Stolen Valor

My politics are pretty libertarian and I advocate free speech even when I don’t like or agree with it, on the premise that if all speech is not free (even hate speech), then no speech is truly protected. Americans allow the Ku Klux Klan or the New Black Panthers to speak things offensive to the general sentiment of the nation because they have a constitutional right to, and we fear what happens to us as a nation when we start  selective limitations on what is allowed as free speech.

Here is were my view of free speech may deviate from my libertarian friends: I support the prosecution of individuals who engage in what is known popularly as “Stolen Valor“, who attempt to present themselves as “war heroes”, wearing decorations they have not been awarded. Stolen Valor is not free speech in my opinion. Some lies may be free speech, but this is more than just a lie, it is fraud.

I am not talking about re-enactors who wear combat uniforms and recreate battles from past conflicts, which commemorate the events, and honor those who fought. Stolen Valor is also different than dressing in a militaristic manner and even wearing decorations that one has actually earned on a military style uniform. The type of uniform I suggest here would be in line with the Kentucky Colonel uniform worn by Stephen Lautens. (Please see my post on Honorary Colonelcy for a more detailed discussion of this topic.)

I am referring to individuals who either have never served in the military, or who actually may have served, but wear decorations not awarded to them in an effort to represent themselves as some sort of “war hero”. This is akin to the custom in the US of the post nominal Esq. being reserved for legal professionals (i.e. if a person has Esq. at the end of his name, then he is assumed to be a lawyer), but much more heinous. For one thing, most lawyers do not put their lives on the line in defense of liberty.

What brought on this particular topic was this FBI press release:

Huntsville Man Charged with Fraud and Unauthorized Wearing of Military Medals

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Northern District of Alabama(205) 244-2001

August 28, 2012

BIRMINGHAM—A federal grand jury today indicted a Huntsville man for fraud and unauthorized wearing of U.S. military uniforms and medals, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Haley, III announced.

An indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Christopher Bernard Graham, also known as Christopher Harold Graham and Christopher Graham Lyndsey, with one count of fraud in relation to identification documents, two counts of unauthorized wearing of the U.S. Army Combat Uniform and eight counts of unauthorized wearing of U.S. military badges, decorations, or medals.

Graham, 43, is charged with fraud for possessing an identification card on August 14 that was illegally produced to appear as though it were issued under the authority of the United States, according to the indictment.

He wore the U.S. Army Combat Uniform, without authorization, between October 1, 2010 and April 20, 2011, and also between November 1, 2011 and April 1, 2012, according to the indictment. During the same two time periods, Graham also wore, without authorization, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Army Ranger Tab, the Army Parachute Qualification Badge, and the Army Air Assault Qualification Badge, according to the charges.

The fraud charge is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The unauthorized wearing of a U.S. military uniform or of military badges, decorations and medals are misdemeanors carrying maximum penalties of six months in prison and $5,000 fines.
The FBI and U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Estes is prosecuting the case.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges. It is the government’s responsibility to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Other similar cases can be found here.

Militarism is ingrained in my psyche. “Duty”, “honor”, “country” — those three hallowed words… have stuck with me since graduating Army Basic Training at seventeen. I served in the Alabama Army National Guard. I have to admit that I sort of cringe when someone thanks me for my service, because I don’t qualify my service as having been on the same level as those who have served on Active Duty, much less combat (I’ve been told by other veterans that I shouldn’t do that…). The closest I came to combat was being military security at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics (more on that here). I have family who have served on Active Duty and in combat. My brother is currently in the Navy. We have a cousin who served in Iraq. You can read about him here and here. We are all proud of our service to our Nation.

That is why I despise Stolen Valor imposters so greatly. Whatever one’s opinion of the conflicts America has engaged in over the past one hundred years, there have been service members who have put their lives on the line in the defense of the ideals of this Country and our allies. To put on a uniform and pretend to have “been there” dishonors their memory and diminishes their sacrifice. This goes beyond a lie that is protected speech. This is fraud and misrepresentation. You can’t put brown water in a Coke can and call it Coca-Cola. You can’t pin on a Combat Infantry Badge and call yourself a war hero.

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