Thursday, July 19, 2007


Fiction at The New Republic?

Michael Goldfarb, writing at the Weekly Standard blog, challenges (as in tasks with a mission) MILBLOGGERS to consider an almost certain “Jesse MacBeth” type story appearing in The New Republic.

For those not familiar, Jesse MacBeth was an anti-war charlatan, darling of the anti-war left. Macbeth claimed to have witnessed and participated in all manner of war atrocities in Iraq, except, like, he was never there, and his story was such an obvious phony to any real veterans, that the intelligence or motives of reporters who hyped his story must be questioned. Likewise, the reporter and editors of TNR.

Goldfarb introduces the TNR piece this way:

The New Republic runs a piece in this week's issue titled "Shock Troops" (sub. req.) and authored by Scott Thomas--described by the magazine as a "pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Baghdad." "Thomas" is the author of two previous dispatches from Iraq for the New Republic, both of which recount deeply disturbing anecdotes (in one, an Iraqi boy who calls himself James Bond has his tongue cut out for talking to Americans; in the other, dogs feast on a corpse in the street). His latest piece is even more disturbing. It recounts several instances of gross misconduct by the men in his unit, some of which are, to echo the title of his piece, deeply shocking--If they are true--a big if, according to several people with experience in Iraq. One described it to me as sounding like a "pastiche of the 'This is no bullshit . . . stories soldiers like to tell."

The first episode puts "Thomas"'s unit at a "chow hall" at an unnamed base. A woman eating there is wearing "an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor." The woman's face is described as having been "more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head," by an IED. She sits down for lunch next to the men. Here's how "Thomas" describes what happens next:

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 fucking 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 fucking 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.

The TNR piece continues with “Scott Thomas’s” “war story” with other highly doubtful anecdotes:

The author claims that his unit stumbled across a mass grave filled with the remains of Iraqi children, and, rather than report the find, chose to desecrate the corpses:

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.

Again, American troops might be capable of such behavior. But most incidents of soldiers taking such war "trophies," to be blunt, involve dead enemy fighters, not massacred children. The questions pile up. Would a child's skull fit on the head of fully-grown man? Would pieces of flesh and hair still remain so long after the fact? Would American soldiers fail to report the discovery of a mass grave? Are there really units corrupt enough for a private to dare do such a thing for a day and a night?
Finally, the author tells of a friend who drives a Bradley armored vehicle and has a penchant for careening around the streets of Baghdad in the hope of causing as much destruction--and killing as many stray dogs--as possible:

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.

Goldfarb has updated his initial post with lots of reactions, and reactions came in fast and furious from multiple sites with strong military connections or credentials:

The Corner
Ace of Spades
Hot Air
Dean Barnett

The Tank

In comments to the posts mentioned above, real military veterans signal this is BS reporting, pointing out multiple areas with high probability of falsehood, I’ll summarize:

Vehicle operation. The Bradley doesn’t “sneak up, it’s lumbering, very noisy mechanically, tracks, etc., would no more run over a dog (unless already dead) or catch it unaware. Also, driver visibility probably precludes what is described in the story, seeing dogs along the right side of the vehicle. Lastly, corpses and other dead animals are likely means of hiding improvised explosive devices (IED), and avoided by vehicles, Swerving suddenly in a city setting could get the vehicle hung up, or run the risk of an IED or mine set near the edge of the roadway. All military drivers know these things, and the behavior described would be highly improbable.

Mass grave. Like GIs who came upon Concentration Camps, soldiers today in Iraq are deeply disturbed by evidence of the utter inhumanity and depravity of the evil Iraq has endured in its recent past. Graves would be reported immediately. Some soldiers would want to get far away from any duty involving such a site, others would feel honor in helping to recover victims and help facilitate a respectful reburial. None – except outright freaks -- who react as describe. And their fellow soldiers would kick their a$$, report them, or otherwise clearly indicate their disgust and revulsion. Soldiers can have gallows humor, especially with suicide bomber body parts and grease slicks following detonation, I can vouch for that, but not with victims. Surely not with the corpse of a child.

Mocking of IED victim. “There but by the grace of God,” is the universal reaction of anyone to the reality that others are hit by IEDs. Soldiers come up and shake the hands of obviously wounded, and thank them for their service, or ask God to bless them, or speak with reverence and respect, with encouragement. (Even stupid 20 year olds.) NCOs and officers in earshot would have beaten any such idiots down, read them the riot act, or taken their names. Zero tolerance, “we’re all on the same team,” “that could be you, you sh*thead” kind of reactions. The remark that the soldier couldn’t tell if the clothes she was wearing was a uniform is likewise hard to believe. Someone familiar with the DCU would not mistake it for the tan jumpsuits, chino/workshirt combinations, or even the desert camouflage uniforms of other services or Iraqis. Each are distinct, and you know your own.

Medical. Informed medical personnel confirm the great unlikelihood that a person could survive and IED-induced “melting of the face” without extensive (and lengthy) medical treatment, many surgeries, recovery time, and rarely would anyone be allowed back in

And I’d add the following circumstantial evidence. Commenters note a similarity between some of what’s described here and events depicted in the (anti-war) movie Jarhead. I’d add that one of the New Republic’s other published story from this poseur describes dogs feeding on corpses. I just watched The War Tapes, in which one of the documentary’s subjects describes taking footage of such, and being told by his superiors to destroy the footage and try to prevent that kind of event in future. The soldier in question says, he’s not really bothered by that. That he figures the suicide bomber deserved no better, why not let the dog fill his belly.

Speaking of The War Tapes, one of the soldiers was clearly traumatized by the accidental killing of a woman when she ran in front of their HUMVEE at night, following a close call near-collision with a civilian vehicle that approached rapidly and swerved in front of the HUMVEE. Likewise, my soldiers and I were deeply disturbed to walk through vehicle graveyards (as a soldier on The War Tapes), seeing the horrible damage and knowing the certainty or great likelihood that vehicle occupants were incinerated or blown to pieces (or both).

Sounds to me their phony veteran might be pulling stories from movies or what he’s read. (Or from anti-war websites.)

For those who claim that the New Republic shouldn’t have to validate or confirm these claims, I’d say that the overwhelming preponderance of phonies, poseurs and charlatans among the anti-war crowd, and how regularly they are duped by phonies, should make them even more cautious. You know, if they were really interested in reporting facts, rather than furthering agendas. And oh, probably they might want to hire a military adviser who knows something more about the military than it’s filled with ignorant loser yahoos, guns are bad, and bombs go boom.

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