Another follow up on TNR’s "Shock Troops" Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, July 24, 2007
More information continues to come out of Iraq concerning the three stories The New Republic published entitled "Shock Truths". Michael Goldfarb has done yoeman's work keeping up with all of this. Even the NYT has commented on it which now makes it much more unlikely that TNR will be able to sweep it under the rug and ignore it.
As people have stated, there is probably a grain of truth buried somewhere in each of those stories. For instance the first story about the disfigured woman may have come from an off-line conversation among soldiers about how hard it was to look at those who had been disfigured. It may then have been embellished as public display of this disgust and became a first person account story based in a dining facility. You'll have to ask those who tell such stories as to why they make up such things, but embellishment is something which is not at all unusual. However, everything I read coming out of FOB Falcon says that story never happened, at least not there (and, of course, if it supposedly happened elsewhere, it is heresay).
An officer serving there says:
First: I have never seen a woman on the FOB that was disfigured. FOB Falcon is full of combat Soldiers (men). There are very few female Soldiers on the FOB. After being here a year surrounded by men, I can tell you what every woman on this FOB looks like. IF there had been a woman with burns covering her face, and IF some undisciplined Soldier(s) had done something like described in this guys story, he would have been dealt with swiftly and harshly. The dining facility here is small and usually crowded. Any NCO or officer that had heard or seen someone committing this type behavior would have immediately approached that group and reacted to that situation. Those Soldiers would have had UCMJ actions taken against them. No one I know, NCO, officer, or even lower enlisted, would have tolerated this.
Heh ... trust me, his point about being there a year and knowing what every woman at the FOB looks like, well, let's just say I don't doubt that a bit.
A contractor who is at the FOB almost daily also disputes the story and disputes it pretty emphatically:
I was at FOB Falcon on and off from 05 through mid 06. While I did not live there, I was a daily guest of the chow hall which was better than the locally procured and prepared Iraqi chow we got provided for us. In addition we usually hung around in between mission times trading pieces of kit and whatnot with the soldiers stationed there.
Not once did I ever notice a female, either active duty or contractor, fitting the rather overblown description in the "Shock Troops" article. Furthermore, even if such a female existed, any Joe would have adjusted the attitudes of those fictional soldiers. Mocking the wounded is simply not done. Period. Full stop. Do not pass "GO". Do not collect 200 dollars. For a soldier to not only mock, but sexually harass a wounded woman would have brought down the wrath of every senior enlisted and officer in the mess hall. Some of us get pretty protective of women over here and the chance of a 4 wall counseling session occurring immediately afterwards is around the 99th percentile.
We contractors hate IEDs as much as the military does, and jokes about them are usually followed by a thorough thrashing somewhere out of sight. For a soldier to be publicly joking about them and the effects on a person is nonsensical. Nobody would have put up with the kind of verbiage attributed to the supposed soldiers at FOB Falcon. Even if the first sentence somehow escaped the brain-mouth checkpoint- he would have been told (and not too politely) to cease and desist.
His description of what would have happened during such an incident is on-target.
That brings me to the second story about the grave yard and the "grain of truth" and the tendency to embellish.
Let's revist that story, shall we:
About six months into our deployment, we were assigned a new area to patrol, southwest of Baghdad. We spent a few weeks constructing a combat outpost, and, in the process, we did a lot of digging. At first, we found only household objects like silverware and cups. Then we dug deeper and found children’s clothes: sandals, sweatpants, sweaters. Like a strange archeological dig of the recent past, the deeper we went, the more personal the objects we discovered. And, eventually, we reached the bones. All children’s bones: tiny cracked tibias and shoulder blades. We found pieces of hands and fingers. We found skull fragments. No one cared to speculate what, exactly, had happened here, but it was clearly a Saddam-era dumping ground of some sort.
One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.
The private wore the skull for the rest of the day and night. Even on a mission, he put his helmet over the skull. He observed that he was grateful his hair had just been cut—since it would make it easier to pick out the pieces of rotting flesh that were digging into his head.
Obviously this was a long-term project which took a few weeks. That means there were a lot more than his "patrol" involved in the construction of this COP. There would have been engineers involved as well as at least platoon size if not company size military units pulling security and perhaps detailed to provide some labor. That means lots of officers and NCOs present.
Here the officer cited above brings new information to the fore about a COP south of BIA in which a children's cemetery was uncovered. There's your grain of truth. Note the bold part. That is why most of those who've been in the military found this story "implausible" and, most likely, untrue embellishments:
Second: There was a children's cemetery unearthed while constructing a Combat Outpost (COP) in the farm land south of Baghdad International Airport. It was not a mass grave. It was not the result of some inhumane genocide. It was an unmarked cometary where the locals had buried children some years back. There are many such unmarked cemeteries in and around Baghdad. The remains unearthed that day were transported to another location and reburied. While I was not there personally, and can not confirm or deny and actions taken by Soldiers that day, I can tell you that no Soldier put a human skull under his helmet and wore it around. The Army Combat Helmet (ACH) is form fitted to the head. Unlike the old Kevlar helmets, the ACH does not have a gap between the helmet and the liner, only pads. It would have been impossible for him to have placed and human skull, of any size, between his helmet and his head. Further more, no leader would have tolerated this type of behavior. This type of behavior is strictly forbidden in the U.S. Army and would have made the individual involved subject to UCMJ actions.
