TNR and Scott Thomas Posted by: Dale Franks
on Thursday, August 02, 2007
I have a bit of a different take than Bruce does on The New Republic's statement about Scott Beauchamp. Because I find the statement fascinating, as much for what it doesn't say, as for what it does.
Let's look at the original accounts, and TNR's response. First, the original:
I saw her nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq. She wore an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor. The thing that stood out about her, though, wasn’t her strange uniform but the fact that nearly half her face was severely scarred. Or, rather, it had more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head. She was always alone, and I never saw her talk to anyone. Members of my platoon had seen her before but had never really acknowledged her.
Then, on one especially crowded day in the chow hall, she sat down next to us. We were already halfway through our meals when she arrived. After a minute or two of eating in silence, one of my friends stabbed his spoon violently into his pile of mashed potatoes and left it there.
“Man, I can’t eat like this,” he said. “Like what?” I said. “Chow hall food getting to you?”
“No—with that f*cking freak behind us!” he exclaimed, loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables. I looked over at the woman, and she was intently staring into each forkful of food before it entered her half-melted mouth.
“Are you kidding? I think she’s f*cking hot!” I blurted out.
“What?” said my friend, half-smiling. “Yeah man,” I continued. “I love chicks that have been intimate—with IEDs. It really turns me on—melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses . . . .”
“You’re crazy, man!” my friend said, doubling over with laughter. I took it as my cue to continue.
“In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? ‘IED Babes.’ We could have them pose in thongs and bikinis on top of the hoods of their blown-up vehicles.”
My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground."
Am I a monster? I have never thought of myself as a cruel person…Even as I was reveling in the laughter my words had provoked, I was simultaneously horrified and ashamed at what I had just said. In a strange way, though, I found the shame comforting. I was relieved to still be shocked by my own cruelty—to still be able to recognize that the things we soldiers found funny were not, in fact, funny.
Additionally, Beauchamp wrote that he thought this tale was so important because:
That is how war works: It degrades every part of you, and your sense of humor is no exception.
TNR's response to this story:
Beauchamp recounted how he and a fellow soldier mocked a disfigured woman seated near them in a dining hall. Three soldiers with whom TNR has spoken have said they repeatedly saw the same facially disfigured woman. One was the soldier specifically mentioned in the Diarist. He told us: "We were really poking fun at her; it was just me and Scott, the day that I made that comment. We were pretty loud. She was sitting at the table behind me. We were at the end of the table. I believe that there were a few people a few feet to the right."
The recollections of these three soldiers differ from Beauchamp's on one significant detail (the only fact in the piece that we have determined to be inaccurate): They say the conversation occurred at Camp Buehring, in Kuwait, prior to the unit's arrival in Iraq. When presented with this important discrepancy, Beauchamp acknowledged his error. We sincerely regret this mistake.
So, this story tells us two things. First it lets us know that whatever happened in that chow hall had nothing whatsoever to do with the dehumanizing effects of combat, and second, that Mr. Beauchamp was an insufferable little pr*ck before he ever heard a shot fired in anger.It was a mistake, you see, to think that this story arose from the effects of war that "degrades every part of you". At this point, Beauhamp's horrific experiences were a) a tour in Western Europe, with, apparently, occasional side trips to Amsterdam, and b) an undoubtedly tedious flight from Germany to Kuwait.
So, this story tells us two things. First it lets us know that whatever happened in that chow hall had nothing whatsoever to do with the dehumanizing effects of combat, and second, that Mr. Beauchamp was an insufferable little pr*ck before he ever heard a shot fired in anger.
Also, let's factor this into the "mistake", again: "I saw her nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq."
No. He saw her, apparently, in the brief time he spent in Kuwait before going into Iraq. This is not a mistake. It is an outright fabrication.
I'm also troubled that it happened "on one especially crowded day in the chow hall" and the comments were made "loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables." Yet, TNR found only three soldiers who would corroborate any of the facts, one of whom was one of the principals in the story. I'm wondering whether the comments were, in fact, made quite as loudly as all that. Because here's the thing. TNR states, again:
Three soldiers with whom TNR has spoken have said they repeatedly saw the same facially disfigured woman. One was the soldier specifically mentioned in the Diarist. He told us: "We were really poking fun at her; it was just me and Scott, the day that I made that comment.
Parse this very carefully. Two of those three soldiers didn't corroborate The Taunting itself. It was just Beauchamp and the other principal who told the story of The Taunting. The two other soldiers seem merely to have corroborated that they saw a woman of that description on the base in Kuwait. Because, you see, "it was just me and Scott, the day that I made that comment".
I'm perfectly willing to believe that young Mr. Beauchamp found another insufferable little pr*ck to hang around with. But, as far as we can tell so far, the only soldiers who seemed to have overheard the "loud" conversation were the two insufferable little pr*cks who were having it.
And their unfortunate victim, of course.
It certainly would explain why, in this crowded chow hall, no NCO or officer did what I certainly would've done when I was a staff NCO, and delivered an intensive "counseling" on the spot. Or why no other combat veteran, who'd perhaps lost a friend to an IED, jumped in to do likewise. Or worse.
