If you roam the blogosphere at all, you have encountered this story, or at least the controversy about it. The remarkable thing is that anyone finds it remarkable.
I can understand why soldiers in Iraq might be offended if the stories Beauchamp tells turn out not be true. He makes other soldiers -- and himself -- look bad for no good reason. And I can understand why certain people just want to bash The New Republic. That's an entertaining thing to do.
But the idea that soldiers do mean things in wars is hardly news. Military history is full of the banal cruelty of war. Even under the best of circumstances, putting young men together under stress is likely to have coarse consequences. Just go to a rugby practice or cowboy bar. Give 20-year-olds superior firepower, and most anything could happen. That is no slur on soldiers, unless it is a slur to say that soldiers are human beings.
In "Goodbye to All That," Robert Graves describes moving with a bunch of soldiers during World War I through a trench past a soldier who had been buried so deep under an artillery shell that only one hand remained visible. As the soldiers passed by, each shook the hand in turn.
Now, Graves was a humane and erudite man. And the British Army is among the most disciplined and "civilized" in the world. Yet in Graves' memoirs, this grotesque act (imagine the response if rescue workers at a mining accident did such a thing) seems perfectly understandable and, yes, even funny. War does peculiar things to people.
That's one reason why using wars to pursue diplomatic aims so often backfires. Armies are good at breaking things, but not very good at putting them back together again.
And that may be why so many pro-war bloggers with no personal stake in the truth or falsity of The New Republic's claims have taken such offense. Having been wrong so long about how this war would turn out, they take every cruel detail as an affront.
The odd thing is that so many of those appalled by these stories are among those who think the war should be even crueler. We should loosen rules of engagement. We should torture prisoners. We should expand the war to Iran. Such actions inevitably expand the number of war stories that people like Scott Thomas Beauchamp tell.
War tests to its limits our capacity for civilized behavior. If we can't accept the consequences of pushing those limits, we have no business fighting wars.