape occurred at Abu Ghraib, still believe that everyone at Gitmo is a dangerous terrorist captured by US forces, and still believe we’re winning in Iraq. If you believe all this and face the mountains of evidence against you, you have to act ever more decisively and emphatically to refute any evidence that might undermine this worldview."

Sounds right to me.