The bottom line is that this story was significantly falsified to illustrate a particular point about the desensitizing effects of a war that Beauchamp hadn't even experienced yet.
The second story relates the rather gross treatment of the remains of children.
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.
TNR explains this story as follows:
In the second anecdote, soldiers in Beauchamp's unit discovered what they believed were children's bones. Publicly, the military has sought to refute this claim on the grounds that no such discovery was officially reported. But one military official told TNR that bones were commonly found in the area around Beauchamp's combat outpost. (This is consistent with the report of a children's cemetery near Beauchamp's combat outpost reported on The Weekly Standard website.)
More important, two witnesses have corroborated Beauchamp's account. One wrote in an e-mail: "I can wholeheartedly verify the finding of the bones; U.S. troops (in my unit) discovered human remains in the manner described in 'Shock Troopers.' [sic] ... [We] did not report it; there was no need to. The bodies weren't freshly killed and thus the crime hadn't been committed while we were in control of the sector of operations." On the phone, this soldier later told us that he had witnessed another soldier wearing the skull fragment just as Beauchamp recounted: "It fit like a yarmulke," he said. A forensic anthropologist confirmed to us that it is possible for tufts of hair to be attached to a long-buried fragment of a human skull, as described in the piece.
It is the difference between one individual doing a sick comedy routine for a few minutes, and a unit's leaders allowing someone to parade around with the skull for almost a whole day. I can see the former happening without too much trouble, the latter is much less believable.Interestingly, while two soldiers corroborated the account, they only see fit to quote one of them.
But what, exactly was corroborated here? Bones were found from what was apparently an old graveyard—not a Saddam-era mass grave. One person put a skull fragment on his head.
But what about the rest of it? What about wearing it for "the rest of the day and night", and even wearing it under his helmet during a mission? It's difficult to see how you could fit a skull part beneath the form-fitted Army Combat Helmet (ACH).
It is the difference between one individual doing a sick comedy routine for a few minutes, and a unit's leaders allowing someone to parade around with the skull for almost a whole day. I can see the former happening without too much trouble, the latter is much less believable, both in terms of what a squad leader or platoon sergeant would allow, and what is physically possible to wear under the ACH.
At best, only part of Mr. Beauchamp's has been corroborated, as far as I can tell from the TNR statement. The part that hasn't, so far, been corroborated is the part that gives the story its impact: a soldier poncing about toying with a child's skull for an entire day. That is a significant difference as well.
Finally, we come to the third little tale, the one about the puppy-killing Bradley driver.
I know another private who really only 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. Occasionally, the brave ones would chase the Bradleys, barking at them like they bark at trash trucks in America—providing him with the perfect opportunity to suddenly swerve and catch a leg or a tail in the vehicle’s tracks. He kept a tally of his kills in a little green notebook that sat on the dashboard of the driver’s hatch. One particular day, he killed three dogs. 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. The leg caught, and he dragged the dog for a little while, until it disengaged and lay twitching in the road. A roar of laughter broke out over the radio. Another notch for the book. The second kill was a straight shot: A dog that was lying in the street and bathing in the sun didn’t have enough time to get up and run away from the speeding Bradley. Its front half was completely severed from its rear, which was twitching wildly, and its head was still raised and smiling at the sun as if nothing had happened at all.
TNR's account of their re-reporting on this:
The last section of the Diarist described soldiers using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to kill dogs. On this topic, one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp, wrote in an e-mail: "How you do this (I've seen it done more than once) is, when you approach the dog in question, suddenly lurch the Bradley on the opposite side of the road the dog is on. The rear-end of the vehicle will then swing TOWARD the animal, scaring it into running out into the road. If it works, the dog is running into the center of the road as the driver swings his yoke back around the other way, and the dog becomes a chalk outline." TNR contacted the manufacturer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle System, where a spokesman confirmed that the vehicle is as maneuverable as Beauchamp described. Instructors who train soldiers to drive Bradleys told us the same thing. And a veteran war correspondent described the tendency of stray Iraqi dogs to flock toward noisy military convoys.
Take a close look at this, especially the words "one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp". The "incident"? Beauchamp didn't describe merely an incident. Take a look at his story once again:
I know another private who really only 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.
This is not an "incident" where a dog got run over. It is a pattern of behavior of a soldier habitually driving recklessly during a convoy movement. Nor does Beauchamp go on to describe a single "incident", but a continuous series of dog-killings. Presumably between knocking down curbs, market stalls and building corners, all while miraculously never throwing a track, upsetting his vehicle commander, or irking the convoy commander.
This is not an "incident" where a dog got run over. It is a pattern of behavior of a soldier habitually driving recklessly during a convoy movement.So, what exactly was the "incident" that was corroborated? That a Bradley driver ran over a dog one day? What about the green score-keeping notebook? What about all the flattened market stalls, and buildings where the corners have all gone missing? What the hell is "The Incident"? How do we go from a Bradley driver careening about the streets bumping into things willy-nilly, to "The Incident"?
I'd really like to know what "The Incident" is, but TNR's editors aren't telling. They do engage in a bit of CYA, however:
Although we place great weight on the corroborations we have received, we wished to know more.
