Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Baghdad Diaries": As Scandolous as the Generation from Which It Came

Writing in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan comments in her very erudite and no-holds-barred fashion about the now-famous and scandalous "Baghdad Diaries".

To remind you, the venerable New Republic magazine earlier this year created quite a stir when they ran the "Baghdad Diaries" series by soldier-writer Scott Thomas. The series portrayed soldiers in Iraq as morbidly witty, pitiless, and ultimately (to paraphrase Noonan), nihilistic. In left-wing intellectual circles, the "Baghdad Diaries" added fuel to the anti-war fire.

Turns out that the "Baghdad Diaries" are yet another case of journalistic license. As in, completely fake. Shame on the New Republic for not thoroughly fact checking and shame on Thomas for casting aspersions on our soldiers--his comrades in arms--serving in Iraq.

The backstory: "Thomas", as it turns out, is actually Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a U.S. Army private serving in the Iraq War, and a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.

Immediately after the publication of "Baghdad Diaries", several conservative publications and bloggers questioned Beauchamp's statements. The New Republic investigated and concluded the statements were true, except one entry that was later said to have occurred prior to combat in Kuwait instead of during combat in Iraq. The U.S. Army investigated and concluded the statements were false.

And here, my friends, is where the story gets interesting...

New Republic editor Franklin Foer disclosed that Beauchamp is married to Elspeth Reeve, a former New Republic reporter and fact checker, and that his relationship with Reeve was "part of the reason why we found him to be a credible writer." Accused of insufficient fact-checking, the magazine had, according to Foer, planned to "re-report every detail", but the magazine later stated that their investigation was "short circuited" after the Army severed Beauchamp's communications with anyone overseas.

As of August 2007, both parties are holding to their respective conclusions.

Noonan approaches the Baghdad Diaries scandal from a sociological perspective; that is, how the background and upbringing of the people who now report the news influences their actual reporting.

Noonan writes: "... This new leadership class, those roughly 35 to 40, grew up in a time when media dominated all. They studied, they entered a top-tier college, and then on to Washington or New York or Los Angeles. But their knowledge, their experience, is necessarily circumscribed. Too much is abstract to them, or symbolic. The education establishment did them few favors. They didn't have to read Dostoevsky, they had to read critiques and deconstruction of Dostoevsky.

"I'm not sure it's always good to grow up surrounded by stability, immersed in affluence, and having had it drummed into you that you are entitled to be a member of the next leadership class. To have this background in the modern era is to come from a ghetto, the luckiest ghetto in the world, a golden ghetto beyond whose walls it can be hard to see.

"There's much to be said for suffering, for being on the outside or the bottom, for having to have fought yourself up and through. It can leave you grounded. It can give you knowledge not only of the world and of other men but of yourself. In some ways it can leave you less cynical. (Not everything comes down to money.) And in some ways it leaves you just cynical enough."

I admit that to some extent my personal background is of that "golden ghetto" origin. Yet I have had the benefit of a religion (Judaism) and a formative education (at Northfield Mount Hermon Prep School) that taught me the importance of service, sacrifice, and humility. During my military service as an officer, those traits were further drilled into me. So I know a little about suffering; I know a little about fighting up and through.

This knowledge has enabled me to empathize and sympathize with others. It has taught me not to feel or act entitled; to not act arrogantly or pridefully. Those lessons have helped me to deal with the many challenges and obstacles life has placed in my path, as well as to understand the challenges confronted by others.

I agree with Noonan, which is why I am a very strong proponent of compulsory national service. National service is the ultimate equalizer: Whether it's the military, Americorps, Teach for America, or a national service program yet to be conceived, these programs help to break down the "golden ghetto" walls that separate the "entitled" class from those less fortunate.

No comments: