Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mythology, Ideology and the TNR Debacle

Ace reports that Foer has allegedly confirmed there was "a woman". There are questions about this confirmation and whether it is still true.

Actually, I do think that it is telling that Foer said he confirmed the woman. While many see this as Beauchamp's worst show of depravity in some people's eyes (dogs rating lower and who cares about mass graves we know exist or that some Iraqi's private property was intentionally damaged), the potentially punishable offenses, like desecrating bodies, recklessly driving government equipment and purposefully destroying private property (that the military then has to pay for via civilian claims), are not going to have people running to the fore to verify since it would mean they either participated, were complicit or conspired to cover it up.

That would require some false or incomplete reports by squad or platoon leaders as well. That would mean many people's careers are damaged or over

Foer could grant them "anonymity", but that would hardly matter since that would mean it was someone in their unit and the boot would simply come down on them.

Mocking a burned woman? Cruel and possibly punishable under some part of the UCMJ, but a good defense attorney would get that thrown out or knocked down to nothing and, as noted, it mostly implicates Beauchamp and the rest of his friends would get little more than a lecture on behavior, particularly if they were otherwise "good soldiers".

I'll be surprised if the others incidents are corroborated outside of the military's investigation.

I will bet that this is not playing out at FOB Falcon exactly as some would believe. There is probably animosity towards Beauchamp. But, there is probably a lot of wondering about how this became such a big deal, why they are being hammered and finally, confirming their opinion that people back home just don't understand anything about being a soldier in a war zone. In other words, I doubt we're being applauded for our efforts by those we believe we may be defending.

On the other hand, the question of why someone would put this incredibly bad writer on their payroll and print his "musings" is still an important question. There are literally thousands of "diarists" in the war zone who, arguably, write better than this fellow. Not all of their stuff is exciting. Most of it is in true diarist form: the mundane broken by the occasional excitement. Which also defines life in a war zone. Why was Beauchamp's contrived writing chosen?

Did it fit some pre-conceived ideological or political narrative? Or, was it simply that it was "edgy" and TNR's revenue was so bad they needed SOMETHING to get them readership (thus, revenue). Edgy=subscriptions=revenue. That it fit some narrative about what people think being a soldier and living in a war zone is like? Simply a plus towards readership.

At the end of the day, TNR is a business. While we are looking for some political or philosophical ideology that decided the choice, it may be the simplest motive was the money and Beauchamp's "musings" were the new content they thought would bring it in. Add to that he was "easy" to find since he was married to a staffer and you have most of the story already. The final issue, that they are ideologically compatible may, by Occam's Razor, simply be that they are married because they ran in the same circles and held the same ideals. The same reason Reeves was chosen for her job at TNR. Again, it may simply be about association rather than trying consciously or even subconsciously forward an agenda. People of the same ideology do tend to associate more than with those that don't.

That it re-enforces the mythological history of the military since Vietnam? Very few will even notice it because that is the accepted wisdom, even among those who may today believe that our Viet Nam vets were maligned or treated badly. They experienced John Kerry and Lt. Calley after all, not to mention the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the young Vietnamese girl, badly burned, running down the road. They have seen "Platoon", "Full Metal Jacket" and "Rambo". While many understand that these are fictional pieces, they can't help but believe that there is at least a "kernel of truth" in these tellings. Worse, when there are very few movies or books that actually contradict those images, or, at least, very few that are popular or well known, the mythology, not the facts, becomes the story.

Beauchamp's current writings begin that accepted story. The dehumanized man who will one day come back changed, always ready to question his own actions and those around him having experienced the worst that man has to offer. As noted, not only is his writing contrived, but he rushed, what may be, the only narrative anyone was trying to consciously adhere to. He'd barely seen any action, if any at all. He was a nobody and his experiences hardly seemed to fit the accepted wisdom that war changes people. He had not really experienced war. He simply seemed to show socio-pathic tendencies and painted those around him as such.

That is not a good story, nor the accepted narrative in the general populace. That contrivance may be why many jumped on Beauchamp's story beyond any questionable or possibly implausible scenarios that some would like "fact checked". The story that The New Republic was trying to sell, the story that they believed best matched their subscribers' pre-conceived notions of man and war. They couldn't even get that right. That may be the most damning aspect of this entire fiasco. This single event explains why the New Republic is still lingering at the bottom of the ranks of its peers.

It is the failure of The New Republic to effectively utilize the new media of citizen journalist coupled with the inability to properly identify the accepted wisdom or myth that defines modern man's beliefs on war.

Modern man no longer sees "glorious war", but that "war is hell". Man no longer survives horrifying events to emerge triumphant. Instead, he constantly questions his reasoning, his character and his actions, trying to make the best of the worst while maintaining his own personal integrity (something Beauchamp's stories were decidedly lacking), to emerge alive, but deeply scarred. He no longer experiences greatness through adversity, but remains a damaged mediocrity. That is the accepted wisdom. That is what people want to read, see and believe.

While that may match the common man's experience, it has destroyed the concept that man can rise above himself and the events around him to greatness. It has destroyed hope.

In the end, that may be what we're fighting for.

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