Stolen Valor
December 3, 2014 5:01 AM   Subscribe

How viral videos became the way veterans combat ‘stolen valor’. Stolen valor are military wannabes, dressing up in uniform and presenting in public as military veterans (and getting store discounts etc). The 1998 self-published book led to the 'Stolen Valor Act' of 2005 and 2013. The 'Guardian of Valor' website has a Hall of Shame for those caught faking. The latest viral video involves a man at the Mall claiming to be an Army Ranger who is confronted. Regarding this video, the Guardian of Valor site owner says civilians don't understand why faking military service is looked at so negatively by the troops and veterans. “They don’t understand the anger he felt because he had lost friends wearing that uniform, had friends wounded in combat,” Anderson said. “So they want to watch because they are trying to figure out why it makes Veterans so angry.”

In case you play soldier:
An earlier version of the Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2005, but tossed out by the Supreme Court in 2012 for infringing on the First Amendment. The newer version of the law doesn’t make it a crime to lie about military service, but says that anyone found guilty of attempting to profit from it is subject to a fine, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.
posted by stbalbach (114 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe the correct punishment would be a tour of duty?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:10 AM on December 3, 2014 [67 favorites]


I'm always made extremely uncomfortable by the special rights, legal or social, that veterans get. The way to get people to stop pretending to be soldiers is to make that be less attractive. Don't treat them as holy Hero Objects to be revered above all else.
posted by DU at 5:17 AM on December 3, 2014 [38 favorites]


I'm always made extremely uncomfortable by the special rights, legal or social, that veterans get. The way to get people to stop pretending to be soldiers is to make that be less attractive. Don't treat them as holy Hero Objects to be revered above all else.

I'm pretty anti-war and anti-military, but given what we put our soldiers through, we need to do far more for our veterans, not less.

The solution isn't to stop giving veterans the benefits they deserve, it's to stop making so many veterans.
posted by 256 at 5:22 AM on December 3, 2014 [175 favorites]


Yeah, that five bucks I saved on a hotel room the other night is definitely the real problem here.
posted by Etrigan at 5:25 AM on December 3, 2014 [29 favorites]


"Giving veterans the benefits they deserve" is healthcare, counseling, education and pay. Not free Taco Tuesdays and freedom from criticism on any topic by playing the Veteran Card.
posted by DU at 5:25 AM on December 3, 2014 [115 favorites]


Yeah, DU, and senior citizens with their discounts just 'cause they're old. And how about those parking spots right up next to buildings that go to the favoured few? Oh, and don't get me started on affirmative action - those people can damn well compete for jobs with the rest of us. Enough with special rights for groups of people, to acknowledge past imbalances. Let's just stop with trying to be good to each other for a change.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:26 AM on December 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


The "Infamous Walts" section of the ARRSEpedia highlights the British approach.
posted by longbaugh at 5:29 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm always made extremely uncomfortable by the special rights, legal or social, that veterans get. The way to get people to stop pretending to be soldiers is to make that be less attractive. Don't treat them as holy Hero Objects to be revered above all else.

Previously: The Cult of the Uniform
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:32 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Giving veterans the benefits they deserve" is healthcare, counseling, education and pay. Not free Taco Tuesdays and freedom from criticism on any topic by playing the Veteran Card.

If you genuinely believe that your latter thing exists anywhere, up to and including in veterans' organizations, then I have a bridge I would like to sell you.
posted by Etrigan at 5:39 AM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


[Maybe we could drop the "special benefits" derail and discuss the post topic? ]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:43 AM on December 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


*as a veteran*

A veteran's status as it exists stems from his unique relationship within the state. The veteran, at some level, has served as one of the more direct tools of the state, and hopefully society. Because of this, the state takes not only an increased amount of responsibility when a service member separates or retires (with regards to healthcare, veteran's preference in federal jobs, education funds, etc.), but also honors them (Veterans Day). This is not to say that other groups don't provide sacrifice for the state (and therefor deserve benefits and honor), but rather the relationship is different and often times less direct. The state perpetuates itself, and the veteran is a living representation of the continued belief in the state.

I carry four ID cards that give me freebies from time to time: graduate student, teacher, veteran, and government employee. I'd saw all of them have pulled their weight from time to time in the private sector and got me 5% off, though only the later two have given me significant benefits, yet all of those benefits were from the state or federal government. Since I'm in (or have been in) the service of the federal government, I can understand why they would grant me those entitlements.

As for stolen valor, I don't want people to be jailed just for dressing up and comping a discount. However, if they're profiting from it as the 2013 law specifies? Throw them a fine. The uniform is already problematic enough just with people who are authorized to wear it doing so.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:43 AM on December 3, 2014 [27 favorites]


I am sincerely baffled how anyone that lives in this country, no matter on which side of the political fence they stand, could believe that Veterans, especially those that served in a combat capacity or in a combat zone, get more than they deserve for their service.

I'm as anti-war as the next '60's era aging protester, but I'll stand respectfully for anyone that served.
posted by HuronBob at 5:45 AM on December 3, 2014 [39 favorites]


Some asshat pulled this kind of stunt on Remembrance Day in Ottawa.

He's been arrested and charged; impersonating a member of the services is a crime here. Should be a crime in the USA too--it's not about freedom of expression, it's about receiving a perceived authority. Same as it is (or should be) illegal to impersonate a cop.

I mean, I'm anti-war-worship too. But men and women put their bodies on the line (no need to get into the weeds about whether they should or not), and deserve to be respected for it, and to not have that respect diluted by people trying to grab a slice of the pie.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:46 AM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Combat vets deserve some deference. Different life form. What we asked them to do is horrible, and in recovery of their normalcy, they do deserve special consideration. I'm no advocate of war, but I don't live on the same planet as they do.

Non-combat soldiers deserve a living wage, and not having to be on food stamps. It's a disgrace.

Both versions need to be less common. Our military is too much of our national self-image and budget.

We, however, are sheep and uniformly stupid. The military and its adjunct industries seem to have a stranglehold on the Federal budget and I expect to die with this still the case. Ike was right and we lost.
posted by FauxScot at 5:49 AM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


Surely lots of people who play elaborate daily dress-up like this have mental health problems that require help rather than just internet pillorying.

It could also be worse for the public: I've heard about guys that rig up their own crappy ambulances with second-hand kit, dress up as paramedics, and then scan the airwaves looking to be first on the scene at road accidents to administer 'care'.
posted by colie at 5:51 AM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


From the story of James Ingram:

It’s very coincidental that the day after President Barrack Hussein Obama signed that into law is the day that I got a call from Jamie Ritchie stating that James Ingram was back to his old ways and that Jamie had left the business. Barrack Hussein Obama gave James Ingram the green light, it seemed, and he’d relapsed. Let’s bring the heat.

Valor, maybe. Decency, not so much.

I am sincerely baffled how anyone that lives in this country, no matter on which side of the political fence they stand, could believe that Veterans, especially those that served in a combat capacity or in a combat zone, get more than they deserve for their service.

