Stolen Valor: Leave it to Congress?

Civil War Medals

Sure, the Stolen Valor Act sounded like a good idea, but poorly written, as only our Congress can do. The basic premise of the act is completely redundant.  Is it not already fraud to misrepresent yourself for personal gain? 

It is doubtful they intended to prosecute someone for telling tall tales in a bar in an attempt to get lucky.  Of course, you might get your butt handed to you in the parking lot by a real Green Beret or SEAL.  You gotta love street justice!  However, if you attempt to collect benefits based on false statements or documents you can go to jail without the Stolen Valor Act.  That is “Basic Fraud 101.”

Didn’t most of these clowns go to law school?  It is called “enforcing the laws already on the books.”

Enforcing the law is too hard and expensive, so our representatives just write more laws.  Then, they go back to their constituents and say “See I did something! I passed a law!” 

Give them a cookie!  But do not re-elect them!

In my twenty-six years of non-valorous commissioned Army service, I learned we do nothing without considering “the secondary and tertiary order of effects,” in other words the “unintended consequences of our actions.”

This act made illegal “The unauthorized wear, manufacture, or sale of any military decorations and medals…covering mailing and shipping of medals…” 

Now think about what that does. The companies that manufacture medals are the first to be effected. Under the Stolen Valor Act, they have to be “authorized,” How did that work? Manufacture?  Was anyone really making Purple Hearts in their garage? 

What about those companies who retail to our servicemen and women? 

How did unauthorized wear affect re-enactors or Hollywood? 

My own pet peeve is that, as a historian, collector of medals et cetera, there were no provisions for collectors.

Collectors do not wear their collections. I am old, but not old enough to pass myself off as a Civil War veteran.  Yet, I do want to have the right to buy, sell, trade, and ship medals. 

When questioned on this, a congressman said, “Well, that is not what we meant.” Really, Congressman?!?! But that is what the law said.

In our litigious society, we want to believe judges can interpret the spirit and intent of the law,” but we know better than that.  Contracts have been voided by courts for the absence of a comma—no kidding.  Remember we once had a sitting president who testified, “That depends on the definition of what ‘is’ is.”

If you think enforcement of the law’s absurdity does not happen, guess again. At military collector shows on the East Coast it was a regular occurrence for federal investigators looking to buy Medals of Honor. 

Once, I heard that a dealer I knew was selling off his prized lifetime collection.  Thinking perhaps he had a health issue, I inquired to one of his friends.  He told me the dealer sold a Civil War-era Medal of Honor to a couple undercover agents and was selling off his collection to pay legal fees.  Your tax dollars hard at work: G-Men harassing historians–many of whom are the most patriotic of veterans. 

Don’t worry about the borders and the economy, the real problem with America is military medals collectors!

Why can’t the law just be written correctly in the first place? 

In the end, there is ironic justice.  Ruling the law “facially unconstitutional,” a federal judge in Denver struck down The Stolen Valor Act. Not because of its unintended consequences, but because it violated the practice of free speech. Go figure.

Stolen valor is one of the most repugnant acts an American can commit against our true heroes. We need to enforce the fraud laws on the books and if we do need a specific law, make sure that law does not empower federal agents to set up and arrest collectors like me.

In the meantime, guys can keep telling war stories about back when they worked for the CIA and I can keep collecting American military medals.

Leave a Reply