Monday, August 13, 2007

Slandering the troops (I)

One of the most disturbing aspects of the antiwar movement is the use of fabricated atrocities to smear the US military. The sad irony is that the Vietnam antiwar movement caused more deaths than the Vietnam war itself, and the current Iraq antiwar movement seeks the same result three decades later, but I digress.

Fake atrocities have traditionally been used by governments and their sympathizers to demonize the enemy and mobilize support for wars. But since the late 1960’s they have been a preferred tactic of those who work against their government to sabotage support for wars. The intent is still to demonize the enemy, but for antiwar types the enemy is their own country. They seek to impugn the service of their soldiers as part of a larger attack on the traditions and values of their nation, which they typically seek to replace with the Utopian flavor of the day (communism, socialism, etc). The lie is most powerful when it is told by a soldier himself, lending it faux authenticity.

This phenomenon seems to be increasing with each war. Korean war vet Edward Lee Daily claimed decades later to have been a lieutenant, a POW, wounded in action, and present at a mass killing, all off which proved to be lies. John Kerry appeared in front of Congress to spout the now-infamous pack of lies (raping women, cutting off civilians’ ears, destroying villages like Genghis Khan) that jump-started his political career and may have, in an act of poetic justice, ultimately stopped that career short of its ultimate goal. Indeed, the entire book upon which the Winter Soldiers investigation was based proved to be a sham, all of the stories made up and many of them by men who never served in Vietnam at all.

The Iraq theater of the War on Terror has already featured more than its share of these smears. Marine Jimmy Massey has falsely accused his unit of genocide, claiming at various times to have killed children and other civilians, to have witnessed said killings, or to have merely heard stories of them – all lies. Jesse MacBeth and Micah Wright claimed to be Army Rangers who were involved with shooting children during parental interrogations, shooting protesters who were throwing rocks, and killing hundreds of innocent worshippers at a mosque – again, all lies.

And now comes the piece de resistance, Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp. Writing as Scott Thomas in a New Republic series called “Baghdad Diarist,” Beauchamp was too much of a coward to implicate himself in actual fake atrocities, so he settled for a safer fake narrative whereby fighting in Iraq so dehumanized him that he became a participant or an uncritical observer of some despicable acts.

In the Beauchamp fiction that has gotten the most play, he wrote of how he loudly made fun of a woman with severe facial scarring from an IED while eating with his friends: "I love chicks that have been intimate with IEDS. It really turns me on - melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses. My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall."

Another Beauchamp tale concerned his unit finding the remains of children in a Saddam-era mass grave: "One private...found the top part of a human skull...He marched around with the skull on his head...No one was disgusted. Me included."

And just in case women and children don’t do it for you, Beauchamp threw in a fable for the animal lovers, telling of another friend "who only really enjoyed driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles because it gave him the opportunity to run things over. He took out curbs, concrete barriers, corners of buildings, stands in the market, and his favorite target: dogs. Since details help lies believable, he added an anecdote of the friend killing three dogs in one day: "He slowed the Bradley down to lure the first kill in, and, as the diesel engine grew quieter, the dog walked close enough for him to jerk the machine hard to the right and snag its leg under the tracks."

When it started to become apparent that the stories were a little, to be kind, light on facts, the New Republic launched some half-hearted fact-checking. As conservative bloggers identified the pseudonymous author as Beauchamp, the New Republic found that the first incident (if it happened at all) happened in Kuwait prior to Beauchamp ever going to Iraq. Thus the entire point of the narrative, that this decent man and his companions had become so dehumanized by the horrors of war, is self-evidently false right off the bat. If this happened (nobody at Camp Buehring remembers seeing such a woman), it had nothing to do with war, it was just a case of a low-life piece of crap human being who gets his rocks off by mocking the disfigured. I guess the “Fake, but accurate” defense has been replaced by “Fake, but inaccurate anyway so who cares?”

The other stories don’t hold up to scrutiny either. The child skull incident proved to be pure fantasy – no mass graves have been found in the time Beauchamp has been in the Baghdad area. And the Bradley-driving dog killer story isn’t even plausible – it would be physically impossible for the driver of that vehicle to see a dog to his immediate right, and the vehicles are not agile enough to make the kind of quick jerking move that is described. In the unlikely event that Beauchamp ever even witnessed a dog being run over, it was surely an accident.

So what we have is a guy who made things up out of whole cloth (and has apparently confessed it to military investigators), a fabulist suffering from what Michelle Malkin has coined “Winter Soldier Syndrome” and of whom Charles Krauthammer has said “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.” The interesting question is why would anybody lie in this way at all?

First and most obvious is that he’s an antiwar guy, and as we have seen so many times for this group the ends justify the means, whatever they might be and whoever might be hurt by the consequences. Secondly, as an antiwar guy he knows that he will find a sympathetic and gullible media establishment who will uncritically repeat his claims, as they reinforce their own biases and advance their own agendas, leading him to believe that he can get away with it. Publicly slandering the military can lead to fame and fortune, the antiwar industry is big business. Lucrative speaking gigs, free travel and an extravagant life on the road as well as a huge advance for a book deal are certainties. Becoming a cult hero, at least as long as one keeps doing what they’re told and does not stray off message (anybody remember Cindy Sheehan?), has to be inviting for somebody in such dire need of attention.

The problem for Beauchamp is that the left does not have the monopoly on the media that it had two decades ago. Alternative media, especially talk radio and bloggers, will fact-check such fantastic claims and publish them for the world to see. A few gullible souls will become a little more brainwashed, but anybody who seeks to be informed will come to the truth and most likely react in the opposite way from what was intended. But perhaps that’s beside the point, if you’re just looking for fame and fortune you know that there is a segment out there who will believe pretty much anything if it is anti-American and particularly anti-military enough (the New Republic continues to stick by much of what he wrote), why not take advantage of them? For a Scott Thomas Beauchamp, it’s a winning lottery ticket.

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