July 27, 2007

On "Shock Troops"

In the weeks after Sept. 11, "Band of Brothers" ran for the first time on U.S. television. In the second episode of that show, there is recounted the alleged mass shooting of unarmed German prisoners on D-Day by then-Lt. Ronald Speirs, previously referred to in the Stephen Ambrose book upon which it was based.

Speirs was still alive at the time. (He died earlier this year.) Described by colleague "Richard Winters" in his memoir as a "born killer," he received no official sanction for the alleged D-Day events, or a later situation where he allegedly shot a U.S. soldier for disobeying an order under fire. As the series progresses, he increasingly becomes an admirable, even heroic figure.

It's fair to say that those currently whining about the "Shock Troops" controversy think "BoB" to be a pretty good show. It's probably also fair to say they haven't lost a whole lot of sleep worrying about how the treatment of Speirs in a mass-produced, award-winning series has negatively impacted on the impressions the world has of American soldiers. Certainly at the time, it seemed irresponsible to me, given that the accusations, never contested by any court or investigation, would be tied to his reputation for eternity. But I didn't doubt that it might have been true.

One searches in vain for some consistent principle that would aggregate some jingopunditry reaction to the "Shock Troops" story, compared with their silence about the near-simultaneous stories casting doubt on the official government versions of the deaths of not one, but two Silver Star winners this week. Or the way they feel about "Band of Brothers", for that matter.

John Cole gets it about right. And I find it amusing that Gen. Petraeus' senior public affairs officer felt compelled to issue a statement saying that the threat of roadside IEDs (some hidden in or under apparent roadkill) argues against the dog-hunting behaviour referred to in the article... as far as I know, no one has yet put an IED in a *live* dog.

UPDATE: This one from LGF ("an excellent point" he opines) is classic: "Imagine for a moment that the Weekly Standard had run a piece called, say, “We’re Winning in Iraq,” by an anonymous military source, without revealing that the source was married to a WS staffer. Specifically, to the WS staffer who wrote the piece. Do you think TNR would cover this by saying "this only increases the source’s credibility?'"

Dude! The Weekly Standard has been doing exactly that for months, with regular Iraq reports by Kimberley Kagan, wife of the guy whose idea the surge was in the first place, without ever pointing out the potential conflict. Nearly everyone who cares knows this: LGF's commenter honestly didn't?

UPDATE #2: Just to be clear, I have no reason to believe that the article in question is 100% accurate, 100% fable or somewhere in between. Am I still skeptical about the literal truth of some of the claims attached? Sure. But in terms of intent and underlying mindset, the writers' claims of various sociopathic behaviours are not so far from the baseline established by generations of previous soldiers' behaviour to be remarkable in and of themselves, be they ultimately proven or unproven. I think the writer's editors were cavalier and sophomoric, and many of his critics are buffoons, but I'm happy to leave it to those in the coming military and internal magazine investigations to judge the veracity of the original work.

A secondary issue here is the obvious lack of military and other relevant knowledge in the TNR editorial staff, and how that contributed to this situation. Anyone who writes an article that talks about "square-ended bullets" without someone requesting clarity of phrase needs a better editor than they had. The general shape of bullets is hardly a fact outside of lay knowledge.

UPDATE #3: I praise Jane Galt in the next post above, but she's off-base here. If the editors of The New Republic says "the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published," they should be expect to be taken at their word on that. "Too good to check" is not a valid excuse.

Also, this was a fun bit of detective work on the subject. I agree that the guy Beauchamp reads like a Jones/Mailer wannabe. If he'd had the self-discipline to wait until he got home to seek an audience for his novelistic recountings the way they did, it's possible he still could have been. Now I'd say he's destined to remain a footnote in that trade, as he evidently already is in soldiering. Again, I blame his editors for apparently not caring much about the kid's long-term interests here, or anyone else's for that matter.

Posted by BruceR at 02:13 PM