For the past several days, there have been a lot of discussions about The New Republic publishing descriptions of atrocities and other acts of insane cruelty by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, published under the pseudonyms “My Diarist” and “Scott Thomas.” This person now identifies himself as Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, and I’m not the first person to do a simple Google search and find out that while in college, Private Beauchamp was the editor of a liberal political magazine, suggesting a bit of disingenuity when he protests that he never wanted to join an ideological battle. Also of no small amount of interest is that he appears to be engaged to a researcher employed by The New Republic.
Now, you may ask, what has the world come to when we can’t get a straight set of facts out of the partisan press, but let’s dispense with the sarcasm. This guy is accusing his brother soldiers of doing some pretty crude and awful things – things that are somewhat difficult to believe and which do not really ring true for those in the military. It is worthwhile to ask the question “why.” The simple fact that Pvt. Beauchamp is willing to step up to the plate and identify himself as the author of these pieces does not substantially make me believe them any more than I did beforehand. The fact that he is willing – almost eager – to portray the Army in such disrepute is a singularly peculiar fact about the whole affair.
Another interesting question is why Beauchamp, who apparently is reasonably smart and had gone to college, is a Private and not a Second Lieutenant. Granted, not everyone is officer material, but you’d expect someone with a college background to at least try to become an officer. Given the choice of serving as an enlisted man and serving as an officer, I wouldn’t think it’s really much of a choice at all. It’s only in the Air Force that enlisted men send officers off to die; in the other three branches of the service, that formula is typically reversed.
Finally, there’s the matter of what to do with the information that Beauchamp has provided. Its credibility is still suspect, but it still suggests that there are some soldiers doing some really bad things in Iraq. We know that there are some soldiers who are guilty of war atrocities. That’s not what Beauchamp wrote about – he wrote about what amounts to macabre immaturity on the part of our soldiers (using a part of a skull for a hat, mocking a fellow soldier who had been wounded by an IED, using a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to run down dogs), which in some ways is easier to believe and in some ways harder to believe than that our soldiers would do really inhuman things like shooting civilians in the back, committing rape, or desecrating religious monuments. Unfortunately, we know from the Abu Ghraib incident that yes, some of our soldiers are capable of doing some very cruel and very stupid things and I still think of those particular people as “Those Six Idiots Who Lost Us The War.”
Beauchamp, however, has not reported this sort of thing as outrageous – which pisses me off even more. Rather than reporting with disappointment and shock that our troops would do things like this, his reports in TNR carry an air of resigned inevitability, as if of course American soldiers do these sorts of things. Of course they don’t do these sorts of things, not the soldiers I know – and if they were to do them, it would be very much an exception to the kind of behavior expected of soldiers, and it’s very difficult for me to imagine the sort of conduct Beauchamp describes as being tolerated by pretty much the entire rank-and-file of the military. If someone in the Bradley were joyriding and trying to run down dogs, someone else would very quickly approach him and put that guy back in line. And if it was an officer who heard about this stuff going on, I’d expect that officer to remember Abu Ghraib and squash the guy, to make damn sure we don’t get a black eye like that one again.