Stolen Valor, Birth Control, Gay Marriage, and Abortion



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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97 Responses

  1. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Having never thought about this question before, I hesitate to answer definitively, but, what the hell.  Yeah, I’d say knowingly making a false statement when not, say, under oath, should be protected as free speech.  I dislike the idea of government playing truth-referee outside its obvious domains (e.g., courts).  As for the Stolen Valor Act, it really isn’t needed.  Too few offenders.  And there are better ways to discredit the liars.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      I admit: I consider myself a fairly staunch First Amendment kinda guy (and, if described as an absolutist, I’d probably assume that the person saying that was trying toward precision rather than making a derogatory statement) *BUT* when I first heard about this law way back in 2005 or 2006, I remember that my response was something to the effect of “no biggie” and whether or not it was a First Amendment issue never crossed my mind at all.

      Thinking about it now, well, *OF COURSE* it’s protected speech (unless it’s tied to fraud of some sort and we already have laws to cover that).

      What surprised me, hearing the report, was that I had never even considered that.Report

    • Avatar Jeff Wong in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      Of course the government should be the truth-referee in cases like these. The government is the body that bestows the honors and awards on service members and keeps the records of their service.

      Allowing people the “freedom” of misrepresenting our veterans and damages the trust between civilians and the military. So far, there have been a handful of cases where egregious frauds have been tracked but this law could also help deter homeless people from claiming to be veterans for sympathy change. With the growing number of veterans from our decade-long wars, there are going to be a lot of people saying they are veterans.

      Veterans already have to endure our prejudice regarding their sanity, stupid questions about how many people they killed, and excessive hero worship from guilt-ridden civilians and nationalist Americans. The last thing veterans should have to deal with is the indignity of civilians never being completely sure that they aren’t frauds.

      I don’t think there is a free speech problem since lies are not really protected speech especially if used to obtain some benefits.

      If someone wants to claim they are a Hero of the Soviet Union or a former SAS operator, they’re free to do so. Nobody cares.Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    THis feels like one of those laws that says “You know that other thing that’s already against the law?  Well, we’re passing a new law to say we really really mean it!”

    How is this activity not fraud?  And being such, why is there a need for this law?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      The issue is whether it’s a tort (which requires both an aggrieved party and a proceeding to show said party was in fact harmed) or a criminal act (which doesn’t require an aggrieved party or a showing of harm.)Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

        See comment below.  But in both the examples JB notes were prosecuted, the acts are illegal.

        Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a God-awful law, and I can easily see some yoyo somewhere bringing charges using it for something completely absurd.Report

  3. Avatar Fish says:

    I want to say that yes, it’s protected speech, but I’m betting that we can find room to make it unprotected speech in the same way that yelling “fire” in a crowded theater isn’t.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go polish my Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and read about the case on SCOTUS Blog.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Fish says:

      The thing screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater is from a court case where someone protesting the draft was thrown in prison.

      Later on, the same guy who said that we can’t scream “Fire!” in a crowded theater as justification for throwing a critic of the draft in prison used the existence of the draft as justification for giving a woman a hysterectomy.


      Anyway, it’s stuff like this that reminds me that we need to defend speech early and often… even if it’s speech we find contemptable. Perhaps even especially if it’s speech we find contemptable.

      (And it’s to my shame that it took me this long to remember that.)Report

      • Avatar Fish in reply to Jaybird says:

        Anyway, it’s stuff like this that reminds me that we need to defend speech early and often… even if it’s speech we find contemptable. Perhaps even especially if it’s speech we find contemptable.

        Ok, totally down with this.  (My post above is what I get when I just want to throw something out there before rushing off to soccer.  Not really well thought-out).Report

  4. Avatar Brett says:

    My understanding of legally acceptable restrictions on free speech:

    1. “Harm principle” – The Stolen Valor principle isn’t the same as “yelling fire” in a crowded theater.
    2. “Offense principle” – We have restrictions on speech in terms of pornography and hate-speech.

    I think the Stolen Valor act fits squarely in #2.  I think most people find claiming that they’ve an award that is awarded posthumously 18% of the time fraudulently is offensive.  I’d be interested in some poll results; but I’d suspect that most Americans find this fraudulent claim more offensive than pornography, although obviously far less common.



