Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mounds of Mass Hysteria on Scott Beauchamp -- and Some Intelligent Commentary

Digby has the definitive post on the "Baghdad Diarist" hysteria among the righties. And these are the definitive paragraphs:

I hear so much from the right about how they love the troops. But they don't seem to love the actual human beings who wear the uniform, they love those little GI Joe dolls they played with as children which they could dress up in little costumes and contort into pretzels for their fun and amusement. If they loved the actual troops they wouldn't require them to be like two dimensional John Waynes, withholding their real experiences and feelings for fear that a virtual armchair lynch mob would come after them.

Thank God Joseph Heller and James Jones and Erich Maria Remarque and countless others aren't trying to write their books today. They'd be burned as heretics by a bunch of nasty boys and girls who have fetishized "the troops" into a strange form of Boy Band eroticism --- that empty, nonthreatening form of masculinity the tweens use to bridge the scary gap between puberty and adolescence. Private Peter Pan reporting for duty.

Like this one:
Scott Thomas is a lying sack of shit. Every unit has a Scott Thomas, the whiny pissant whose brilliance is never recognized and who is always being abused by the chain of command for stuff that's not his fault. It would be normal to hear folks telling him to STFU and do his damn job.

And again here:
The incidents described by Private dung beetle did not happen in the way he described them, but some event containing morsels of truth did and then our fabulist enbellished it to match the narrative of the voices in his head. They tell him the war is evil and consequently he and the folks around him are compromised and now agents of evil. He was just doing his part to ensure that people get the truth as it should be, damn the facts.

So what are the facts? How do we know the events Beauchamp describes did not happen "in the way he described them"? You will never, ever, find a satisfactory answer to this question amid the hysteria on the right:
I've just been noting the hysteria around the New Republic's Baghdad Diarist in the blogosphere. Jeez. Malkin's head is about to explode for the fourth time today. So far, I have to agree with Matt [Yglesias]:
Well, now here he is -- his real name is Scott Thomas Beauchamp, he's a soldier, and as best I can tell nobody has yet brought forward any serious reason to doubt his story. Needless to say, rather than spend some time reflecting on the fact-free zone the conservative press is trying to create, Jonah Goldberg is attacking Beauchamp while Mark Steyn argues that Jonah isn't attacking him viciously enough.

That's just crazy. All these people need to stop. They need to take a deep breath. They need to apologize to the people at TNR who've wasted huge amounts of time dealing with their nonsense. And they need to think a bit about the epistemic situation they're creating where information about Iraq that they don't want to hear -- even when published in a pro-war publication -- can just be immediately dismissed as fraudulent even though the misconduct it described was far, far less severe than all sorts of other well-document misconduct in Iraq.

Nothing has been disproved so far as I can tell. And the incident that seems to have created the fooferaw has actually been confirmed. Hewitt is unable to find a single factual inaccuracy and seems dismayed that a soldier might want to write about his own experiences in wartime. But why the hell not? And what does it matter if he has an agenda and an ambition to become a Writer? I can't see the crime here - unless he fabricated something and we don't know that. So why the craziness?

What's more, as Matthew pointed out in an earlier post, it was the right's obsession with disproving the incident that triggered the frenzy that led to its being confirmed:
... [A]midst The Weekly Standard's huffing and puffing about how "Scott Thomas" couldn't possibly have come across a mass grave in a particular area of operations where he allegedly said he came across one (crucially, he didn't actually say that), they inadverten[t]ly corroborated the story. Thomas said he and other soldiers found a bunch of skeletons during the construction of a combat outpost. One of the article's detractors concedes that "There was a children's cemetery unearthed while constructing a Combat Outpost (COP) in the farm land south of Baghdad International Airport" and then gets very insistent that it was no mass grave. The article, however, just said they found a bunch of bones and then speculated idly that it might have been a mass grave. Well, turns out it was a children's cemetary.

The Weekly Standard and others used this discovery to claim that Beauchamp's story of a mass grave had been false -- even though, as Matthew noted above, Beauchamp had never mentioned a mass grave:
The critics, however, managed to convince themselves that their discovery of this children's grave incident actually debunked Thomas' claim that he had found a mass grave even though his article didn't claim this. At the same time, the Standard was reduced to arguing that Thomas couldn't have witnesse[d] soldiers using a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to kill dogs because -- ta da -- to do so would violate Army Standard Operating Procedure. Then they started making a big deal out of the idea that TNR editor Frank Foer labeled said he knew Thomas was a soldier with "near certainty" -- why not total certainty?

I'm going to end with a post hilzoy wrote about this fracas, because she has a couple of interesting non-military analogies that shed more light on the behavior Scott Beauchamp wrote about.

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