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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Paul McNellis

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Paul McNellis

Last Build Date: Mon, 06 Aug 2007 14:30:06 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Pvt. Beauchamp: Proud of Being Ashamed?

Mon, 06 Aug 2007 14:30:06 -0600

This passage from Augustine came to mind as I read Pvt. Beauchamp's Baghdad Diarist in The New Republic (TNR), for Beauchamp, far from being "ashamed of being ashamed," is actually proud of being ashamed. After describing how he mocked and humiliated a woman horribly scarred by an IED, Beauchamp writes: Even as I was reveling in the laughter my words had provoked, I was simultaneously horrified and ashamed at what I had just said. In a strange way, though, I found the shame comforting. I was relieved to still be shocked by my own cruelty--to still be able to recognize that the things we soldiers found funny were not, in fact, funny. It's an odd sense of shame. It provides no antecedent restraint on Beauchamp's behavior but kicks in only after he's already demonstrated, by his actions, both his cruelty and his shamelessness. Nonetheless, Beauchamp takes pride in being ashamed, for it proves, at least to him, his superiority to some of his fellow soldiers. But Beauchamp knows he's describing sociopathic behavior, for he asks, "Am I a monster? I have never thought of myself as a cruel person. Indeed, I have always had compassion for those with disabilities. I once worked at a summer camp for developmentally disabled children." So what would explain the behavior? Why do he and his comrades find despicable behavior funny? Beauchamp's answer: "That is how war works: it degrades every part of you, and your sense of humor is no exception." Here, finally, is the master narrative sought by TNR. Because war "degrades every part of you," soldiers can't be expected to make normal moral decisions. Bad behavior? The war made them do it. See what the bad war does to good people? It turns former camp counselors into sociopaths. But no self-respecting soldier wants TNR's bogus absolution. Soldiers pride themselves on being held to a higher standard than the rest of us, and to deny them the dignity of being moral agents renders meaningless the distinction between a dishonorable discharge and a Bronze Star. If soldiers no longer merit praise or blame, just sympathy, their service becomes meaningless. TNR shows no awareness of this, and its attempt to defend its own journalistic malpractice is truly a wonder to behold. Editor Franklin Foer's first defense claimed that the objections raised about the story "really boil down to, would American soldiers be capable of doing things like the things described in the diarist. The practical jokes are exceptionally mild compared to things that have been documented by the U.S. military." We now know that Mr. Foer never believed it was about "practical jokes," for he now says that TNR published Beauchamp's piece because it "was about the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war...[it] was a startling confession of shame about some disturbing conduct, both his own and that of his fellow soldiers." As Newsweek's Evan Thomas said of the press coverage of the Duke lacrosse team, "The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong." Similarly, Mr. Foer has his narrative--"the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war"-- but the facts keep getting in the way. TNR now admits that the disturbing behavior Beauchamp claimed he engaged in actually occurred in Kuwait, before he had seen a single day of combat. So now the story is about the "morally and emotionally distorting effects of..." Well, of what, exactly? Of merely being member of the U.S. Army? Is that the new narrative? This also explains why Beauchamp's "confession of shame" sounds so contrived. It is contrived. Beauchamp imagined how he would feel if he had done the things he described in the pages of TNR. What he describes is not shame but moral smugness. Why was TNR unable to recognize this? Because the editors have a peculiar understanding of journalistic truth and simply no understanding whatsoever of the concept of "honor" as it applies to the military, a combination that in turn makes them oblivious to the reality of slander. When Beauchamp lies about the who, what, where, and when of his dispatch, it is for TNR merel[...]