    • Avatar Matty in reply to Brett says:

      What about pornography involving military medals?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Brett says:

      “Offense principle” – We have restrictions on speech in terms of pornography and hate-speech.

      No, we do not. In the U.S. hate-speech is protected by the First Amendment, and so is pornography unless it’s defined as “obscenity,” which functionally has become a pretty tough standard to meet (e.g., child porn, but that goes beyond mere offense to harm).

      So as a general rule, offense is not sufficient basis for denying speech First Amendment protections.Report

      • Avatar JG New in reply to James Hanley says:

        Indeed, and I would say that offensive speech is precisely the sort of speech that the First Amendment is there to protect.  No one needs a First Amendment for innocuous speech.  Moreover, if burning a flag is legally protected speech, I do not see how falsely claiming a medal (which to my mind is much less offensive) can not be.

        I think the point, though, is being missed.  Poseurs who fraudulently pass themselves of as having been awarded medals deserve oprpobium and scorn from society. And that is, I believe, a social punishment. But I also believe that it should not rise to the level of a felony offense with a penalty (for the MOH) of ten years.  Criminalizing lies (outside of perjury and obstruction of justice) is bringing the Government in to play truth-referee in an area where it does not belong.

        And perhaps I’m overly cynical, but the law itself strikes me as yet another example of politicians wrapping themselves up in the flag.  Sounds righteous and patriotic, but it is Constitutionally repugnant.

        JG New, DFC, DSO and bar, VCReport

  5. Avatar BradK says:

    I think there is a pretty clear distinction in most people’s minds between free expression and outright fraud.  Although why one fraud (claiming a Congressional MoH) should be a Federal crime while others (i.e., claiming you have a college degree that you don’t) are not seems highly subjective.

    How about Santorum’s “Devil” speach, is that a knowing falsehood?  Should it be allowed by someone campaigning for the highest office in the land?  Though technically he hadn’t yet declared his candidacy when he uttered it, I think few would be surprised to hear something similar in tonight’s debate.  Or that he believes such a thing.

    And there is the common quote about not screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  Most non-extremists seem to accept one another’s exercise of free expression so long as it doesn’t cause direct harm to others or used to perpetuate a deliberate fraud.  We also have legal remedies against slander, though it is not a crime.  Yet.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to BradK says:

      There is definitely value in Senator Santorum’s “Satan” speech. By giving him the legal latitude in which to make that speech, the law has allowed Senator Santorum to demonstrate to the electorate his complete and utter disconnection from the world of objective reality.Report

  6. Avatar BradK says:

    Oh, I forgot to ask.  What does this have to do with Birth Control, Gay Marriage, or Abortion?Report

  7. Avatar Will Truman says:

    My understanding is that impersonating a police officer is illegal, regardless of what you are aiming for by doing so, because you are automatically looking to “confer benefit”. Am I wrong about that? Are there Constitutional questions associated with that? If I am right and there are not, what is the difference here?


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

      Is it illegal to say “I used to be a cop”?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

        Even though “I served in the Army” does not confer benefit the way that “I am a cop” does, “I used to be a cop” doesn’t confer benefit the way “I served in the Army” does.

        All, however, deal with comparatively black-and-white issues of misrepresentation. For little reason other than to confer benefit.Report

        • Avatar JG New in reply to Will Truman says:

          Ah, but one needs to look to the nature of the conferred benefit.  The difference is that if you say “I am a cop”, it confers not only benefits but state-sanctioned power upon you that you do not in fact possess.  That is far different from saying “I was a NYPD cop on 9/11” which may confer some benefit in the form of social approval (you’ll have to prove it if you want some sort of financial compensation benefit), but it does not arrogate to you the actual power that a sworn law enforcement officer does.

          Likewise, to claim that you were awarded a medal may confer benefits in terms of social approval that can be leveraged into some sort of gain, but it does not provide the benefits, in terms of power and authority, that, say, posing as an active duty member of the military canReport

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

        Actually, I am pretty sure if you claim in a voter’s pamphlet that you are it is.  (It certainly is in Oregon.)

