I am a decorated veteran.

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider the Constitutionality of the so-called Stolen Valor Act. McClatchy:

Passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the politically popular legislation imposes prison sentences of up to one year on those who “falsely represent” either in writing or orally that they have received military decorations. The law covers false representations made before any kind of audience.

The case, United States v. Alvarez, developed from a California resident named Xavier Alvarez. “In 2007,” McClatchy reports, “while serving as an elected board member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in southern California, Alvarez announced at a board meeting that he was a wounded Marine veteran who had been awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism.” This was not true. Alvarez lied. So the FBI investigated him and charged him with violating the 2006 law established by the Stolen Valor Act. Alvarez pleaded guilty, receiving three years of probation and was fined $3,000.

Alvarez isn’t the only one. Colorado resident Rick Glen Strandlof also “faced criminal charges for falsely claiming to have been awarded the Purple Heart for wounds and the Silver Star for heroism in the battle of Fallujah during the Iraq war,” and for using an alias when he established a group called the Colorado Veterans Alliance.

There are obvious First Amendment violations here that I won’t insult our readers with articulating. What’s more interesting to me is that we are living in such a culture of honor, so subservient to militaristic symbolism and emblems of primordial brutishness, so reverent for the acclaimed sacrifice of those who devote themselves to violence at the order of the state, that such a violation of the human right to speak without harm to his neighbor can be passed unanimously in our legislature. This law, especially if it is upheld by the Supreme Court, is indicative of just how deeply sunk are Americans’ fondness for a martial culture, placing it even above the equally arbitrary religious pieties so prevalent here (since I don’t believe it’s against the law to declare yourself the messiah).

Just look at some of the rhetoric from the defenders of the law:

“Unfortunately, the significance of these medals is being devalued by phony war heroes who fabricate their honors and military careers,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said during the brief House debate. “They do so for greed and selfishness, and disrespect the service and sacrifice of our military heroes.”

…The Obama administration contends the law performs the “vital function” of protecting “the integrity and effectiveness of the military honors system.” False statements, the administration adds, are typically given less protection under the First Amendment.

The speech that would lead someone to falsely claim that he or she is a decorated veteran probably does not have any valuable social function, as does political speech or journalism that is critical of the government. And it doesn’t have to. That I might be imprisoned or fined for uttering harmless words that are admittedly an affront to a way of life, an insult to this society-wide emotional attachment to machismo violence in service to the nation’s rulers is infuriatingly restrictive, both culturally and politically.

  • Philemon

    Although people of faith will disagree that religious piety is arbitrary, it is interesting to note that blasphemy (mockery of God) is not illegal in the United States, but the Stolen Valor Act criminalizes mockery of the military honors system (and by extension the military). This could be interpreted as placing the military above God (idolatry), or merely recognizing that the military honors system is peculiarly vulnerable to mockery, and in need of legal protection.

    As Smedley Butler put it:

    "Napoleon once said, "All men are enamored of decorations… They positively hunger for them." So by developing the Napoleonic system – the medal business – the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated"

    • HasteinD

      Still love Smedley…He took ".Semper Fi" to a new level that the powers that be never anticipated or wanted…..

    • Orville H. Larson

      Major General Smedley ("Old Gimlet Eye") Butler, USMC was a gallant fighting man (two Medals of Honor!). He wrote "War Is A Racket" which ought to be shoved down the throats of all chickenhawk warmongers.

  • RickR30

    Yes…but. Given that we are militaristic claiming to be military or ex military is akin to saying you're law enforcement when you are not. For now, as far as we know, all they've sought it admiration, pity perhaps, some financial gain as well. But they could take it step further easily.

  • john

    I appreciate your comments about veterans on this website. I am an Afghanistan War veteran. I started a simliar blog called "The Veterans Guide."

    You can visit it here and perhaps guest post on it from time to time.

    Veteran's Guide to PTSD and Benefits

  • Pingback: This ain't Hell, but you can see it from here » Blog Archive » Hippies on Stolen Valor()

  • R Gillett

    The article is pure horseshit! Stolen Valor is for real, and has (should have) nothing to do with "free speech." Stealing the identity of another and using it for personal gain is pathetic. You can't wear a cop's uniform around town, you can't drive around with flashing red lights on your car, you can't pretend to be a lawyer in a courtroom, and you can't impersonate a government official in the performance of their role. And a thousand other examples…. A soldier (government employee) and his rank, awards, and his official documents are (should be) protected as federal property, and not subject to some scumbag's fantasy toys.