His points are critical. One is a technical point - you can't do that with a ACH. It just won't allow it. The ACH won't fit if you add mass to your own head, and especially rigid mass. And the "perfect fit" of the top part of a human skull (how convenient, the kids skull is larger than the soldiers skull) definitely adds mass and circumference to your head. Ergo it is impossible to wear a skull top under your "helmet".
The cultural point that trips this up is the public display and mocking disrespect went unremarked upon, and, in fact, was roundly enjoyed.
As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter.
Again we go back to the point in the first story. You are to believe that no officers or NCOs were present and that had they been, they were complicit in this desecration. That is the second point on which the story falls apart.
Last story, the "dog hunting" story is also tripped up technically and procedurally. For instance:
Third: When the U.S. Army takes to the streets on patrols we do it deliberately, with task and purpose. "Thomas" describes the Bradley slowing down and 'jerking' suddenly to hit dogs. This just isn't possible. If he is slowing down, then the vehicles behind him are slowing down, and there is a gap created between him and the vehicles in front of him. This would violate standard operating procedure (SOP) and make the convoy more susceptible to attack. While no one that has been to Baghdad can deny that there are large packs of wild dogs roaming the streets, to think that that is all a Bradley crew is worried about is absurd. The streets are also filled with IED's and EFP's. They line every street and and every corner. They are the number one killer in Iraq. When we travel in convoys, dogs are not our concern. We watch the streets, we look at curbs, we look at rocks, we look at windows for snipers and trigger men, we don't look at wild dogs. Also, if this guy is driving a Bradley, how is he marking his "dog kill count" in a green book. Again, any leader would have corrected this action immediately, not only because it is subject to UCMJ action, but mainly because it endangers the lives of every man in that convoy.
One of the myths constantly told about VN is everyone there was high. Well that may have been true in the rear areas, but it wasn't true of the vast majority of combat troops in the field. Oh they too used drugs at that time, but only when they were standing down and in the rear themselves. If you showed up out in the bush high, your peers would quickly make sure you never did it again by demonstrating their displeasure in a secretive but physical manner. When you're out in indian country, you don't play games with other people's lives. And that is what the 'dog hunting' story is all about. What you're supposed to believe is this was not only allowed, but condoned. Either that or you're supposed to believe this guy is out there tooling around by himself doing dumb stuff.
These guys, as pointed out earlier, don't move that vehicle without the track commander (an NCO or officer) being in that vehicle and in command. They also don't deploy vehicles as singles. They move in groups. So not only is there someone in charge of the vehicle, there's someone (an officer or senior NCO) in charge of the group. And can you guess who the vehicle commander reports too?
Again, if you don't know any of this stuff, perhaps these stories are plausible. But, as most who've blown them off have said, they may have a grain of truth somewhere in them (some guy may have hit a dog with a Bradley on a patrol) but from there they've been embellished to make a particular point. And in this case, that particular point can be found in the attempt to characterize this as fairly normal behavior and that no one cares. Or said another way, an attempt to dehumanize our troops by claiming they've dehumanized everyone and everything else.
That is why the military community is resisting these stories so vehemently. But you have to know the technical points and the cultural taboos of the military to understand that. And Franklin Foer has no such context in which to make those sorts of determinations, no matter how "thorough" an investigation he thinks he conducts. That's why the milblogs and others are keeping the pressure on TNR, and that is why nothing short of the authors name and unit are going to satisfy them in any "investigation". Unless he's identified, his stories will remain "crap".
There is a solution, and it is offered by the PAO officer at FOB Falcon, MAJ Ludeke:
I invite Scott Thomas to come by the Dragon PAO shop at FOB Falcon- Bldg 301, Rm 119, and I'd be happy to share the DoD media policy with him. While he's here, I'd love to discuss with him the mass graves, Bradley IFV dog hunting and IED burn victim he's so intent on stating is fact. If he can provide the evidence, I will gladly retract every word I've posted on the subject. If he's not willing to do that, then it kind of makes you wonder about his credibility, and that of the New Republic's doesn't it?
I’m surprised I’ve seen no mention of "desert queen" syndrome in relation to this incident.
The ratio of men to women is very high (I would guess around 10:1), a great deal for the women. Even beyond normal decency and chivalry, enforced by NCOs and officers, it’s unlikely you could do something like this and not be accosted by numerous men defending her.
This sounds a lot more like something from a junior high school cafeteria, with IED injuries substituting for some other deformity.
You know that crazy Liberal Narrative that notherbob2 is always going on about? Well, some other folks are starting to notice it too:
”...she gleans from Newsweek’s Evan Thomas an admission that captures the essence of what’s wrong with the American press when it comes to reporting not only on the Duke-lacrosse case, but also on Iraq:
We fell into a stereotype of the Duke lacrosse players. It’s complicated because there is a strong stereotype [that] lacrosse players can be loutish, and there’s evidence to back that up. There’s even some evidence that that the Duke lacrosse players were loutish, and we were too quick to connect those dots. It was about race. Nifong’s motivations clearly were rooted in his need to win black votes. There were tensions between town and gown, that part was true. The narrative was properly about race, sex and class.
. . . We went a beat too fast in assuming that a rape took place. . . . We just got the facts wrong. The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong (my emphasis).
Smolkin writes that “often, the preconceptions — rather than the facts — dictated not only the tone of the coverage but also its volume and prominence.” For TNR, “Scott Thomas” provides the approved, preconceived, narrative — facts be damned.