        And if you are running a non-profit where you collect donations on a website encouraging people to give, in part, because you are a policeman and should be trusted, it absolutely is.Report

      • Avatar Jeff Wong in reply to Jaybird says:

        Depends on the context. If you say “You Later” after that, it’s totally in the clear.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

      Yes its illegal to claim to be a cop. I had a client who got very close to be arresting for that. Claiming to be a cop can have pretty obvious benefits like making people do what you say, give up info and take a lot shit. Claiming to a be cop gives you, potentially, significant authority and power. That seems right in the wheelhouse of fraud.

      Claiming to have the MOH or other medals is certainly not quite the same but seems close. I’ve worked with a lot of liars. Its clear when people lie they are doing it to claim an advantage. Obviously most lies should be considered free speech but there should be some line where lying to gain advantage is fraud. This kind of law, given how much respect and credit is given to medal winners, seems reasonable to me. There will always be a tension between fraud/lying and free speech.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

        I think there is advantage to be gained by saying “I used to be in the Army.” The Army carries a degree of prestige and honor, and by claiming association with it, one arrogates that prestige and honor to oneself.Report

  8. Avatar kenB says:

    IANAL, but it seems that per 18 U.S.C. § 702,  it’s already illegal to wear a US military uniform without authorization.  Since wearing a uniform is (in most contexts) functionally equivalent to saying that you are or were in that service, why would the one be constitutional and the other not?  I don’t think we’re literalists about what constitutes “speech” anymore.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s Eugene Volokh on precedent as of January 2008.Report

  10. Avatar Will H. says:

    I want to take a stab at this one.
    I like WillT’s point, and I want to look at that too.

    There are an awful lot of restrictions of written materials, even though we enjoy wide freedom of the press.
    The entry for the false declarations statute in the US Attorneys Manual can be found here, and it lists the elements of the offense.
    Ordinarily, these types of statutes are directed toward either a) any governmental entity or b) it separates the judicial branch from Congress, the executive branch, and any of their departments or agencies.
    One odd exception of note is that Section 1505 (obstruction of justice) applies to investigations by Internal Revenue, but not by the FBI.

    Sarbanes-Oxley tightened several of the controls. Section 152 (8) (destruction or alteration of recorded information) applies to documents in a bankruptcy matter that are not submitted to the court or any of its officers. But section 1519 is the biggie.
    That’s the one with the “deputizing” effect, which is most often seen in internal investigations conducted by corporate counsel. Gary Ray of KB Homes was prosecuted in precisely this manner; that the internal investigation was of federal character (no pending proceeding requirement).

    I would say that, because the President is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, introducing a false declaration as to a medal awarded would be an offense against the executive branch; basically a conversion offense directed toward a government official.

    As for imposture, I believe that there must be some other predicate offense; that this must be done in furtherance of some manner of gain or advantage.
    The federal offense is section 912 of Title 18, and its elements may be parsed as:
    (1) Whoever (2) falsely (3) assumes or pretends to be (4) an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and (5) acts as such, or in such pretended character (6) demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value…
    That one is punishable by up to three years confinement.

    What we’re talking about here is section 704, which is punishable by a maximum of 6 months.

    So yes, writings can be illegal in nature, and yes, speech can be illegal in nature.
    Material misrepresentations of Congressional, executive, or judicial authority can be illegal.
    But what we’re talking about here is a statute that reduces a felony (for written documents) to a misdemeanor (for written documents or oral statements concerning military medals).

    I can see that. Sure it’s allowable. I see no infringement on basic rights.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    One lens through which to look at the First Amendment is that free speech helps us seek truth. False statements are therefore not afforded its protections, or at least diminished protections:

    • Defamatory statements must be untrue before they are actionable in tort as libel or slander.
    • Perjury is a crime.
    • Providing false information to law enforcement is also a crime (“obstruction of justice”).
    • False statements made with the intent and effect that other people rely to their detriment on them (aka “fraud”) are both actionable in tort and crimes.

    Conversely, it’s perfectly legal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater if there really is a fire.

    Seen through that lens, the Stolen Valor Act prohibits only communication that is false.

