Stolen valor. It’s an issue that hits home for me on both professional and personal levels. It’ an issue which I have deeply held beliefs about, but one that can also be frustrating or confusing in some ways. In 2006, then-President George W. Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act of 2005- an act regarding the wearing or manufacture of military medals. It included making it a federal misdemeanor to simply represent oneself as having been awarded a medal, and it was, frankly, a good law. In 2012, under the Obama administration, it was struck down by the Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Alvarez, and although Obama signed a new version into being in 2013, it simply is not the same. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 lists which medals are considered wrong to lie about, because apparently it’s okay to lie about acts of heroism and valor as long as it’s only certain acts.
“The leader who exercises power with honor will work from the inside out, starting with himself.” (Blaine Lee)
“(a) In General.—
Whoever knowingly purchases, attempts to purchase, solicits for purchase, mails, ships, imports, exports, produces blank certificates of receipt for, manufactures, sells, attempts to sell, advertises for sale, trades, barters, or exchanges for anything of value any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
(b)Fraudulent Representations About Receipt of Military Decorations or Medals.—
Whoever, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal described in subsection (c)(2) or (d) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
(c) Enhanced Penalty for Offenses Involving Congressional Medal of Honor.—
If a decoration or medal involved in an offense under subsection (a) is a Congressional Medal of Honor, in lieu of the punishment provided in that subsection, the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.
(2)Congressional medal of honor defined.—In this subsection, the term “Congressional Medal of Honor” means—
(d) Enhanced Penalty for Offenses Involving Certain Other Medals.—
If a decoration or medal involved in an offense described in subsection (a) is a distinguished-service cross awarded under section 3742 of title 10, a Navy cross awarded under section 6242 of title 10, an Air Force cross awarded under section 8742 of section  10, a silver star awarded under section 3746, 6244, or 8746 of title 10, a Purple Heart awarded under section 1129 of title 10 10, a silver star awarded undersection 3746, 6244, or 8746 of title 10, a Purple Heart awarded under
(2)Combat badge defined.—
In this subsection, the term “combat badge” means a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Action Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, or Combat Action Medal.”(From the Stolen Valor Act of 2013)
It’s November, and that means Veteran’s Day; a day that’s become misunderstood and ignored. The small fraction of the population that truly understands what Veteran’s Day is all about continues to shrink as the number of those either uneducated, ambivalent, or outright hostile continues to grow. While it may seem odd to address stolen valor for Veteran’s Day, it’s actually an excellent time. What better time than November, a month when gratitude is meant to be shown to our nation’s military veterans, to talk about a growing epidemic in our once-great nation? Imagine if a veteran you made a point of thanking for their service not only on Veteran’s Day but throughout the year turned out to be a fraud. How would you feel? Would you be angry? Hurt? Confused?
In the eyes of many who commit this heinous act it is seen as a victimless crime, especially if they don’t use their false military status for financial gain. Who does it really hurt if they’re not handed a check, cash, or money order, for their make-believe pasts? Who does it really hurt if their main purpose is simply to feel better about themselves, to massage their own egos? Who does it really hurt when they actually are veterans, but veterans who take it upon themselves to lie regarding the extent or nature of their service? How much stolen valor is too much? How much can be overlooked or easily forgiven? So many questions, all with one easy answer: any act of stolen valor is too much. Taking credit for heroism you did not actually carry out is despicable. Here’s why.
“I love the name of honor more than I fear death.” Julius Caesar
It would be not only easy but right to begin and end this discussion with honor. Men of honor are a dying breed – one I’ve written about on numerous occasions, one I continue to learn about in great surges of disappointment – and should be valued when they are found. If you know an honorable man, you know someone unique and rare and should be proud of their ability and desire to stick to their honorable guns despite life’s ups and downs. Back when the Declaration of Independence was signed, honor was Honor with a capital “H.” Duels to the death were fought over slights to a man’s honor, whether real or perceived, and while it may be a bit excessive to take a life over a verbal insult, it still speaks to the tremendous differences between then and now. Then a great many of those duels were fought over insults to men’s wives or families, and now those same insults – and far worse – are doled out on a regular basis not only by others but by the men themselves. Then, just the implication of an insult or lie on a military service-related subject not only could but did have deadly consequences, and now stolen valor is largely overlooked, if not encouraged.
