« On TNR and the Right | Main | Negotiations »

July 27, 2007

Must Love Dogs

I really don't understand Megan's belief that The TNR diarist should be viewed incredulously because it tells a story of cruelty to dogs and "Americans are really, really attached to dogs"

Are you kidding me? The quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons is about to undergo prosecution for running a dogfighting ring in which poorly performing dogs were electrocuted, shot, and hung. Yes, many Americans are very attached to dogs, but some aren't, and some subset of them are very cruel. And what rangy mutts who prowl the streets and alleys of a shelled and broken city look like to the soldiers who have to step over them, or chase them away from bodies, is anybody's guess. Were not talking Fido here.

If you want to question a story's veracity, you can. But you actually need to possess some relevant information throwing its facts into doubt. Or you need some motive for why a soldier, in a war zone, would invent disturbing, but not actually barbaric or illegal, actions on behalf of the troops. What we've got is absolutely nothing.

July 27, 2007 | Permalink


There's a rather infamous youtube clip to support this point (that may have been previously posted here?)...


Posted by: jfaberuiuc | Jul 27, 2007 11:43:44 AM

Obviously, Ezra, Mike Vick hates America.

And since our troops obviously do not hate America (except Scott Thomas), the story is false. QED.

Posted by: jhupp | Jul 27, 2007 11:44:29 AM

Okay, how about the fact that a Bradley isn't a car, it's a tracked vehicle, and it doesn't swerve fast enough to catch the average dog? That soldiers are saying the new helmets are too tight to fit an child's skull under them along with your head? That soldiers who were on the base seem to be reporting that there was no such commenter? That privates do not commonly insult women whose service or rank they are unable to ascertain, because if she is in the service, the odds approach 100% that she outranks them? What constitutes a fact?

The soldiers are overwhelmingly reacting the way that people like us react when right-wing bloggers speculate on vast east-coast media conspiracies; it's not even that we have some killer factual refutation, it's just that we know that things don't work that way. The story is rife with details which milbloggers dispute. I have no way of personally knowing that this is true . . . I have never worn one of these helmets, driven a Bradley, etc . . . but overall, I'm inclined to assume that they aren't just making it all up, especially since their accounts overlap. And people I do know, like Graeme Wood, who are not soldiers, but have been to Iraq, also say that the stories seem more like lurid fabrications than something that really happened.

That's one reason the story seems unlikely to me. It also seems unlikely that an armored vehicle full of people from varying areas of the US happened to have contained 100% dog fight fans with enough of a death wish to enjoy watching their driver swerve around at great risk of either throwing a track in an urban area, or setting off an IED, in order to kill a dog.

I don't think that in any way refutes the notion that war is morally deadening, or proves that American troops have never done sickening things. I just find these particular sickening things not terribly believable.

Posted by: Megan McArdle | Jul 27, 2007 11:57:48 AM

And I don't think you need a motive. What was Stephen Glass's motive? We *still* don't know; but we do know that a very small subset of journalists, hungry for success, make up stories. And that it is easiest to make up stories when you are writing anonymously about events happening very far away from the home office. As I said in my own post, I think this was a Stephen Glass moment, not some sort of giant conspiracy. But it does seem increasingly likely that it was a Stephen Glass moment. It isn't nothing that a whole lot of soldiers are angrily disputing, not that bad people could do bad things in Iraq (I expect angry denial from any group about misbehaviour in the group), but about details that they know a lot about; and moreover, that some things, like making fun of the contractor, defy about eighty kinds of group and personal psychology.

Posted by: Megan McArdle | Jul 27, 2007 12:03:44 PM

From John Cole, in comments at his place, offered up fwiw:

Not to get facts in the way of your spin, but I actually have driven a Bradley, and probably have a thousand hours in the driver’s seat of an M1 A1 Abrams.
In the M1, you sit in a reclined position in the center of the hull of the tank, equi-distant between both tracks, neither of which you can see. Additionally, most of the time driving, my hatch was closed, and I was navigating using a series of thick glass periscopes that were about 9-10” wide and 2-3” tall.
And guess what- I could run over a dog.
Please STFU about things you don’t have any experience with and do not understand.

Ensuing comments there are also interesting.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 27, 2007 12:11:43 PM

Having spent 22 years in the Army, I can say with some emphasis that there is almost nothing that most privates, and NOTHING that some privates, won't do, including incredibly stupid, hitting-self-in-head-with-hammer type of things. So the idea that this stuff didn't happen because "they wouldn't do it"? don't make me laugh.

