Last month the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act (SVA) in a six to three decision. Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority. The SVA was a worthwhile attempt to deal with the phonies who falsely claim military service and medals. It is amazing how many fakes are out there that suffer from what I call Ego Deficit Disorder (EDD). Over the years I have met any number of individuals who were self-proclaimed war heroes. Since I am more familiar with the Vietnam era, it is easier to spot them. The first question I ask someone that has given me a feeling that their service might be bogus is which corps they were assigned to in Vietnam. All Vietnam veterans can instantly answer this simple inquiry. When the “veteran” stumbles with his own questions such as “what do you mean by that”, “I served all over”, or one of my favorites, “it’s classified”, that’s a clue that they guy is a fraud. Further probing usually results in an abrupt end to the conversation along the lines of having too many bad memories, changing the subject, or that they can’t talk about it. Another common denominator is that they will never ask if you had Vietnam service or anything about it if they know that you did.
I received a number of calls from friends and associates who were troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision. I replied that I believe the high court made the right call that protects not just those that might be offended by the imposters, but all Americans. If the First Amendment is to mean anything all speech has to be protected with the very few exceptions that the Court has recognized over decades, such as disclosing military/ship movements in time of war, and shouting fire in a crowded theater---just two obvious examples. Protecting just popular speech is no protection at all; it is unpopular speech that needs to be protected. Sure, people might be offended, but who gets to decide what is offensive and should be banned? I prefer not to live in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, and other totalitarian states where irritating the wrong person can land you in jail. The dissemination of ideas, good or bad, in a democracy is one of our greatest strengths.
All of that said, it is important to know that it is one thing to boast about military service and medals that are mythical; it is another to do it on an employment application where veterans points might be awarded, on a form for some kind of government benefits, or anywhere else that could result in financial gain of some sort or a job promotion. Federal law bans the intentional making of false statements for such purposes, and there are state law counterparts. It would also be a crime to falsely claim to be a police officer if the person pretended to act under the color of law to exert his authority.
It is worth the price to live in a free society to put up with braggadocios and fakes that are looking for no more than attention. Otherwise we would have a line drawing problem about what should be prosecuted. The support employee that served behind the lines in a war zone but exaggerates his service to include front line combat is just one example. How about the numbers out there that claim to have played college or major league sports? It may not equate with military service fakery, but there still will be people offended by it. I say that the Walter Mittys that seek no more than ego gratification and to impress the people next to them in a bar should be laughed at for what they are, or perhaps they deserve our sympathy for being pathetic individuals. But the Court was right in recognizing that in our great country we don’t put people in jail for it.