Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Shock Troops" Shocking, but Not Real

The stories were astonishing, revealing the horrible things American soldiers did when forced to fight a foul and illegitimate war. Three articles published in the New Republic, including the shocking "Shock Troops" of July 23, 2007 (careful: I got one of those content-blocking ads when I read the page), tell about a
  • Bradley fighting vehicle used to slaughter dogs
  • Human skull used as a crown
  • Group of soldiers ridiculing a disfigured woman
The reports must have been true, since they were sent from Iraq, by Scott Thomas, a real American soldier.

A little checking (not by me) showed that Scott Thomas was Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a soldier who was actually stationed in Iraq. As for the horrors he witnessed, he seems to have a gift for seeing things that no one else in his unit sees. At least, that's what Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad, said in a reprint of a Weekly Standard article.

Granted, The Weekly Standard isn't exactly on the same page as The New Republic, when it comes to political opinions.

However, since Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp is the only soldier that the U.S. Army can find who is connected with these remarkable claims, and since Pvt. Beauchamp has freely stated that he both wrote them up, and made them up, I'm inclined to believe that these stories were (from one point of view) too good to be true.

Why is The New Republic supporting this story?

The New Republic is sticking by its guns, for at least one of the stories. The woman with the melted face might be real, and if she was, she was in Kuwait. Before Thomas/Beauchamp got to Iraq.

I think that The New Republic is supporting its beliefs, if not the facts. Thomas/Beauchamp described war as many believe it to be, and so it should be no surprise that his story is supported.

I'm sure that people who are convinced that the U.S. should pull out of Iraq will use Thomas's, or Beauchamp's, stories as proof of the horrors of this horrible thing. In fact, there's probably a conspiracy theory or two in the making here, about how a shadowy government agency suppressed The Truth.

Why did the soldier make them up in the first place?

These anecdotes were intended to show the "morally and emotionally distorting effects of war." It's quite a claim, one which I'm familiar with from my college days. For those who believe that War is intrinsically evil, and that all those touched by it are tainted by its miasma, there was no reason to doubt, or apparently to verify, the truth of Thomas/Beauchamp's remarkable claims.

Thomas/Beauchamp says that his reports landed him in "an ideological battle that I never wanted to join." That may be true, but if so Thomas/Beauchamp has been staying out of the ideological battle in a strange way. He has a blog, Sir Real Scott Thomas, and on it he calls the war "misguided," and also refers to "silly Republicans."

(Hey, I get it! "Sir Real," "Surreal!" Good one!)

There could be a Pulitzer Prize here, for Thomas, or Beauchamp. I'm almost serious. This is the sort of expose or in-depth report that has won the coveted Pulitzer. Not often, but it's worked in the past, and it could work now. Cases in point:
  • Walter Duranty, The New York Times 1932. This reporter's enthusiastic account of General Secretary Josef Stalin's effort to industrialize the USSR won him the Pulitzer Prize. Years later, Mark von Hagen, a Columbia University history professor, wrote about the prize-winning coverage. ""Much of the 'factual' material is dull and largely uncritical recitation of Soviet sources, whereas his efforts at 'analysis' are very effective renditions of the Stalinist leadership's self-understanding of their murderous and progressive project to defeat the backwardness of Slavic, Asiatic peasant Russia," hardly a ringing endorsement. The real fuss, back in Duranty's day, was his non-coverage of a Ukranian famine that killed millions of people, and was partly the result of Stalin's forward-looking policies.
  • Janet Cooke, Washington Post 1980. Her heart-wrenching accounts of the trials of 'Jimmy,' a poor little black boy who was introduced to heroin by his mother's live-in boy friend. "Jimmy is 8 years old and a third-generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin brown arms." 'Jimmy' won her the Pulitzer Prize, and started a city-wide hunt for this poor, tragic, victim of heroin and neglect. Eventually it became obvious that 'Jimmy' didn't exist. He never had existed. Cooke, unlike Duranty, returned her prize. She also admitted that she had been creative when writing her resume, and resigned from the Post
With that sort of a history, I'd say that Thomas/Beauchamp has a shot at the Pulitzer, with his Amazing Woman with the Melted Face and Dog-Bashing Bradley Driver.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.