And remember, you're talking about a bunch of 19-year-old guys with guns in a pretty much broken down Third World country. If your squad leader/PSG/1SG are weak, bored, stupid or distracted? Let the fun begin!

But - (and first, I have to admit I haven't read the article in question):

1. I have to agree that "chasing dogs with a Brad" sounds implausible on the face of it. Too big, too slow. I could picture a Brad working along a narrow alley and squashing the random dog because the driver is bored, it's fun to squash things and...well, because the scrawny mutts in the Middle East are magnets for GI abuse, at least they were for a lot of the guys when I was posted in the Sinai. MFO mutts took a hell of a lot of grief from the guys, some of them. But catching a fast dog in an open field? Uh uh.

2. Skulls inside a CVC/PASGT helmet? Don't buy it - wouldn't fit.

This stuff sounds like "war stories" to me. Not sure why the wingnuts think that this stuff and wierder aren't happening in theatre, though. Comes with being a fucknozzle Republican CHUD, I suspect. Lemme tell ya, boys and girls - the GIs are doing stuff in, around, by and to the Iraqis you never even DREAMED of. You'd run screaming out into the cuna grass if you really heard of half of it. Let me tell you about the time that SPC Mogart cut off the cat's head and stuck it in the piss tube...

But what happens on the LP/OP stays on the LP/OP. You'll never hear about most of it, and the stuff you do, regardless of whether it's real or a war story, you'll never believe it...

Posted by: FDChief | Jul 27, 2007 12:22:21 PM

From farther down in the same thread:

Third: When the U.S. Army takes to the streets on patrols we do it deliberately, with task and purpose. “Thomas” describes the Bradley slowing down and ‘jerking’ suddenly to hit dogs. This just isn’t possible. If he is slowing down, then the vehicles behind him are slowing down, and there is a gap created between him and the vehicles in front of him. This would violate standard operating procedure (SOP) and make the convoy more susceptible to attack. While no one that has been to Baghdad can deny that there are large packs of wild dogs roaming the streets, to think that that is all a Bradley crew is worried about is absurd. The streets are also filled with IED’s and EFP’s. They line every street and and every corner. They are the number one killer in Iraq. When we travel in convoys, dogs are not our concern. We watch the streets, we look at curbs, we look at rocks, we look at windows for snipers and trigger men, we don’t look at wild dogs. Also, if this guy is driving a Bradley, how is he marking his “dog kill count” in a green book. Again, any leader would have corrected this action immediately, not only because it is subject to UCMJ action, but mainly because it endangers the lives of every man in that convoy.

One of the myths constantly told about VN is everyone there was high. Well that may have been true in the rear areas, but it wasn’t true of the vast majority of combat troops in the field. Oh they too used drugs at that time, but only when they were standing down and in the rear themselves. If you showed up out in the bush high, your peers would quickly make sure you never did it again by demonstrating their displeasure in a secretive but physical manner. When you’re out in indian country, you don’t play games with other people’s lives. And that is what the ‘dog hunting’ story is all about. What you’re supposed to believe is this was not only allowed, but condoned. Either that or you’re supposed to believe this guy is out there tooling around by himself doing dumb stuff.

These guys, as pointed out earlier, don’t move that vehicle without the track commander (an NCO or officer) being in that vehicle and in command. They also don’t deploy vehicles as singles. They move in groups. So not only is there someone in charge of the vehicle, there’s someone (an officer or senior NCO) in charge of the group. And can you guess who the vehicle commander reports too?

Again, I'm not denying that soldiers do fucked up shit in theater. Nor do I think this is some kind of insanely interesting story; I find it compelling mostly because I'm a Washington based journalist. I'm just saying that this particular fucked up shit seems implausible to me.

Posted by: Megan McArdle | Jul 27, 2007 12:25:23 PM

Megan McArdle:

I'm just saying that this particular fucked up shit seems implausible to me.
It sure doesn't to me. I read the daily news.

Posted by: Susan | Jul 27, 2007 12:38:19 PM

And John Cole's reply to that comment Megan quotes:

Once again, you have no idea WTF you are talking about. Having convoyed all across Europe and the Middle East at the helm of an M1, it is never a precision movement as described here. Traffic patterns, vision limitations, other factors all make convoy travel much more accordion like than a tightly organized convoy. The vast majority of your time in a convoy is racing to catch up to the vehicle ahead of you or slamming on the brakes so you don’t rear end the vehicle ahead of you. And really, the accordion is the only way to describe it- the convoy contracts and expands due to real world factors.

