Thursday, August 09, 2007

New Republic vs. Weekly Standard

Here's the best commentary I've seen on the ongoing feud between The New Republic and the Weekly Standard (and much of the conservative pro-war blogosphere) over the dispatches in TNR from the person we now know as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, from the front lines in Iraq. TNR published them under the pseudonym of Scott Thomas but finally gave up his entire name when commentators and critics questioned their veracity.

The first story, about an Iraqi boy who wanted to come to America so badly he taught himself pidgen English, then had his tongue cut out by Shia militia, and the second, about scavenger dogs devouring bodies left around Baghdad were grisly enough, but didn't arouse too much controversy. But the third piece, about war maybe turning him into something he didn't want to be, got the juices flowing. He describes himself and other soldiers taunting a deformed woman injured by an IED in a base dining hall, and two other incidents, one involving a soldier wearing parts of a child's skull around his neck and the other about killing dogs for fun with an armored vehicle.

Phillip Carter, an attorney who served in Iraq, says that "As soldiers, we learn to hide our worst stories from people outside the brotherhood of the close fight. And so the piucture of war that gets transmitted back to America is always incomplete, always lacking in the awful, gory, human details that flesh out the narrative of combat." Beauchamp broke that code with his stories. Carter says few of his military friends questioned the truth of the stories, but he says he finds the third story not quite believable, though he can't rule out that it's what Beauchamp experienced. He also thinks it was a mistake by TNR to grant Beauchamp anonymity. But the big story is not whether they were true or not but how quickly the war supporters pounced and the critics defended, each wedded to his own narrative and unwilling to consider something that didn't fit.

It turns out the base camp incident happened in Kuwait, not Iraq, and other details have been questioned, but TNR did its own investigation and found other members of Beauchamp's units to back him up. So both sides are claiming victory.

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