Why it matters

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 26 JUL 07.]

Tim`s article about The New Republic and "Scott Thomas" (now known to be PV2 Scott Thomas Beauchamp) has generated some interesting discussion in the comments. A few questions have been raised, however, which I feel are deserving of a more complete response than is really suited to comments.

Actually, the more I read, the more I foam at the mouth. This particular issue is pushing a lot of my buttons. I`ll try to be restrained and polite and measured and all of that garbage--we don`t want to discourage commenters when we`re just getting started. You can get invective anywhere, after all.

Knows the Guy writes--

It doesn`t bother me that maybe the stories didn`t happen to him or people he knows. I`m sure there are things like that happening over there.

One of the reasons that people are sure that "things like that" happen over there is because they read about them in reputable magazines. It`s one thing to write "stories," and it`s quite another to write factual accounts which people will assume to be, you know, factual.

Because of my experience--which, alas, doesn`t include much New Republic--I`m quite sure that things like that are not happening. Isolated idiots dishonoring themselves and their countries? Yes, absolutely. It`s no secret that the Army is playing a bit of a numbers game and can`t afford to be too picky. However, I am equally certain that not a single one of those incidents--had they occurred--would have gone without a severe ass-chewing (at the least) or UCMJ action (more likely).

A further question--

If Scott lied or exaggerated or whatever about his stories, then what? Are people`s lives at stake because of his stories?

To risk repeating myself (from the comments), it matters a great deal to the people who have thrown in their "lives and sacred fortunes" with the coalition forces against the militant forces. Our foreign policy is being decided in large part by weathercock politicians deriving their views from polls, driven by public opinion, driven largely by--surprise!--media coverage. If the public starts believing garbage like this, our already tenuous chances to stay long enough to help these people will dry up and blow away. And those people are dead--everybody who helped us, everybody who smiled at us, everybody who shared tea with us, and a lot of others who happen to live nearby.

Don`t believe me? Remind me to write about the guy who was executed by the Taliban for selling us cigarettes.

Another assertion:

I read that story and see young men being torn apart, mentally, by what they have to go through on a daily basis.

But it doesn`t bother you that it`s a lie? There are thousands of real stories by real soldiers--I can tell a few myself, complete with photo documentation. Why couldn`t TNR print some of those? I`m having a hard time coming up with a reason that doesn`t involve a political agenda or just sheer laziness, honestly. It should bother anyone when outright lies are printed as "fact" for a political agenda--no matter what agenda it is. It bothers me that a politically neutral segment of the population--our military--is being exploited and demonized and lied about.

These stories are tragic, true or not, and Scott is just trying to convey that tragedy to those who don`t know it firsthand.

Spock`s death in Star Trek II was tragic. I freely admit that as a kid I started bawling when Scotty`s bagpipes started up at the funeral scene. But tragic or not, it was fiction. Didn`t happen. There is enough real tragedy in this war--both by and against our servicemembers--without making stuff up.

I do see this as an affront to American servicemembers overseas and at home--everyone who has served in this conflict. It`s an affront to the professionalism and integrity of every joe over there. It`s a vicious slander on the NCOs and officers of PV2 Scott Thomas Beauchamp`s unit who supposedly saw these things and did nothing.

Most of all, it`s a slap in the face to people who really are "being torn apart" by what they see and do--and yet still do their job professionally, according to the laws of land warfare, theater rules of engagement, and the orders of their leaders. It is not just a lie, but a vicious lie, and I have no qualms in saying that Private Beauchamp has brought great disgrace and dishonor upon the Army that allowed him an opportunity to serve his country--an opportunity that was wasted on him. He is a case study for what happens when soldiers fail to internalize the Army values, and I don`t want him in my uniform.

If you don`t see it that way, I`m not sure what else I can possibly say to convince you. Words like "honor" and "integrity" still mean something to some of us, and a lie is a lie no matter whom it helps--or harms.