Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2016 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Tell a Big One!

          I'm going to change the direction of this periodic little get-together here, and attempt to get my readers to ponder a question, maybe to the point of actually speaking up about it; wouldn't that be nice?  My evocative skills may not be up to this, but, here goes...

National Defense Service Medal,
awarded for serving for a relatively
brief time in America's military.
Those of you who have known me for a while are aware that I am a Vietnam Veteran. If I told you that I had been awarded seven decorations during my military service, six of them directly related to my Vietnam service, you might be surprised by that. Given my complete lack of military bearing, heroic demeanor, or even adult behavior much of the time, you may even want to challenge me on that statement. That would be a minor faux pas on your part, as the statement is absolute gospel, and easy for me to prove.
Republic of Vietnam
Campaign Medal,
awarded by South
Vietnam to virtually
every foreign service
member who served
in their behalf.

Vietnam Service Medal,
awarded for in-country
service during arbitrary
periods set by the military.
I got five of these.
          But what if I told you that after my hitch in the navy was completed, I took the skills I had learned as a radio operator, used them to join a mercenary outfit, and spent the next eighteen months humping a PRC-26 through the jungles of Cambodia with an anti-government paramilitary strike unit? Let me hasten to clarify that that is an outright lie, but what if I told you that, and you never found out different? Are you harmed by it?  What if I told you this, and this caused you to view me as a more romantic, "Hemmingwayesque" figure than I might otherwise perceived to be.  And what if you decided to pursue a friendship with me based on that perception, and that friendship turned out to be rewarding, uplifting, deep, meaningful, everything you've ever imagined a friendship could be?  And then, twenty years into it, you suddenly discover that I never served in a ground unit, and I've never been anywhere near Cambodia?  Would the twenty years of fulfillment be negated by discovering that one fact?  In other words, are you harmed by it?  Hold that thought...

          What if I tell you that I was awarded the Silver Star, America's third-highest decoration for valor on the battlefield?  This, too, would be a lie, but what if I did?  And what if that statement was never challenged, and one day I decided to run for public office?  Nothing big, just a City Council seat, or a small-town sheriff?  And what if I defeated a better-qualified candidate based on the perception that the winner of a Silver Star was willing to offer up his life for the principles he believes in, thus demonstrating the highest possible integrity?  Of course, the "integrity" part is somewhat offset by the hidden fact that I never got a Silver Star...  Are you harmed now?  Is there a difference?
          I think there is.  Whether you do depends on whether you think you were harmed in the first example, but in the second, I think we can all agree that everyone lost out at the very least by voting in an inferior official to perform a public function, and that brings me to my point.
          Here in America, and throughout most of the world, we have laws to protect us.  Granted, they don't always function as designed, but they exist.  You are not allowed to murder me, cut off my nose, steal my video games, spread pernicious lies about me, or even put a ding in my car and walk away scott-free.  These things "harm" me, and are not allowed.  It was briefly, as delineated by the Stolen Valor Act of 2006, illegal to claim to have won military awards that you hadn't, which served to protect communities from events like that in the second example, though that was hardly its only purpose.  But now...
          A member of the Water Board in a California town was recently convicted under the Act for claiming that he was a former Marine who had won the Medal of Honor (Come on, stupid, claim one that's not so easy to check!).  He was sentenced to several hundred hours of community service in a Veteran's hospital, and a fine of a couple of grand.  He'll probably have a tough time being reelected to the Water Board again as well, and I say, good on you, mate!  However, this being California, he challenged the constitutionality of this law, which he claims infringes on his right to free speech.  The local court ruled in his favor, and now the Supreme Court is going to rule on it.
          The sad fact is that we all lie. We call in sick when we want to go fishing. We tell that girl we're trying to impress that we were in a Special Forces unit when in reality, we loaded trucks 1,000 miles from the war. We tell our wives they look good in those pants. The argument is that if you're going to make telling one lie a crime, then they all have to be. My first thought is that we'd better start building more jails, but wait a minute. Aren't there already some lies that are legislated against? Didn't Bernie Maidhoff and the Enron crowd go down for lying to investors about expected profits? Or was it perjury, because they put it in writing, or something? I don't know, but ultimately, didn't these people lie to get money that they weren't otherwise entitled to? Isn't that why they're in prison today? Isn't a job on the Water Board, with its attendant salary and benefits, money that guy wasn't entitled to? What do you think?
          Come on, folks, talk to me...  Is anybody out there? 

6 comments:

  1. We do all lie, but what you point out in regard to the Stolen Valor Act goes beyond basic lying. What the law is talking about is a combination of laying claim to greater credibility than one is entitled to and an abuse of the public trust. It's more than me telling a lie to a single person. It's me telling a lie to everybody.

    In a way, it is exactly the opposite of slander or lible. With slander or lible, you are deliberately working to damage someone else's public reputation. It's the same thing as insulting someone personally, but it is more dmaaging because it involves insulting someone in a public forum in such a way as to damage their character. Claiming to have a military decoration you are not entitled to in a public forum falsely inflates estimations of your own character.

    Both are damaging because they encourage the public that witnesses them to think falsely of each other. That's why we describe it as an abuse againstt he public trust. False statements of any kind just encourage us to be less trustful of what we have not personally and deliberately experienced. They cause us to question the integrity of the people that make up our society. In essence, because all political or public life involves a certain amount of trust between participants, slander, lible, or false claims of any other kind degrade and corrode the foundation of society as a whole.

    There is no doubt that we have become less trustful in general. These kinds of things are exactly why.

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  2. In my humble opinion, I think that claiming an award that you did not earn is the apitomy of distrust. Its one thing to tell a little white lie to someone, like, I have a 10 inch wang is one thing. This claim would not matter if you are running for office because it is not publically acceptable to discuss these matters but when you use a metal of valor to as you said pursuade a close desicion in your favor, how can you ever be trusted again for anything less. I think there is an unspoken understanding amoung people who have risked their lives for others sake that when you receive a medal, you earned it. When some halfwit glory hound lies about something like that, it insights a rage that most can not look past. I know I would have a hard time looking past that too. -Alex

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  3. Trying something. I may have benn signing in wrong. Would'nt that be surprising. I think not.

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  4. I will be using the new THE AXEMAN from google because my comcast will be gone by the end of the week.

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  5. Here is my new account that I will be signing in with to add comments

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  6. This is an interesting post because, instead of dealing with lying itself and wether it's right or wrong to do so, you address the fact that everyone lies and focus more on the degree of lying. I once called in sick from a bowling alley...wrong thing to do, but I think the only one I hurt with that was myself. Bernie Madoff hurt countless people with his lies. Lying to the entire public just seems like a stupid thing to do, especially in the digital age where it's so easy to be tracked. It seems that you're building a concensus here that the degree and scope of the lie determine it's harmfulness.

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