Oliver Stone and September 11

Wed, 23 Aug 2006 09:40:50 -0600

The critics have been generally respectful, though some on both the left and the right disagree with its apolitical approach. They accuse Mr. Stone of failing to put September 11 in "the proper context," by which they mean he should take a stand on Iraq--show us either why we shouldn't be there, or why we need to win. But my question to such critics is: Since when have we expected moral or political guidance from Hollywood? That's what friends, family, and colleagues are for. Besides, since we already know where Mr. Stone stands on this, we don't need a cinematic illustration. In a way, Mr. Stone's movie isn't really about September 11. Rather, he uses the extraordinary events of that day to narrate the story of two ordinary Port Authority policemen, Sergeant John McLoughlin and Patrolman Wil Jimeno, and through their story Stone shows us something universal about all of us--or, one would hope, true of most of us, most of the time. For one thing, the duties of the present and the pain of the past pushes us toward forgetfulness. We're busy. We're tired. We move on. We remember what is useful or seems necessary, which doesn't always coincide with what's really important. In watching Mr. Stone's film I realized how much I had forgotten about that day: What a beautiful day it was; that only 20 men were pulled alive from the rubble; the stunned, open-wound look on the faces of my students; the feeling of shared grief and unity with my fellow citizens. It all came flooding back. It was all worth remembering. This film is not flawless. There are things that don't work, but they are more than offset by the many short scenes that achieve perfect pitch. Stone's attention to detail has a telling, cumulative effect. Take, for example, the opening scene. Sgt. McLoughlin's day begins at 3:30 am, but he turns off the alarm at 3:29, so as not to wake his wife. It's a considerate act that reveals the man. But his wife is awake, though she doesn't let him know--to avoid saying good-bye, perhaps? All is not well. This scene, like so many others, is part of a carefully crafted whole. This movie is also a surprise, and thoroughly un-Hollywood, in the way it presents men. There are no men cheating on their wives or acting like bumbling fools before their uncomprehending adolescent children. Instead, we see men trying to be good husbands, good fathers, and good policemen. A series of scenes that cut between McLoughlin and Jimeno buried in the rubble, and their families waiting for word of their fate, show us people, who in the midst of their grief, remember that it's not just about them: The pregnant mother who is reminded that her baby is going through this too; the mother worrying about how she will tell her daughter that her father might not be coming home; the son accusing his mother of not caring about his father because she won't immediately drive to the World Trade Center. And yet she is wise and loving enough to know her son doesn't really mean it. We see people putting others first, on this, the worst day of their lives because they've been doing it every day of their lives. And if you spend your life as a husband and father putting those you love first, then when the crucial day comes chances are that as a policeman you'll put the people in the North Tower first as well. In a pivotal scene, beautifully done, Sgt. McLoughlin says, "We're going to evacuate the North Tower....Who's coming? Step forward." And after an uncomfortably long pause, Jimeno says, "I got it Sarg." That one scene speaks volumes about the true nature of courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. Anyone present at ground zero that day would have been a fool not to feel fear. We see that these men are afraid, but they overcome it. And fear isn't overcome without leaders. Sgt. McLoughlin asks for volunteers; the others can say yes or no. Jimeno is the first to say yes, and then others follow his example. Courage as a virtue is increasingly misunderstood in our society, especially among the keyboard class. As our lives become more [...]

Hitchens, Haditha, and My Lai

Wed, 14 Jun 2006 00:53:46 -0600

In an earlier article for Slate, Hitchens explained "why there is no reasonable parallel of any sort between Iraq and Vietnam." Let's consider Hitchens' claim against the background of the following press accounts. For weeks in advance, Al Qaeda had roamed the countryside, making their position grimly clear: the village elections were an "American trick," and candidates for office would be assassinated and blown up. Then, just to make sure that the villagers got the message, Al Quaeda terrorists methodically murdered four candidates and kidnapped ten others as election day drew near. Or this story. "Demons weep, God grieves, and anyone who goes out will vomit blood." Such was the fearful forecast that Al Qaeda agents circulated ... to discourage those who were inclined to go to the polls ... Or, from a story describing the killing of 100 villagers. Thursday's attack had been preceded by warnings. Al Qaeda had left notes warning villagers that they would be beheaded unless they stopped collaborating with the Americans. I must confess, I have altered the above quotations, though only slightly. If you replace "Al Qaeda" with "The Viet Cong," you have the verbatim accounts from Newsweek, April 17, 1967, Newsweek, September 19, 1966, and The Washington Post, June 16, 1970. In a cover story on My Lai, Time magazine (Dec. 5, 1969) also included a sidebar report titled, "On the Other Side: Terror as Policy." The story begins: For shocked Americans, what happened at My Lai seems an awful aberration. For the Communists in Vietnam, the murder of civilians is routine, purposeful policy. Terror is a part of the guerillas' arsenal of intimidation, to be used whenever other methods of persuasion have failed to rally a village or province round the Viet Cong flag. In a long war, no one knows just how many civilians have been attacked by the Communists. The U.S. has listed well over 100,000 separate incidents of terrorism against the South Vietnamese population since 1958. During the past eleven years, the Communists are known to have killed more than 26,000 South Vietnamese, injured hundreds of thousands, kidnapped at least 60,000 in their campaign of terror. The story goes on to describe the massacre at the Montagnard village of Dak Son in 1967. A year earlier the villagers had fled the Communists for the South Vietnamese government side. For the crime of refusing to change their minds and their political allegiance, the Viet Cong attacked the village with flamethrowers and then executed the 60 villagers who survived the initial attack. As Time concludes: "Altogether, 252 unarmed Montagnards, nearly all of them women and children, were murdered, 100 kidnapped, 500 listed as missing." But surely there is some exaggeration here, for killing on such a scale would have been more widely reported at the time, would it not? Not really. Newsweek (May 15, 1967), in a summary of terror incidents it described as "typical," concluded: Since mid-1957, long before U.S. troops were on the scene, incidents like these have been a routine affair in South Vietnam--so routine that most Vietnam-based correspondents no longer find them newsworthy. Notice the date on the above report: 1967, before the Tet offensive. The "exalted standards" of the Viet Cong, which Hitchens so much admires, were on full display during the Tet offensive, especially in the city of Hue. While they held the city, Viet Cong cadre went from house to house with specially prepared "blood lists" of enemies to be eliminated. When South Vietnamese government troops retook the city, they eventually found mass graves containing nearly 3,000 bodies. Is Hitchens aware of this history? It's hard to tell. Hitchens claims that "No car bomb or hijacking or suicide-bombing or comparable atrocity was ever committed by the Vietnamese, on American or any other foreign soil." Does Hitchens mean there were no atrocities, or that they occurred only on Vietnamese soil? If the former, it is simply false; if the [...]