Should it be against the law for one to lie about one’s military service — in essence to lie about having received military honors? Congress made it illegal in 2006, and that law is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It concerns the case of a California man, Xavier Alvarez, one of the first people prosecuted for violating the Stolen Valor Act. Alvarez told a meeting of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Pomona, to which he had been elected, that he was a wounded war veteran who had received the Medal of Honor.
Presumably, the law was to protect the honor of the military honors system, which was instituted by George Washington in 1782. Usually honors such as the Medal of Honor are rare and highly valued, and place the holder in a position of high esteem among those who believe in granting esteem for those who serve bravely.
But here’s the problem: People lie about their military service all the time, especially about getting honors and medals.
After Vietnam, this happened a lot. Some people who had avoided the draft and thus avoided service in Vietnam, began to feel guilty after the war for having done so. Also, they saw veterans being chosen for jobs and being granted other advantages. So, they began to make up stories — stories which they, themselves even began to believe. In these stories, they not only had served, but had served in dangerous places, and had been face-down in the jungle while Viet Cong bullets zinged overhead.
In Alvarez’s case, it turns out he has a hard time telling the truth about anything, according to his lawyer. He is a compulsive liar. His lawyer says that doesn’t make him very well liked, but does it make him a criminal? After all, the lawyer says, free speech doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth.
It will be interesting to see what the court does with this.