I think you're confusing criticism of "benefits" with the criticism of the rah-rah-rah for idealized soldiers that doesn't celebrate the actual solider, rather the political or cultural stances of the cheerleader. The idolization of soldiers is why "support our troops" was able to shut down debate in this country for 5 or 6 years; but it's not like the actual soldiers profited from that. But no one this thread has said soldiers get more than they deserve.
posted by spaltavian at 5:53 AM on December 3, 2014 [21 favorites]


These clowns could just throw on a single CIB or CAB and actually research how to wear the uniform, but noooo, they all want to be Rangers and Special Forces. This is also a problem within the military sometimes, which is why you can call the Ranger Training Battalion and have them do a "tab check" to ensure that a Soldier actually earned his Ranger Tab.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 5:54 AM on December 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


That's some damn fine straw-manning, Ghost and Etrigan. DU was simply referencing the mentioned cult of the soldier we have in this country, albeit obliquely.

The 'problem' here is someone claiming identification with and/or membership in a group who have very specific, real, criteria for members of that group. I look at guys who put on a uniform and falsely claim to have been veterans the same way i look at white guys who casually drop the N bomb. Assholes who should be pitied, possibly shamed and avoided.

In regards to what we do and don't do for and to our veterans - it marks our society poorly that so many of our veterans are in such bad shape. We could do a lot better by them.

There's a whole lot more to unpack on this topic and maybe this isn't the best place for it.
posted by Fuka at 5:55 AM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


I can understand very well why the veterans are upset, what I can't understand is what anyone would get, emotionally speaking, out of faking. People who do other kinds of dress-up aren't usually trying to fool anyone. How is it possible to so compleyely compartmentalize the enjoyment of special status from the knowledge that it is fraudulent?
posted by Western Infidels at 5:57 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


it's about receiving a perceived authority. Same as it is (or should be) illegal to impersonate a cop.

What sort of authority are you talking about? Impersonating a cop is illegal in most places. It gives the faker power over civilians that the faker doesn't deserve. He can issue commands that civilians will follow because he's wearing that uniform.

But dressing up as a soldier? I don't have to do anything for that guy. He's just a guy on his way to or from work. Do soldiers give civilians instructions where you live? If that happened in the street here people would freak out. Has a war started? Has there been a fucking coup?
posted by pracowity at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


I can understand very well why the veterans are upset, what I can't understand is what anyone would get, emotionally speaking, out of faking.


Well, it looks like this dude was getting out of work. There are some financial incentives for faking.

But mostly it seems like these are wannabe tough guys who want to feel better about themselves. The same reason high school boys have girlfriends who you wouldn't know because she goes to a different school, but she's totally real.
posted by spaltavian at 6:03 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


No of course they don't give orders to civilians. There is, however, a perceived authority inherent in pretty much anyone given extraordinary powers by government. A revered status in society. Argue all you like whether that's for good or ill... but consider a crisis situation: are you more likely to listen to J Average in their tshirt and jeans, or J Servicemember in a uniform?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:05 AM on December 3, 2014


it's about receiving a perceived authority. Same as it is (or should be) illegal to impersonate a cop.
I don't think it's illegal to lie and say that you used to be a cop, though. Impersonating a police office is illegal because of the legal authority that cops currently have. They can detain you and compel you to do stuff (and, you know, shoot you and get away with it if you're a black man....) Veterans don't really have any comparable legal authority.

I think it's really scummy to impersonate a veteran, but I'm not convinced that it should be illegal.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:08 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


what I can't understand is what anyone would get, emotionally speaking, out of faking.

....Admiration?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 AM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. Again, let's please step back from a big fight about if veterans deserve perks or benefits (or a meta debate over whether someone in the thread said so), which is not what this post is about.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:27 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a pretty good write-up by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press from 2012, when the 2005 Act was before SCOTUS. The Court pressed the supporters of the law to identify the harm, and its opponents on the value of free-speech protection for false claims of some official status.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:33 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are kids who dress up like soldiers on Halloween exempted even though they profit in the form of candy?
posted by Renoroc at 6:46 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes, unless they are three kids stacked up in a military trenchcoat, because that would be indistinguishable from an adult.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:49 AM on December 3, 2014 [56 favorites]


let's please step back from a big fight about if veterans deserve perks or benefits...which is not what this post is about

That's actually very relevant to this topic. Can you ease up on the deletions?



Depends how thinly it's sliced, but I tend to agree with spaltavian. Whether or not the perks are deserved goes to the nature and extent of the harm from impersonation that justifies its criminalization. If it were just financial gain, we already have criminal penalties and civil remedies for fraud, deceit, misrepresentation and etc. on the books.

Also, in theory, if someone is sufficiently politically or socially opposed to deferential treatment of veterans then the act of impersonating one could be characterized as a form of protest. A kind of shitty form of protest, imo, but that doesn't matter. It still complicates the First Amendment analysis.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:49 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not really the 'free taco Tuesdays' that's the crazy-making part, it's the way these posers are lying to get the respect due to true veterans, the guys who actually risked their lives for their country.

No, I never served myself (tried to join, but was declared medically unfit); I merely was born and raised on military bases. I grew up around both current and former military members, including quite a few who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan. The thing that really gets (especially the older) guys is how it's really not all that long that we've been saying military members should be honored for their service. You know those old "whites only/no blacks allowed" signs from the bad old pre-civil rights era? Up until WWII, there were also signs about no soldiers allowed, and frequently even if there weren't there was still the perception of servicemembers as lower lifeforms. Or to probably misquote Kipling: "It's Johnny this and Johnny that, and throw him out, the brute! But it's 'thin red line of heros' when the guns begin to shoot."

Hell, when it comes down to it, I remember plenty of times in the 1960s and 1970s that I had trouble with new classmates in yet another new school, purely because I was a Navy brat. It was standard for civilians to look down on the military: if you were at all competent you would've gotten a real job, everyone knew only losers joined the military.

So put against that background --- that its really only very recently that servicemembers have been routinely accorded respect for serving --- these fakers are despised for the perception that they are stealing that hard-won respect. If they want to claim the 'glory', then they can get their asses out there and earn it.
posted by easily confused at 6:50 AM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


I met an almost-brother-in-law at a family weekend a few years back who was intrigued that I'd been in the army. "That's cool, but, uh, I was in the Corps."

"Oh yeah? Cool. I went to jump school with a bunch of Marines. When were you in?"

"Oh, uh, '95."

"Me, too! '95 to '99?"

"Um. Just '95."

It turned out he hadn't made it through boot camp. Even though he'd tried to play the whole "oh, so you're just an army puke" thing on me, I just felt sorry for him. Even if it was "just" the army, I had something he plainly desperately wanted and hadn't been able to get. I later learned that he had bought a used police cruiser, added a bunch of accessories, and would "go on patrol," challenging people he thought looked suspicious. He kept trying to join fire departments, and he kept failing whatever qualifications or tests they had.

Riding the bus from Indiana to Virginia on my way to report to Fort Bragg (dad gave me a lift from Charlottesville to Fayetteville, so please nobody turn me in to Stolen Valor for obvious falsehoods), I ran into a couple of guys on their way home from Fort Sill.

"Yeah, we tried it, but the military life really wasn't for us."

"Oh. So, your enlistment is over?"

"Kind of. They kicked us out of basic."

Anyhow, I watched the video and it left me really uncomfortable: During my time at Fort Bragg I spent a week at Fort Pickett on a field problem with a bunch of National Guard in the area, and they all had really similar uniform gigs. Not the combat badges, but just about everything else that gets called out. And in some units, it's not at all unusual for people of the same rank to address each other by rank. I don't remember what the regulation says, but I do remember 20-year veterans who insisted on it.

So, listening to the camera owner barking out gigs and then pursuing the subject through the mall shouting at him while his companion begs him to stop is just weird and I don't think it's something people ought to be normalizing. It does feel weird to me, as a veteran, to see this sort of two minutes hate kind of stuff going on over people who seem to have some kind of hole in them.