Additionally, vehicles are moved ALL THE FUCKING TIME without an NCO or officer as the “track commander.” What they mean by track commander is that there is never just a driver in the vehicle- there must be a driver and one other body up top to watch for blind spots. The “track commander” in that case can be a PV2 fresh from Ft. Knox. Ideally, you would want an NCO, but let’s face it- you idiots do not understand what SOP means- standard operating procedure. Yes, you try to adhere to it, and yes, if something goes wrong and you are violating SOP there will be hell to pay, but does that mean SOP is always followed? Of course not.

You fucking idiots sound dumber and dumber the more you plumb the depths of topics you have no fucking experience with

Posted by: Gar Lipow | Jul 27, 2007 12:39:21 PM

As an American dog-lover, I can certainly see how attitudes toward dogs would change over there.

From travels overseas, I've gotten the impression that the US is the exception in our near-total domestication/incarceration of the dog population. Major cities around the Mediterranean had stray dogs everywhere -- I assume Baghdad is not much different.

I tended to view them like rats, after a while.

Posted by: PapaJijo | Jul 27, 2007 12:39:48 PM

I know she's a friend, but when does Megan every make any sense?

Posted by: Joe Klein's Murdered Conscience | Jul 27, 2007 12:44:36 PM

Well, Iraq is a Muslim country, and dogs don't seem to be too terribly popular in that faith... I remember being terribly embarrassed when an acquaintance stopped by with her very Westernized Jordanian husband, because his look of sheer horror when my dog ran up to them made things really awkward.

Posted by: latts | Jul 27, 2007 12:45:02 PM

I have no opinion on the veracity of the story in question. However, it's clear that Megan has never seen the 1963 film The Victors, a big budget hollywood production about WWII. It contains a heartbreaking scene in which a truck full of GIs intentionally call a stray dog to chase after them in order to shoot it. This in front of the green recruit who had adopted it.

As I recall, there was never any public outcry suggesting that this was out of character for the American GI.

The notion that a particular "national character" precludes atrocities in war time is a self-comforting myth that knows no borders.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Jul 27, 2007 12:45:05 PM

Ezra, the actual argument is that the TNR diarist should be viewed incredulously because (a) what he writes offends the precious sensitivities of those with an emotional attachment to the wisdom of the iraq occupation and (b) because the right wing blogosphere has decided that people should doubt the TNR diarist's writings.

There's no reason to start getting into details about dogs, Bradley vehicle tread widths, etc. The explanation is much, much more straightforward.

(in countries other than the united states, domesticated pets are regarded as utilitarian tools rather than companions-- ie, cats are for eating mice, dogs are for guarding the henhouse, etc. Letting a dog in the house is regarded as incongruously as letting a (live) chicken roam about the house.)

Posted by: Tyro | Jul 27, 2007 12:48:07 PM

I'd submit that what one finds implausible has a lot to do with one wants to find implausible. The fact that you find killing dogs implausible doesn't help your case. Stories of random cruelty to animals are rife in war zones.

Pointing to milbloggers isn't very helpful because most of them are also decidedly on the right side of the blogosphere. They're hardly unbiased experts. Why they should be any more believable than Pvt. Beauchamp is a mystery to me.

Posted by: Larv | Jul 27, 2007 12:50:52 PM

Im disappointed klein. I'd always thought you were relatively free from tribalist sentiment, but it seems to be the only thing which would explain your wild mischaracterisations of both the nature and the extent of the criticisms leveled at thomas' diaries.

Posted by: iron pimp hand | Jul 27, 2007 12:59:11 PM

"This just isn’t possible. If he is slowing down, then the vehicles behind him are slowing down, and there is a gap created between him and the vehicles in front of him. This would violate standard operating procedure (SOP) and make the convoy more susceptible to attack."

WTF? IT's not possible because it would "violate SOP"? Cut me some slack. Saying that a GI wouldn't do something because it would violate SOP is like saying that 18-year-olds wouldn't have sex because their parents wouldn't approve. GIs since Kilroy are out there "tooling around doing dumb stuff".

I'm willing to believe that this is probably a war story, but not for the reasons you cite.