    I’m not entirely sure I buy into this idea, but I thought it would be worth throwing into the debate so y’all have something more to chew on. And if you don’t like the idea that free speech is there to deliver us to truth, then ask yourselves, why do we value it?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      It seems that one of the tools used by the Supreme Court is the test of the “chilling effect”. Kagan asked Alvarez’s lawyer about this and he said:

      “It’s not that it may necessarily chill any truthful speech. I mean, it’s —­ we certainly concede that one typically knows whether or not one has won a medal or not. We certainly — we concede that point.”

      Kagan’s response? “That’s a big concession, Mr. Libby.”Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Burt Likko says:

      We should value free speech simply because we want to say whatever we want. i.e. being able to say certain things just because we feel like it seems to be an important enough freedom that except where conflicts with certain prior interests take place we can be presumed to want it behind the veil of ignorance. The marketplace of ideas defence offree speech is problematic precisely because given public choice theory, we know that in a marketplace of ideas the truth will not necessarily win out. (i.e. intuitive ideas will win out)


      • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Murali says:

        Well, sure.   We all want to say whatever we want.

        But we don’t necessarily want that other guy to be able to say whatever he wants.   If you look at public polling, most Americans would like to create categories of speech that are beyond the pale:  whether it comes in the form of flag-burning, advocacy of communist or racist ideologies, or criticism of a Republican president.

        I tend to be pretty much absolutist on the manner, but if you really drill down, a good portion of our populace doesn’t embrace free speech in an abstract way:  they want their speech to be protected.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

      But we don’t penalize, or even pretend that we want to penalize, all untruthful speech.  If I decided to start telling people I’m gay, I can’t imagine anyone caring enough to want to legally punish me.  If I start telling people on this blog that I have a Ph.D. in neuropsychology, how many of you would want the government to fine me?

      If there’s no real element of fraud in the legal sense, why not let it be protected speech?  What is gained from extending the power to government to protect people from what is, truly, merely a matter of some people taking offense at my misrepresentations?Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to James Hanley says:

        If we loosened the standard to mere lying, every bar in America would have to close.Report

      • Avatar A Teacher in reply to James Hanley says:

        It depends on where the lies go.

        You claim to have a degree in Nueropsychology.  i come visit you and you tell me that your professional opinion is that I should drink hemlock tea.  I trust your opinion as a doctor.  My death is based, at least in part, on your fraudalant claims to be a have a degree.

        At what point then, do we place the marker to establish that a lie “has gone too far”?


        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to A Teacher says:

          At the point where it meets the legal standard for fraud.

          As others have said above, if it’s fraud, we already have laws to deal with that. If I just tell you I’m a neuropsychologist to gain your respect, it’s not really fraud.  If i persuade you to rely on my “expertise” in a way that harms you, it is fraud.  Borderline cases can be litigated, as such things always will be. And anyone who engages in such lying puts themselves in a position where doing a really good job of lying just might lead to a claim of fraud; their problem, their fault.  Being legal don’t make it a good practice.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

            If I tell you I am a military vet, which engenders a disproportionate about of respect for me such that you hire me for a position I am otherwise unqualified for, doesn’t that burden ultimately fall on to you?  If I claim to have specific life and work experiences that I do not, then I certainly have misled you.  But if you have a military boner and overly romanticize service as so many of us do and assume that a tour or two in Iraq qualifies someone for every position under the sun, you are a victim of your own skewed perspective much more so than any one else’s lies.

            I realize I may be flamed here as anti-military or anti-vet.  Far from it.  My wife, brother, grandfather, uncle, and many close friends are all current or previous members of the armed services and all have seen extensive time overseas.  They will be the first to tell you that the kneejerk fawning and unrelated privileges heaped onto servicemembers are misplaced.  Working in the military is like having two jobs: your primary responsibilities (which generally entail everything a non-civilian job do) and your navigation of the bureaucracy, which is almost a full-time job in and of itself.  This gives military servicemembers, particularly officers, a wealth of experiences that certainly qualify most for a wide range of positions.  But military service does not prepare you for everything and the assumption that it does is pretty ignorant, to be frank.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The other distinctive condition here is that the harm in question is a very particular and well-defined one.  It’s certainly legitimate to not see the government’s interest in preserving the integrity of these awards as a compelling one, but it is nevertheless quite concrete.  Also, the government’s ability to deter these false statements outside the criminal law is limited at best, if I’m not mistaken.  Would anyone have standing to sue a person for making a false statement that doesn’t directly implicate them?  And the government itself can’t sue a citizen, isn’t that right?  They could send currently-serving members of the force these people claim to have earned their commendations in to, er, ask them to stop, but not legally.  Or could they?

