How important, in the grand scheme of the war, is the Scott Thomas Beauchamp story? By itself, it’s not all that important. But contrary to the opinions of those who can’t be bothered to care about it but nonetheless opine on it for whatever reason, and then mainly to downplay its importance, Beauchamp hasn’t happened all by itself and to those of us who served, its context and trajectory make it very important.
Starting with the Vietnam war, the American public has been divided on the military question. A majority before, during and even after that war will claim that it supports and respects the military, but words are cheap and the actions of some tell a very different story. Some of those who say in a poll that they generically respect the military were undoubtedly among those who called returning troops “babykillers” as they spat on them. Some of those who claim to support the military only support it when it isn’t being used to defend the country, and even then they spend their time trying to cut the defense budget even while international threats mount and multiply. Some of those who claim to support the military look down upon those who choose to join it as either children who joined solely for the benefits, or thugs who joined because they love violence. And some of those who claim to support the military mistrust it and its intentions and see its members as the weapons of a fascist state.
Somewhere in all those descriptions, you’ll find the motivations that led TNR to publish the writings of Scott Thomas Beauchamp but not J. D. Johannes, Pat Dollard, Michael Yon, Michael Totten or any of the writings published by those of us who have been to Iraq for whatever length of time and have things to say about the troops and the war. TNR sought out a war critic, but not any war critic: TNR sought out a war critic whose writings either smeared the troops or exposed serious discipline problems among the troops. And examining the details of his writings, it became clear to many veterans and non-veterans alike that Beauchamp simply wasn’t writing the truth, and was therefore letting the men in his unit down by exposing them to unfair criticism. He was also reinforcing several stereotypes that many of those who claim to support the troops hold: That they’re dehumanized animals. Beauchamp’s work is today’s equivalent of calling the troops “babykillers,” only from inside the military where presumably the person tossing the insult will be insulated by his having “absolute moral authority.” TNR got to take part in the awful anti-military activities of the last lost war, but in a new and more pernicious way, by replacing smelly hippies with a man in uniform in the war zone.
There were few who stood up for the troops after Vietnam, but that’s a shame that shouldn’t be and won’t be repeated. The Beauchamp story comes down to a simple thing that most who never served in the military may not understand, and that’s the linked concepts of service and honor. It’s an honor to serve in the US military. With that honor comes responsibility not to besmirch the uniform or let down your comrades. Some obviously don’t live up to that honor. It’s up to the rest of us to protect that honor, keep its value high and keep the traditions of the service worthy of honor.
Throughout the Scott Thomas affair, no one was saying that atrocities can’t and don’t happen — they do. But remarkably, in this war our troops have committed far fewer war crimes than in any other conflict. Far fewer. Military training is different now from what it was in previous wars, and the rules of engagement are far tighter than they were in previous wars. It was routine during World War II, for instance, to capture enemy soldiers, extract information from them, and then shoot them because the advancing US troops had no way to keep them. Gitmo was nearly unthinkable, and granting captured enemy troops access to our courts would have been thought insane (and still ought to be, imho.) This war has seen far fewer casualties for our side, far less collateral damage for the civilian population in the war zones, and far fewer atrocities committed by our troops than by any other force in any previous war in the modern era and probably in all of history. By historic standards, this has been one of the most antiseptic wars ever and our troops have behaved exceptionally well under grueling and often confusing conditions.
But even though all of that is true, we still have TNR’s out there willing to publish whatever unchecked smears against our troops they can get their hands on. If they still knew how to feel shame, I’d say “Shame on them.” But they don’t, or they would be aware of all I’ve said and would never have published Scott Thomas Beauchamp. They would have done more than pass his tales around to check them for smell. That’s not to say that they didn’t know what they were doing, though. They did. And when the smear merchants strike, it’s up to those of us who are in the best positions to refute them, to do so, or the smears will stand as fact. Beauchamp wasn’t the first to smear the troops as a veteran or former veteran, and he won’t be the last. Future Scott Beauchamps should always know that there are others out there, who have also worn the boots and uniform, who always stand ready and able to face them down. It’s the right thing to do.
Besides all of that, truth matters. “Fake but accurate” amounts to a lie, TNR. And in a post-modern war such as the one we’re fighting, and especially as we place more emphasis on the morality of our actions in war than on actually winning it by defeating the enemy, Beauchamp represents an informational attack on our ability to wage war. Words are weapons. Loss of morale leads to loss in war, by the way we fight wars now. Letting his smears stand has the potential of letting another toilet-Koran story to get out there into the infowar zone unchallenged. So again, stopping that from happening is just the right thing to do.
Just the facts, in other words.