Leaping Private Beauchamp: The Baghdad Poet
The right-wing blogosphere is baying for blood, charging The New Republic's pseudonymous "Baghdad Diarist" Scott Thomas—and it is, as Andrew Sullivan points out, a poor nom de guerre at that; his real name is Scott Thomas Beauchamp—with multiple counts of Stephen-Glassery. After a few days of speculation and skepticism on various conservative and military blogs, mainstream outlets like the New York Times and ABC News picked up the story, provoking an investigation by TNR editor Franklin Foer. The Times explains:
The diaries have described some shocking incidents of military life, including soldiers openly mocking a disfigured woman on their base and a private wearing a found piece of a child's skull under his helmet.
The magazine granted anonymity to the writer to keep him from being punished by his military superiors and to allow him to write candidly, Mr. Foer said. He said that he had met the writer and that he knows with "near certainty" that he is, in fact, a soldier.
After this article appeared, Mr. Foer said he was "absolutely certain" that the author is a soldier.
Beauchamp may very turn out to be a fabulist and, if this is indeed the case, TNR will (deservedly) take its lumps. And the fake soldier—or the real soldier faking "experiences"—is something of an American tradition. But it should also be noted that, if Beauchamp is telling the truth, it would hardly be the first "trophy skull" taken by an American soldier in wartime. In 1943, Life Magazine published a photo of a woman staring at a Japanese skull her soldier boyfriend send her from Guadalcanal. (The photo's original caption: "Arizona war worker writes her Navy boyfriend a thank-you note for the Jap skull he sent her.") During the Vietnam War, severing the ears of dead Vietnamese soldiers, said one Army investigation, was "routine."
Regardless of the outcome of TNR's investigation, full credit to the magazine's editors who, like a Photoshop wizard at Redbook magazine, took Beauchamp's ridiculous prose and made it half-way readable. According to his personal blog, Private Thomas/Beauchamp saw his a tour in Iraq as an entry into the world of journalism. In a post headlined "ill (sic) return to america an author," he offers readers a taste of his mad author skillz:
bavarian stories in some sort of rounded metaphysical order…personality death stories intersecting with poesy home memory reflections. You begin with a place and an action and let it carry in every direction till the words are vibrating on the page, dripping in thick robust delapidated (sic) barnhouses of adjectives and pronouns…no time for the subtle gray faced calculations of a PERFORMED intimacy…go…but remember what Kerouac forgot: revision is spontaneous also. a brief coming back to america introduction, stories about soldiers, prositutes (sic), innocent students rendered featherless by dark rivets of experience and the decadence of human pursuits in every vein…and then there's the veins…follow 'em. Cut your wrist let it bleed onto the paper in unique soulpatterns of mindthoughts.
Seriously. If nothing else, can't we court martial this guy for pretentious writing unbecoming an enlisted man?
(Lame headline reference here)