I'll bet. Especially after they learned that central thrust of the whole chow hall thing was deliberately falsified.
But, late last week, the Army began its own investigation, short-circuiting our efforts.
Those damn Army officers, getting all huffy over what appears to be a unit completely out of control, and starting an investigation into the matter. How dare they!
Beauchamp had his cell-phone and computer taken away and is currently unable to speak to even his family.
Yeah, well, he's probably said quite enough, at this point.
His fellow soldiers no longer feel comfortable communicating with reporters.
I'd probably be a little leery of publicly admitting to what might very well be career-ending UCMJ violations, too.
If further substantive information comes to light, TNR will, of course, share it with you.
I'll certainly be watching for it.
In essence, five soldiers came forward with six "corroborations" of one sort or another. So, at least one person is being double-counted. All of them anonymously, of course. What we learned from this TNR statement is that at least one story was deliberately falsified, and two others were only partially corroborated, although TNR manages to try and hide that quite skillfully. Just as they hide that the uncorroborated portions are exactly those that make the three stories so outrageous.
To me, what it sounds like is that Scott Beauchamp is telling war stories. There are grains of truth behind them, perhaps, although, without more information about who the corroborating stories come from, it's hard to judge. But whether those corroborated facts match with the totality of Scott Beauchamp's stories is still very much an open question.
TNR, on the other hand, seems quite proud that, by their reckoning on the Beauchamp stories, they got 2 out of 3 right. "Hey, our guy in Iraq only lies 1/3 of the time! So, what's your beef?" As far as I'm concerned, however, knowing that one of the stories has been significantly falsified makes me a bit skeptical about stories two and three. Something happened in those three incidents, but I'm not sure at all that what actually happened is what what Mr. Beauchamp says happened.
Dale, after reading your take, I now believe that Scott the Pr%$@ did in fact mock a disfigured woman. However, everything else about the story, especially the Oh-So-Important-Point, were exaggerated. He only mocked her to one other guy, who was also a Pr%$@, and both of them have likely been Pr%$@s their whole lives, which lives did not up to that point involve any combat. Pr%$@s.
Oh, and I’ve tried this New Republic-style "corroboration" with my wife a few times: "Honey, not only was I NOT at that gentleman’s club all night, I have five, no, SIX perfect strangers who are willing to corroborate my story that I was actually at the orphanage, reading Horton Hears a Who to those poor children. What’s that? Their names? Uh, well, obviously, they’d prefer to remain anonymous. They don’t want people to think they are, you know, softies or anything." Yeah, that dog doesn’t hunt.
A forensic anthropologist confirmed to us that it is possible for tufts of hair to be attached to a long-buried fragment of a human skull, as described in the piece.
Was there anyone, anywhere that suggested that hair could not be on a skull? I read a lot of blogs and commenters on this subject. I don’t recall one person mentioning that. But since it’s an expert and an authority being quoted I guess that confirms their article.
It’s the King Aurthur method. Use a lame excuse to try to explain an absurdity and watch as people try to find some way for the square wooden dowell of the narrative to fit into the circular orifice of reality.
SOLDIER #1: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate? ARTHUR: Not at all. They could be carried. SOLDIER #1: What? A swallow carrying a coconut? ARTHUR: It could grip it by the husk!
All of a sudden, everyone is arguing about the possible, the plausible, and the likely. None of them notice the guy who started the mess slipping away.
So the answer to all the Hooplah is simply for Beauchamp to re-write the stories and open them up with, "I Sh*te you not, this is a TRUE story....." because as I understand the genre this is the approved opening of a "War Story". It’s akin to "Once upon a time...". Once he adds the correct opening it warns the audience that this is a "War Story" and therefore, much like a Fish Tale or Hollywood saying, "Based on a true story" that only tiny portions of the story in any way bear the slightest resemblance to what ACTUALLY happened.
"We granted Beauchamp a pseudonym so that he could write honestly and candidly about his emotions and experiences, even as he continued to serve in the armed forces and participate in combat operations"
"All of Beauchamp’s essays were fact-checked before publication. We checked the plausibility of details with experts, contacted a corroborating witness, and pressed the author for further details."
If he was writing honestly and candidly how is it that so many things were wrong in the articles?
If they thoroughly fact checked so many things prior to publication why do they have to suddenly go back and change the story once folks where questioning their veracity?
TNR is as full of crap as Beauchamp. In addition, I doubt very seriously any of the soldiers in Beauchamp’s unit verified anything to TNR after he made his identity known simply because I am sure the entire unit is in damage control mode and dont want to get caught up in the stench that Beauchamp’s story has made.
http://www.matt-sanchez.com/2007/08/beachamp-invest.html Now it’s from a rightwing blogger and he is shilling for "Da Man" but this has been released saying, that Beauchamp was lying....will Francis, Erb, and others care to comment? And to Erb, even though he was lying does this mean he was still affected by the war, even though nothing he wrote was very true? Akin to serving in Okinawa providing existential angst about the war in Vietnam? Or will we simply be truly post-modern and say that his narrative has relevance because it speaks to us of certain essential truths, no matter what the so-called facts may be?