Maybe our camera owner is mostly right -- if I had to guess I'd say he caught a former National Guardsman or regular army truck driver who did a single, non-combat enlistment and got out, or who was similar to my former almost brother-in-law or my friends on the bus -- but I can also see the many ways walking around primed to start barking "stolen valor! stolen valor!" at someone because their bootlaces are out or because they once served in a unit where the customs and courtesies mutated a little is probably going to get a few bad outcomes that far outweigh the benefit of "exposing" something that's just sort of sad.

It's also far afield of the pre-GWOT sort of stuff I remember seeing from similar groups, which tended to catch people who were genuinely profiting from their fake service: Guys who had written books or did speaking engagements or ran special seminars or boot camps or dojos where they claimed to be sharing knowledge they gained in the SEALs or Rangers or whatever.
posted by mph at 6:56 AM on December 3, 2014 [37 favorites]


What do they get out of it? Ask Royall Switzler. He almost got to be Governor of Massachusetts.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:57 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm as anti-war as the next '60's era aging protester, but I'll stand respectfully for anyone that served.

We're all part of a society, and there's no special reason to think that the person at the tip of the spear is any more a responsible for the consequences than the people at the back end of it pushing it in. But, I'd stand respectfully for someone who refused to serve in, say, Operation Iraqi Liberation Freedom before someone who did.

But, if we're going to pass these kinds of laws, can we pass them against people like George W, Bush, who falsely profited from claims of military service?
posted by ennui.bz at 6:57 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I heard there was a whole cottage industry in fakers trying to claim to be Navy SEALs (which is evidently an extremely small group) and the speed with which authentic former SEALs debunk that claim. In my hometown area, there was a pastor who claimed he had been a SEAL. I don't think the pastor ever profited except through gratifying his own ego, but after the SEALs pulled off the raid that killed Bin Laden, the local paper did a story on that pastor, which led to the pastor getting busted as a fake really quicks. On the other hand, I suppose it's possible he might have gotten the pastor position by claiming he was a Navy SEAL.
posted by jonp72 at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2014


It's not really the 'free taco Tuesdays' that's the crazy-making part, it's the way these posers are lying to get the respect due to true veterans, the guys who actually risked their lives for their country.

Not to pick a nit here, but there is a difference between "veteran" and "combat veteran." Something like 80% of the jobs in the military are non-combat positions, around 40% are never deployed, and only a small percentage ever sees actual combat (unfortunately, many members of this percentage serve multiple combat tours). This is just to say that whatever we think we owe veterans as a broad class (plenty, in my estimation) shouldn't be predicated on the notion that they spent their service time dodging bullets.
posted by slkinsey at 7:03 AM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


DU: freedom from criticism on any topic by playing the Veteran Card.

That depends entirely on the veteran. I remember that John Kerry was mercilessly attacked by the GOP in spite of his military service and decorations.
posted by dr_dank at 7:07 AM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


He was attacked about his service and decorations. By other vets. ("Swift-boated," as it were.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:10 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


people who play elaborate daily dress-up like this have mental health problems that require help rather than just internet pillorying.

Have you seen these videos? These guys aren't mentally ill. They are conniving scumbags and should be glad they are getting internet pilloried rather than throat punched.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:11 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


listening to the camera owner barking out gigs and then pursuing the subject through the mall shouting at him while his companion begs him to stop is just weird and I don't think it's something people ought to be normalizing.

I thought this too. It was clear the fake army dude was wearing a costume mainly to impress little kids and that's just very sad. When the self-appointed fake-army internet vigilante enforcer started shouting, I began to side with the harmless impostor.
posted by colie at 7:11 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have some friends who contracted for DoD in the office that was in charge of making sure medals were given correctly and tracking down people who fraudulently claimed or possessed medals. I'll have to see if I can get them to weigh in.
posted by X-Himy at 7:12 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's a link to the recent case in Canada, including an infographic showing how they outed him due to uniform discrepancies.

It's interesting to see that the first version of the law against this in the US was struck down as a 1st amendment issue. So you have the right to lie, just not to profit from those lies.
posted by thecjm at 7:14 AM on December 3, 2014


Have you seen these videos ? These guys aren't mentally ill. They are conniving scumbags and should be glad they are getting internet pilloried rather than throat punched.

I've seen the one you linked to and it's just sad. I'm sure the fake camo-wearing guy is now in fear of being punched everywhere he goes and now little boys don't think he's cool any more. The guy shouting STOLEN VALOUR comes across as a dick.
posted by colie at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Another one of those "Wish I had clipped the article" moments, but a piece I read w/in the last year or two (mebbe Alternet?) described how we are evolving something of a "military caste" within American society; there is a subset of society (very Southern) that views military service as both a duty as well as desirable, honorable, and carrying on family/cultural traditions.

Non-military-caste types look at military service as just another career choice one can make, and often a questionable one given how/where/at whom that tip-of-the-spear gets pointed by our leaders.

The former tend to be the "stolen valor" types, the latter tend towards "what's the big deal" types.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


mainly to impress little kids

he's at a mall. he is shopping. vets gets stuff for free at malls. This is always where they are because they are con men. Your sympathy should be with the man shouting, who saw friends die in that uniform.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:17 AM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


It might be worth a visit to /r/Military for those that are assuming that there is a certain set of values shared by all military members.
posted by vapidave at 7:17 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's a link to the recent case in Canada, including an infographic showing how they outed him due to uniform discrepancies.

Another recent case in Ottawa, via Frank Magazine.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:19 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that seriously bugged me. The GG is commander-in-chief and (at least ethically, I dunno the specific laws/regulations there) entitled to wear a uniform. The PM is a fucking civilian and should not be wearing it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:23 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is from the article about the Canadian faker...a quote by the military member who outed the guy: “My impression [is] he does respect what we do and in his own bizarre way he wants to emulate it. But, sorry, no. It’s wrong.”

COME ON CANADA EVEN YOUR SOLDIERS CANT GET MAD WITHOUT APOLOGIZING?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:25 AM on December 3, 2014 [18 favorites]


Another recent case in Ottawa, via Frank Magazine.

I'm no Harper fan but in that Frank link he is wearing body armour over a dress shirt, a black Canadian olympic team sweater, and in the mess hall what appears to be an old school Banana Republic safari shirt. Not exactly a uniform or even something approximating one.
posted by thecjm at 7:28 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, I'd like to echo what easily confused said: After a few years in South Korea and Fayetteville, NC, I don't think I'd ever consider stuffing myself back into a uniform and parading around a mall: Soldiers can be treated very poorly.

My unit at Fort Bragg once had a financial advisor turn up for an hour-long session. He opened his talk by asking how many of us liked to get up at 5:30 to go on a run. I raised my hand because I honestly did -- I used to joke that I could do without no more than one of my morning run, breakfast, or morning smokes, and that I preferred to skip breakfast -- so he called all of us liars and said we were sitting there because we'd done something wrong and needed to admit that we were stupid and incapable of making good choices.

The civilians running the transition program when my enlistment ended were similarly condescending and awful.

I didn't mind soldiering, but I hated the way people who weren't other soldiers looked at me sometimes.
posted by mph at 7:28 AM on December 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


It could also be worse for the public: I've heard about guys that rig up their own crappy ambulances with second-hand kit, dress up as paramedics, and then scan the airwaves looking to be first on the scene at road accidents to administer 'care'.

