Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ACF Thanksgiving Edition: Scott Beauchamp on Community and Honor

 

Friends, we have a special interview today in our PoMoCon series–with my friend Scott Beauchamp, who like many other young Americans, signed up for the military and deployed to Iraq, and like a large number of veterans, has talked about his experience (in this case, in a book). What makes Scott unique is, his war book is not a memoir, but a work of cultural criticism, much more his intellectual and spiritual autobiography than talking about himself. Scott has a lot to say about the good that comes of war, given that war is terrible–the community of honor and how it helps a man to grow up and what it suggests about what we’re missing in our society.

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There are 6 comments.

  1. Brian Wyneken Member

    Is this the Baghdad Diarist Scott Beauchamp? If so, you should look into this.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Thomas_Beauchamp_controversy

    • #1
    • November 26, 2019, at 5:27 PM PST
    • 1 like
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Yes! The scandal appears in the concluding chapter of the book–I’ll take the liberty to quote a page or two, since it’s about dishonor, punishment, & redemption:

    While in the Army I dishonored myself. It’s a complicated
    event to touch on, and its proper treatment would demand a book
    all of its own, but it illustrates what I mean by honor allowing
    for redemption. About halfway through my first deployment to
    Iraq I let myself be convinced that writing about my experiences
    for The New Republic would be a good idea. My motives weren’t
    all that terrible. It was 2006, and the war was just beginning to
    be seen as a lost cause by many Americans. Thinking that too
    many people back home were using the word “war” without
    quite understanding all that it entailed – the squalor, the casual
    cruelty, the gallows humor, the decay of communities and the
    wounds of the combatants – I agreed to write a few dispatches
    under a pseudonym. Interestingly, perhaps predictably, it was
    the piece focused on the gallows humor of American soldiers
    that caught people’s attention. It wasn’t long before I was found
    out and punished by the military.
    At the time I was indignant with righteousness. What had I
    done but given the American public, the people in a democracy
    who are ultimately responsible for the wars waged in their
    name, true stories about the war they allowed? Most of my
    fellow soldiers saw it differently. They felt betrayed. War has a
    bivalence. Of course it’s a public, political event. But it’s also, by
    those who wage it or are touched by it, a profoundly personal
    occurrence so deeply entwined with identity that gossiping
    anecdotally to strangers about it feels like a betrayal of those
    very experiences. They can’t simply be reduced to essaysitic
    form, especially as they’re still in the process of being waged. Of
    course, some part of me understood that, and the twinge of guilt
    only turned my righteousness into a stronger alloy.
    Most likely to an outsider, my punishment was not
    commensurate with my infractions. I was put on a work detail
    where I was made to work 20 hours a day (4 hours of sleep
    being the absolute minimum the Army is required to give a
    soldier). During the long work days I would fill sandbags and
    move scrap from one end of our combat outpost to another. A
    noncommissioned officer accompanied me wherever I was, so
    that I could never have a moment alone and to enforce the strict
    “no talking to Beauchamp” rule that my platoon sergeant had
    implemented. And as the ultimate symbol of dishonor, my rifle
    was taken from me. It was, by no stretch of the imagination, the
    most difficult experience I faced during the war. And it came
    at the hands of my fellow soldiers, my brothers. The worst of
    it ended when I finally contracted typhoid from a combination
    of exhaustion and inhaling so much Iraqi dust. Slipping in
    and out of consciousness while lying in a field hospital with
    a temperature of 103F, my body flirted with permanent brain
    damage. Bullets had whistled by my head. Bombs had exploded
    around me. But this felt as near to death as I’d ever been.
    Recovering and returning to my unit was a kind of rebirth.
    Slowly, but definitely, I was afforded the same respect that I had
    had before. Maybe even more. I was shriven, had proven myself
    worthy to the punishment, and had achieved some kind of
    redemption of honor among my fellows. By the time my second
    deployment rolled around, I had regained my rank, become a
    team leader and even served for a while as the company armorer
    – a position of responsibility far above my rank.
    I regret writing about war during war. Not because I was
    wrong about Americans needing to understand the ground-level
    reality of what they endorsed, but because it was a betrayal in
    the eyes of my comrades. I should have waited until after the
    war or after I was out of the Army. But I’m proud that I was
    able to pick myself back up and regain my honor. I’m grateful
    that such a process exists whereby I was able to be shriven and
    redeemed.