      Point is, while I don’t think we should come down on the side of this being a legitimate situation to limit from the protection of the First Amendment, the case for doing so is far from without merits as such claims go.  The harm is clear and concrete, and the options for other approaches to amelioration and deterrence are limited.Report

    • Avatar Renee in reply to Burt Likko says:

      A different lens through which to view the First Amendment is that it serves no ‘purpose’ at all.  We don’t have free speech because it is swell.  Or makes us truth seekers.  We (and here comes that word), naturally, can say whatever the blorwalx we want.  The first amendment doesn’t tell us what we can and cannot do.  It tells the government what it cannot do.  Full stop.

      Certainly in cases of fraud or harm, there are other rights in play, so the government has a role in intervening.

      I’m also not sure I buy into this idea.  But I think I like it better than assuming that it helps us with something.  Because going down that road opens the door to very tricky questions like “what is truth?”  What if I lie to promote the ‘truth’ (Peter Gleick is probably wondering that about right now) . . . should that be protected speech?  That’s a bad way to go imho.


  12. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’ve made a minor specialty of sussing out military fakers.   They’re surprisingly common.   SCOTUS has greatly erred here:   most people who lie about their military service are attempting to defraud in the process.   The case before SCOTUS involves some jamoke running for office.

    I don’t see the First Amendment as an issue in this case.   Where it’s just some lying SOB trying to cadge a few drinks at the bar or something more serious, such as running for office on the strength of his service record, there always seems to be some fraud involved.   Nobody lies about this sort of thing without a reason.

    Think somebody’s a military faker?   Ask to see his DD-214, most ex-servicemen have a small copy laminated in their wallets.  Ask him for his MOS.   He ought to be able to tell you in a half second.   Ask him for his first three duty stations, it shouldn’t take more than three seconds.    If he claims to have been in combat, ask him for his DEROS date.   Any hesitation and you’ve spotted a faker.

    Anyone who talks about his time in a combat zone was never in combat.   Oh, he might talk about the chow at his FOB or some of the funny stuff that happened.   But he will not talk to you about what really happened out there.   The more they say, the less they saw.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

      In this case, the jamoke had *ALREADY* been elected. He was introducing himself.Report

    • Avatar rexknobus in reply to BlaiseP says:

      DEROS = Army. RTD (Rotation Tour Date) = Marine Corps.

      No DD-214 in my wallet, but when I got out, I swore that I would never blather on about my time in. And then I got on the 707 (paid extra for a ticket so I could wear my civvies) and walked down the aisle of the airplane, grinning like a shaved-head idiot, shoving my DD-214 in everybody’s face. “I just got out! This is my DD-214! Hey, look…”

      Gives me the giggles. I calmed down as the plane flew over MCRD San Diego and I saw the obstacle course. Put my middle finger on the window and THEN I was out.

      Sorry. Off topic. Back to lurking. Thanks for the giggle.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to rexknobus says:

        I processed out through Ft Dix.   It was a foggy morning, early early.   Heard a bugle playing reveille and had a little wistful thought.    I straightened right up and said “bullshit” out loud, packed my last bag and got on the bus for the airport.

        Truth is, I don’t have any good memories of the military and only one friend from when I was in.   It was a colossal waste of my time.    The only skill I ever mastered which meant anything in the outside world was this:   learning to take an order from an O-grade idiot, render a nice snappy salute, doing an about face and carrying out that order.   Only when I’d done what I was told would I then question it.Report

        • Avatar rexknobus in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Again, off-topic. Sorry. But now this stuff is running through my head. Weren’t MOS’s different depending on service branch? My 0311 (Marine Corps) was something else in the Army. (?) Is that true?