This is the much more harmful variant of this pathetic disease. There was this guy who was caught pretending to be a paramedic with a fake ambulance in the UK; just sad on the face of it, but then it turns out that he uses it as an opportunity to role play by shouting at women and giving motorists orders. Sad, sad, sad, worrying.
posted by forgetful snow at 7:30 AM on December 3, 2014


I have been around military people in a variety of contexts for most of my life and totally understand why it pisses veterans off when people impersonate them. What I don't get is why civilians who do it can't be bothered to do even a little research to pull it off more convincingly, and why the actual military people who inflate their credentials do it knowing how easy it is to check their service records and how their fellow vets will react once the deception is exposed.
posted by TedW at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2014


It does feel weird to me, as a veteran, to see this sort of two minutes hate kind of stuff going on over people who seem to have some kind of hole in them.

I think you've hit the nail on the head here, mph. I've had a handful of encounters over the last 35 years when a person told some real whoppers about their "military service" when it was clear that they hadn't served at all. I used to puzzle over this--"Why would a person make these outlandish claims when they know I'm a vet and can easily see through the baloney?" Granted, they weren't acting as fully blown imposters in uniform; rather these were mostly informal party/conversational situations, etc... On all of the occasions, sans one, I was either mildly amused and/or felt pity for this person who, as you so aptly put it, "seem to have some kind of hole in them." The one time I got vocally angry was in a corporate meeting when some poser made a false claim about being a Vietnam vet in a way that tried to elicit sympathy for his position and would have been of financial benefit to his side of the negotiation if I hadn't called him out.

So, I'm mostly sad inside when I come across this stuff. But I do understand a little bit about why combat vets find this so upsetting. Mostly I wish that we, as a society, would spend less time worshiping the military and, by implication, its underlying destructive nature and more time celebrating some role models that devote their lives to building a better world--like doctors, scientists and teachers.
posted by CincyBlues at 7:36 AM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


If you drive a fake ambulance you can get through the traffic, which is actually quite a big deal.

I'm not at all convinced these people are con men doing it to get free stuff. When I grew up there was a man who wore military uniform all day (something you rarely see in the UK - soldiers are not allowed in pubs etc) and told the local kids stories. Even then we knew he was a nutter.
posted by colie at 7:36 AM on December 3, 2014


The real crime to me is how the US government hypocritically makes a huge display of how much it respects and honors veterans (and how citizens should as well), while it mistreats and neglects these same soldiers at every turn.
posted by orme at 7:36 AM on December 3, 2014 [14 favorites]


What I don't get is why civilians who do it can't be bothered to do even a little research to pull it off more convincingly, and why the actual military people who inflate their credentials do it knowing how easy it is to check their service records and how their fellow vets will react once the deception is exposed.

I suspect that there are those who do fake it well and don't get caught.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Even if it was "just" the army, I had something he plainly desperately wanted and hadn't been able to get. I later learned that he had bought a used police cruiser, added a bunch of accessories, and would "go on patrol," challenging people he thought looked suspicious. He kept trying to join fire departments, and he kept failing whatever qualifications or tests they had.

Interesting pattern here. Looks like this guy and those similar probably have, in my utterly amateur opinion, some serious issues with their sense of masculinity or control. It's sad, yeah, but the potential for abuse (with potentially horrible consequences - fake paramedics? Seriously?) kind of dampens my sympathy for these guys. Whatever happened to starting a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with yourself as DM? Now that's some real power you can exert over people with no scrutiny over uniform details to worry about.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:39 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]




The real crime to me is how the US government hypocritically makes a huge display of how much it respects and honors veterans (and how citizens should as well), while it mistreats and neglects these same soldiers at every turn.

That dynamic dates back at least to Rudyard Kipling's time.
posted by TedW at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


These guys aren't mentally ill. They are conniving scumbags and should be glad they are getting internet pilloried rather than throat punched.

Meh. As a navy brat, with a fair number of extended family serving - and having been through Marine Corps basic myself* - guys like this are low hanging fruit.

I mean - the real Valor Thieves are dudes like this one, who despite the dressing down by Mrs. Duckworth went on to have his company certified as Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) anyway.

This guy is making millions of dollars off his fraud and lack of shame, but that guy at the mall ? I'd save the opprobrium for when/if he ever amounts to something.

* I was most of the way through basic when I got hurt. On review of my medical file, they determined that the MEPS doctor had not actually waivered my football injuries and surgeries. After a 4-5 week review, the Marines determined that it was all good, and that I could stay in the Marines but I would have to restart basic and I would lose my MOS and they would put me wherever they had room. Or, I could leave with a plane ticket, back pay, and small severance package for my trouble because it was their error. So - ~3000 dollars cash or another 3 months of basic training and who knows what ? I took the cash and ran. My parent were pissed, but, well... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:46 AM on December 3, 2014 [14 favorites]


COME ON CANADA EVEN YOUR SOLDIERS CANT GET MAD WITHOUT APOLOGIZING?


I think it loses some nuance in text. Canadian is almost like a tonal language when it comes to apologizing. There are something like 14 different levels of "sorry". Canadians are masters saying sorry in a way that still makes you feel like the asshole.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2014 [30 favorites]


The real crime to me is how the US government hypocritically makes a huge display of how much it respects and honors veterans (and how citizens should as well), while it mistreats and neglects these same soldiers at every turn.

Yeah, the recent story of how veterans are being denied earned pension benefits as a cost-cutting scheme was bad enough but then it seemed as though the majority of the victims were minority vets, and I've been midlevel enraged about it on a daily basis ever since.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:54 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it was July 4th a couple of years back and some guy in a Marine uniform walked into a bar I was hanging out in and just sat there for awhile talking to the bartender and having a couple of drinks. It was plainly obvious that he'd concocted the whole thing by himself as the pants, buttons, ribbons didn't match and his story didn't really make any sense.

Years ago, that would've bothered me and I would've said something to him, mainly to embarrass him, but I've come around to understand more about mental health issues and that said behavior is just making up for a host of other ailments that he may be suffering from. Liars, con men, swindlers and grifters come in all shapes and sizes. Anyone of working age knows this.

People that dress up and pretend to be something beyond cosplay have probably deluded themselves into thinking that some or all of it is true. This happens a lot. It's embarrassing for those of us who served honorably and would like to think that people would respect that (like don't make your blooming onion marketing campaign over it, et al), but it's much more embarrassing to me that in one of the richest countries in the world who's largesse enables them to fund an unnecessarily large military, can at the same time neglect the needs of its own people while at the same time shaming them for being who they are.

tl;dr if you can ignore a homeless person then you can surely ignore a phony veteran.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:57 AM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


"What I don't get is why civilians who do it can't be bothered to do even a little research to pull it off more convincingly..."

From what I read the people that do this are all Navy Seal Assasin Sniper Ninja Pilots and are, well, usually people that got kicked out and suffer from grandiosity.

It's a theme amongst observers that if they just pretended to be to be an E-2 they could probably skate.

The other thing is they never arrange their medals and badges properly.
posted by vapidave at 8:11 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


listening to the camera owner barking out gigs and then pursuing the subject through the mall shouting at him while his companion begs him to stop is just weird and I don't think it's something people ought to be normalizing.

I felt bad for everyone in that situation. Neither the guy shouting nor the guy he's shouting at seem mentally well to me. I probably feel most bad for shouting guy's companion who's begging him to stop.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whatever happened to starting a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with yourself as DM?

