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Embedded Hostility: A Case of "Beauchamping"

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – Although the military has, for reasons known only to its leaders, decided not to make the results of its investigation as publicly prominent as the original accusations against it were, the “Scott Thomas” affair has indeed – for all intents and purposes – come to a close.

Poked full of holes from the very beginning by those who were familiar with (and members of) the American military community, the stories penned by the then-pseudonymous Beauchamp, and published by The New Republic – who subsequently defended them so vigorously – were found to be, in the words of Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad, false. Said Lamb:
An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.
The New Republic, faced with the offer stories which validated their views of the military and of the war – which were written by the future husband of one of their researchers – bit hard, and came up worse than empty. What they had published was shown not to be simply “inaccurate” or “exaggerated,” but false – and TNR, along with its allies, went to the mat for it.

The motivation for this is likely not as sinister as some ascribe to TNR – for example, it is highly doubtful that they went to press with a story that they knew to be false, and from a source they knew to be untrustworthy. In all likelihood, they simply found a story which validated their views “about the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war,” which also served as “a startling confession of shame about some disturbing conduct, both [the author’s] and that of his fellow soldiers,” and, thinking that the source was unimpeachable, ran with it.

A massive part of the problem with TNR and others who seek to run to press with the first available scandal is that, to them, such behavior is the rule in the United States military, rather than the exception (as it is in reality).

When one views the situation through the prism of TNR and the prominent leftosphere, and sees that the magazine’s editors, and their allies, had been waiting for just this opportunity – an opportunity not only to validate their deeply-held views of the American military, but also to break the story of a scandal in which US soldiers were the culprits – then it one can recognize why it was so important to run these articles without thoroughly checking them (an exercise which ran the risk of showing these too-good-to-be-true tales to be exactly that).

This is not to say that scandal and wrongdoing does not take place; it certainly does. American soldiers are human. They make mistakes, they do things wrong, and, as is true with the rest of the population, there will always be some very bad apples within the group (as Abu Ghraib and the
Pendleton 8 clearly showed). However, if there is a population who, based on past action, more deserves the benefit of the doubt – not to mention freedom from allegation and made-up atrocities in the absence of absolute proof and necessity – then I cannot think of it.

Further, the idea that such a juicy story of inhumane activity and wrongdoing would come out of a place like Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon – where these incidents were originally alleged to have taken place – via a diarist in The New Republic borders on the absurd. More than almost any other FOB, Falcon is constantly populated with journalists. Embeds like myself and my good friends Michael Yon, J.D. Johannes, Matt Sanchez, and David Beriain, among many, many others, have passed through there, and none of us have ever seen the soldiers there act even remotely in such a way – and you can rest assured that we would be the first to report it if we did. Not one of us believes that the truth – or the story – is best served by covering up less-than-savory aspects.

However, TNR thought that they had latched on to a gem, and, though holes were poked in Beauchamp’s tales early and often, the editorial staff (and their defenders in the leftosphere) simply dug in and claimed, a la Dan Rather, “those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the major thrust of our report” – which, of course, was far from accurate – for several of the flaws exposed in the Baghdad Diarist’s stories rendered their “major thrust” moot.

An example of this is the story of the woman who had been disfigured by an IED, whom Beauchamp claims that he and his friend ridiculed for her appearance. After claiming repeatedly that this story had been proven true, TNR last week admitted that the incident (if it ever happened) now appeared to have taken place in Kuwait – a major blow to the entire stated purpose behind publishing the Baghdad Diaries, which TNR’s editors said was to demonstrate “the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war” something this incident hardly does at all, as, at the time that it now allegedly happened, neither he nor his companion in boorishness had ever even seen war yet.

Far from proving what an awful detriment to humanity President Bush’s horrible war is, TNR had simply proven, through publication of this “startling confession of shame about some disturbing conduct, both [the author’s] own and that of his fellow soldiers,” that Scott Thomas Beauchamp was a wretched person long before participating in war. Put in its actual context, the alleged event reflects far more on Beauchamp and his upbringing than it does on President Bush or the effect that “his war” is having on the humanity of American soldiers.

