Saturday, August 11, 2007

For what it's worth, count me in as among those who are saying that Beauchamp's account of a driver swerving a Bradley to take out dogs, walls, and buildings simply did not happen as he describes. The reasons I make this assessment are both factual and circumstantial in nature.

My bona fides - again for what they're worth:

* I currently hold two MOSs: 11 Alpha, which is the MOS for infantry officers, and 12 A, which is the MOS for Armor officers. I was an armor officer for two or three years with the 2nd Bn, 123rd Armor Regiment, which is a Kentucky National Guard regiment out of Bowling Green, KY. (Let me give a shout-out to my homeboys in Co. C out in Benton!)

I've never commanded a Bradley, but I know tracked vehicles well, and I was a tank platoon leader and a tank company XO during those very enjoyable years in Benton, KY.

I've also logged literally hundreds of convoys in Iraq, almost all of them in the role of convoy commander.

1.) No, you can't skid or "swerve" a Bradley in a convoy to take out a dog.

2.) Other observers are correct, the Bradley driver can't even see to the right of the vehicle in order to take out a dog over there.

3.) As everyone in Iraq knows, the moojies make a common practice of concealing mortar shells and other explosives within the carcasses of animals. No driver in his right mind would go out of his way to deliberately drive a vehicle over an animal or over road debris of any kind.

4.) Military tracked vehicles are extremely loud. No dog is going to sit there and not notice the Bradley coming and not get out of the way.

5.) Other people have observed that Humvees do not carry spares, and for this reason, Beauchamp's account of changing a humvee tire is unlikely. It's unlikely, but not for that reason. It is not terribly unusual to see hard-topped humvees with a spare tire strapped to the top. At least, it wasn't in 2004, when we had a lot of unarmored hummers on the road, and not every tire was a run-flat. But if an area was crowded enough to have sewage running through the streets, it would certainly be too crowded to attempt a tire change there. You could do it in the open desert, where you had fire superiority and no cover or concealment for 2,000 meters in any direction, but that doesn't happen in Baghdad.

But no GI is going to stop and change a tire in flowing sewage anywhere in the country. You would almost ALWAYS ride it back - and accept you might chew up the tire and rim. That's better than risking getting caught in a firefight in the middle of a tire change.

6.) Anyone as severely injured as the woman Beauchamp describes would simply not be at FOB Falcon, and she wouldn't even be in Kuwait. There is no modern hospital facility at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. If her burns were that severe, she would have been immediately evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, or to a burn unit stateside. She would simply NOT have been hanging around a chow hall, either in Iraq or Kuwait.

7.) Civilian contractors may occasionally wear a tan nomex jumpsuit, otherwise unmarked. I don't see why it would be impossible to tell whether she was military or civilian, though. If she were a foreign national, every foreign uniform I've ever seen has that nations flag on the sleeve and a rank insignia.

8.) Yes, you can slip a piece of a child's skull inside your helmet. But you probably wouldn't. The new Kevlar design has pads that rest directly upon your head. You wouldn't be able to slip the fragment between the straps and the kevlar itself, like you could with the old helmets. People don't wear foam "donuts" anymore, so you couldn't stick it under the donut, either. So this story is technically possible, but unlikely. It smells like BS to me, but I couldn't prove it.

9.) If it were a grave from the Saddam era, the chunks of rotting flesh described in the article would have rotted away. All that would remain are bone and hair.

Bottom line: Beauchamp is, at best, a fabulist. My sense is that he is extremely narcissistic, possibly an outright sociopath. He is a moderately talented writer, but lacks even the most basic discipline that forces a writer to subvert style to substance. Absent that, you'd better be James Joyce. Which he ain't.

A good editor could help channel his efforts. But I guess they don't exist at the New Republic.

Beauchamp is definitely NOT a "traitor." And people talking about "treason" and assigning him the death penalty, as I've seen elsewhere, are idiots.

I started Countercolumn, in part, so I could keep one foot in the game while I was torn from my career as a writer and reporter. So I cannot blame Beauchamp for having an ulterior motive to become a published writer himself. There are a lot of them throughout the Army. Most of them simply aren't so full of themselves.

The vast majority of them are far better writers than Beauchamp. Beauchamp wanted to be Colby Buzzell, and Colby DID get a book deal out of his superb blog "My War." But Colby, even with his irrepressible Gonzo style, was a better writer than Beauchamp by an order of magnitude. Buzzell is truly an extraordinary talent. Beauchamp's a stylistic hack, in comparison.

But he's a hack in ways that graduates of writers programs are too often ill-equipped to spot. And so Franklin Foer, a young editor who suddenly finds himself treading waters in depths for which his experience had not prepared him, was taken in. He was taken in by a writer who's prose stile was all pyrotechnics and no substance. All spice and no burrito.

