Claiming false medals is demeaning

A recent NYT article discussed the rash of false medals/military honors since the long war on terror has greatly increased the number of “everyday” people with some plausible wartime service.

(For example, I recently met an in-house attorney with JetBlue who was in the Army National Guard during law school and then deployed to Iraq. That’s not easy either.)

I found this language to be odd:

Some First Amendment scholars worry that laws regulating the use of symbols are similar to those against flag burning, which the Supreme Court has said are unconstitutional limitations on free speech. Others have also questioned whether overzealous activists risk slanderously and erroneously accusing people of fraud because of missing or misprinted military documents.

I agree completely with the “wearing a medal” issue, even more vehemently if it’s protected speech criticizing the military and the government. We protect the Constitution so that we can keep these rights; I’m one of the only former military folks I know who doesn’t have a problem with flag-burning. I believe that it’s great for other people to take out their frustration and anger on a US flag rather than on a citizen or soldier, sailor, airman, or marine.

But to accuse someone? That would take some serious self-righteousness and some serious proof. I doubt that anyone who actually held any of these medals would take it on themselves to throw stones at someone else without being absolutely convinced; the idea of denigrating a soldier who was deservedly decorated would seem to me to be the type of conduct that these folks would find outrageous. I, for one, have no problem detailing the extent of my “action” in the Army: the unit I was to join went to Panama in 1989 but I was waiting for OCS and never joined the unit; I was in OCS during Desert Storm, and all of Ft. Benning was worried about thousands of casualties; at OCS we openly talked about the School’s prominence in turning out 2LTs, many of whom went to Vietnam and promptly died; but we stayed home and the war was over; I was in Hawai’i during Bosnia, and my old boss went to Somalia. I didn’t do any of those things. All I did was stand ready to do whatever was asked of me, and that’s enough. I know people with actual medals, who’ve actually fought. I can’t imagine demeaning them by pretending I did something I hadn’t. I don’t know who would.

This quote is both heartening and disturbing:

Special Agent Mike Sanborn, who since 2007 has led the unit in the F.B.I.’s Washington office that handles stolen valor cases, said that while the bureau did not keep statistics on the crime, the biggest increase came after 2006 with the passage of the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal crime to falsely claim, verbally or in writing, that a person had been awarded a medal. Previously, the law only prohibited wearing a medal that a person did not earn.

I know of someone who apparently (and I won’t name him or how I know; he knows the truth; his name certainly doesn’t appear on this list) noted the award of a Silver Star to his resume at one point early in his career. It hasn’t appeared in a recent bio (he recently held an admittedly high-profile government job) and I didn’t see the resume with my own eyes. I guess he certainly won’t be punished for violating this law (ex post facto rears its ugly head), but he knows if he should be.

That’s the end of it. Even knowing that I don’t believe him, I’m humble enough in the face of thousands who did vastly more than I did to give him the slightest benefit of the doubt by letting the world sort it out. It’s not my place to pretend that I’m protecting the honor of the heroes I know by challenging one misguided fellow; I honor them by displaying the character traits they taught: courage, competence, character, commitment; by living up to the motto (p.20) many of them lived and fought by; and by raising my children to be honorable themselves.