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Real True Grit

Long-time readers may recall the strange controversy that erupted in mid-2006 about then-Lt. Tom Cotton. At that time Tom was in charge of a unit that patrolled in Baghdad. He wrote a letter to the New York Times that we published here, chastising the Times for disclosing the government’s highly classified SWIFT financial surveillance program. (Tom’s letter was of course deep-sixed by the Times.) Tom wrote:

You may think you have done a public service, but you have gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis here. Next time I hear that familiar explosion — or next time I feel it — I will wonder whether we could have stopped that bomb had you not instructed terrorists how to evade our financial surveillance.

Tom added:

[H]aving graduated from Harvard Law and practiced with a federal appellate judge and two Washington law firms before becoming an infantry officer, I am well-versed in the espionage laws relevant to this story and others — laws you have plainly violated. I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law.

Portions of the left-side of the blogoshere and its readership reacted immediately. We were flooded with messages questioning the existence of (in the words of one fool) “the uncannily pat spokesman for the Conservative reaction to the NYT SWIFT Financial Surveillance Program; Lt. Tom Cotton, Lt., Infantry, USAR, Harvard Law Grad, exposed to constant danger of grievous injury or death while serving his country on the front-line in Iraq.” As John put it, “the concept of a well-educated, well-spoken infantry lieutenant who would rather fight for his country than be a Washington lawyer is apparently too much for some liberals to bear.” Paul added, “Patriotism and self-sacrifice are such alien concepts to some on the left that when they hear about someone like Lt. Cotton they assume he doesn’t exist.”

Before long the evidence of Tom’s existence as well as the authenticity of his letter — Snopes.com weighed in — and of his biographical facts — Harvard undergrad, Harvard Law, clerkship for appellate judge Jerry Smith, work at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher — became overwhelming. The late Dean Barnett included Tom in his Weekly Standard article on the 9/11 generation. Dean wrote:

Cotton enlisted for one reason: He wanted to lead men into combat. His recruiter suggested that he use the talents he had spent seven years developing at Harvard and join the JAG Corps, the Armed Forces’ law firm. Cotton rejected that idea. He instead began 15 months of training that culminated with his deployment to Iraq as a 2nd lieutenant platoon leader with the 101st Airborne in Baghdad.

In 2008 Paul received another email on the subject from a Cotton-doubting lawyer named F. Joseph Gormley. Fatuity dies hard.

Tom returned to the United States to serve at Fort Myer in Virginia. We met up with Tom in New York during his service at Fort Myer; the photo below shows Tom with John’s daughter Laura on that occasion.

Tom and Paul got together on something like a monthly basis. Occasionally the talk turned to Iraq. Tom was delighted with the progress we made there as a result of the surge. He was constantly reminded of the great price we’ve paid — one of his duties was to conduct military funerals — but was unwavering in his conviction that our military action in Iraq was the right thing to do.

Tom squeezed in another combat tour, this one in Afghanistan, before returning to Washington and then Arkansas, his home state. Kenneth Y. Tomlinson picks up the story from there in the new issue of the Weekly Standard. Please check out Tomlinson’s report. As Paul Mirengoff predicted here in 2008 — I have borrowed liberally from Paul’s post for this update on Tom — “those who pay attention will be hearing more about Tom before too long.”

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