Funny you should link those two notions (fantasies of uniformed service and tabletop RPGs): I dealt with a problematic customer at work once who seemed mildly unbalanced, and among the declarations he made was that people shouldn't cross him because of his dangerous background as an anti-sniper sniper.

Maybe five years later I had left that job, moved three provinces away and started a gaming group. A death in the family obliged me to move home but I was still in touch with my gamer friends far away. One player had assumed the role of GM and she mentioned to me in an e-mail once that they had met a weird, twitchy dude who had made extravagant claims that set off all kinds for alarm bells for two other players (one a retired air force lieutenant, one a an active-duty infantry captain). The weird dude, she told me, had asserted that he had been an anti-sniper sniper. I asked if his name was S_______ M______. "My god, how did you know that?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:16 AM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


tl;dr if you can ignore a homeless person then you can surely ignore a phony veteran.

Sometimes they're the same person. I remember a study a while ago that mentioned the difficulty of identifying how many veterans have trouble with homelessness, because so many homeless claim to be veterans but aren't.

And it's understandable, I think. In my experience, chronic homelessness in adults is often linked to untreated mental illness and substance abuse problems (which often go hand in hand). These folks are often left to fend for themselves, and they try to give themselves whatever advantage they can -- and I feel sure supposed ersatz veterans panhandle more successfully than people who aren't faking it.

I have to say, though, whatever small benefit they are getting for pretending to be veterans is probably a very small weight against the balance of the awfulness of being homeless.
posted by maxsparber at 8:22 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


maxsparber: I have to say, though, whatever small benefit they are getting for pretending to be veterans is probably a very small weight against the balance of the awfulness of being homeless.

I think that falsely claiming to be a vet because it just might be the one thing that helps you survive one more night being homeless is a far cry from doing so to get some freebies at the local J-Crew (or in the extreme cases of committing actual fraud to get tons of money in free subsidies).
posted by surazal at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Giving veterans the benefits they deserve" is healthcare, counseling, education and pay. Not free Taco Tuesdays and freedom from criticism on any topic by playing the Veteran Card.

Neither veterans nor fakers put on their dress uniforms to escape criticism.

We have a secular religion here that dictates that veterans in uniform are entitled to specific gestures of deference and respect from the public. Those gestures themselves are too trivial for me to have an opinion on whether it should be the case. They are also not at all related to our very broken political process for deciding when or where to send soldiers into combat. (At least not in my opinion.) Best to just give veterans their due deference and fakers their due ridicule.
posted by ocschwar at 8:42 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Stopping by on yet another veterans' issues thread to note that no comment on Metafilter has ever managed to make me feel a single shred of regret for my service.

And no, I don't feel like I'm owed any special degree of respect for it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think that falsely claiming to be a vet because it just might be the one thing that helps you survive one more night being homeless is a far cry from doing so to get some freebies at the local J-Crew (or in the extreme cases of committing actual fraud to get tons of money in free subsidies).

I completely agree.
posted by maxsparber at 8:52 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Something like 80% of the jobs in the military are non-combat positions, around 40% are never deployed, and only a small percentage ever sees actual combat (unfortunately, many members of this percentage serve multiple combat tours). This is just to say that whatever we think we owe veterans as a broad class (plenty, in my estimation) shouldn't be predicated on the notion that they spent their service time dodging bullets.

Exactly. I know a lot of veterans and with the exception of the ones old enough to have served in Vietnam or earlier wars the worst danger any of them ever faced was getting a paper cut.
posted by winna at 9:00 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Part of what was in the back of my mind in making that observation is how common it is for veterans to play the "I dodged bullets and saw my buddies get killed and you will never know the brotherhood we share" card in justifying behavior like that in the linked videos, when in fact few veterans these days can legitimately make such claims. Are non-combat veterans who say things like this "stealing the valor" of the combat veterans, and do they deserve to be outed on the internet or berated in malls?
posted by slkinsey at 9:05 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Since for the entirety of my life in the US I was denied the right to serve in the armed forces, is it okay if I fake being a vet?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:07 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm fully on board with getting vets the benefits they signed up for.

But as a non-soldier I just can't see why I should give a shit if some random bozo wants to dress up and pretend to be a soldier. Bush Jr. dressed up like a soldier and those who complained were called unpatriotic America haters, if we'll let Bush Jr play soldier I don't see why we should forbid other people from doing the same. If as a society we hadn't invented a cult of worshiping soldiers it wouldn't happen, if we want it to stop happening we should stop worshiping soldiers.

I think it reflects poorly on the mental health of said bozos, but the idea that the federal government should carve out an exception to the free speech just to preserve the cult of the soldier is stupid.

If some former soldiers choose to police those pretending to be soldiers that's their business and covered by their free speech. I think it's a silly waste of time, but they obviously don't and it's their time to waste anyway.
posted by sotonohito at 9:07 AM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think I saw a site for doing this, maybe limited to exposing SEAL pretenders, as early as 1998.
posted by thelonius at 9:13 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Considering what our veterans have gone through, we as a country aren't doing nearly enough to appreciate and compensate them for their service. Counseling, rehabilitation when needed, medical care, job placement, all these and more. With the sacrifices they've made, they've more than earned a little deference and a lot of respect. I'm very anti-war, but I have the highest respect for those who have served. Whether I personally feel the cause is just or not is irrelevant; these people have put their lives on the line for their country, their principles, or both, often at great physical and psychological cost.

For someone who hasn't served to dress the part for some benefit, whether it's tangible like monetary discounts or intangible like simple respect or offering "your" cab, well... The punishment for impostors ought to be 20 minutes in a closed room with a bunch of combat vets for a... talk.
posted by xedrik at 9:16 AM on December 3, 2014


I think it reflects poorly on the mental health of said bozos, but the idea that the federal government should carve out an exception to the free speech just to preserve the cult of the soldier is stupid.

Well, the courts agree with you, so the first amendment is doing fine. Dressing up to facilitate fraud is still not kosher though.

The first amendment fans (I'm one of them) says the appropriate response to bad speech is more speech, and the folks publicly shaming the fake veterans are doing this. While it may be uncomfortable to watch a public shaming, it certainly seems an appropriate response.
posted by el io at 9:26 AM on December 3, 2014


Jeez, the first guy listed on the Guardian of Valor Hall of Shame is confirmed to be an actual vet who served in combat. He received a Purple Heart after being injured, but they still went after him because he lied about having a number of other medals. What if this guy is suffering from psychological problems as a result of his service?
posted by orme at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Of course not every nutter likes to pretend to be a super ninja warrior elite forces soldier, sometimes they like to pretend they're a super secret spy.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:41 AM on December 3, 2014


I'm a "vet". I once worked with a lot of civilians and I half-heartedly complained to my CO about riding the public transport and people coming up to me when they see me and 'thanking' me for my service. And after they got close enough to see me, and realize I'm not white, they'd ask all sorts of fucking rude questions like:
When did you come to this country?
How do you feel about 'something in the recent news'?
Are you a Muslim?
Do you support terrorism?

Shit. I was just half-heartedly complaining when a few days later he told me I can wear civilian clothes as long as I keep up USMC grooming standards.

So yeah, it must be nice being recognized as a veteran and NOT being asked inappropriate questions. But for me, not having to talk with the type of people who come up to Marines and 'thank' them is a perk enough.