    • liberranter

      How exactly did Alvarez "steal the identity" of anyone? Just what name belonging to an ACTUAL Marine Corps veteran, living or dead, upon whom a Purple Heart had been conferred did Alvarez use? Unless he used La living or dead person's ACTUAL identity for gain at someone else's expense, no crime has been committed here.

    • Jeremiah

      What's horse**** is this unconstitutional, military-worshiping statute. Fraud and identity theft are already crimes. But there's nothing criminal about telling tall tales. And there's nothing sacrosanct about the person, occupation or ceremonial accoutrements of a professional soldier.

      This sort of nauseating genuflection to the Holy Imperial Troops always puts me in mind of the following saying of Mr. Dooley:

      "Why is it that th' fair sect wudden't be seen talkin' to a polisman, but if ye say 'Sojer' to thim, they're all out iv th' widnow but th' feet."

      Of course, it's not just a problem of the "fair sect"—and I don't guess Mr. Dooley counted on the badge-lickers of our age, either. Still, Mr. Dooley understood that a soldier and a policeman occupy essentially the same unholy position above civil society: both are agents of ultimate state violence. And why in hell would any reasonable person worship that?

      • liberranter

        [W]hy in hell would any reasonable person worship that?

        Reasonable people don't.

  • HasteinD

    The Heroic Myth has been kept alive through the ages. This is but one more method….

  • PhilthyRex

    Just wondering, is it a crime to say you are a doctor, even if you aren't trying to practice medicine? Is it a crime to say you are a lawyer, if you are not practicing law? Is it a crime to say you are a good person, when really you aren't? People misrepresent themselves all the time to earn others favor, or get into girls pants. While I'm sure this isn't honorable, as long as you aren't receiving money for services you aren't qualified or licensed for, you probably aren't breaking the law. Not sure why claiming to be a veteran would be any different, as long as you aren't trying to collect benefits from the VA. You'd be a lying scumbag, but I don't think that's illegal. Yet! Pax, PhilthyRex

    • liberranter

      Well put, PRex!

    • Orville H. Larson

      PhilthyRex, I agree that men have used various stratagems to "get into girls' pants," as you put it. I used a few myself when I was a young man. . . .

  • Orville H. Larson

    I'm afraid the Stolen Valor Act is anti-free speech bullshit that comes wrapped in the flag.

    If some weak ego, Walter Mitty type claims he's got more fruit salad than, say, Chesty Puller, what's the harm? He's revealed as a liar, and that's the extent of it. He didn't impersonate anyone else, nor did he try to obtain official benefits.

  • curmudgeonvt

    Put in context…in 2006 the military were under fire for, let's say, uncivilized behavior (Abu ghraib (sp)) and other atrocities – and war crimes. So, to keep things under control, the Chickenhawks in Congress needed something to salve the wounds and lift the spirits of those old warriors sitting in their Barcaloungers in Sun City. So what if it further erodes the First Amendment (only a little)… you know, a little here, a little there…pretty soon we're talking about a lot of littles and no freedom to say anything.

    As Orville says, he's revealed as a liar – that's all. He's actually hurt no one but himself. Silly stuff.

  • Matt Alexander

    Has anyone ever heard of the words verbose or diatribe? Anyone ever seen a run-on sentence?

    There needs to be some refinement to the law – that goes without saying. However all of the cases that I have read about relate that there was some monetary or political advantage attributed to the commission making it a fraud. The victims though are loathe to admit their lack of due diligence and seldom issue follow-up statements once the violation is revealed. I agree that any credentials that are difficult to achieve (doctors and lawyers…) should not be legal to claim for an advantage in contracts, offices or employment.

    Man you and your supporters are some bitter people. Thank God that you live in a country where the people that rightfully earn those medals keep your constitutional rights intact. See you at the next demonstration for something, anything…

    • Jeremiah

      "Thank God that you live in a country where the people that rightfully earn those medals keep your constitutional rights intact."

      What a joke! Last time I looked, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments have been shredded—all in the names of the endless wars on terror and drugs. And just how are some dirt-poor third worlders with AK-47s a threat to our "constitutional rights"? It seems to me that the US government needs little external help when it comes to destroying American liberty.

    • liberal

      "However all of the cases that I have read about relate that there was some monetary or political advantage attributed to the commission making it a fraud."

      If there's actual fraud involving something of value, then presumably the defrauded can sue in civil court. So there's no need for a law that simultaneously abridges speech rights.

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  • What is meaning of I am a decorated veteran.? We are not decorated person, please let me know the complete information's.

  • You’re missing the point where most Posers are trying to gain something when saying they are something they are not. Either wearing medals that weren’t earned or claiming to have served in elite units is still a lie. Looking for acclaim for such action is despicable.