Posted by: FDChief | Jul 27, 2007 1:05:11 PM

pimp, the criticisms levels at thomas' diaries were that they were fake, and the the guy didn't exist. When that was proven wrong, the unhinged lunatics of the right when off in search of something else. Quite honestly, at this point, have little care what their next stupid obsession with Scott Thomas is going to be over. They were so consistently proved wrong, and their arguments were so consistently moronic, that nothing they say has any credibility whatsoever.

There might be someone who has something useful to say about Scott Thomas, but the right-wing blogosphere isn't it.

Posted by: Tyro | Jul 27, 2007 1:05:45 PM

"And really, the accordion is the only way to describe it- the convoy contracts and expands due to real world factors."

Word. Give the man a cee-gar. That's how it is, folks.

Posted by: FDChief | Jul 27, 2007 1:07:50 PM

Im disappointed klein. I'd always thought you were relatively free from tribalist sentiment, but it seems to be the only thing which would explain your wild mischaracterisations of both the nature and the extent of the criticisms leveled at thomas' diaries.

A friendly suggestion pimp. You might want to specify what "tribe" you are talking about. Just a thought.

BTW, other than stating his opinion that What we've got is absolutely nothing., Ezra doesn't "characterize" the nature and extent of any criticism other than the specific one raised by Megan.

Seems to me you've "mischaracterized" Ezra's post.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Jul 27, 2007 1:13:08 PM

One thing that IS clear-- the right wingers unhinged frenzy over Scott Thomas has proved their claims to all be wrong. They're simply not credible sources on anything related to Scott Thomas and, as a consequence, I think any of their claims can be pretty well ignored.

There may be some interesting things to come of the whole Scott Thomas story, but I'm pretty sure that none of it is going to come out of the righty-blogosphere, who have too much of an emotional investment in calling him a fraud, as well as lacking the moral instincts to be intellectually honest about the issue.

Posted by: Tyro | Jul 27, 2007 1:19:42 PM

Enough with the speculation about what 'could' have happened. Let's hear from other witnesses to the events Beauchamp describes. Unfortunately in some cases such witnesses, if they came forward, would be admitting to misconduct, which may deter them from doing so. But it's the only way.

I've seen nothing specific internal to the text which leads me to doubt its veracity. I do worry, though, about the fact that Beauchamp obviously has literary aspirations. I hope that didn't lead him to take license.

Posted by: Ryan | Jul 27, 2007 1:30:35 PM

It seems, Megan, that piece after piece of that has been disproven. A fair number of folks say it isn't hard to run over a dog in a vehicle (but oh, it's "against the rules!"). And are you seriously arguing that this is implausible because privates do not "generally insult people?"

An awful lot of your arguments here are based on norms. "People like dogs." "People don't insult contractors." If actual evidence comes out showing that these stories were falsified, or witnesses can't be produced, or something. I'll buy in. But none of that has come out. You have, instead, a lot of people who don't want to believe this story saying it doesn't accord with how they think things should work. in other words, nothing.

The Glass stories were wrong because they were proven wrong. Not because a bunch of braying hawks decided they didn't like the implications.

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 27, 2007 2:11:35 PM

The Glass stories were wrong because they were proven wrong. Not because a bunch of braying hawks decided they didn't like the implications.

The funny think about the Glass stories was that they went undetected for so long because they portrayed scenarios that people wanted to believe (eg, brokers/traders with Alan Greenspan shrines, Concord Coalition members being New England senior citizens hugging pictures of the late Paul Tsongas, etc.). If Scott Thomas wanted to fabricate stories in a way that would advance his career and help him go undetected, the obvious strategy would be to tell anecdotes that TNR's hawkish staff wanted to believe.

Posted by: Tyro | Jul 27, 2007 2:23:01 PM

Well, yeah, but people also don't cut their own genitals off. It could happen; but we don't think that because war is hell, this is something that is particularly likely to.

But no, it isn't all based on norms. Your own commenter says a Bradley is probably too slow to hit a dog. (They're also *really* loud, which tends to make dogs run away). He also says you couldn't fit a child's skull under a helmet. That's not a "norm" question; it's factual. So far, I haven't seen anyone say, "No, really, you could fit a child's skull under a helmet". You and other people keep recasting this as if there were no checkable details in the story.

Posted by: Megan McArdle | Jul 27, 2007 2:24:38 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.