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Why Is the Chickenhawk Right so Crazy About Scott Thomas Beauchamp?

The New Republic is bewildered and confused:

A Scott Beauchamp Update | User Comments: by the Editors: For several weeks now, questions have been raised about Scott Beauchamp's Baghdad Diarist "Shock Troops." While many of these questions have been formulated by people with ideological agendas, we recognize that there are legitimate concerns about journalistic accuracy. We at THE NEW REPUBLIC take these concerns extremely seriously. This is why we have sought to re-report the story, in the process speaking with five soldiers in Beauchamp's company who substantiate the events described in Beauchamp's essay...

at what their friends among the right-wing chickenhawks have been doing to them since they published Scott Thomas Beauchamp:

[Beauchamp's] whole story -- and the whole morality tale it was meant to suggest -- collapses. And it makes the rest of the narrative banal and uninteresting. It's the story of a disgusting human being, a mocker of the disfigured, who then goes to Iraq and, as such human beings are wont to do, finds the company of other such human beings who kill dogs for sport, wear the bones of dead children on their heads and find similar amusement in mocking the disfigured.

We will soon learn if there actually was a dog killer or a bone wearer. But the New Republic seems not to have understood how the Kuwait "detail" undermines everything. After all, what made the purported story interesting enough to publish? Why did the New Republic run it? Because it fits perfectly into the most virulent narrative of the antiwar left. The Iraq war -- "George Bush's war," as even Hillary Clinton, along with countless others who had actually endorsed the war, now calls it -- has caused not only the sorrow and destruction that we read about every day. It has, most perniciously, caused invisible damage -- now made visible by the soul-searching of one brave and gifted private: It has perverted and corrupted the young soldiers who went to Iraq, and now return morally ruined. Young soldiers like Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

We already knew from all of America's armed conflicts -- including Iraq -- what war can make men do. The only thing we learn from Scott Thomas Beauchamp is what literary ambition can make men say...

Some background reading on why Scott Thomas Beauchamp's stories about Iraq are important:

From David Drake, who was with the Blackhorse ACR when it went through the Cambodian town on Snuol in 1970:

The Complete Hammer's Slammers: And I'm going to do more stories than this one in the series... [which has] become a vehicle for a message that I think needs to be more widely known. Veterans who have written or talked to me already understand, but a lot of other people don't: When you send a man out with a gun, you create a policymaker. When his ass is on the line, he will do whatever he needs to do [to try to survive, physically and psychologically]. And if the implications of this bother you, the time to do something about it is before you decide to send him out.

From Phillip Carter:

INTEL DUMP - - : Every soldier has a story. Some are even true. As soldiers, we learn to hide our worst stories from people outside the brotherhood of the close fight. And so the picture of war that gets transmitted back to America is incomplete, always lacking in the awful, gory, human details that flesh out the narrative of combat. These stories are reserved for unit reunions and American Legion halls. Army Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp broke that code when he pseudonymously wrote a series of colorful dispatches for the New Republic about his experiences as an infantryman in Iraq. He offered often gruesome details about the realities of war, details that have ignited a firestorm between left- and right-wing magazines willing to stake their reputations upon their truth and falsity. One question today is whether Beauchamp's dispatches are true. A second, more pressing question is how to better gather and report such stories, and how we should evaluate and verify them. I am deeply skeptical about the veracity of Beauchamp's dispatches, particularly the last one, but disinclined to offer definitive pronouncements at this time. Partisans on both sides of the political spectrum seem to harbor no such doubts. Based solely on the content of these dispatches, some were happy to leap to conclusions about the author's veracity without regard for the facts. And as the argument grows louder, each side turns toward the troops, using them to stand in for their own preconceived ideas about this war....

Update II: I wanted to include a quote from this passage in my column, but ultimately decided to cut it for space reasons. In his powerful memoir of Vietnam titled The Things They Carried, infantryman-turned-writer Tim O'Brien tells us the truth (as he sees it) about war stories:

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. Listen to Rat Kiley. Cooze, he says. He does not say bitch. He certainly does not say woman, or girl, He says cooze. Then he spits and stares. He’s nineteen years old—it’s too much for him—so he looks at you with those big gentle, killer eyes and says cooze, because his friend is dead, and because it’s so incredibly sad and true: she never wrote back. You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth; if you don’t care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty...

From Nathaniel Flick:

Fight Less, Win More - On a highway north of Kabul last month, an American soldier aimed a machine gun at my car from the turret of his armored Humvee. In the split second for which our eyes locked, I had a revelation: To a man with a weapon, everything looks like a threat. I had served as an infantry officer in Afghanistan in 2001-02 and in Iraq in 2003, but this was my first time on the other end of an American machine gun. It's not something I'll forget. It's not the sort of thing ordinary Afghans forget, either, and it reminded me that heavy-handed military tactics can alienate the people we're trying to help while playing into the hands of the people we're trying to defeat.

Welcome to the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare -- the kind of war you win by not shooting.

The objective in fighting insurgents isn't to kill every enemy fighter -- you simply can't -- but to persuade the population to abandon the insurgents' cause. The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: Money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the U.S. mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing...

[T]he more force you use, the less effective you may be. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are notoriously difficult to tally, but 300-500 noncombatants have probably been killed already this year, mostly in U.S. and coalition air strikes. Killing civilians, even in error, is not only a serious moral transgression but also a lethal strategic misstep. Wayward U.S. strikes have seriously undermined the very legitimacy of the Karzai government and made all too many Afghans resent coalition forces. If Afghans lose patience with the coalition presence, those forces will be run out of the country, in the footsteps of the British and the Soviets before them....

The academy's final lesson is that tactical success in a vacuum guarantees nothing. Just as it did in Vietnam, the U.S. military could win every battle and still lose the war. That's largely because our primary enemies in Afghanistan still have a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. Rather than make a suicidal stand against the allied forces invading Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters melted away to create a parallel "Talibanistan" in the lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan. Last fall, Gen. James Jones, then NATO's supreme commander, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Taliban leadership now operates openly from Quetta, a Pakistani border city that's long been a hotbed of Islamic militancy. Karzai reiterated this point during his visit to Camp David last week...

I think the attacks on TNR are not the organized right-wing conspiracy eating one of its own, but rather a combination of bad consciences--the bad conscience of the civilian chickenhawk, on the one hand, and the bad conscience of a military that has a tradition of shielding civilians from what war is. Beauchamp reminds the chickenhawks of what war is--and how your foreign policy winds up being a byproduct of the decisions young men (and women) make trying to keep themselves alive and to cope psychologically withe the horrors they see. Beauchamp publicizes this. The civililan chickenhawks don't want to be told that their fantasies of nice, clean victories--throwing some crappy country against the wall, in Tom Friedman's words--are fantasies. The military brass doesn't really want American civilians to know that soldiers are human beings doing the best they can in the middle of a total clusterf---.