Before I begin, a quick recap on what Websters says about valor:
strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness : personal bravery
This morning, I received a comment from SHG regarding his hesitation in addressing the Stolen Valor Act:
Never having served, and therefore by definition never having been awarded a military honor, I felt that my opinion on the Stolen Valor Act was somewhat compromised.
First, let me state that I have never committed an act that demonstrates valor. Sure, I received a few medals, but they were termed as being for “merit,” at best. Websters defines merit as follows (edited to omit the definitions of merit that do not apply in this case):
character or conduct deserving reward, honor, or esteem
I never did anything deserving or fitting that definition. Yet, I received two Meritorious Service Medals (among others). They are merely proof that I did my job, rose to the rank of Major, and that the Army’s perception of merit has been severely eroded. They sit lumped in my sock drawer with the other awards and devices I received.
But, to my original point. Look back at the definition of “valor.” Does it say anything about military service? No. Hazardous duty as a police officer or firefighter? Nope. Particularly noteworthy service during clandestine operations? Not even close. A 7-year-old Cub Scout is just as capable of displaying valor as anyone else. They are also fully capable of developing their own perception as to what constitutes valor. By extension, so is SHG.
This reminds me of a problem in our nation for the better part of 25 years. Any criticism of something that purports to help service members is interpreted as a slight upon the same service members. The most horrible tag we can give someone in this country (aside from being racist) is that they “don’t appreciate service members.”
Things that purport to help service members and veterans can still be completely asinine. They can still lack logical foundations. They can be stupid. The same goes for members of the military and veterans. Service does not inculcate superior wisdom or abilities. How you regard someone should be based upon who they are, and what they’ve done is but a small piece of that. Never be afraid to call a spade a spade.
Consider now the name of the act: The Stolen Valor Act. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? They are stealing the fact that someone else has done something brave and heroic! They are taking credit for amazing acts in the face of unbelievable odds! They are taking what someone else earned through bravery and heroism and claiming it for themselves! Wait. Perhaps the name of this act is hyperbole.
As I stated previously (which I stated at the spur of the moment before going to bed last night), you can’t steal valor. Look at the definition again. You can’t steal that. Just like you can’t steal when I’m sad, or that you can’t steal the fact that I graduated from college. It’s impossible. It is an idea. It cannot be stolen.
So, how do we appropriately name this act?
The Lying About Military Service, Falsely Claiming the Awarding of Military Honors, or Wearing of Unearned Military Ribbons and/or Devices Criminalization Act.
How about that name? That’s got you punching-mad, doesn’t it?
Oh, not so much? But, you’d agree that it is a much more appropriate name, right? After all, that’s really what is being criminalized–someone lying about service and/or wearing military doodads.
Are we really that protective about military flair? The type of stuff I have wadded in a corner of my sock drawer? Is this an aggravated form of lying? Isn’t all lying bad?
So, how about the awards the Boy Scouts have regarding Valor (awarded scrupulously when someone saves someone else’s life or commits a heroic act). How about claiming to be an Eagle Scout? Girl Scout Gold Award? Police service? Service as a firefighter? Heroic acts as a police officer or firefighter? Service as a smoke-jumper? AV preeminent on Martindale? 10.0 on Avvo? Top tomato project at the 4H fair?
Oh, the slippery slopes we slide upon.
Frankly, I think some folks have been doing an admirable job in exposing and humiliating the fakers. Believe me when I say that Veteran networks across this nation are thick, and when they discover a liar and faker, they let him/her have it. This is a very efficient, self-policing community. Thanks to the advent of databases and the internet, their job is infinitely easier.
They won’t benefit from over-criminalization. Nobody ever does.