“A man calumniated is doubly injured – first by him who utters the calumny, and then by him who believes it.

Herodotus

TNR’s editor Foer is under attack by Milbloggers and others for an article that paints soldiers in Iraq as callus monsters who should be despised by all good people. Foer defends himself from charges of publishing falsehood, insisting that he discussed it with the writer and had the stories confirmed by others who had been in Iraq.

Now, I also know some veterans, and the stories I have heard are even worse.
One man laughed and showed his purse. It was made from the skin of an enemy, who he mutilated and took a piece of skin.
Another man tells of how they would pull the wings off of insects and take bets on how fast the insects could walk out of a ciricle.

Another man tells the story that he wanted to be a doctor, so when he found a mass grave of enemy soldiers, he took one of their skulls and took it home.
Others looted photos, guns, medals and gold from dead enemy soldiers or from houses that they searched.

What, you say, none of these incidents were in TNR’s article? Of course not. All of them are incidents that I have had related to my by friends or relatives…and the war was not  or husband. And all of them were about their service in the military.in Iraq, but during World War II.
But do we go around spreading such tales as “typical” of the Greatest Generation?

No, because they are anomalies, untypical behavior by men fighting a murderous regieme that gassed it’s own people and filled mass graves with villagers guilty of no other crime than political opposition.

You need context in the story.
The problem with the anti war crowd is not that they feel self righteous for opposing war, but that they have little or no connection with the reality. Bush is Hitler, Iraqi insurgents are wonderful, and they are heroes in their own eyes for opposing Iraq and VietNam.

Just ignore those mass graves behind the curtain…

Yet the real person who opposes war often is a soldier who has been to war (or like myself who has lived in a country at war). War is terrible, but the dirty little secret is that wars have to be fought, just like thieves and drug dealers and murderers have to be arrested and punished: because sometimes there are things worse than war. The 40 million killed in World War II pales in contrast to the 40 million killed by Stalin, the 100 million starved or killed by Mao and the ten million killed in Cambodia. Saddam Hussein has several million Iranians, Kurds, and Shiites dead from his genocides and wars, but one rarely hears them mentioned in any discussions of Iraq.
The problem with the latest smear of US soldiers in TNR is not that might not be an exaggerated tale about true incidents– my favorite book M*A*S*H* was such a book.
But in M*A*S*H* the hijinks were placed in the context of a caring hard working group of doctors and medical personnel who tried their best to save lives. In TNR, there is no such “balance”. Only the bad is good enough to print.
And, unlike World War II where most of the “elites” had friends or relatives who served, often their readers don’t know anyone who served in the military, and so will believe the tale, and think that the tale is the entire truth, not incidents taken out of context and twisted.

Here’s a comment from a pious Catholic pacifist blog about John Crawford’s book which is quite similar to TNR’s article:

Mr. Crawford and most of his compatriots in fact sound like a bunch of louts: vulgar, contemptuous of the Iraqi people and their culture, an obscene caricature of the worst aspects of America in its decline…
I suppose some would commend him for the naked honesty he exhibits in telling his sordid tales, but I see no virtue in this: nowhere does Mr Crawford show any sign of awareness that anyone might find his self-portrait repulsive.

You note the first line: Mr. Crawford and most of his compatriots…

The writer, is a pious caring guy who would be horrified to be accused of bigotry. Yet he is.  He takes the behavior of one person and assumes the group has similar characteristics.
Yet even Mr. Crawford, who got a book contract because of rather than in spite of his cynical writings, relates the story of how he risked his own life to save an Iraqi boy’s life.

He tells the story so sardonically that you could never believe he was a hero, but I think that is the point.  Here is someone who is a genuine hero of the South Park generation, who understates his heroism with a joke in the manner reminiscent of his grandfather’s generation.

But of course book publishers and NPR are not looking for the story of the sardonic South Park generation heroes. They are looking for stories of evil crass sardonic South Park Generation types to prove their own moral superiority to the evil military types. And the story is even better if you can edit out any hint of heroism from the stories.
That is why I suspect Mr. Foer’s explanation is beside the point.

By not putting the story into context, and by promoting it as normal behavior, not just occasional hijinks, the journal is guilty of calumny:

Calumny: n.
1. False accusation of a crime or offense, intended to injure another’s reputation.
2. Malicious misrepresentation; slander.

They would see to it that every suspicious whisper and outright calumny would be repeated in print, breathing fire into the growing spirit of faction.
— William Safire, Scandalmonger

Yes, the article is indeed  “malicious representation”

There seems to be a lot of that going around.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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