Alex Massie

Shock troops latest:

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Much gnashing of teeth in conservative circles over a TNR piece written by a soldier in Iraq that catalogues various episodes of unsavoury behaviour in Iraq. The Weekly Standard has been especially indignant, laughably accusing TNR of failing to support the troops and suggesting that Pvt Scott Thomas Beauchamp's piece was entirely fabricated. Other conservatives went so far as to suggest that Beauchamp was not even a soldier.

Bill Kristol's startlingly dishonest Weekly Standard editorial argued (to use the term loosely) that:

"...what is revealing about this mistake is that the editors must have wanted to suspend their disbelief in tales of gross misconduct by American troops. How else could they have published such a farrago of dubious tales?

Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support. They sense that history is progressing away from them--that these soldiers, fighting courageously in a just cause, could still win the war, that they are proud of their service, and that they will be future leaders of this country. They are not "Shock Troops." They are our best and bravest, fighting for all of us against a brutal enemy in a difficult and frustrating war. They are the 9/11 generation. The left slanders them. We support them. More than that, we admire them."

Well, I know a number of TNR journalists and can vouch for the fact that they bear no animus towards US servicemen and women. As Spencer Ackerman (no great friend of TNR editor Frank Foer) said, Kristol must know this too. But it's more important to him that a magazine simply publish propaganda. No-one, certainly not Pvt Beauchamp, pretends his piece presents a rounded view of the military in Iraq. It's a tiny polaroid snapshot of the stresses and dehumanising impact of warfare on particular soldiers in one particular situation. In that respect it is a perfectly familiar story. I hesitate to say this, but yes, even if some of the details are murky or prove unsubstantiated, there is a sense that in which Beauchamp's piece oculd legitimately be said to be inaccurate in detail but true in general.

Nonetheless, what's striking about this is the vehemence of the reaction from the right. After all these are people who generally (and not without some reason) are happy to take a relaxed attitude towards, say, civilian casualties, collateral damage, deaths from friendly fire etc etc on the grounds that war's an imperfect, messy business and, you know, shit happens. Well, shit can happen on both sides. And it does.

That some American troops may have behaved in ways that are, divorced from their context, sickening doesn't do much to undermine the obvious seriousness of purpose and valour with which the vast majority of American troops go about their business. To pretend otherwise is simply juvenile.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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