Also, I've never known anybody to fake their service. Not that it doesn't happen, but I just don't know if I've ever seen that. I don't know why someone would do that just to get a little bit more attention, or get some kind of discount. Seems like there might be mental illness behind it. I feel sorry for those people.

I don't think its a crime, its just rude.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:48 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


I feel like millions of people pretend to be things they are not for personal gain every day. It's sad and dishonest, but unless they somehow get themselves a job within the armed forces and get to work without the proper training or qualifications, this is not something that should be punished by law.

I have met people who pretended to be war refugees for personal gain. They even fooled refugee resettlement agencies and they got insane benefits for pretending to be war survivors (as in, the UN planned and paid their move to a first world country and they got Medicaid and food stamps for almost a year after they arrived, and they got resident cards). Some of these people even were on the oppressor side of the wars they were supposedly running from. I see them as a collateral result of a system that works.

I do think veterans need 100X times what they receive in how the government puts their lives at risk for profit, their healthcare is shameful, and other million issues; but the fact that people pretend to be veterans means that at least from the civilians there is respect and there are little acts of kindness (the 5 dollar discount is more than 5 dollars, it's a symbol of appreciation) that people reserve for veterans only.

Just like with any system that benefits a group of people there will be a small percentage of individuals who will take advantage. I think the healthy view here is to appreciate that at least there are some small positives there. There are always people who want attention or who will do anything for freebies. Today they will pretend to be veterans, tomorrow they will pretend to be something else.
posted by Tarumba at 10:06 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Combat vets deserve some deference

Most of us didn't ask anyone to engage in military activities on our behalf; the state asked people to engage in military activities on its behalf and on behalf of whatever interest it's serving with its military adventures. I'm comfortable viewing many veterans as victims, and I think the state should compensate them much better than it does for this victimization. I'm also untroubled if the state wants to apologize to veterans in various symbolic ways for this victimization. I'm willing to e.g. pay significantly more in tax so that veterans are better-compensated for the state's misdeeds toward them, but I'm certainly not interested in adopting an attitude of deference toward a group of people just because the state made them do some stuff and put words in my mouth as the justification, when I did not in fact want them doing that stuff.

(The analogy with impersonating a police officer is also bad. Impersonating a police officer can create genuine risks to public order; representing oneself, to members of the civilian public, as a member of a group that doesn't have any special authority in civilian spheres, doesn't explicitly create those risks (obviously actual obtaining of actual state-sponsored veterans' benefits under false pretenses, or something, is a different story).)
posted by busted_crayons at 10:20 AM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


Should it be illegal to note that many people have extra respect and deference toward members of the medical profession and then, when, e.g., someone has a heart attack on a flight, and the flight attendant asks if there is a doctor on board, misrepresent oneself as being a medical doctor, and render inexpert "aid"? This seems like a much bigger deal than misrepresenting oneself as a military veteran in order to garner tokens of extra special social approval.

Should it be illegal to note that religious leaders are often given special respect and deference, and then claim special intimate knowledge of the mind of some god, without actually having said knowledge, in order to earn respect and deference from those among the populace who buy your story?
posted by busted_crayons at 10:28 AM on December 3, 2014


Yes, I think it should be illegal to represent yourself as a doctor and give medical treatment. That seems like a way worse offense than representing yourself as a veteran in order to get a free soda or unearned respect. The analogy would be to representing yourself as a service-member in order to perform military duties, not to representing yourself as a vet in order to get respect or freebies.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:30 AM on December 3, 2014


What I don't get is why civilians who do it can't be bothered to do even a little research to pull it off more convincingly, and why the actual military people who inflate their credentials do it knowing how easy it is to check their service records and how their fellow vets will react once the deception is exposed.

I suspect we're not really dealing with mental giants here.

I think there's kind of a difference between the people who pose as vets because "woo discounts at the mall" and the people who dress up in fatigues and hang out at a military-friendly bar or something. The former seems more straight-up mercenary, but the latter...that feels more like a case of someone just wanting to feel like they're someone special, and that's more of a case where they need more pity than anything else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2014


Hallowe'en at the mall.

Way back in the day we used to scoff at the salad, on account of how many officers and clerks were getting stuff they didn't earn. It cheapened the bronze star earned off the death of one of an infantryman's brothers. "I'm not one of those guys," was the thinking here, and every person who was there knows how it works, so you just put the ribbon on your uniform and go on about your business. Later on, when you get out, you have another doohickey to put in your shadow box that won't mean shit to anybody who hasn't served. "Yeah, see I got that one when my team leader got shot."

If you have problems talking about stuff to civilians in the first place, how in holy fuck are you going to explain that fat guy in the mall to someone?

Back in the last century, it seems like every vet I ran into was an airborne fucking special forces ranger, or else a spook of one variety or another. That was before they found out about the SEALs, so now they're all airborne special op SEAL guys. Kilroy died, but Walter Mitty lives.

I always thought Burkett's book was sort of shrill. Nobody ever really stole my valor, mostly because most civilians wouldn't know valor if it jumped up and bit them on the nose--you go with the trends. Back then you looked away, nowadays we're all heroes.

I don't think guys who get something material for posing ought to go without penalties. Fraud is fraud. I've talked with quite a few posers, and most of the time it's not that hard to sort them out. I just avoid them, and I can't see any reason they ought to be put in jail or fined for being nitwits. They are sad, and they mostly impress people who don't know the difference in the first place, or else they annoy people who--well, ditto. Posers who put up paper on the wall in their offices, or write that stuff down on job applications cross a line. They'll take a slot somebody else earned.

Sparking fat dudes in the mall, though, is a waste of time. Especially when you start getting into the world of Airborne Rangers. That's a swirl of conflict even among rangers, who differentiate between tabs and scrolls. If you know, you know, if you don't, never mind.

Not everyone can be a soldier (or Marine, and so on). Not all of those can go to the next level, airborne, rangers, special ops, and so on. It's a rough life, even when you are not on the tip of the spear, but living it doesn't automatically turn one into a hero. At some point you are among people to whom personal valor is a given, and remarkable only when it's absent. It is a sad but true fact that the civilian version of a hero is a bit different from the military version. It's sad because of the confusion it causes when someone pins it on you, and you have cause to think about an actual hero you once knew. It's sad, also, because it's hard to separate the soldier from the cause. There's nothing I can do about posers, nothing to do about the condescension I get from the well-wishers, nor the sideways glances from those who disapprove of anything related to soldering. So fuck that fat guy in the mall, but I won't be the one who embarrasses him in public, on account of he's pathetic. There's no joy in someone else's misery.
posted by mule98J at 10:38 AM on December 3, 2014 [15 favorites]


I volunteer with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which means I often commute wearing a uniform that most civilians don't distinguish from active military. Even though I do this in the liberal northeast, my main discomfort has come from the many, many people who meet my eyes on the street and thank me for my service.

It's not my place to say "oh, I just mowed the lawn at a lighthouse, I'm not really the person you're talking about", so I thank them and go on my way. But I can see how that kind of acknowledgement and appreciation could be Incredibly tempting for the many, many people in the US who feel like no one sees them, let alone appreciates them.

Mostly these guys make me really sad, and wish we could give out more hugs.
posted by ldthomps at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the people who are trying to Feel Special may actually end up being scared off of continuing the practice by any kind of pushback, though - whether it's the "soldiers are all baby killers" pushback from people who believe their charade, or "my buddy died wearing that uniform you jerk" pushback from people who don't.