          Also, service number. I have to struggle for my phone number and SSN, but my service number is evidently tattooed on my frontal lobe.

          I’ve always had a bit of pity for the guys who were smart enough/lucky enough to avoid service in the Viet Nam days, and today feel that it’s somewhat demeaning to their manhood to have done so. I understand the urge to embellish a bit. Except for the chicken-hawks, of course. They can go… well, let’s keep this civil.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to rexknobus says:

            Yeah, 0311 is 11 Bravo in the Army.   Some stuff gets permanently imprinted.   You might forget your wife’s anniversary but you’ll never forget the names of your drill instructors.

            The first casualty of war is always the truth.   This was never more true than our wars in SE Asia.Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I don’t know that all of these are universal truths.  My brother never stops talking about his time on the ground in Iraq.  But that is just sort of who he is and it makes sense that he does that.  Whether he still will do that in 20 or 30 years, I don’t know.  My wife hates to talk about it, in part because she served as a hospital nurse in Kuwait in ’09 with most of her patients being private contractors suffering from heat exhaustion.  There is an extent she feels ashamed to call her service the same as the guys with bullets flying by.  So, yea, there is a range.

      As for what constitutes “fraud”… doing something with the intent to deceive is not necessarily fraud.  A pretty girl might act, or explicitly say, that she is going to sleep with the guy at the end of the bar if he buys her a drink or 7.  When she goes home with her boyfriend at the end of the night, did she commit fraud?  If I say I’m a vet with shrapnel in my ass to get a free drink, how is that really any different?

      There certainly exist scenarios where someone could genuinely commit fraud by falsely claiming military service.  But these ought not be treated different than any other types of fraud.  There is nothing special about lying about military service, as much as we often like to romance the experience from afar.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BSK says:

        Your brother is a rare bird indeed, if he won’t shut up about it.   That’s a new one on me.   Everyone reacts differently, everyone copes in their own way.   Some people thrive on it, truth is, I’ve never felt more alive but that’s because, well, I wasn’t dead.   Perhaps your brother hopes he can share the experience but ultimately that sort of thing can’t be shared and he probably knows it.

        I suppose you’re right, it’s just another form of fraud.   But it is a fraud more than a simple falsehood and there are laws against certain sorts of fraud.   There was a day when society didn’t trust soldiers.   Not quite sure when we started making heroes out of them beyond the simple government propaganda but it’s been my experience civilians have gotten sorta strange around veterans in its wake.   Society doesn’t know quite how to cope with the reality of war so it wraps it up in some glorious myth.   There’s been a lot of that through history.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I think there are a number of personality traits surrounding my brother that make his case what it is.  He is far from the norm but I doubt he is isolated, either.  When I hang with him and his fellow Marines, that dominates the conversation, but these are young guys, just returning after deployments who are very much into the “HOO-RAH!”

          See my comment up above about the romanticization of the soldier.  I’m curious to hear your thoughts about it.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BSK says:

            Ecch, I can’t speak to what soldiering is like today.   During the Civil War, they had a phrase “seeing the Elephant” to describe the experience of combat.   I don’t know what your brother saw.   This much I know, Iraq and Afghanistan are profoundly different from anything I saw.  Troops these days have it so much better.   Better boots, better weapons, better comm, better close air support.  Better food.  Better commanders.

            Some people never get over their time in the service.   To them, it will always be the best part of their lives.   That wasn’t true of me.

            When I perceive that men as plants increase,
            Cheered and check’d even by the self-same sky,
            Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
            And wear their brave state out of memory;

            The Ooh-Rah crowd is mostly a self-reinforcing delusion.  The Marine Corps has always fostered this sense of fierce camaraderie but that’s part of their ethos.  Had a lot of contact with Marines, one of whom saved my life as I was falling out of a helicopter.   They do more with less than any other branch of service.   Hard-core.  If there’s any romance in the military, the Marines have it all.   The Army, considerably less.   But then the Marines do more fighting and dying.

