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July 23, 2007

Turning against our bravest 1 percent

The blogosphere is in a ferment over three stories published in The New Republic by "Scott Thomas," purportedly an anonymous soldier writing from Iraq, about GI misbehavior in that country. According to those with any knowledge of the military and/or the operation in Iraq, the stories have holes that you could drive a Bradley Fighting Vehicle through -- even if, contra Thomas, it would be impossible to turn one of those vehicles to the right sharply and quickly enough to run over a nearby dog, or to cut said dog in half with one, or even to see a dog on your right if you happened to be in the driver's seat. (My father, a retired Army officer and Vietnam veteran, scoffed at the idea.) This is just one of the many sloppy -- and easy-to-check -- details that have led readers to smell a rat. The Washington Post and Worldwide Standard have good summaries of what's been going on.

TNR is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, as are the soldiers in Thomas's stories, and it's just possible that everything, or most things, may check out in the end. But so far, the magazine's response is not confidence-inspiring.

Coincidentally, this Sunday's Washington Post Magazine ran a piece this weekend about civilian perceptions of the military. This story, too, is less than encouraging to those who care about the "less than 1 percent of the U.S. population" who put their lives on the line for the rest of us.

The vast majority of civilians believe service members are intolerant, stingy, rigid and lacking in creativity. More than 20 percent report they'd be disappointed if their children joined the military. . . .

In the heat of an unpopular war, decades of social trends boiled over: the development of relativistic theologies, growing legal emphasis on the rights of the individual and the emergence of the teenage years as a time free from both parental restrictions and adult responsibilities. These trends empowered and united war opponents with a moral certainty that surpassed anything seen during previous conflicts, as described by Frank Schaeffer and Kathy Roth-Douquet in AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes From Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country. . . .

When Frank Schaeffer's son John enlisted, Schaeffer himself wasn't sure it was such a great idea. The other parents at John's exclusive prep school reacted with horror. Schaeffer recalls: "One of them, a professor at Brown, went to the headmaster and demanded a special meeting of the board and faculty to look into what went wrong with John Schaeffer. They were worried: Is this contagious?" At graduation, another parent commented about John, "What a waste."

(You may recall that our own Anne Morse reviewed AWOL a while back. In light of all this, I think her review bears reading again.)

Is it possible to trace any connection between these two stories? That is, is there any chance that cultural attitudes like the ones described in the Post -- attitudes that actually pit many Americans against those who are risking everything for their sake -- could have caused TNR's editors to relax their guard ever so slightly during the fact-checking process for this particular series of articles? Right now, it's too early to tell, but we shall see . . .

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» "Scott Thomas" Story Keeps Falling Apart from A Blog For All
It would be nice if we get names instead of soldiers or contractors who aren't willing to put their names to these statements, but it appears that the weight of evidence keeps pulling towards TNR's publication of fictictious accounts of US soldiers o... [Read More]

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