His poor wife, Elspeth, was doubtless taken in by manic narcissism masquerading as talent. There are a dozen superior writers writing mil blogs right now. But Foer is so out of touch, he was unaware of them, apparently, and had to pick the worst.

Not only did he pick trash - he picked the ONE piece of trash in the whole country who wouldn't put his own name to his articles, which ought to have been a red flag to begin with.

What's most amazing to me is that the New Republic staff not only underedited the entire piece to begin with. A lot of young editors might make that mistake, and Foer is hardly alone in that regard. What amazes me is that even now that it's clear to all concerned that the article bears more scrutiny, that the New Republic, despite being flagged in Washington D.C. and in close proximity to a gazillion veterans in the Northern Virginia area, was so intellectually cloistered and inbred that they were wholly unequipped to do even the most basic reporting on this article.

They had no veterans on staff who could have told them it smelled bad. They had to go with other reporters who had themselves never driven a tracked vehicle in their lives. They apparently didn't even KNOW any veterans who could have checked this article out for them. They could have called me or a thousand other people to take a gander at it and point out some trouble spots.

No. Instead they rely on the reporting of someone who could not be named, and then rely for verification on OTHER people they can't name, and if they are communicating by email, for all they know, could have been Beauchamp sock puppets all along.

Now it's clear that Confederate Yankee and Matt Sanchez and a number of other bloggers have better access to sources in the military than the vaunted New Republic, because they've been able to get information that the New Republic cannot duplicate.

So if their story selection sucks,their writer sucks their editing sucks, their fact-checking sucks, their bench of internal and known outside experts sucks, and even their access to military sources sucks, just why the hell should anybody read them about anything remotely involved with the military?

Exactly what is it, precisely, that the New Republic does well, any more?

Now, Beauchamp himself is probably a pain in the ass, but there's someone like him in every unit: A precocious, ambitious junior enlisted with journalistic ambitions, who bounces between E-2 and E-4 like a digital-camoflage yo-yo. Most of them are entertaining to talk to, a hassle for the first sergeant and commander, but do their duty, write a bit or take a few photos along the way, and that's it.

Most of them, however, aren't married to a staff reporter at the New Republic. Which ought to teach Foer a thing or two about relying on the 'who you know' network for recruiting writers into the fold of the elite politics journals. There's a reason they're reporting is so intellectually inbred.

I sort of wish I had Beauchamp in my unit. I probably could have roped him in and saved his career. He may be a narcissist, but I don't think he's necessarily beyond redemption. He seems to be a 23 year old kid who never got told he wasn't really a genius, and who never had an editor who was worth a damn. He seems to have grown up with a surplus of self-esteem, and wrote himself into a hole he didn't see coming and couldn't get out of.

Well, 23 year olds do dumb things.

Between the two, I have more regard for Beauchamp than for Foer. At least Beauchamp knew when to fold.

Foer doesn't.

Splash, out


Well, 23 year olds do dumb things.

Amen, brother, amen. And as is typical of that age, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jason, One one has written this yet but don't you think that the Iraqi's that lived in the town would tell someone that the local mech infantry company is going through their towns crushing stalls and going through the corner of buildings if only to make a damage claim. Could you see leader the Cival Action team letting that slide?
Yeah, I was going to get to that, but this post was longwinded as it is.

There is simply no way on earth a convoy commander would abide by some yahoo deliberately riding his track over walls and taking out the corners of buildings.

That's the kind of thing that 1.) encourages people to shoot at you later, and everyone who leaves the gate (a set which may or may not include Beauchamp) knows this, and 2. is liable to cause you to throw a track in the rubble.

And since it's the driver that gets to be the guy to repair the track, which is a bitch with brass plates, no driver is going to deliberately risk it.

That part simply does not pass the credibility test with me.

I can maybe see a driver running over flimsy abandoned thatch roadside market stall once. ONCE. Before he got his ass reamed by everyone within his line of sight.
This is what I've been waiting for! Thanks. I have no specialized military expertise but it was just so obvious the guy was attempting to write the Catch 22 of OIF.
There is at least one obvious novelistic device - after they ran over the dog - just how was he able to describe the precise orientation of the corpse - the head pointed skywards with a smile on its face - did they stop, get out and look? - gheesh!

But give Beauchamp his due - whatever his selfish, secret motivation might have been - he signed up and went to war - not many creative writing grads do that. Once a creep not always a creep - maybe his current self-imposed public silence suggests he's attempting to make amends - the reformed f***-off - I hope that just doesn't happen in war movies?
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