            I sorta smile when I see some of these kids in uniform these days.   They’re so different than we were back then.   Hard to compare.  Still, I have this feeling it’s the civilians who have more trouble relating to the returning troops than the troops to the civilians.   Christ, troops these days get to call home and have video chats.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              One thing I heard on NPR the other day was how people during Vietnam talked about “the million dollar wound” which was the least you could be wounded and get sent home… and people today are being permanently disabled and fighting to be put back with their units (and what this entails for base housing).Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “Still, I have this feeling it’s the civilians who have more trouble relating to the returning troops than the troops to the civilians.” Excellent point. I will have to pick my friends’ ams family members’ brains about this.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “Still, I have this feeling it’s the civilians who have more trouble relating to the returning troops than the troops to the civilians.”

              I sincerely doubt this.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to MFarmer says:

                Troops were once civilians. Most civilians were never troops and many have little to no ctact with them.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BSK says:

                I know a couple of people who are on their Nth tour, for N > 3.  Just like in the movie.

                They go because they feel like they can’t adjust to being civilians any more.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Well the troops are forced to come home and attempt to transition. Many do struggle. Civs aren’t forced to interact with troops and many seek not to (often under the guise of something else). Force a civ to hang with a bunch of troops and many will do everything they can to get away.Report

  13. Avatar Katherine says:

    I’m generally pretty strongly pro-free-speech, but I have trouble getting particularly upset about this law.  It’s very limited, so it’s hard to see any dangerous precedent it would set.  It doesn’t seem necessary, but it doesn’t seem particularly harmful either.

    My views on free speech are basically grounded in the famous ideas of John Stuart Mill, where the argument is that 1) if you prevent the expression of any idea, you’re excluding the idea that it might have some merit or something to contribute to knowledge, and 2) even if you can know for a fact that the idea has no merit or truth (e.g., Holocaust denial), banning it means that you never run into again and people forget how to refute it, allowing it to pop up again in a much more dangerous form in future.

    But what’s being banned here isn’t expression of an idea, just a person lying about their service record.  There’s nothing that contributes in any way (even by way of being refuted) to thought.  And I can’t think of any way it would have a “chilling effect” on other speech.

    Jaybird, would you be okay with this law if it was amended make the lying legal only if a person derived financial or political benefit from it?  I would have thought that would fall under “fraud”, but politicians lie their asses off all the time and get away with it.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

      We already have laws against Fraud, though.

      My take on this (and I’m trying to be disciplined about this because, like you, I find this a difficult law to dislike) is that we should ask whether this is something that the federal government needs to insert itself into?

      If the guy is pretending to be a Medal of Honor winner in service to raising funds for a “charitable organization” (from which he siphons off a lot in “overhead”), we have laws against that (fraud).

      If the guy is pretending to be a Medal of Honor winner in service to getting elected? Surely the press can dig and say “this guy never so much as went to a VFW for directions” (as what happened in the case before the Supreme Court now).

      One of the questions posed in the oral arguments involved a hypothetical Vietnam War protest sign: “I got a purple heart for killing babies”.

      Should the guy holding this sign be arrested under this law? It’s not obvious to me that he (or she, I suppose) should be.

      It seems obvious to me that he (or she, I suppose) *COULD* be.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird says:

        This is a no-brainer from my perspective — unless fraud is involved, it’s none of government’s business.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        Good points.  Thanks.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

        I see a situation in which their is a quite obvious reason for government to inser itself – to prtect th integrity of its relationship between itself and those who it  importunes to serve it in situations of high danger.  I think there’s every good reason to acknowledge thi interest and not say they ought not even to think to step in, rather to rely on the media to maybe but maybe not latchon to each of these cases and provide a sufficient deterrent to drive the number of liars about this particular subject matter toward zero.  I think it’s kind of silly not to acknowledge that interest as quite well-defined and indicative of government intervention, it’s just that it’s also entirely appropriate to think it isn’t a compelling enough interest to override the protection of the First Amendment.Report

  14. Avatar wardsmith says:

    JB, totally off topic (well, not quite totally) but apropos SCOTUS decisions, have you heard about this case yet?

    A woman has a notebook computer that has been encrypted. The judge requires her to decrypt it, which sounds like open and shut denial of 5th Amendment rights. Something for you to OP on, or tease Burt into doing it. 😉Report