Honor is not just a word or an idea, it is an act. Honor is a verb. The honor of our founding fathers, the honor they swore upon and fought for, has become almost entirely a thing of the past. Honor is not something you sit around and talk about, it’s something you do. Perhaps that is why our nation’s military is such a fantastic place for men – and women – of honor to flourish. Or fail.
“Honor isn’t about making the right choices. It’s about dealing with the consequences.” (Midori Koto)
Integrity is defined as the “quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” It goes hand-in-hand with honor because one facet of being an honorable person that seems to escape many is the willingness to deal with the consequences of one’s actions whether good or bad. We were given free will, and with free will comes many, many results of our personal choices. It’s all too easy to take credit for the good ones, but a man willing to own up to the bad ones? He’s both a man with a brass set of balls and a man with integrity. Although some people think having integrity means those bad decisions are never made, that just isn’t true. We’re all human and all make mistakes. It’s how we handle the consequences of those mistakes that makes all the difference.
This does not excuse stolen valor. Those who commit this heinous act are making a choice of another nature entirely, one requiring not only rather extensive premeditation but frequently years of dedication to a lie that continually grows. They lie not only to strangers and acquaintances but to friends and family. They may lie for money, discounts on gear – or free gear, or for the ego boost, but they lie. Perhaps they can get a little of their own back by taking the consequences as they come, but let’s face it, not many do. It seems most who are caught in the act of stolen valor are sorry because they were caught, not because they did it in the first place.
“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” (Aristotle)
The “stolen” in stolen valor is there for a rather obvious reason: when you commit this act, you’re taking something that is not yours. Maybe those who do this don’t see it as taking something since there isn’t anything physical being taken; valor is, after all, not a physical or tangible thing, it is a very particular character trait. There are men – warriors – such as Marcus Luttrell, Matt Axelson, Alvin York, and Chesty Puller, among many others, who epitomize valor. Men for whom it is not just an act but a choice, a way of life. Those who would steal such a precious trait aren’t just dirt or lower than dirt, and while they themselves are not worth our time, the men whose valor they take are most certainly worth the expenditure of however much time is needed.
We are all taught as children that stealing is wrong. Why is it that many adults decide the most basic rules of society they were instructed in as a child no longer apply once they begin pulling on their grown-up pants?
Perhaps it’s time for a little lesson in what valor really is. By its strict definition valor is “boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery” but there’s a lot more to it than that. Yes, valor at its heart has to do with the almost absurd level of inner strength it takes to stare death in the face and laugh, or to willingly walk into harm’s way to save a fellow soldier. But true valor encompasses a great many traits including selflessness and a willingness to sacrifice. Those who would give their lives so that their brothers might live are a rare breed.
Calling Them Out
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” His words ring true in many ways; in this case it’s all too true our heroes frequently prove their mettle with a dying act of stunning courage. No wonder so many want to be them, wishing they, too possessed the internal fortitude to perform the ultimate act of bravery. Here’s the difference, though: those who pretend to have that inner strength are fakes on more than one level, because they not only lie about their service, they lie about their character. They wish for strength when they have none. They speak of brave acts when, in reality, they would most likely run the other way, tail between their legs, should the occasion arise where heroes were needed. They do not understand the sacrifice it takes to perform acts of valor, and they never will. They are fools and are best forgotten.
Stolen valor is no small thing. It cannot be written off as “we all make mistakes” and cannot be explained away with statements such as “I never said it was true, exactly, I just never disputed it when I was given credit.” These lies tend to snowball tremendously and, while it may seem terrifying to admit wrong has been done, it’s far better to admit it freely than to be called out. Of course, admitting you’re wrong takes courage, and a man who would steal the valor of a true hero has no courage. Cowards, every last one.
It’s November, and for some Americans that means a celebration of Veteran’s Day. Spend your time and energy on the true heroes. Forget the liars, the fakers, and the cheaters. Don’t give them another moment of your time. They’re just not worth it.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” (William Shakespeare)
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.