by John Hawkins | August 13, 2007 5:46 am
Both sides of the ideological split have drawn a line in the sand over what a soldier’s story really means, that is if the tales of Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp are just a story or a state of mind. On the left, the dramatic details Beauchamp described were a confirmation of the argument that an unjust war will numb a man into a callous monster. On the other side, critics accuse Private Beauchamp of disparaging his fellow soldiers and distorting reality. One side stands opposed to the other and like watching a dog chase its tail, everyone will spin in circles convinced one good bite will eventually be worth all the fuss.
Private Beauchamp said he wanted Americans to, “have one soldier’s view of the war in Iraq.” Unfortunately, the Private didn’t limit his views to himself, but did limit accusations of potential misconduct to the men serving with him. Although he insisted he wanted to be “discreet,” publishing his work in a national magazine meant, on some level, he hoped his experiences would inform and convince the readership. Private Beauchamp had a cause and that’s something to be respected.
When I embedded with the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I had a cause too. It seemed that whenever the media spoke about what was going on in Iraq, they always let some talking head in a suit behind a desk do all the commenting. My cause was to go to directly to the source, the troops on the ground themselves.
I don’t know anyone who used heavily up-armored vehicles to purposely run over dogs in Iraq, but there is Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman who bent all the rules and created a few new ones to get a stray dog, Lava, out of the Anbar province and back home with him to Santa Monica. In a country where dogs are considered expendable, Colonel Kopelman wrote From Baghdad with Love to explain the illogic of his attachment to an animal he had pledged to save. In Afghanistan, I met a major who had just sent a battered and abused puppy back home to Long Island, because he was inspired by Kopelman’s book.
I have met, interviewed and spoken to 100’s of servicemen and women from different states, cultures and even in different languages. Despite the broad swath of personalities in theatre, I seem to be in a different universe than Beauchamp, even though I spent some time at FOB Falcon, where he is stationed. I had never seen a soldier humiliate a disfigured woman, much less a soldier who couldn’t distinguish between an officer and a civilian, but I do know my buddy Sgt. Garth Stewart (Army) who stepped on a mine during the initial push into Iraq. Garth is currently attending Columbia University, has enormous passion for life and is one of the first recipients of a high-tech robotic ankle. Despite his injuries, Garth wanted to come with me back to Iraq. Meditative and focused, it’s obvious that Garth’s experiences here, in the “sandbox” have changed him in ways that are far more complex than his wounds.
Private Beauchamp questioned the criticism of those who had never fought in Iraq, but Nate Fick fought both in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Fick asked just as many question as Beauchamp and humbly left plenty of the big questions unsolved. Fick risked his life and that of his reconnaissance unit to provide medical attention to a young Iraqi girl because he knew his humanity was in the balance, and not just the life of a stranger. Nate Fick not only wrote about his experiences, in the best selling book One Bullet Away, but his story will endure as required reading for any young man aspiring to become a Marine. Fick may not have set out to write an iconic work of the complexity of the warrior, but sometimes the written word can have unintended consequences–Private Beauchamp can attest to that.
I’ve met plenty of troops who question the reason, logic and futility of being in Iraq, but I met no one who said the experience has left them less of a human being. Those who read the misadventures of Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and shook their heads in pity felt a false kinship with a caricature that devolved. The reality is quicksilver complex, where hardship and discouragement meet duty and resolve. Despite the heat, horrors and hardship of Iraq, the honest lesson is not that war turns men into monsters, but that men go off to war and often come back even better men.
This content was used with the permission of Matt Sanchez, an embed in Iraq.
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