And the people who are trying to sucker shopkeepers out of stuff won't give a shit, which is ironic since those are the very people who should probably be most shamed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on December 3, 2014


The analogy would be to representing yourself as a service-member in order to perform military duties, not to representing yourself as a vet in order to get respect or freebies.

You're right. I'll revise to: should it be illegal to tell people that you're a doctor, and that you have saved peoples' lives during medical emergencies, when you in fact are not and have not, in order to get people to treat you with respect and deference? (I don't think one needs to distinguish between obtaining 5% discounts and obtaining unusual respect and deference for the purposes of this analogy.)
posted by busted_crayons at 10:42 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


My former BIL is one of these guys. He served briefly and permanently injured his leg screwing around with a friend. Got discharged and then went around telling everyone he was injured by turrists in Afghanistan. Eventually went crazy enough to stimulate divorce proceedings and a temporary restraining order he kept violating. Told a cop during one of his arrests that "I was an airborne ranger in the army" as if that means he can threaten to kidnap his kids "forever" and show up at their school to do so. The cop told his estranged wife that he didn't believe the story because nobody calls themselves an "airborne ranger." The "airborne" part is thrown into the "I want to be an airborne ranger" cadence to simply bump the syllable count. A useful shibboleth too.
posted by aydeejones at 10:51 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Well it doesn't quite bump the syllable count from "army" but takes longer to say, hence "cadence")
posted by aydeejones at 10:53 AM on December 3, 2014


I know a lot of veterans and with the exception of the ones old enough to have served in Vietnam or earlier wars the worst danger any of them ever faced was getting a paper cut.

That may be true in your experience. I found during my service in the US Navy that there was plenty of peril going around (the USS Iowa explosion, for example) that could kill you just as dead, even without having to dodge bullets.
posted by ogooglebar at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Exactly. I know a lot of veterans and with the exception of the ones old enough to have served in Vietnam or earlier wars the worst danger any of them ever faced was getting a paper cut.


"Exactly" what?

82nd Airborne has (or had) a sign up that advertised how many days they'd gone without a training fatality. If they made it 82 days, they got a Friday off.

Trying to make distinctions between combat veterans and non-combat veterans so you can figure out some way to talk about which ones deserve something more than the others is really wrong-headed. Even people who have never fired a shot in anger train at a level most civilians won't ever experience. A desk clerk on jump status can slip into the wind the wrong way and end up with a permanent limp, or dead, never having seen action, just because some units train 800' night jumps in rain and wind. I spent a year trying to get a soldier under my leadership chaptered out because his foot and ankle were held together with seven pins from just such an accident. The week I arrived at Ft. Bragg, a major in my unit died on the drop zone during a training jump because he snapped his femur on landing and severed an artery. Neither of them were "combat veterans." The stuff that maimed or killed them was just part of their contract.

I served four years and knew of four or five non-combat deaths in units I was in. I'm middle-aged now and still haven't personally known as many coworkers who have died in the intervening years than I did in the 3.5-year span between getting out of jump school and separating from the service.

And I'm not even going to get into the simple fact that basic training -- soldierization -- is deliberate and systematic mass traumatization. It took me years to reconcile the guy that came out the other side of that with the person I wished I was. It took me a long time to realize what had happened to me and get help for it.

So I'd like it if we didn't try to make those distinctions. Doesn't wear well when veterans do it to figure out the pecking order -- it's understandable but it can get ugly -- and it's frankly infuriating when it comes from civilians.
posted by mph at 1:05 PM on December 3, 2014 [19 favorites]


Exactly we should certainly support veterans in reference to their health care and well-being better than we do but we should not behave as if military service makes one into a heroic demi-god before whom we should all bow while an eagle weeps a single tear in the background.

Sorry I am just a civilian. I was unaware that that meant I was forbidden to think that cheap rhetoric about supporting our brave soldiers is ridiculous.
posted by winna at 1:37 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Over 20 years ago, I came close to graduating from Marine boot camp before they sent me home. I've always been very careful never to represent myself as ever having been a Marine. I've only met a few people who were obviously faking. The only thing I ever felt for them was pity.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:33 PM on December 3, 2014


(The analogy with impersonating a police officer is also bad. Impersonating a police officer can create genuine risks to public order; representing oneself, to members of the civilian public, as a member of a group that doesn't have any special authority in civilian spheres, doesn't explicitly create those risks (obviously actual obtaining of actual state-sponsored veterans' benefits under false pretenses, or something, is a different story).)

Should it be illegal to note that many people have extra respect and deference toward members of the medical profession and then, when, e.g., someone has a heart attack on a flight, and the flight attendant asks if there is a doctor on board, misrepresent oneself as being a medical doctor, and render inexpert "aid"? This seems like a much bigger deal than misrepresenting oneself as a military veteran in order to garner tokens of extra special social approval.


Yeah, I was a little puzzled by the news that when the Ottawa man was charged by police, the first charge mentioned was "impersonating a public officer." I can see obviously how misrepresenting oneself as a police officer or an EMT or something could endanger public safety, but this dude was dressed up as a sergeant in the Canadian Forces. I do not recognize that Sgt. Whoever (real or fake) has any more authority in civil society than I do.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Exactly. I know a lot of veterans and with the exception of the ones old enough to have served in Vietnam or earlier wars the worst danger any of them ever faced was getting a paper cut.

Four years in the Coast Guard, 1994-1998. Never heard a shot fired in anger. I feel awkward about calling myself a "veteran," because I'm a veteran of the service, yes, but not a combat veteran, and I feel like that's what most people think of when they hear the term.

However, as for paper cuts?

Four years in that nice, safe Coast Guard made it very hard to count the number of times I could very easily have died or been severely injured. No wars. No shots fired in anger. Still the scariest time of my life. A lot of people in the other services can say much the same.

One can find plenty of danger in the military without ever being shot at.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:20 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


As con games go, this one is unusual in that it is "worn on one's sleeve".
posted by telstar at 3:21 PM on December 3, 2014


And then there was that time that George W Bush landed a plane on an aircraft carrier as president - then announced 'mission accomplished'. Yes, there were a lot of lies that day, weren't there.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 4:26 PM on December 3, 2014


Other side of the coin:

My Dad really spent two years in the Navy. He received his Ph.D., formally joined the Navy, and got married (in his dress Navy uniform) on the same day. That picture of you in your uniform Applebee's wants as proof of service? Dad's wedding photos would do. While there was some worry he would end up in Vietnam he actually spent the next two years teaching graduate level physics in Monterrey, CA.

When Applebee's opened a franchise in his hometown I reminded him that he could get a free meal on Veteran's Day. His response: "Nah, I don't really feel like a Vet."

On yet another hand though I have a coworker who spent his entire two years in the Air Force repairing Jeeps at various US bases, and he has the license plate, bumper sticker, and never misses a chance for a discount.
posted by localroger at 4:30 PM on December 3, 2014


...heroic demi-god...

Right. Mythologizing anyone/anything in the way that military service is sometimes mythologized is more or less always bad news. There are plenty of actions that warrant the descriptor "heroic", but when the noun "hero" is deployed, it's a good idea to raise the skepticism level to "paranoid", because whoever is saying it is very likely either trying to sell you some sinister Kool-Aid or is under the effects of same.
posted by busted_crayons at 4:31 PM on December 3, 2014


I picked up a jacket from a Marine dress uniform at a second-hand store and wore it as my winter coat for a few years in college. Just the jacket, no insignia or anything. Nothing else about me or my clothing looked remotely military, so it wasn't exactly an impersonation, but I got some dirty looks from military affiliated people on occasion.