Given the fact that it negates the entire point of the essay, it is not surprising that TNR, having published the original story, would fight to keep the reality from coming to light.

The New Republic and its allies aside (as well as the conservative bloggers who are simply in this for a well-earned laugh at TNR’s expense), the real “thrust” of this story is the American military, and the reflection upon that organization as a whole that erroneous reports like this create. Although members of the US military make mistakes and do wrong – who among us does not? – stories like these will likely keep coming as long as there is a segment of the population (and of the media) who believes (and looks for evidence to support the belief) that Scott Thomas Beauchamp is the rule, rather than the exception. Whishing, however, does not make it so.

As Air Force officer John Noonan
None of this detracts from the fact that, of the 160k troops in Iraq, TNR choose a real dirtball to serve as their correspondent. When other soldiers are out building schools, providing medical care, and running security operations for the Iraqi people, TNR decided to highlight a real slug of a mechanic who mocks the disfigured and disrespects the dead for kicks.

This is the crux of the situation: while the vast majority of the American military is doing amazing work, in Iraq and around the world, there is a segment of the population and of the media which is actively searching for the Next Big Story which will show them for the inhuman, war-scarred sham they believe them to be. When such an opinion is so closely-held, the proof needed to run with a story that appears to validate it is minimal. As Major Kirk Luedeke, of the 4th IBCT at FOB Falcon, said:

I know that if my organization claimed to have unearthed a sizeable cache of hundreds of explosives, rockets, nitric acid and other key components to make roadside bombs, otherwise known here in these parts as a ‘good news story,’ media outlets would rightfully demand some kind of proof to substantiate our claims. That's why we take pictures of such things and provide them along with our press releases. The inability of The New Republic and Scott Thomas to provide any kind of photographic evidence whatsoever, and the fact that "Scott" [wasn’t originally] willing to come forward and identify himself, pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
Indeed it does. When presented with what they viewed as a validation of their beliefs, as well as the Next Big Story about American military depravity, The New Republic decided to rush the story to press, rather than to take the chance that fact-checking would reveal a chink in their superstar contributor’s armor. Even if TNR’s masthead, and their vociferous supporters in the leftosphere, will not alter their views of the American military as a result of this incident, it is important for the public to learn that these tales of depravity and inhumanity turned out simply to be the exaggerations and fevered delusions of one troubled young man who, as the alleged incident with the woman shows, was in such a state long before he ever experienced the horrors of war.

When I was
embedded with the 1-4 Cavalry at FOB Falcon this spring, the unit had nearly reached double-digits in school refurbishments. They had secured large swaths of their area of operations in Baghdad, and had made possible the return of several families, displaced by the heavy fighting there previously, to their homes. While so many soldiers in the US Army are – and long have been – young in years, and often act as such when off duty, I never once witnessed a single soldier acting even remotely like Beauchamp portrayed them in his incredibly offensive Baghdad Diaries. While proving them to be incorrect is satisfying, and serves to validate the majority opinion that our soldiers are not inhuman monsters, dwelling on his accounts at any length takes away from the time which we could be using to recount the far greater number of stories about US military goodness, courage, and heroism.

When the Beauchamp story was first beginning to be sniffed out as being possibly false, I
made an offer to TNR to investigate the veracity of Beauchamp’s claims for them, as I will be back at FOB Falcon this September as part of my current two-month front line embed in Iraq.

They never responded.

I believe that far less damage would have been done to them if they had.

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At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God for embeds such as yourself who are reporting the truth. My son is in Iraq and I pray for him and everyone with him. People like those at TNR and
Pvt. Beauchamp make a difficult job even harder. I heard you on Laura Ingraham's show today. Keep up the good work and stay safe.


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