"Swift-boating," they call it. According to the international graffiti board, Wikipedia (at least as of this writing), "swift-boating" is "an American neologism used pejoratively to describe an unfair or untrue political attack." The term was coined in popular culture when the group "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" dared to call into question the veracity of then-candidate John Kerry's military service. Kerry made much of his time in the military during the Vietnam War. After recounting lurid tales about atrocities supposedly committed there, the man who seemed very confused about whether he really did throw his military decorations over the White House fence was only too happy to play the role of war hero.
To define "swift-boating" as the application of a political smear is a bit of convoluted logic conceived and executed for the sole purpose of protecting a Democrat. Liberals are always very proud of those few among them who claim to have been soldiers, or who claim to have served with distinction, or who even bleat about owning guns and enjoying shooting. (It is for this reason that any military connection, no matter how tenuous, is always played up among political candidates, and it is for this reason that politicians in never-before-used hunting gear trot in front of cameras holding fowling shotguns when they get the yen to run for office.) If you dare to question a liberal's military service, you are immediately damned as some sort of reprobate. Your sin? You have committed the heresy that is failure to deem all military service as equal, equally credible and universally worthy of esteem.
Regardless of the individual veteran's political affiliation, questioning a man's or woman's military service is always a touchy subject. Every decent American venerates those who serve in the United States' armed forces, and rightly so: These are the citizens who protect our freedoms, who fight and die on foreign soil – or live at home forever maimed – so that we may live in relative peace. While there are those few who spit on military service, even those who go so far as to violate the sanctity of military funerals (the unctuous cretins of the Westboro Baptist "church" come immediately to mind), the overwhelming majority of us respects the military. We wish to laud those who stand among the ranks of our armed forces. We do not take lightly criticizing such people.
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We must do so, nonetheless. A perfect example of this responsibility in action was reported in the Chicago Tribune only yesterday. In the article, Steve Mills relates the sad story of the late David Stump, whose headstone at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery will be replaced because Stump's military records "do not support claims in the records the family provided when Stump died."
A 2006 law, the Stolen Valor Act, made it a federal crime to falsely claim orally or in writing that one has earned a medal for valor ... The claims from Stump's family – made to prove his eligibility for a headstone that lists the medals and written in a newspaper obituary – break no law. [Stump's family] appeared shocked by the discovery, going so far as to suggest Stump's exploits might have been performed on secret missions and that records documenting the claims remain classified.
The "secret mission" defense is a common one used by both deliberate military fakes and family members who cannot accept that a loved one may have lied about his or her service. The fallacious logic whereby such circular "support" for claims of service is created is obvious on its face – to anyone who has no vested interest in the falsehood. "There are no records of my service because my service was secret," or, worse, "The government changed my records to hide what I did, and that's why the official documentation contradicts my claims" are nothing but rationalizations and outright lies. These are the tales told by fakes, frauds and fools, all of whom dishonor legitimate veterans by laying claim to those veterans' legacy of service.
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The Stolen Valor Act was found unconstitutional by the often-wrong Ninth Circuit Court and will now be heard by the Supreme Court. At issue is whether one really can be held accountable, legally, for making false claims about one's time in the military. The most liberal interpretation of the concept seems to be that the First Amendment protects one's right to lie like a filthy dog, but more reasonable heads should prevail. Freedom to speak your mind is not freedom to speak without consequences. Freedom to express your opinion is not freedom to lie. If you fake your military service, you ought to be held accountable. To "steal valor" is to falsely appropriate the esteem, the deeds, of others. It is morally repugnant, intellectually indefensible and spiritually malicious.
Never one to shrink from that which is morally repugnant, Glorious Leader Obama has himself lent his support to what may (or may not) be "stolen valor." Earlier this month, the White House stood behind the presentation of the Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, despite allegations that accounts of Meyer's heroism may contain discrepancies.
Missing from most analyses of a given veteran's military service is a recognition of what one's attitude towards this scrutiny says about one's claims. Whether one has served in the military, and whether one has served with distinction, are matters of public record. No reasonable person should wish to lay false claim to the deeds or honor of others; no loved one of sound mind would want to remember a spouse, a parent or a sibling with dishonorable lies.
The law should not protect those who lie about their military service. To question a military claim is not disrespectful. To ask for verification of one's military service is not libel, slander or defamation. If you served, this is the truth. It will out. If you did not serve, your claims to others' valor are the most despicable of lies. These, too, will out – and you will pay for your fictions, your indulgences and your moral lack.