stolenvalor.jpg(Friday’s Populist Capitalist Blog Post)

“Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History,” is a book by B.G. “Jug” Burkett, a Dallas-area Vietnam veteran. Burkett was troubled by the public perception of Vietnam vets as “booze breathed, PTSD suffering homeless types.” The stereotype did not fit the veterans he knew.

Using the Freedom of Information Act and other sources, Burkett began to investigate claims of military service that appeared in the media. In the words of the Ivy League Columbia Journalism Review, about as authoritative and liberal a source you can find for journalism, “the book reveals a troubling pattern: reporters take a source’s claims at face value, then dig in and refuse to correct the record when confronted with documentation to the contrary.”

“If you find yourself interviewing a scruffy Vietnam vet in fatigues who tells you about the dying buddies he cradled or the civilians he massacred, well, check it out. The odds are, Burkett will tell you, your old soldier never served.” (Columbia Journalism Review, “A Failure of Skepticism: ‘Stolen Valor’ and the effort to expose bogus battlefield heroics,” November/December 2009).

According to Burkett, most claims are not harmless boasting but attempts at financial or other gain such as leniency in sentencing, promotion, or even, astoundingly, a congressman seeking re-election. Burkett’s efforts were a significant factor in recent legislation making it a federal crime to falsely claim, orally or in writing, that one has earned a medal for valor. Penalties range from 6 months to 1 year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.

If anything, Burkett understates the problem. According to the Chicago Tribune (October 26, 2008), “of the 333 people whose profiles in the online edition of “Who’s Who” stated they earned one of the nation’s most esteemed military medals, fully a third of those claims cannot be supported by military records. Even in death, these stories live on. A look at 273 obituaries published in the past decade alone found that in more than four of five cases, official records didn’t support decorations for bravery attributed to the deceased.”

It would be nice if we could trust every media source to do an in-depth job of verifying sources. The reality is that we must be the ultimate guardians of our minds. To navigate the world, it helps to have an accurate map. To do that we need to be cautious of the veracity of the “facts” we use to form our beliefs and world view. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….

Closing Quotes:

“Great intellects are skeptical.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, German classical scholar, philosopher, and critic of culture; 1844-1900.

“I am all in favor of the skeptical mind. Do not believe anything unless you have experienced it. Do not believe anything—go on questioning, however long it takes.” — Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Indian Spiritual leader; 1931-1990.

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.” — Dr. Carl Sagan, American astronomer, writer, and scientist; 1934-1996.