I stopped wearing it after college, when I was spending more time in the rest of the world, where I ran the risk of running into someone who might want to take things beyond shooting me dirty looks. I think about looking for a similarly constructed jacket without the military link sometimes, because it was pretty nice.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:56 PM on December 3, 2014


I picked up a jacket from a Marine dress uniform at a second-hand store and wore it as my winter coat for a few years in college.

Counter to this is the idea of 'party sleeves' in Air Force mess dress. I was just at an Air Force wedding where the groom, best men, and company were all officers, academy grads all in fact. I was surprised to see not a few of them with crazy decorative patterned sleeves sewn either over or in place of the entire sleeves of their dress shirts such that, of course, you couldn't see them when the mess dress jacket was being worn.

Now, my only military experience is limited to being the first male in several generations not to serve some sort of stint as an enlisted in this or that branch/service. That and a whole lot of color guard and drill team experience in high school and a year on an Army ROTC scholarship before I decided joining the military under a Bush wasn't exactly my cup of tea. That is to say my 'military' experience is none, or as near as you can get and not be zero.

Anyway, I'm wandering but what I mean to say is that decorum, drill and ceremonies, and uniform regs are something I know way more about than the average joe on the street if not as much as the folks in the stolen valor vids. So I asked one of them about the sleeves, figuring it was an inside joke such that you'd never take the jacket off and expose the cartoon character, flannel, polka dot, or what have you that runs from the shoulder seam to your cuff.

His response was "No, once you remove the jacket in Air Force mess dress you're officially 'out of uniform' and it doesn't matter. So folks put these 'party sleeves' on and then have a good time because they're free of that aspect of the uniform."

Needless to say it didn't do much for my respect of the uniform, for reasons of people dying in it or fighting for valiant causes even within my own family, to hear that. It really looked like shit to see someone go from sharp looking mess dress to dress pants, shoes, and a formal shirt with spongebob sleeves just because they could. Something something Air Force being the cushy branch/job something blah.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:03 PM on December 3, 2014


Don't worry, people do that in the Army too, RolandOfEld. The last ball I went to was the first time I had seen such a thing, but it was less silly stuff and more American flags and bald eagles. Also the guy I saw wearing it was one of the best officers I've worked with, so it didn't seem unprofessional to me. It seems like a pretty common thing though, albeit not something I'll be getting done for our next ball.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 8:13 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


So it's a mess-dress thing? A new policy even? Makes me wonder about the Navy. I'd be flabbergasted if Marines did it.

And yea, I guess I could see something like that being more-than-marginally better than spongebob and the like.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:28 PM on December 3, 2014


The cop told his estranged wife that he didn't believe the story because nobody calls themselves an "airborne ranger." The "airborne" part is thrown into the "I want to be an airborne ranger" cadence to simply bump the syllable count

Historical nit: There used to be such a thing as a "leg Ranger." I served with a guy who was tabbed but only had Air Assault wings. Which is just to say that "airborne" used to be usefully descriptive in some cases.
posted by mph at 10:32 PM on December 3, 2014


I was good on all of this until the guy starts "F" bombing the entire mall area. Fake in a uniform is bad; Real using loud profanity, ... Shameful.

Exactly. I know a lot of veterans and with the exception of the ones old enough to have served in Vietnam or earlier wars the worst danger any of them ever faced was getting a paper cut.


Heart attacks during or after physical training, grid coordinates F-d up and live artillery landing on field training exercises; I can name four people I knew first person before 9/11 even happened that died during their active duty time.
posted by buzzman at 11:36 PM on December 3, 2014


One can find plenty of danger in the military without ever being shot at.

As in civilian life. People in logging and fishing, for example, are probably dying more often per 100,000 than people in the military. Give those guys a five-dollar discount.

Which I guess means you wouldn't want to be a lumberjack/fisherman in the Navy Seals. "Oh, no! I have to shoot down trees in northern Iraq and then go sneak up on tuna in the Persian Gulf and strangle them with my bare hands! How do you even find a tuna's neck? I'm as doomed as doomed could be!"
posted by pracowity at 1:39 AM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have it in more for the 'OH MY GOD I WEAR THE UNIFORM I WATCHED MY FRIENDS DIE IN THREE WORLD WARSactually I'm a blanket-folding clipboard-slinging pogue who's never left the country' valour-stealers than the 'free taco' clowns, who are just kinda sad.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:48 AM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Honoring" vets is like praying. It's great that YOU and I feel gratitude and respect. When you start making a big deal about it publicly outside of the holidays, especially when it's abused by the Marketing Team, it's just poor taste.
posted by mikelieman at 4:51 AM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I get the same uneasy feeling watching that video that I do from reading about some of the guys (and it's almost always guys) who volunteer to hang out in chatrooms pretending to be teenage girls to catch online predators; it's not that men who prey on lonely teenagers (or men who wear decorations and elite unit insignia to suck up the admiration of teenagers and score free stuff) are deserving of sympathy, but that the payoff for the guys who do it isn't in making the world a safer or more honest place, but feeling justified in humiliating someone in public. And that's even before you get into some of the comments, with the blaming of Obama for a less-strict "stolen valor" law.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:52 AM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I served four years and knew of four or five non-combat deaths in units I was in.

It's a well-known factoid that during the so called Vietnam Era, some 58,000 military people died in SEA. This body count doesn't differentiate between jeep wrecks and bullet holes. A lesser-known factoid is that an additional 60,000 American military people died elsewhere during that same period, in the course of non-combat related duties.

Some training is more hazardous than others. Some duty stations are not safe, either. The issue isn't that a civilian hasn't any right to make comments to a veteran about his/her service. There may be some analogy that would help sort this out, but it comes down to communication.

At some point reality gets reformed into something beyond speculation. You start out learning to sort out what things are worth killing for, and end up discovering that it's not that simple. You end up discovering what things you may be willing to die for--in my experience political theories don't make the grade. This isn't a proper topic for a casual chat around the water cooler, because it doesn't matter what you say, only what you do. You can say "I would" and mean it, but that doesn't cover the same ground as "I did." This isn't soluble, it's indelible. Your training puts all the necessary mental constructs in place, and when shit hits the fan, you just go through the drills the way you've been taught, and hope you don't fuck up and get one of your brothers killed. Then, once you get that way, you tend to stay that way, even when it doesn't fit into the daily doings of civilian life.

The fat guy in the mall may actually have some sort of inkling about all this, and if that's true, he's discovered an itch that will never get scratched. Maybe he just wants to know someone who, if it came down to it, would be willing to stand beside him when the shit hits the fan, and the best he can do is play at it, like, you know, a video game. Instead he gets a disgruntled veteran ripping off his mask.
posted by mule98J at 12:30 PM on December 4, 2014


mph: "Guys who had written books or did speaking engagements or ran special seminars or boot camps or dojos where they claimed to be sharing knowledge they gained in the SEALs or Rangers or whatever."

Yeah, I swear I read something online (maybe here?) about a guy who specifically calls out military boot camps that are run by wannabees claiming to have military (often SEAL) training. Often these boot camps are dangerous because the trainers have no idea what they're doing, and push the trainees too hard, leading to injuries. So not just a case of getting special benefits but of actually posing risks to other people through their false claims.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:58 PM on December 6, 2014


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