    • #2
    • November 27, 2019, at 1:04 AM PST
    • 1 like
  3. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Titus,

    Hope you well and all the family. You know my obsession with tribal life as tool to critique modern life, I think that Scott’s life in the military has many similarities to tribal life. One knows what their obligations are and in return what is due them, one has an identity. This identity is more that the “butt sniffing” one that @bossmongo humorously posted on, it is a brotherhood identity. I am part of this group, we are a “got your back” team, I will not leave you behind team. One fights for the team, and will risk one’s life for the team, one feels honored to be accepted and respected as a team member. Although all of one insignia is a map to one’s service history, your brothers know the deep history of your life as a soldier, of course through gossip and stories. If you could talk with Scott about identity and honor and obligation, comparing life in the service with modern life, that would be super. Looking at modern life, our culture has held up our ability to create our own identity, or change our identity as we choose as a great good. Most are not good at this identity creating skill, maybe none of us are, as you said we did not teach our selves language, let alone invent our own language. Secondly modern life has questioned honor itself, our culture is comfortable questioning the need to honor anything. It maybe is that honor blocks the arbitrary manipulation of power, in that if we honor our family we are honoring Stalin or Mao less.

    • #3
    • November 27, 2019, at 5:43 AM PST
    • 1 like
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Hey, Jim! 

    Yes, I think the experience of being given one’s identity by an honorable community is irreplaceable. I think we can see inadequate versions of this search for honor everywhere in our crazy world; that, & the angry reactions in face of dishonor–which is really our condition. We might say more broadly that there seems to be no way to talk about honor publicly in our modern world. It’s the price we pay for our technology & commerce: There are no lasting roles, for example, in the economy, nor can we predict what they will be at any moment. Individual freedom seems to have mostly repealed honor, but individual freedom itself means dependence on work which has become unpredictable…

    We’ll tackle your question in the next conversation–see what we can say about the deficiencies of community.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • #4
    • November 27, 2019, at 7:05 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. Brian Wyneken Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Yes! The scandal appears in the concluding chapter of the book–I’ll take the liberty to quote a page or two, since it’s about dishonor, punishment, & redemption:

    While in the Army I dishonored myself. It’s a complicated
    event to touch on, and its proper treatment would demand a book
    all of its own, but it illustrates what I mean by honor allowing
    for redemption. About halfway through my first deployment to
    Iraq I let myself be convinced that writing about my experiences
    for The New Republic would be a good idea. My motives weren’t
    all that terrible. . . .

    At the time I was indignant with righteousness. What had I
    done but given the American public, the people in a democracy
    who are ultimately responsible for the wars waged in their
    name, true stories about the war they allowed?

    I have to persist – there is a problem here – and it’s NOT about differing views on honor and redemption.

    A piece, “The Baghdad Fabulist” by the late Charles Krauthammer describes the event and implications: https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/09/AR2007080901900.html?hpid=opinionsbox1 He ends with “We already knew from all of America’s armed conflicts — including Iraq — what war can make men do. The only thing we learn from Scott Thomas Beauchamp is what literary ambition can make men say.”

    From the passages I quoted above, Mr. Beauchamp appears to be still maintaining that he wrote truthful accounts of his experiences in his articles for “The New Republic.” It appears that he is characterizing these events instead as one where he was influenced to commit indiscretions he later came to regret. He says that “It’s a complicated event to touch on, and its proper treatment would demand a book all of its own.” Short of a more forthright account in another book (if I am interpreting this correctly) I certainly do not yet see any indicators of honor and redemption.

    • #5
    • November 27, 2019, at 9:51 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    I don’t know what to say about this matter further. Mr. Krauthammer’s opinion doesn’t impress me in the way in which the opinions & judgments of the military authorities & the soldiers with whom Scott served for years after that scandal.

    • #6
    • November 27, 2019, at 9:54 AM PST
    • 1 like