The Wrong Man?

I continue my attempt to catch up on “Periodicals Notes” with this bit about the May issue of The Atlantic

The most widely discussed article in the issue was David Freed’s “The Wrong Man,” about Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.  When several envelopes containing anthrax were sent to American politicians and journalists in the fall of 2001, the FBI investigated Dr Hatfill.  The article makes it clear why; the anthrax in the envelopes came from Hatfill’s place of employment, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.  Hatfill was in Britain when one of the letters was mailed from Britain; he was in Florida when another letter was mailed from Florida.  Most intriguingly, though Hatfill is an American he served in the Rhodesian army defending white minority rule in that African country in the 1970s.  The unit in which Hatfill served, the Selous Scouts, operated in the area where a major anthrax outbreak killed more than 10,000 members of the tribes that most fiercely opposed white rule.  Freed points out that “a majority of the soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill’s unit, were black”; he does not pause to acknowledge that a black citizen of Rhodesia might have had a different motivation for joining the Rhodesian army than would an American.  Freed also says that “many well-respected scientists” concluded that the outbreak had an innocent explanation; this conclusion becomes a bit dubious when we see that a member of the Selous Scouts had been in the US Army’s elite Green Berets shortly before the outbreak and would wind up working at the Army’s chief bioweapons facility some years later.  Freed asserts Hatfill’s innocence throughout the article, but succeeds in showing why the FBI originally suspected him and why some might suspect that the investigation may have been short-circuited to cover up high-level misdeeds in which he was involved.

Elsewhere in the issue, Jon Zobenica recommends two books as anitdotes to the myth that American soldiers were models of chivalry during World War Two, Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow and Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed.  Leckie and Sledge both served in the Pacific as Marines, and neither man’s memoir gives an inch to romanticism or propaganda.  These two books formed much of the basis for a recent TV drama about the war in the Pacific.  Some commentators have praised the show for its gritty realism; having read the books, though, Zobenica can report that the producers sanitized the characters based on Sledge and Leckie in ways that the men never sanitized their own records.

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