WASHINGTON -- For a month, the veracity of The New Republic's Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the Army private who has been sending dispatches from the front in Iraq, has been in dispute. His latest "Baghdad Diarist" (July 13) recounted three incidents of American soldiers engaged in acts of unusual callousness. The stories were meant to shock. And they did.
In one, the driver of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle amused himself by running over dogs, crippling and killing them. In another, a fellow soldier wore on his head and under his helmet a part of a child's skull dug from a grave.
The most ghastly tale, however, was about the author himself mocking a woman that he said he saw "nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq." She was horribly disfigured, half her face melted by a roadside bomb. As she sat nearby, Beauchamp said loudly, "I love chicks that have been intimate -- with IEDs. It really turns me on -- melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses." As his mess hall buddy doubled over in laughter, Beauchamp continued: "In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? 'IED Babes.'" The woman fled.
After some commentators and soldiers raised questions about the plausibility of these tales, both the Army and The New Republic investigated. The Army issued a statement saying flatly that the stories were false. The New Republic claims that it had corroboration from unnamed soldiers. The Weekly Standard quoted an anonymous military source as saying that Beauchamp himself signed a statement recanting what he had written.
Amid these conflicting claims, one issue is not in dispute. When The New Republic did its initial investigation, it admitted that Beauchamp had erred on one "significant detail." The disfigured woman incident happened not in Iraq, but in Kuwait.
That means it all happened before Beauchamp arrived in Iraq. But the whole point of that story was to demonstrate how the war had turned an otherwise sensitive soul into a monster. Indeed, in the precious, highly self-conscious literary style of an aspiring writer trying out for a New Yorker gig, Beauchamp follows the terrible tale of his cruelty to the disfigured woman by asking, "Am I a monster?" And answering with satisfaction that the very fact that he could ask this question after (the reader has been led to believe) having been so hardened and brutalized by war, shows that there is a kernel of humanity left in him.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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